Tsunami 3 years on: Remembering Prasanna Kirtisinghe


Prasanna Kirtisinghe in Saudi Arabia. circa 19080s. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Prasanna Kirtisinghe in Saudi Arabia. circa 19080s. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.

Prasanna, my mother’s first born son was aptly named by her. The bonny ever smiling baby boy coming after two daughters and specially after grumpy difficult me was what my mother wanted. He was a beautiful baby, huge eyes with long curly lashes, blessed with a happy disposition as his name  he was an instant hit and my amma spoilt him shamelessly. Prasanna  did realize this early advantage and his special position. I did moan and protest at the unfairness but it was impossible not to love Prasanna.  Life and responsibilities rested lightly on him and we all adored him.

My sister Yasoja can recall the day he was born.  Apparently we were sent next door to Dr. R.H. de Silva’s house and recalled later to look at our new baby brother.  I of course can’t remember that day but remember the early days of going to school. in Panadura at the Sri Sumangala Girl’s school.  After school I’d hold his hand and we would stand at the road side hoping we would recognize an uncle who would stop and take us with them to Hikkaduwa.

Prasanna chatted non-stop and the senior girls called him the “Kata kachcheriya” – a Sinhala equivalent of Chatterbox. Evenings we would see him sitting with John aiya the carter as he mixed poonac –  a residue of coconut after the oil is extracted.  Poonac is mixed with water to form a gruel mix for the bull that pulled the carriage that we used on rainy days to go to school. Prasanna was not averse to dipping his hand into the poonac bucket for a taste.

Prasanna’s role model was our neighbour  in Hikkaduwa, Will Soysa who managed the family estates while his wife Kathleen practised from home as a Doctor. Most of the time we would see Uncle Will, lounging in a chair reading a book.  “One day I too will have a wife who is a doctor and I can loll around reading books while she makes the money,” Prasanna said.

During his rebellious teenage years and the twenties all of us in the family gave up hope of reforming him and bringing him back to mainstream family life except my mother.  She steadfastly believed in him, supported him and miraculously he did turn around and found and married his lady doctor Padmini.

Prasanna Kirtisinghe carrying his youngest son Matheesha, with wife Padmini and elder son Kanishka at Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa.  Modified January 18 2005. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Prasanna Kirtisinghe carrying his youngest son Matheesha, with wife Padmini and elder son Kanishka at Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

In later life Prasanna was the bulwark that we all depended on.  When my father grew weak to have his daily sea bath on his own, Prasanna would tie a rope round his waist hold the rope and bath him.

Prasanna  shaved, bathed and nursed our father,  a daily ritual he lovingly performed while spinning stories to keep my father amused.  Once when my father inquired why I had not come to see him that weekend, Prasanna had told him that I had received a horse as a gift and had gone riding in Nugegoda  and caused a traffic jam and was nearly arrested.  For good measure he threw in a house in Nuwara Eliya too as a gift from and admirer! When I arrived the following week I was asked how Nuwara Eliya was and given a long lecture on looking after horses and told how faithful horses are by my father.  I did wonder why he was rambling and only later discovered the root of that advice.

Prasanna bore the brunt of looking after our father, while all we did during the week was to telephone  to find out how he was. Observing this he did gleefully remark to my mother – “See if I studied and was a top executive in a firm, all what I would have done was also to call you from office and ask Amma how is Thatha?.”  Among my most treasured memories are  one of a  hilarious morning bathing session,  and my father holding on to Prasanna’s hands and blessing him with tears in his eyes.

His jokes and repartees kept us as well as his huge band of Hikkaduwa friends amused. He was my lucky  mascot.  I would ask him to come with me when I went for important interviews as I believed he brought me luck.

He would happily chauffeur our younger brother Pradeep, the District Judge  to court and back. He was once told off by the other senior chauffeurs that he should pay more respect to the young judge.  Never did he reveal that he was the elder brother, but would seriously stand to attention and open the door for Pradeep henceforth. The younger generation visiting Sri Lanka have often remarked that he looked more like a judge than Pradeep.

His life at Hikkaduwa is what most hardworking executives  dream of attaining on their retirement.  He lived in the house by the sea, where he was born doted on by two women, his wife and mother.  The first part of his morning was generally devoted to his cinnamon estate,  a job he did well as a just but firm manager.

But on that fateful December 26, he did forgo this trip to play host to his sons friends from the Law Faculty.  He was reading the Sunday papers on his easy planter’s chair, Padmini was laying a long breakfast table in the garden for the young law students  who were playing cricket on the beach.  The time 9:15 am on 26 December 2004.

29 thoughts on “Tsunami 3 years on: Remembering Prasanna Kirtisinghe

  1. Beautifully written rural Sri Lanka story ; weaving the past with 2004 Tsunami and Prasanna. Those who know your family and others who know Sri Lanka can easily relate to the people, events and Hikkaduwa. More such real life stories should be written to preserve memories of people, events and places

  2. Thank you Chuli,

    Yes, you certainly turn back the clock and it is like yesterday that Prassana and I talked many things over a drink and a smoke in your back varendah at Hikkaduwa. I go their quite often as you would expect to look at the reef and also pass your back yard everytime and cannot help but recall those days when we stayed there.

    It was also an important day 26th 2004 for me as i myself had a somewhat of a narrow shave when i was on the seaward side of the Wellawatte reef when the tsunami came. Somehow i got back to shore and escaped.

    Such is life- it does not judge as GOD or the power has no capability to judge.

    My heart is there with all of you today.
    Best wishes


  3. Arjan

    So glad that you survived and thank you so much for your response. I hope like you the hundreds of visitors who streamed through that house over the years will take a moment to remember today, the many happy days spent on that back verendah where Prasanna as well as my father were so much a part of it.

  4. Chulie–

    Thank you so much for sharing. This is a beautifully written testament of the goodness of your brother, who even though I’ve never met, can appreciate the loss the world suffers without him.

  5. As always, a delight to read your words as you paint a clear picture of your brother. Thank you for sharing this particular picture.

  6. Thanks for sharing a very moving and very sincere real life story from your own life. I never knew Prasanna, but now feel as if I did, and I belatedly share your sense of loss. Each and every one of those close to 40,000 lives (our government can’t even tell us how many) was precious, and they all had unique stories, webs of life and a future that was cruelly taken away.

    I only wish the media and officials would also talk about this human aspect of the tsunami – and not only bicker about who built better houses or who robbed how much tsunami aid money. Those issues are important too, but without people houses will be just empty shells.

    Thanks again!

  7. That was so touching Chuli. Although I had only met him a few times, you really brought him vividly back to my mind. Your memories will keep him always alive, and that is what is imortant.

  8. Back to work after a long break and hundreds of emails to go through. But couldnt stop myself from reading this. Glad that I did.

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  10. You have painted such a beautiful picture of your dear brother… although we have never met I got the impression of a warm content personality at peace with himself and his surroundings. May his sansaric journey be short and problem-free.

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  14. Dear Chuli,
    in november 1978 and 1979 I was a guest in the house of your parents Manel and Benny for many weeks. Both visists were the most sunshiniest times of my life. Both visits I shared many hours with your brother Prasanna. Once I travelled through the whole island with him as my chauffeur. I am very very sad that I must read now that he was a victim of the 2004 tsunami. I will never forget your parent’s house, Manel’s meals served on the veranda, and the tiny garden house, which was my home at that time. And I will never forget Prassana. All the best for you, sent from Frankfurt in Germany, and please put a candle from me and Prasanna’s german friends onto the grave of him, if possible.

  15. Hi Chuli

    This is Ganeesha – you dont know me I am Eustace Mama’s daughter. We used to spend lots of holiday in Hikkaduwa and remember Prassana well. Tragic indeed. Was just deeply touched reading this. Take care

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  19. Hi Chulie loku amma….. v kinda have a faint memory with regard to Prasanna mama… but both malli and I clearly remember a story that Prasanna mama once told us when he came for a visit… he sat shirtless in front of the fan and malli n I were on either side talking to him… he told that he used to go to work on a skate board and that he would control it by shifting his stomach from side to side… that’s the only thing we remember… saddened by his loss.. may he rest in peace..

  20. Appreciating the time and energy you put into your site and in depth information you provide.
    It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while
    that isn’t the same out of date rehashed information.
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  22. I second all of the comments from your many readers, Chulie. You are the perfect sister to remember him in such a breautify way.

  23. Oh Chulie, I always love to read your posts, but especially those about Prasanna. You make him come alive, and make me regret that I never met him. You also bring tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for this beautiful piece.

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