Mathavaraja Sri Bawan – My Very Dear Friend – A Eulogy – By Chris Wickramasinghe
Even as I tap these words out, I cannot quite comprehend the reality that a most cherished, very dear and close friend of mine, has departed this mortal coil. The one consolation I draw from this acute sense of loss and if indeed, ‘consolation’ is an apt expression to use in the circumstances; is that my dear friend’s protracted battle with his illness, subsequent pain, suffering, countless hospital visits and no doubt, the agony he experienced in the last few weeks of his life, is now at an end. He is free from the associated travails that a cruel disease such as cancer, unleashes with a vengeance, on a mere mortal.
Bawan and I were/are, Thomians staunch and true. He was four years older than me and in the life of a schoolboy, a four-year age difference is, without putting too finer point on it, a considerable age gap. But as the years unravelled in our journey over the years, by the Wonderful School by the Sea, we (kind of) began to be aware of each other, primarily I suppose, through the prism and prevalence of sport and what it engenders. Slowly but surely and with the passing of the years and Bawan leaving school before me, our sense of being just ‘aware’ of each other, grew to a shared sense of respect and genuine friendship. A close and sincere friendship that endured for well over five decades. Yes, we did temporarily lose contact with each other, post leaving school, as we ventured out into the big wide yonder, seeking higher education, employment, forging professional careers etc and dealing with all that life’s social order and mores’ dictate. These were, I hasten to add, the days before the advent of mobile phones, text messaging, WhatsApp, Viber and more besides, that the technological revolution subsequently unleashed on the global stage.
With the passage of time, Bawan and I reconnected, as did the wider populous of the Thomian fraternity dotted around the world. Bawan and I met whenever he visited the UK and also in our own dear Motherland, invariably in the month of March for the annual Royal – Thomian cricket encounter. What exceedingly memorable and gloriously happy occasions these meetings were, taking off from where we last left off. Bawan & Sharmalee’s last visit to the UK was in the Autumn of 2017 and as it is our wont, we met for yet more walks down memory lane, shared reminisces of mutual friends and family, the partaking of food, imbibing of drink and more than a good dollop of laughter and
merriment thrown in for good measure, recollecting times and days of yore, much centred on our shared experiences in our formative years spent in the
portals of that glorious Institution – St. Thomas’s College, Mount Lavinia. It is no exaggeration to state that any re-unions/meet ups among the Thomian fraternity straddling all of the age groups is without question, “an event”. Admittedly, the old stories are regurgitated with a poetic license to alter the basic substance from the original, but that is perfectly acceptable in our midst!! As another long-time friend of mine remarked a few years ago: “Chris, even our wives are now so familiar with our stories, that they recall these events better than us”!!
In all the long years of knowing Bawan, I found him to be the most amiable, genuine, pleasant, genial and a charming individual that I had the good fortune of knowing and whom I could, without a moment’s hesitation, call a close, valued and much respected friend. His cheery demeanour, warm smile, that twinkle in his eye and at times, a rakish and off the wall sense of humour that we both shared(!!) and our mutual love of sport & music, ensured for us an enduring and close friendship that prevailed over five long decades.
Bawan’s battle with his illness lasted seven (long) years and throughout it all……..the testing times, the hopeful and promising times, the uncertain times, the worrying times; he dealt with matters head on. Not once did he cower away in a corner feeling sorry for himself bemoaning why it had to happen to him. He submitted to the professional wisdom imparted to him, complied with the treatment package(s) and regime(s) and fought tooth and nail, the good fight to beat this nastiest of diseases. Even when I spoke to him when we met in the UK and in our Motherland, not once did he whinge to me about his illness (and at times) what it took out of him. He just ‘got on with it‘. Back in Australia, he continued with his walks, swimming and his beloved golf. I was made aware that even as recent as just a few months ago, when his illness was really beginning to get a hold of him, he drove himself to the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch his adopted country whup the auld enemy to a pulp. Many was the time during that Ashes cricket series Bawan would WhatsApp me with; “what the heck is going on with the Pomms Chris”…. and me replying…. “where do I start machang”. To Bawan life had to go on.
I last met Bawan in Colombo in March 2019 at the Royal – Thomian cricket match. As always, three glorious days of fun filled excitement ensued, made all the more pleasurable, given that we Thomians won the match. I met him socially even after those three days at the match, not considering for one
moment that it would be the last time I would meet my buddy face to face. Suffice to say, following our return to our respective countries and homes, we
continued our almost daily WhatsApp contact with the occasional telephone chat thrown in for good measure. My last telephone conversation with Bawan was about eight or nine days before he was admitted to hospital and palliative care for the final time. We both knew, although nothing was said overtly, that this would be our last conversation. The emotion in both our voices was palpable, but speak we did and I am so grateful for that last opportunity afforded to me. As always and typical of him and gracious as ever, he thanked me for my time, the phone call and my prayers for him over the many years. I chided him that this “kind of talk was totally un-necessary” and after a few more minutes chatting, we hung up – for the last time.
The courage, determination, fighting spirit, stoicism, fortitude and sheer grit, Bawan displayed and exercised in the past few months and weeks of his life, giving his ALL, right up to the end, has to be – nay, must be recognised, admired, applauded and respected in equal measure. He fought the good fight with bravery and an iron will to match. But as we all knew, his was a monumental task of monstrous proportions. He leaves behind a void among the many, many Thomians he knew and we the many, will not forget him. He will always occupy a space in our hearts and in our minds. Bawan was the quintessential Thomian through and through, with the Blue Black and Blue enveloping and running through every pore and fibre of his being. He loved his Alma Mater with a passion and the many fellow Thomians who sailed in her and whom he came to know, forging lifelong friendships that endured and stood the test of time.
Bawan was a loving and caring Husband and Father and I for one know, that he was immensely proud of his beloved Adrika and that Father/Daughter bond was as loving, as it was solid. His love and respect for Sharmalee and what she meant to him was total. He never took for granted what both Sharmalee and Adrika did for him, especially in the latter part of his life and the many challenges that his illness presented, which all three of them dealt with dignity, respect, purpose and a shared sense of love for each other.
It was my privilege, pleasure, delight and absolute good fortune to have known Mathavaraja Sri Bawan over all these many, many, years and an honour to have counted him as one of my closest and dearest of friends.
“My very dear friend, I thank you for your unstinting friendship over these many years, for the countless fun times we had, our mutual respect for each other, the contact we maintained continuously over the good times and more recently, the challenging times. The curtain has now come down and you have left the stage, leaving me to ponder the reality of it all. You were one of a kind Bawan and my goodness, I will miss you in more ways than I can articulate”.