Monday, 11 January 2010
I met him three years ago, in the make up room of a recording studio. Of course I had seen him on TV, on the screen, on stage; he was a legend. But here I was, slightly sleep deprived and nervous, trying to pin together the fall of my purple silk saree and trying to convince the make up guy that he was putting on too much lipstick on me. A familiar voice and his reflection in the mirror, a humble “hello, I am Henry”. Yeah, right. Like I didn’t know. I stuttered something to the effect of ‘of course I know who you are, I cant believe I am meeting you for real’. A gentle smile. A switch to mother tongue. “Ithin daruwa, mokadda magen ahanna yanney” I had a set of questions prepared. Written in English, translated into Sinhalese, mulled over. I had spent a sleepless night over them, wondering how you begin to ask someone about how they faced cancer and the death of a beloved spouse all in one go. I said "I have a few questions prepared, it’s mostly about how you coped with your illness, sir." The video we were recording was for an organization called Mithuruwela, a non-profit organisation set up to counsel cancer patients and their families, to create awareness about cancer, and to dispel myths about the illness. Dr Jayasena was a popular and well loved public figure, his words would matter, would make a difference. So here we were.
During the interview, before, and after, I learnt about strength and courage from this man who was famous for his dramatic and literary skills. When the video was aired I realised that tears filled his eyes once during the interview, and filled mine many times. Listening to him, I forgot that there were bright lights and cameras around us, so drawn was I to his experience and the eloquence of his telling it. He shared every incident, from the shock and denial to the long painful hours of chemotherapy to the arguments with his wife about eating, from the conversations with his doctor to how he coped with his treatment, and gradual recovery. In his words there was an incredible sincerity, and he spoke not only to all out there who have the illness already but to those who might yet fall victim to it. His voice broke for a moment when he related how his wife saw him through the illness but passed away suddenly, but he recovered quickly, no self-pity thwarted his fine sense of humour and his desire to reach out to fellow cancer patients. When he felt I was stumbling a bit, uncomfortable with the nuances of formal spoken Sinhala, ever sensitive, he switched to English. There was only one recording, and that was it.
I didn’t realise that exactly three years later he would be gone. I didn’t spend much time with him, it was only two hours perhaps. I walked with him to his vehicle and for some reason felt all choked up. He joked about incontinence. In some way he reminded me of my own father, long gone. It was good to meet you, he told me. Meeting you was a life-changing moment, sir, I said. I know, it sounds tacky, but I meant it. If / when I get cancer I will remember that sunny day in November when I met Dr Henry Jayasena. I watched the DVD of our interview again yesterday, and realised that he will keep inspiring people long after his death. “We may meet again, child", he said, in Sinhalese. I wish we had. May your Journey in Sansara be peaceful, and thank you for the courage we may all need in the future.
Posted by http://srilankantheatre.blogspot.com/ at Monday, January 11, 2010