My mother Kalapuge Dona Dayawathie Dhalia Gunawardena died on March 31, 2013. She was taken away three days later from the house in Kithulgoda, Agalawatte, where she arrived 68 years ago as a young bride. She was born and educated in Kalutara. Her arrival in Kitulgoda, small village in the hinterland, must have been a culture shock but she adapted well. She outlived her husband, Gamage Don David, by 45 years but continued the public presence that he loved.

She was a Justice of Peace who took her responsibilities seriously. She surprised those who came get letters from her by intimate knowledge of them and their families. The house she maintained is spacious but sparse. You can see the back from the front and people entered and left from the front or the back all day. There were no assigned rooms or beds. Every space was communal space. Food from one meal was not cleared away until the next meal and the kettle was always ready for a boil. Her instructions for her funeral were to set up tents at the front and the back so that people entered from the front went past the coffin and had a good meal at the back before leaving.

During the funeral I was in that house observing the proceedings, almost like somebody from another planet. I am uncomfortable with our national obsession with funerals. When friends want to travel from far I worry about the carbon footprint and lost workdays. Still I could not help but enjoy meeting old relatives, listening to old stories, watching young people meeting their cousins as if it was some merry gathering while my mother’s body lay there as if approving.

Her funeral meant an end of era for the family and village and the surroundings. It was good while it lasted but I am glad it ended. She was loved by the people in the area but the relationships were still feudal. The circle of family, friends, temples and priests she left is a circle of privilege. True, I enjoy the benefits, but, I would not mind seeing an upheaval.

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