by Thilak S. Fernando

H.H.Bandara (Banders) who answered Œthe compulsory call from above¹ on 7 March 1998 was an intellectual, professional, patriot, journalist and above all a sincere friend to many, both in Sri Lanka and in the UK.

Born in the Kurunegala district and educated at Ibbagamuwa Central College, during a period when the Sri Lankan society was saturated with Colonial influence and only a handful of colleges in Colombo was regarded as higher seats of learning, Banders disproved such pseudo theories with the power of his intellect by gaining admission to Peradeniya University and passing out as a honours graduate with Sinhala as a subject.

The late Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra, philosopher, man of letters, literary critic, novelist, dramatist and a connoisseur of art, who was a lecturer at Peradeniya during Banders¹ undergraduate days, perceived young Bandara¹s latent aesthetic talents and the overflowing patriotic sensibility. The Professor afforded Bandara a unique opportunity with tremendous responsibilities to compose music to ŒSinhabahu¹, one of Sarachchandra¹s favourite dramas. With the Professor¹s experience and young Bandara¹s originality in music composition ŒSinhabahu¹ became an exceedingly popular play and remained so, as a household name, for over three decades.

For Banders ŒSinhabahu¹ became a hallmark to draw inspiration from his native folk tradition and melodic creations. Like a magician who holds his audience with his wand, Banders soon began to Œ hypnotise¹ his audience with his flute. He was received the ŒBest Music Award¹ in 1963 for his contribution to Henry Jayasena¹s play, Kuweni.

After finishing his university education and working as an Assistant Director of Cultural Affairs and subsequently as Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Education in Sri Lanka, Banders migrated to the United Kingdom, to a completely strange country and a totally alien culture. Though he settled down in London he was deeply rooted in Sri Lankan culture and traditions. His appointment at the Oriental Manuscript Divison of the British Library in London, however, compensated at least in part, to sustain the Sinhala culture and traditions while living in the UK.

In London, he met one of his Peradeniya contemporaries, Namel Weeramuni, who was also a devoted student of Prof. Sarachchandra. Like Banders, Namel too had a burning desire to revive Sinhala drama in London. In Colombo Namel too had already made his mark as a popular producer/director of stage drama.

In 1983 I met Banders for the first time in London when Namel Weeramuni produced two Sarathchandra¹s Sinhala plays, Elova Gihin Melowa Ava and Raththaran. Namel had chosen Banders as the director of music and he conducted the music modifying them into stylised plays. Banders persuaded and encouraged me to take an interest in Sinhala drama and I ended up doing the Œbeggars¹ role in Elowa Gihin Melowa Awa on three consecutive evenings at Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, with his wife Lanka Bandara, Karuna Bodhinayake and Lilani Perera as Œ Kaluhamy¹, the main female character of the play on three consecutive days.

Banders was an unassuming man with two main characteristics ­ humility and simplicity. Those qualities in him acted as a catalyst to attract people to him. He was the first Sri Lankan to publish an English Newspaper for the Sri Lankan community in the UK. He was always there to give a helping hand to a Sri Lankan whichever way he could. With this in mind, he advised and educated many Sri Lankan expatriates in London on the subject of ŒInsurance¹, something we all had the wrong notion about from home. To many who wanted security in the way of buying a home, children¹s education policies, life cover or even a pension plan, Banders was always there to visit and help his friends, sacrificing his evenings and week-ends too.

Sri Lankan cultural and arts programmes in London received a sledgehammer blow on 7 March 1998 at the demise of this blossomed flutist and composer. Lanka lost a devout, a loving husband, and the two daughters Indja and Isha lost a caring father and we all in London lost a gem of a human being whose loving memory will linger on and on. Those of us who attended his funeral in Upper Norwood crematorium three years ago shed a silent tear as the ŒSinhabahu¹ music which inspired thousands over the years sounded as a heart breaking parting knell of his final exit from our eyes.

Banders, my dear friend, it was a moment that no one could hold a tear. You have gone from us forever three years ago, but your memory will linger on and the music you composed and the service you gave to your motherland, your folk, your own culture, and your friends will live forever.