H.H.Bandara (Banders) who had to answer 'the compulsory call from above' 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 Banders' undergraduate days, perceived young Bandara's latent aesthetic talents and the overflowing patriotic sensibility. Prof. Sarachchandra afforded Bandara a unique opportunity with a tremendous responsibility to compose music to 'Sinhabahu', one of Sarachchandra's favourite dramas. With the professor's experience and young Bandara's originality in music composition 'Sinhabahu' became an exceedingly popular play and remained so, a household name, for over three decades.
For Banders 'Sinhabahu' 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 ' hypnotise' his audience with his flute. He was awarded the 'Best Music Award' in 1963 for his contribution to Henry Jayasena's 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 he migrated to the United Kingdom , to a completely strange country and a totally alien culture and completely opposite tradition. 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 dedicated student of Prof. Sarachchandra. Like Banders, Namel too had a burning ambition 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 my life in London when Namel was exerting pressure on me to take part in a Sinhala play which he wanted to stage in London. Namel was going to produce Sarachchandra's popular play, ' Elova Gihin Melowa Awa' and Banders being in-charge of the music had modified it as a stylised play. I can never forget my first meeting with Banders and how he persuaded and encouraged me to take an interest in Sinhala drama. Thanks to this great personality I ended up not only doing the 'beggars' character in Elowa Gihin Melowa Awa (main character) on three consecutive evenings at Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, with his wife Lanka Bandara, Karuna Bodhinayake and Lilani Perera as ' Kaluhamy', the main female character of the play, but became an active member of the Namel and Malini Arts Group (Banders, Lanka, GDL Perera, Namel and Malini Weeramuni) and participated in 'Rattaran', 'Golu Birinda' and also in GDL's teledrama - 'Rata Giya Atto'.
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 'Insurance', something we all had the wrong notion about from home. To many who wanted security in the way of buying a home, children's 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.
Developing Sri Lankan cultural and arts programmes in London received a sledge hammer blow on 7 March 1998 at the demise of this blossomed flutist and composer. Lanka lost a devout and 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. This was clearly evident from the vast number of mourners who attended his funeral in Upper Norwood crematorium and shed a silent tear as the 'Sinhabahu' 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 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. May you