My father’s only sibling, my aunt, Manuela, passed away in Jaffna last night. Born in 1939, to C.V.E. Navaratnasingam of Udupiddy, and Regina Sornamma Pedro Pillai of Pandateruppu, she was a woman of immense kindness, with only gentle words for everyone she met. Manuela was always generous and welcoming, offering assistance to all in need.
I called her ‘Mame,’ a Tamil term for father’s sister. (Pronounced ma-mee.) Mame never failed to call me on my birthday, even when I was a heedless 20-something wrapped up in my own affairs, often battling with my family. She wanted me to know that even if they didn’t always understand or approve of my life choices, my family still loved me. 40+ years of birthday phone calls; Mame was pretty damn persistent too.
Our last real conversation was when I was in Canada for a work trip, and managed to make time to visit with her in Scarborough, I think it was. We talked about her children, my cousins, Nimo and Dharshan, and all the grandchildren, and the difficulties they’d gone through, and our hopes for their future happiness.
We also talked about the ethnic troubles in Sri Lanka, and if I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t think to ask her for permission to record that part of the conversation.
Mame was a tall, strong woman of tremendous dignity. She was coerced by the Tamil Tigers (who were supposedly ‘on her side’ during the conflict), along with her neighbors, to leave her home and traverse the Vanni (the jungle). I think she must have been in her 60s at the time, and it was hard for me to envision what she told me.
Mame travelled without food or water for long stretches, enduring the pain and the physical toll that took on her aging body. If you’d like to know more about that part of the war, I recommend the graphic novel, _Vanni_, to your attention.
Mame survived it, and all the other difficulties of her life, always with a smile and a helping hand for those around her. Knowing what I know of her, I’m sure that Mame was a pillar of strength for those who accompanied her on that difficult jungle trek as well.
She leaves behind her grieving husband, Joseph Singarayer, her children, Dr. Nirmala (Nimo) Nicholas and Joseph (Dharshan) Priyadharshan, loving grandchildren, and a host of relatives and friends whose lives are sadder for her loss.
A bright light, shining in the darkness.
My father is also on FB, and can be found here.