Theirs and others’ lives
A Book of Days-by Deshabandu Edith M.G. Fernando. Reviewed by Aditha Dissanayake
On February 12, 1977, passengers on Singapore International Airlines Flight No. SQ 765 heard the flute-like voice of the air hostess in the cabin say, "Fasten your seat belts we are about to land at the Katunayake International Airport."

The Sri Lankan passengers peeped nostalgically through the windows at the lush green vista of coconut palms below them. "Home at last," exclaimed one passenger to his wife beside him. "How nice to be back." But he was never to step on the green green grass of home again. Ten minutes later, J.L.M. Fernando died on the plane.

"The manner of his death," writes his wife Deshabandu Edith Fernando, in her book titled 'A Book of Days' "was paradoxically the most dramatic event of his life. For during his biblical span of three score years and ten in spite of his many-faced distinctions, he chose the wing rather than the centre of the stage, the shadows rather than the sunlight, the pathways of peace rather than the highroad of controversy."

Through her book Edith focuses on the "Quality, diversity and the originality" of families that hailed from Moratuwa and Panadura, Fernando-Dias and De Mel. When asked if she is not making an understatement when she writes, "Our family was neither rich nor famous. Nothing very thrilling happened to us. Minor crisis and moderate pleasures. We read about others, whose names make news, people who are doing important things," Edith says, "No. It is not an understatement.

There were higher, richer people than us. We were simple folk.” Yet her husband J.L.M. Fernando was the first chairman of the Air Ceylon Corporation in 1951, and Edith herself, is the founder of the Pegasus Reef Hotel where she introduced the service charge of ten percent to the bill and the rule that the tip left by the guest could be shared among all the employees. Recalling the situation in the hotel industry before 1971, Edith writes, "The visitor seated in the hotel lobby simply clapped his hands and shouted "boy" and a waiter would sidle up with a gin and tonic...and it was not something any young person looked forward to. A service charge was unknown and tips were never shared.

“Those who received them considered them part of the perks of the job. Today the service charge has come to stay and the law holds that this does not form a part of the turnover of a company."

Edith is also a vexillologist. "Some people collect stamps. I'm interested in flags," says Edith. With the aim of publicizing Sri Lanka's vexillological heritage she has published a book titled "Lanka Flags, Unique Memorials of Heraldry".

Edith's philosophy on life is gathered in her volume of family history. She writes, "It is a fruitless undertaking to attempt to evaluate the comparative value of human accomplishments. It does seem obvious however that some of the achievements which rate high in news value maybe scaled pretty low by God's standards.

The first men to land on the moon would have demonstrated a high degree of courage and physical stamina, but they will not necessarily have added much to the sum total of human happiness." Deshabandu Edith Fernando's books are available at 185/2A, Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo 7.

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