It was somewhere in 2001 when I first met her for real. But before that, I only saw and knew her from her books. She was one of the prominent writers who filled the children’s world with stories in an era where television or digital devices were not available in every household.
Her stories took me on splendid journeys since I was a child, and I am sure she is one of those key creators who planted the creative seed in me. Even though I used to draw, I never studied art as a subject. However, I used to draw on paper and even on the walls of my house.
Anurudh Ekanayake, a relative having seen my paintings, urged me to go to a national art gallery with his mom, a painter there. Since then, I have gone to the national art gallery every Saturday to learn to draw.
Even though I was physically there among the other artists who drew various kinds of historical art, my mind always wandered to the kids’ section where all the kids flock around this tiny lady, Sybil Wettasingha, who would narrate a story while drawing… I often drew and painted art for my cousins, and whenever I finished the weekend art journey, I would visit my tiny cousins at the Thimbirigasyaya police quarters back then.
“Akka, why wouldn’t u become an artist,” my little cousin Shakya asked me one day when I drew him a JCB…
“Well, I would love to.”
“But becoming an artist will not give you enough for a living,” an adult who overheard our conversation added.
Many years after, I recall the past with a stack of books created by Sybil’s magical wand, from “Kuda Hora” (the umbrella thief) to “Duwana Ravula”, narrating those stories during bedtime to my kid.
I have never written my life struggles as a child or a youth on Social Media, so while maintaining my boundaries, I have one word for Sybil Wettasingha: “superhero.” A hero is someone who does good to this world, anyone who would bring goodness through their acts. Having seen many posts of creative artistic friends, I’m proud to say she is one of the superheroes I adore and look up to.
Even though she is physically no more, she will be alive for another century or forever through the eyes and minds of many generations. And I’m not ashamed to say I am that 18-year-old who skipped the adult art class to sit with children to hear her stories.
Rest in peace, dear Sybil aunty…love how you spoke to me through your books and during class, even though it was a few times. You are treasured in my heart’s highest and most honoured place.
Dr. Bodhini Samaratunga