The grandfather I knew | Daily News


In praise of Annesley Dias, Sri Lanka’s sitcom legend

The grandfather I knew

Annesley Dias (left) is best known for the role Hamu Mahaththaya in Vinoda Samaya television sitcom he acted with Berty Gunathilaka (centre) and Samuel Rodrigo (right).
Annesley Dias (left) is best known for the role Hamu Mahaththaya in Vinoda Samaya television sitcom he acted with Berty Gunathilaka (centre) and Samuel Rodrigo (right).

Through the generations, Annesley Dias, Berty Goonetilake and Samuel Rodrigo were known as the three kings of comedy in Sri Lanka. The Vinoda Samaya programmes, both on radio and television, captured the hearts and minds of a wider Sri Lankan public. The reason for this was how the scripts were written, and how they managed to resonate with people who to this day repeat dialogues from them, often without knowing who it was that created them.

I would consider it my duty, as the grandson who grew up closest to him, to pen a eulogy for a grandfather who in life spent more than five decades entertaining the Sri Lankan people through comedy. I have always considered myself fortunate enough to have had a Seeya who was always smiling and pleasant, with words of advice in tow. But the memory of my grandfather was more than that. I remember him as a kind-hearted, charismatic and caring individual.

To recall the stories where he has shown his kindness would take more than these few words and would fill the pages of a book. It is easy sometimes to imagine educated and talented people who have managed to make a name for themselves as being larger than life and unapproachable. But that was not how I saw my Seeya.

Apolitical artiste

He would not hesitate to stop and have a chat with a local individual from his village. More importantly, he would stop and listen first; a quality that we, in our present-day struggle to earn a living, often forget.

Although he was well known for his comedies during his day, he would be mindful at home, making a serious joke often to enliven the mood of the household. Even more than his capacity to listen to and empathise with people, he would never let himself be drawn towards political circles, and most of all never resorted to party politics, an unfortunate reality of high profile personalities of this day and age.

In life, he worked as a Grade 1 Translator for Colombo Municipal Council and an English teacher for a brief period. The knowledge that he had accumulated over the years showed up whenever I would ask him a question regarding a word or phrase in Sinhala or English. His grasp on the two languages was so much so that rather than consult a dictionary I would wait until I heard an explanation from him. His way of using the two languages was done out of a sense of respect and understanding. Although his knowledge was immense, he never lost touch with what matters most – reaching out to people and giving back to his community.

Although a devout Catholic throughout his life, he was also an admirer of Buddhism; and many are the stories that he has related to me regarding our country’s rich history. From stories about the history of our hometown of Dalugama to World War II, the tales that he had to tell were nothing short of extraordinary. He even related stories of distant countries, nations that to my young mind seemed impossible to exist. Not only that, but he would also accompany us to places of historical interest with vigour and enthusiasm as he enjoyed the history behind those ageing buildings. It reminded him of our rich history, and that to me showed how he respected where he came from and how our culture came to be. As a young man, those stories entertained and fed my imagination; as an adult recalling those fond memories I am reminded of how much respect he had for his nation and culture. 

Care for community

All of these characteristics would make a person feel that as a personality he would be unapproachable. However, his level of education and talent made him remain down to earth and open-minded. In short, I believe he saw what was important in getting a good education was giving back to the country and society that had provided him with such opportunities. SWRD Bandaranaike once stated that the man’s primary service is to man. In my mind, my grandfather embodied this statement. I believe that you could see that it influenced his comedy.

He made the utmost use of the talent that he was given, not only working his way to be a successful person but also helping people along the way. He wrote because he cared for his country and his community, and the deep pride that he had in being a Sri Lankan. In short, he made his actions speak loud through his words.

Although I am writing this from a distant country my memories of him are still fresh and his message of giving back and knowing your roots still resonates with me. I would also like to wish Berty Goonatilake, the only remaining member of that inseparable friendship, health and wellness for the years to come.

That was the grandfather I knew. And now on the 11th Anniversary of his passing away, we remember how he lived, and what he toiled for. Not only was he one of the selfless persons that I was lucky enough to have, but also the kindest and warm individuals that come but once in a lifetime. 

The following poem I wrote as a High School student, as a remembrance of my Seeya and to my Achchi for raising me into the man I am today.

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