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A catholic sings orison for her Buddhist grandson

Roslin Mary Gomes has spent 105 years on this earth and has many religions and ethnicities in her large, diverse family.

05.09.2018  |  
Kandy

Roslin Mary Gomes is 105 and has a family made up of members of different ethnicities and religions. It seems peculiar in a country that was torn apart by ethnic strife.

When Catamaran asked Gomes a question, she answered in a strange language. “I do not know, maybe you should ask the Almighty,” her eldest daughter translated Gomes’ answer.

It turns out that she was speaking the Malayalam language. Amongst south Indian descendants, the Malayali community has a prominent place. They descended to Sri Lanka throughout different periods in history. They first came as soldiers in the 14th century.

During British rule, the Malayali community went to Sri Lanka for occupations connected to tea, coffee and rubber industries. Apart from that they engaged in occupations in sectors such as education and Ayurvedic medicine. They were engaged in the beverage and fishing industry as well.

In Kerala, India there are the Hindu Malayalam, Christian Malayalam, and Islam Malayalam. In Sri Lanka there is a Malayalam community that have merged into Sinhala, Tamil, and Muslim ethnicities. Around 25,000 Malayalis live in Sri Lanka – some acknowledge their identities while others do not.

“We belong to the Malayalam community. It was my grandfather who descended to Sri Lanka from India. My father was born here and he worked in the tea industry. Now we are citizens of this country,” said Gomes who was born in 1914 as the fifth child of a family of eleven.

She attended Good Shepherd Convent in Kandy and she can speak and read in Sinhala, Tamil, English and Malayalam. Although she was well educated in securing a teaching appointment she did not. “ We had enough money and everybody in our family was engaged in tea industry. I did not need to have a job,” she said.

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She married Lazarus George Gomes in 1944 in a Catholic church. Her husband also worked in the  tea industry and later owned a tea estate.

Gomes recalled the Second World War: “We had to use coupons to buy essentials. I had to stand in a long queue to buy clothing material for our wedding,” she said.

The couple had five children. Her first born Mary Stella Thavarajah is 73 years old and was married to a police officer from Jaffna. Mary has three children and the youngest married a Sinhala Buddhist. Her only son married a Polish woman. Gomes’ second son George Douglus married a Muslim woman.

Due to political reasons, they lost their land of 50 acres and a tea factory in 1970. Gomes only worry at the moment is for her grandson.

“My granddaughter’s husband had a kidney transplant for the second time. He had to be taken to the hospital twice a week for blood transfusions. The cost is unbearable. My only reason to live is him. I will be turning 105 next month and I know I will live for few more years for him. I am Catholic and I sing orison (prayer) for my Sinhala Buddhist grandson,” she said.