Prema Jayamanna – the sparkling, jovial, ratiocinator and mimic

Prema Jayamanna – the sparkling, jovial, ratiocinator and mimic – By Julitta Fernando   

Source : dailymirror

On the 15th of July 2023 I received a message on whatsapp, that Prema Jayamanne , had passed away. The sad news came from her beloved husband Max. 

I met Prema when she was about 13 yrs old and joined us as a boarder at Ave Maria Convent Negombo. She joined with two younger sisters Mallika and the late Sweenitha, and her friends became the naughtiest set in the hostel. She never reprimanded the younger sisters as she was naughtier than they were. I do not think her younger sisters looked up to her for guidance or imitated her. She was fun loving and a live wire when it came to concerts, dancing, acting and debating. She acted the part of Juan Diego in the Apparition of Our Lady in Gaudalupe , Mexico, in the very popular play of the year concert in the nineteen sixties. The whole school the children and parents commended how well she acted in that play. I can still visualize her role.   

In our boarding school, at recreational games and musical competitions losers had to go through ragging or being ridiculed and being teased. One such annoying action was “Kneel to the wittiest” – all the girls would kneel before her and she would accept that gleefully with a witty remark. That was Prema Jayamanna my long time friend who passed away after an illness which she endured with great fortitude. Her husband Max was always by her side in ‘sickness and in health’ and allowed her to be herself for nearly fifty two years till death separated them apart. Prema would speak of her husband as God given since she obeyed God, as God commanded, “Love thy neighbour as thyself” and Max was her neighbour before marriage. Further she said that their favourite song or anthem was ‘I’ll Never Find Another You’ before and after marriage. Her way of saying was “When we were lovers ‘horen horen’(meaning- on the sly) we would sing that to each other”.   

Singing was not her forte but she was a great pianist and could play any tune she was requested, beautifully. Acting would have been in her blood as she is the daughter of the film maestro BAW Jayamanne, her uncle the well known comedian Eddie Jayamanne and her aunt being the then most popular film star Rukmani Devi. Although her father ignored her as an actress, she had acting and miming in her blood.   

After being admitted, within days Prema became popular in school. She was outspoken and the younger girls would gape at her starry-eyed, smiling and expecting witty comments from her. A large toffee box in the kindergarten classroom was very attractive to the boarders at that time. It could be reached only through a door which had a broken pane. Only Prema who was skinny, would fit into the open space and she would oblige anyone to get the stuff and feast on it. At times the other naughty girls would lift her and push her through the hole, head down first and pull her back after the deed. This story has been recorded over the past so many years.   

Although not in my class we hear stories of how she made her teachers laugh and smile. Even very strict teachers were treated to her mimicry of others. She could imitate gestures and expressions of others to a high degree. She was liked by many teachers as she was a good student, very conscientious in her studies and never shirked her school work.   

I remember an action song about two girls in braids, ribbons of red and bonnets where Prema acted her part as one girl singing ‘ I don’t like to play in your yard, I don’t like you anymore if you won’t be good to me. But the maids miss each other the next day. Quarrels are soon made up sealed by a kiss. Then hand in hand again happily they go. Friends all through life to be they loved each other. Soon school days passed away, sorrows and bliss but friendships go on. Just like in the song , Prema made it possible to keep her friends throughout her life. I could go on and on recalling vividly about her acting roles in plays such as Mahadenamuththa, Archbishop’s luggage, High heeled shoes etc and her dancing prowess in Hawaiian dances, oriental and country dances. 

She worked for a couple of years at Ceylon Theatres Ltd. and the State Film Corporation. She was an active and a lively member of the Inner Wheel Club of Negombo. In her adult life she has participated in Western dancing competitions along with her two sons dominating the competitions in the late 1980s and throughout 1990s. In the Colombo branch of PPA of the school she became a live wire, participating at meetings and kept the ball rolling during social activities.   
At her funeral there were many friends, young and old feeling very sad that she had to leave early. For me remembering her would always bring a prayer and a smile. She will be missed by her loving husband Max, two sons, their spouses, and the grand child.

 May she rest in peace!   

Julitta Fernando   
118J, Pagoda Road   

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