Returning to my home-office from a meeting or a press conference, I’d got used to find steaming hot tea in a flask and a plate of sandwiches waiting on my dining table.
They were from the “lady downstairs”. I already knew about her before I moved to Colombo four months ago. My predecessors had told me about her. I thought they were exaggerating a landlady’s warmth and affection for her tenants, until I got here.
Then I saw for myself the tray of goodies waiting for me day after day, morning and evening, sometimes laden with neatly cut sandwiches, or cakes that she had made or just cheese and crackers. The tray would be taken away as quietly as the full one had appeared. It was almost like magic.
Her sweet-toned “good morning” when she spotted me leaving for a walk soon became addictive and I began realising what my colleagues meant in their praise.
I dread going down in the morning now, for I will not hear that warm greeting any more. Hema Perera, owner of the premises housing The Hindu’s home-office in Colombo for nearly three decades, passed away here on Tuesday. She was 81 and is survived by her daughter Deeptika Amarasinghe and son Anura Hettiarachchi.
Her warmth and hospitality were not reserved only for The Hindu’s Colombo correspondents. This is how she treated everyone around her — friends, relatives, her domestic help, the cook, driver, and The Hindu’s office help.
The Hindu has been a tenant at the Pereras’ spacious upstairs apartment ever since the first correspondent was posted here in the 1980s.
It was their warmth — Mr. Perera passed away in 2007 — that made The Hindu’s office The Hindu’s home.
Ms. Perera was one of the daughters of Angulugaha Gamage Hinniappuhamy, founder of Maliban, a famous biscuit company. Former correspondents who dropped in to see her on later visits to Colombo never left without a box of Maliban biscuits that she would unfailingly press into their hands, along with other gifts for their entire families.