On 1 November 97, close friends of the late dental surgeon Nalaka Fernando offered a commemorative sangika dana to eight Buddhist priests at the Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist centre to transfer merit to the departed ' soul' of their friend according to Buddhist religious rites. It was considered quite a meritorious deed as it happened to be a very rare opportunity to find eight Buddhist monks in a London temple in at any given time, especially at the present Vassana [ Kathina ] season.
Dental Surgeon Nalaka Fernando answered his ' call from above' on 10 September 1997 after a brief illness. For those who knew Nalaka his demise was a very sad event, for he not only cared for people but always had time for others whether it was for advice on dental, medical, children's education, or information on abstruse philosophical issues relating to Buddhism or on multi-faith.
Added to his extensive knowledge on dental and medical subjects Nalaka Fernando was well read on English Literature and Mathematics. This enabled him to help children of his friends and relatives in London when they sought his help for private tuition and advice they needed in this area. Nalaka's library comprised first editions among other books on a wider range of subject-sources he drew on to establish himself as a knowledgeable and competent tutor. His erudition sat lightly on him in that it was not in his nature to impress people in order to boost his ego.
Nalaka had his early education at Ananda College, Sri Lanka. He obtained his professional qualifications in Dentistry at a University Dental School in Australia. Having qualified as a Dental Surgeon he returned to 'Ceylon' and commenced his private practice in Colombo. His new practice turned out to be a great success because of his very caring disposition endeared his patients. He emigrated to the UK a few year later where he settled down with his family and established his first Dental Surgery in Reading, Berkshire. Subsequently he shifted his practice to London and became very successful in his profession which was attributed not only to his competence as a dental surgeon but his kind attitude to other fellow human beings. He was noted for his ' going out of his way' to ensure that his patients received the best treatment and follow-up attention and care. This very quality made him a rare kind of person who was able to win the confidence of his patients and build a healthy rapport with them at all times.
Nalaka Fernando had a wide circle of friends thoroughout the world. Bob Hawke, the former Labour Prime Minister of Australia and his wife Hazel were among Nalaka's distinguished group of friends. His friendship with Bob Hawke and Hazel developed during his student days in Australia and they kept in touch ever since. Bob Hawke in his autobiography refers to his visit to Nalaka Fernando's ancestral home in Moratuwa where he was an honoured guest and was deeply touched by the warm hospitality extended. The former Australia Premier describes Nalaka's home, in his own words, as a 'heaven of peace producing an atmosphere so serene whose inmates were ardent devotes of Buddhism - a great religion whose message was peace and compassion to all living beings'.
Nalaka's deep and wide knowledge of Buddhist philosophy and other religions enabled him to compare and contrast the basic tenets in each religion and strengthened and reinforced the view that Buddhism is the most scientific religion in the world. He was much sought after for giving talks on Buddhism and he always very kindly obliged. One of his lectures delivered at the London Buddhist Vihara on 12 July 1992 on the subject, " The evolution of a Buddhist from childhood to adulthood" was warmly appreciated by the large audience that was present on this occasion and it opened a new avenue for him to share his Buddhist views in the form of lectures. On Wesak day in 1992, Nalaka Fernando gave an interesting and informative talk on Buddhism at the Watford Sri Sathya Sai Baba Centre where he highlighted Lord Buddha's message of tolerance and never to speak disparagingly of any other faith or persecute those who differed from theirs. The audience that comprised devotees of various faiths was impressed with the content of his talk that they requested copies of the text of the speech, which was made available to them subsequently. This lead him to another new area of further talks on Buddhism at various other Inter-Faith Centres.
Nalaka's wittiness had no bounds, and it was during a Buckingham Palace garden party during one summer that he managed to amuse Queen Elizabeth too. On this occasion when the Queen gracefully walked towards the Sri Lanka High Commission guests, the High Commissioner formally introduced Nalaka Fernando to Her Majesty as ' one of our eminent Sri Lankan dentists in London'. While shaking hands the Queen said to Nalaka, " How marvellous it would be, Mr. Fernando, if we don't have to visit the dentist and the hair dresser in our life time" to which Nalaka quipped: " Yes ma'm. I believe it is considered as a case of being mental, but according to an old adage I have heard, both mental and physical is dental !. The amused Queen was heard saying , can you please repeat it again, I want to remember it.
Nalaka Fernando will be sorely missed by all that knew him. His anecdotes. Witticisms and interesting stories which used to enliven social gatherings will linger on in the memories of those who were so close to him and also others who met him on those occasions.
We extend our deepest sympathies to his grieving wife and children
May he attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana.