A tribute to Seymour

Seymour Roberts 30/5/1949 – 23/2/1992

My brother lies in a grave in Colombo’s main cemetery. His life and death are the most tragic consequence of my family’s dysfunction, of parental neglect and bullying. It is Seymour who tugs at my heart, who penetrates my soul. He was my soul mate. I am burdened by an inescapable notion that I could and should have done more for him after I grew up. Even before I grew up, I distanced myself from him, further and further as his mental condition deteriorated. The main motivation was shame. I have stark memories of feeling embarrassed and ashamed when Seymour materialised while I was in the company of friends, some of whom knew him. Eventually I gave up on Seymour. He was my parents’ problem. Maybe it was my revenge on them for neglecting and bullying us, for instilling fear in us, for their gross dereliction of duty in not adequately equipping their children for adulthood. We were all talented and capable yes, but, speaking for myself, I was unable to cope with the pressures of adulthood, had no solid foundation for succeeding in life, and in general was too timid and too negative and too lacking in confidence to take control of my life. I shouldered some of my family’s problems, especially financial ones, but I did not know where to begin trying to solve the problem that Seymour presented. It became a waiting game. I knew I would have to step in when my father died, but had no idea what that involvement would entail apart from throwing money at it, paying people to do various things to provide care for Seymour. I have not fully come to terms with all that happened. I think I block out much of it. While there could have been opportunities to do something significant and positive about Seymour, my mind was full of my own struggles. It took up my time and other resources. And I was forced to work to be in a position to financially assist my parents. I did not have enough of anything left to deal with Seymour. I feel very sorry about it, perhaps more than anything else in this world. He richly deserved, in fact desperately needed someone to lift him and carry him to safe ground, where he would be loved and supported. There was no one to do it. It could have been me. It wasn’t. It is, in large part, what Sri Lanka means to me: the gut wrenching tragedy of my brother’s all too short, unfulfilled life, plus my failure to take him under my wing. I loved him enough, but I struggled with other things, significant for my own survival, but paltry compared to my brother’s needs. To my lasting shame I failed. I faltered, lacked strength, was weak, timid, wanted comfort, no risks, no challenges.    

Seymour was of the earth, a child of Providence, a gift to humanity. He breathed in his environment and gave his all to it. Insatiable curiosity sparked explorations this way and that. He found fascination in nature and how it worked, he captured with water colours both the topography and essence of his environment. Classical music moved, unfettered, exhilarated him. Cats aroused love that found expression in exuberant, demonstrative affection. He wore his excitement unambiguously. Wide eyed, face alight he would infect everyone within range with his enthusiasm. He engendered love, admiration, but also exasperation and impatience. A mercurial, sometimes explosive, temper further enlivened engagement with him. One could not hate him, he was without guile or malice, not even a mere filament of meanness could be detected in him.

In games Seymour’s hatred of losing was a much stronger, more compelling emotion than the joy of winning. Opponents in tennis, carrom, even cricket, who beat him became targets of his rage. Sometimes he vented his anger at the games artefacts. Carrom boards and pieces would be pushed or flung in the air, cricket bat hurled away after it was used to whack the wickets. On one memorable occasion his tennis racquet was smashed to pieces against a rock. Seymour’s explosive temper bore intent to do physical harm, but only to his vanquishers. He was hard on himself too. Mistakes on the piano often earned a resounding self-inflicted slap. He was incapable of uneventfulness. His life was a continuing, undisciplined drama, comic and tragic, played out with his heart always on his sleeve. No half measures, always unstructured and undisciplined, he pursued his obsessions with relish and single-minded intent.  

He couldn’t do school very well, in the classroom that is. Curricula constrained him, contained him. His mind always broke free, earning him low exam scores and frequent reprimands. At art he reigned supreme, winning the class art prize year after year. At other subjects he failed, sometimes abjectly. He could give a knowledgeable, detailed discourse on the way chemicals behaved by themselves and in combination with others, but always failed chemistry. Painting had no strictures, his talent for capturing a scene in water colours one of only a few activities that smacked of conformity; that met with no opposition from the adult world.

Seymour exasperated, enraged his impatient, hot-tempered father, who dealt out fearful beatings, to no avail. Seymour knew no other way to live. His father knew no other way to deal with it. Seymour suffered as a result. Seymour didn’t stop, couldn’t stop. His impulsive, spontaneous life continued. The beatings had no impact on the energy, the zest that bubbled and frothed around him as he confronted the world.  

Seymour brightened up the day. Mere observation of him busily engaged in his current pursuit could lift sagging spirits. Vibrancy, enthusiasm radiated from his presence. His zest for life was infectious.

Not only my family but humanity as well was robbed of a special human being, one who saw the world differently, one who abounded in insatiable curiosity and rare gifts, but one who was also more vulnerable, more susceptible to suffering, more easily hurt. How many like him have been consigned to the scrap heap, locked away as insane and a danger to others.

I often wonder if my father and Seymour are together now. I saw them in a dream, with Snowy and Tomtit, noble cats of my acquaintance. In life Seymour worshipped his father, his hero. Seymour was proud that he bore his father’s initials.  


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