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Letters


 

                                                                         Appreciation                                                               

Dr. C.L. Fernando – his life gives us strength

December 26 is not a happy day for most of us, and it needs no elaboration. Anniversaries are for remembering loved ones who will never come back and December 26 is probably the day that haunts us most, as individuals and as a nation.

Dr. C.L. Fernando was one among some 37,000 who died that fateful day. Yet, he was, for me, not one in 37,000. He was ‘One.’ The number one: No two words about it. Yes, I remembered him on December 26, just as I remembered him on December 26, 2006 and December 26, 2005. That’s not special, however. The truth is that in the past three years, not a single day has passed when I didn’t think of him. Such was the power of his presence in my life, just as in the lives of others no doubt, not least of all his father late Herman and mother Joyce. They were very proud of their son’s meteoric rise in the academic field, culminating in a top post at the World Bank. Their anguish, I simply cannot fathom for they were his parents, whereas I, a mere friend.

I can recount here the history of our friendship, which I have recounted before. I can tell about how we met in the kindergarten at S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia and how our friendship grew over the years, how he excelled as a student, how he exemplified Thomian grit, how he fulfilled his academic potential by obtaining a doctorate, and how he applied the knowledge he gathered in his career, which saw him being appointed as Country Economist of the World Bank. Or, I can talk about the eminently personal, like how he always kept in touch, wherever he happened to be.

If you ask around, there will be hundreds of people who will tell the same story about him. And I am sure that if you ask around, there will be hundreds who will also tell you that his absence is felt acutely, everyday, not just on December 26.

He was someone who was there for you, but more importantly, someone who actually could help when the entire world collapsed. I can’t help thinking that had he not been a victim himself, he would have moved mountains to bring relief to those whose lives crashed around those terrible waves. No, it would have had little to do with the position he held and the organisation he worked for. Simply, he was a stupendous human being with rare energy and rarer heart.

It is easy to begin sentences with ‘had he been here…,’ it is almost clichéd, but I am in possession of a poor lexicon, so I must say that had he been here, the huge intellectual lacuna that this country suffers from today would have been manageable. The country misses him, I am convinced. As for me, whenever things get me down, when it appears that nothing works, that the obstacles are insurmountable, then I miss my friend. I miss his words of comfort and I miss the calm way in which he approached all things and how he always found a workable solution.

Life is about arrivals and departures, I wrote one year after his death. In the interim, Dr. C.L. Fernando lived a life that makes it impossible for anyone to be indifferent to his sudden departure. He transformed in life and he transforms in death. His life gives us strength, his death disempowers us. Caught between the two extremes, our imperfections trouble us, we lose our way.

CL believed that the best way to predict your future is by creating it. Well, it was easy for him. He was a workaholic, true, but his work ethic was buttressed by intellect. He said ‘work, work and work’ was the best medicine for trauma. It is not that I have not worked, but it hasn’t really worked the way he predicted; not when it came to the trauma of his leaving.

Each of us must take refuge in memories and each of us will smile and be grateful in our own way. Each of us will grieve in our own way and strive to honour the memory of an exceptional man by rehearsing the kind of approach to life that he advocated simply by living it. It is not easy. Not easy at all.

Krishantha Prasad Cooray

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An epitome of humanity

 (Tribute to Asoka Peiris)

“His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up.
and say to all the world, This was a man!”

(Shakespeare- Julius Caesar)


“By whom would you like to be remembered most?”
(Smiling) “I would like to be remembered first by God as ‘Asoka Peiris, His servant.’ Secondly, I would like to be remembered by my family as a good husband and a father. Finally, by my friends as a good human being”

I feel that the final words Asoka Peiris spoke to me in an interview I had with him a few weeks back, stand even truer today. There was no presentiment that my next words about him ‘in print form’ would be filled with nostalgia and grief so soon. His phone call to say“you’ve done a wonderful job with my story putha,” made my Sunday. A few days before his sudden demise on December 24, Mr. Peiris rang me to complement me on the feature I had done on the late Dr. Kamalika Abeyaratne, who was a close associate of the Peiris family. “Putha that was a lovely piece on Kami,” his words still echo so clearly.

Although I was not a long-term associate of Asoka Peiris, the few hours I spent in his company in my ‘journalistic capacity’ inspired me deeply. They were delightful and full of wisdom, witty and vibrant. The personality of the celebrated actor and the gentle human being; touched me profoundly. The friendly chats we had on the phone discussing many a topic- from plantation (which was one of Mr. Peiris’s signature areas of interest) to human follies and temperaments, held testimony of a lasting friendship, which alas was very short-lived.

My earliest memory of Asoka Peiris, the actor was his portrayal of Nelum Bandara, or Sudu Appo’s appachchi in ‘Amba Yahaluwo.’ I was a mere child then and did not have the slightest clue that I would cross this great actor’s path as a journalist, many years later! As an adolescent, his much acclaimed role of Ariya Bandara in ‘Guru Gedera’ impressed me immensely. “I spent hours with T.B.Ilangaratne who wrote the book discussing the characters. Sudu appo, my son symbolised socialism whilst Maha Kumarihamy, my mother, old order. Nelum Bandara symbolised the transition from feudalism to socialism and he was torn between these two eras. This gave me the key to play his role successfully…. I prepared my mind so much about Ariya Bandara and I never wanted Asoka Peiris to take over!” These recollections that he shared with me, still reverberate.

I was blessed to have captured this great human being’s eventful life before he received the ‘final call.’ Above all, I feel blessed to have been inspired by a supreme human being whose immortal words “before you act or do anything, you must remember to be human,” I will always treasure.
Randima Attygalle

****

CeSPA salutes its founder member Deshamanya
J.P. Obeysekera

The passing away of Deshamanya (Senator) J.P. Obeysekera in October 2007, a founder member of The Ceylon Society for the Prevention of Accidents (CeSPA) established in 1951, saddened the current members, many motoring enthusiasts and senior Police officers who knew him.

He was the only surviving founder member of CeSPA who continued as such, until his demise.
Obeysekera received his early education at Royal College, Colombo and later graduated from Cambridge University, UK. He obtained his MA (Cantab.) degree while in the UK. He excelled in athletics and was the athletics coach at Cambridge University. In 1938, he obtained an A grade certificate as a pilot and was a member of the Cambridge Flight Squadron. Obeysekera was the first Ceylonese pilot to fly solo from England to Ceylon, doing so in 1946 on an Auster airplane.

He took to politics and in 1960, contested for the Attanagalla seat. He served as Junior Minister of Health and Finance and acted on behalf of the Health Minister on several occasions. He was also a senator and a motoring enthusiast owning a range of vintage and classic motor cars. He was the Vice Patron of the Classic Car Club of Ceylon and participated in many motor rallies and hill climbs. He was also a former President of the Sri Lanka Scouts Association.

It was 56 years ago that J.P. Obeysekera, along with a few others including some officials from the British High Commission in Colombo, founded the Ceylon Society for the Prevention of Accidents (CeSPA), and he served as Vice President. The then Governor of Ceylon was the patron and Miss. Phil Deacon of the British High Commission served as secretary. Until 1956 all CeSPA meetings had been conducted at the British High Commission. The Ferguson’s Directory 1951-1953 gives the details of the founder members of CeSPA. The main objective of the Society was the active promotion of road safety, industrial safety, home safety and child safety.

I witnessed the enthusiasm and keen interest shown by late Obeysekera in the area of road safety and accident prevention, especially since 1982, during which period I was Director Traffic and DIG Traffic at the Police Department.
Realising that road accidents were on the increase, he took a keen interest in road safety and the prevention of accidents. He assisted the Traffic Police in organising speed traps to detect speeding drivers along the Kandy Road, especially at Nittambuwa. He always extended his assistance to the Traffic Police,

whenever needed. During our frequent meetings and discussions, we have exchanged ideas about the traffic situation in Colombo and the suburbs. He has been a regular participant at the various seminars and workshops held in the field of accident prevention.
In recognition of his services towards ensuring road safety since 1951, the Council of CeSPA awarded him a Meritorious Service Award and a memento, at its annual general meeting held in 2004.

Until the time of his demise, he was an active member of CeSPA, having served as President and also Vice President.
We are very grateful to our late founder member J.P. Obeysekera, for his immense contribution to CeSPA. He was conferred the National Honour of Deshamanya by His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Senior Traffic Police Officers, who knew him well, will always remember him as a genial and friendly person always willing to lend a helping hand.

He leaves behind his wife, former Health Minister Deshamanya Siva Obeysekera, his son Peter and his daughter Chanthal and two grandchildren.
I am certain that many road safety officers, traffic police officers and motoring enthusiasts will join me in prayer for the repose of the soul of this remarkable gentleman J.P. Obeysekera.
May he rest in peace!
T. Perinpanayagam
President, CeSPA

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