public servant beyond compare and a peerless tax man
H. Abeypitiya Mithrasena
He died as quietly as he lived. Though he was not a large public
figure, he was truly great among his peers and contemporaries. He
was a gifted maths teacher and a pioneering author of Sinhala maths
textbooks at a time when there was a dearth of books in that genre.
Above all, he was a peerless tax man for a greater part of his life.
Mithrasena started schooling from grade 5 upwards at Ananda College,
Colombo. The school's records will prove that he blazed a trail
of outstanding scholarship right through his career in school, winning
all the prizes and gold medals that were awarded to the best students.
He crowned his school career by gaining entrance to the University
of Ceylon when Sir Ivor Jennings was Vice Chancellor, winning a
scholarship in the process. Then he capped his university career
with an effortless first class honours degree in maths (Special).
he awaited the results of the degree examination, he taught us maths
in what was then called the University Entrance form at Ananda.
Our paths in life crossed for the first time there. We found him
to be a taciturn and shy teacher, rarely inclined to face his pupils!
However, when he turned to the blackboard and started writing he
was a transformed man. He wrote copiously, meticulously and comprehensively,
often making it unnecessary for us to refer to the class textbooks.
Some of us took an impish delight in trying to distract him with
an occasional interjection, which was a milder pastime than aiming
paper ball, projectiles onto the blackboard! He was not flustered
at all, merely turning around and casting that winsome smile of
his, that was his trademark.
took a special interest in me and encouraged me to sit the special
scholarship papers in maths, an added option to candidates who wished
to attempt them; success in those papers added to the prestige of
the candidate and his school. For this purpose he kept me after
school one day a week and tested my ability at solving some of the
more arcane maths problems taken from past scholarship papers, local
and foreign. Some problems proved to be too daunting at first and,
for the first time, I began to doubt my ability. It is here that
Mithrasena's true qualities as a teacher emerged. He told me that
the examiners who had devised such problems had been students like
me and I ought not to be cowed by such problems; he then led from
the front and solved effortlessly what to me had seemed impossible
generosity in his approach removed the mental block that I had suffered
on seeing some of those questions for the first time. From then
on it was plain sailing. As a result I took the scholarship exam
with confidence and fulfilled his expectations. Mithrasena, by his
maths coaching, taught me to be mentally tough and unrelenting when
faced with difficult problems. Good teachers mould the characters
of their pupils.
he was possessed of all the requisites of a creative mathematician,
he turned his back on further maths and preferred to take a post
of Assistant Assessor in the Department of Income Tax, later renamed
the Department of Inland Revenue. However, he found the time to
pioneer some maths textbooks in Sinhala in the early days of the
official language revolution. By some strange coincidence of fate
I too left the University on graduation and joined the Department
of Income Tax as an Assistant Assessor. Thus our paths crossed for
the second time!
a taxman he was par excellence. In the technique of tax investigations
he was without a peer. His analysis of the legal provisions in the
tax statute was always incisive so much so that he nearly always
faced, undaunted, the best of legal counsel who appeared for the
taxpayers in appeal hearings before the Board of Review some of
which, on further appeal, he steered through the courts. With the
possible exception of one case, I know of no other where his view
did not prevail before the judges.
generously shared his knowledge and experience with his colleagues.
I recall with gratitude how diligent and helpful he was when I had
to liase with the DSG regularly when the Commercial Bank of Ceylon
case was before the Supreme Court on appeal by the Department against
the decision of the Board of Review. That the Court reversed the
Board's decision was largely due to the help he gave me in the drafting
of the guidance notes that I prepared for the DSG's study and preparation.
The diligent professionalism of Mithrasena's approach is something
that I have always tried to emulate.
the end of his career, he steadfastly refused to be promoted over
his seniors. He then retired and took an assignment overseas. On
his return, he turned his back irrevocably on further tax work and
led a life filled with meditation and contemplation. At a time such
as the present, when a unique man of rare ability and shining integrity
like Mithrasena passes away, we may recall, for solace, the famous
line that Oliver Cromwell wrote in a letter to Sir W. Spring in
honest men are better than numbers
of her illness she had joie de vivre
I will always remember Dina Kundanmal as a young girl as that is
how I knew her first - she was my classmate at Methodist College,
Colombo 3 and a close family friend.
one thing that Dina had above all else, was an impish sense of humour.
I met her for the last time before she died when I was on holiday
in Sri Lanka last November.
was in a wheelchair. I was sitting there holding her hand and talking
to her when she got a twinkle in her eye and leaned forward to whisper
something to me. At first I could not understand her.
I finally understood the message it was to ask me if I had had a
nose job! I had to laugh out loud and say no I haven't - but what
she did was relieve my sadness.
Dina started falling ill noticeably in senior school.
she lost the ability to walk she came to school in a wheelchair
but at break time and intervals she would walk with our help. That
was her indomitable spirit. We went for every rugby match possible
and she would walk with us - she went for every party and if she
felt low she never showed it.
my farewell party she came to see me off. She was not the one sitting
in a corner moping - instead she was dancing in her wheelchair with
Tony Charters who jived with her spinning the wheel chair round
for every turn. It was great and she really enjoyed herself.
she got part of this from her home environment. I spent many afternoons
and evenings there. She was one of the brightest students in the
class with a razor sharp mind. She loved taking anyone on in an
argument and insisted on writing down her own work even when writing
was slow and painful.
got a place in university but could not keep the pace due to her
But that did not make her give up - she started doing her degree
privately and read to make up for her inability to attend classes.
her illness was getting the better of her she braved it with fortitude
and accepted everything with a calm state of mind. She was a warm,
lively, funny person who had a gift for friendship and as the French
would say "joie de vivre" a joy of living".
say that everyone who knew her will miss her is not an overstatement.
cheery welcome and a warm smile
My childhood friend Sivasothy lived a rich and full life. We spoke
about the fun-filled days of our youth, whenever we met. We had
known each other as pupils in primary school and studied together
upto Grade 10. We were also hostellers and spent our time in the
company of each other until destiny took us in different directions.
Being the eldest daughter born to orthodox parents, she was married
at an early age, but our friendship continued.
was a sweet-natured and friendly person, always with a charming
smile, modest and soft-spoken. Married to a business tycoon and
living in the lap of luxury she remained the same simple -natured
person until her death a few days back.
was a talented musician and often graced school functions. She also
acted in plays produced by the school. She was devoted to her family
and was very fond of her sons and daughters. She would often speak
of them and show me their photographs, with pride. A quiet unassuming
person who lived in the shadow of her businessman husband, she was
a lady of great honour and integrity.
helped the needy and contributed lavishly to charity and religious
causes. Though she became a widow and was bed-ridden in later life,
she remained the same old Sivasothy I had known and befriended since
our childhood days.
would always welcome me with the same heart-warming smile and revive
old memories, of our carefree days at school. She never complained
but appreciated the love and tender care her children gave her.