Plus - Appreciations

Memories of a friendship from Medical School days

Dr. Gita Jayalath

Dear Gita,

We entered Medical School together in 1952. Our surnames beginning with ‘K’ and ‘G’ ensured that we would be in the same group for practicals and ward classes. Our characters were totally different. I, haphazard in my ways, you always organized and methodical.

You were the most elegant girl in our batch. Your crisp voile or cotton saree in a pastel shade, impeccably draped, worn with a silver waist chain. Your notes too were neatly written and I know some of them were in your possession 10 to 15 years back. Mine of course were almost non-existent and vanished soon after the finals.

Your wardrobe, with its neatly piled sarees, was a pleasure to behold. The contents of mine, on the other hand, had a mind of its own, and frequently tumbled out. You came to my rescue then. After qualifying, you remained in Colombo, whilst I shifted to Kandy.

You were happy in your work at the Municipality in Colombo Central and Colombo North, working amidst the underprivileged. I know that your patients were devoted to their ‘Dosthara Nona’. After hours, many were the patients you would attend to, amongst your friends and relations. You always kept in touch with my mother too particularly during her illnesses.

The strong links of our friendship continued. Your husband, Gemunu complemented you. Your home was often the first stop when I was involved with lectures in Colombo, where I could be sure of a good breakfast and cup of coffee. At other times too, if ever I visited you, it was taken for granted that I stay for lunch and partake of your delicious ‘game kame’.

Suddenly, over four years ago, your life was rudely disrupted when the diagnosis of cancer of the colon was made. Despite the after effects of extensive surgery and cytotoxic therapy, you attempted to lead a normal life, never complaining. It was only after Gemunu’s departure in March this year that your life seemed to crumble. In and out of hospital you remained uncomplaining. When the pain was unbearable, you took refuge in silence.

As a devout Buddhist and an exemplary human being you surely must, by now, be in a higher plane than ordinary mortals.

Premini Amerasinghe

Still watching over us reclining on your rattan chair

E.P. Paul Perera

On the fourth anniversary of E.P. Paul Perera’s death, we remember him as a man, a legend, a husband, a father and a grandfather. To me, he was always Seeya. A reassuring presence in my day-to-day life as a child and as an adult, a constant inspiration and the standard to which I aspire.

As a child, I always knew he was heavily involved in the UNP and to me that meant green balloons, elephants and my Seeya always being busy and meeting important people. Various ministers and political heavyweights would come to Ward Place to seek his advice. They would sit out in the garden, conversing pleasantly while sipping on cool beverages that my Achchie had prepared.

A normal day for Seeya; but he could not be described as being a “normal” man. The day he entered this world, we gained a national treasure. From childhood to adulthood, he stormed up the ladder of achievement until he reached the pinnacle of his career. And yet to me, his political career languishes in the face of his private battles that he fought so valiantly.

I grew up in my grandparents’ house from 1994-1998, a dangerous time for all living in Sri Lanka. The memories I have from this time are not of terror or danger, but of family. In that time, I experienced a closeness with my extended family that to this day is unsurpassed. I attribute this to Seeya, who believed that family was paramount and strong family bonds were integral to continued happiness.

As a result, I grew up with my cousins, spending countless hours in my grandparents’ house, acting upon the impulses of youth and pursuing mischievous deeds. While Seeya was at times the stern figure of authority, it was Achchie who spoilt us with Lindor chocolates and motherly comfort. She was the foundation upon which our family was built and it was her support that enabled Seeya to achieve great heights.

I have many memories of Seeya, but I most vividly recall those humid, balmy days where he would be out in the front room resting in his rattan chair watching the world outside. He would lie there and relax on his days off and sometimes as children, we would go and sit in that room with him. He had a reassuring presence, a sense of security that blanketed us all. We needed no words from him, just knowing he was there was enough.

He was a man who valued these times of peace, because he carried great responsibility on his shoulders. As a young man, he carried the burden of ambition. A fire was lit within him and he relentlessly pursued his goals. He passed out from the University of Ceylon with honours, going on to work as an Assistant Archivist in the National Archives. From these humble beginnings, he went on to study at the Ceylon Law College, graduating and enrolling as an advocate.

The rest as they say is history. He blazed a trail through the political spectrum. The world does not seem as bright without him, but the spark he lit continues to grow inside of every one of his children and grandchildren. He remains a part of us and his legacy will live on forever.

I like to think that you are somewhere reclining on your rattan chair, watching the world below you; watching us all. I hope that you are proud of us. Rest in peace, Seeya, you were a man of great character; you are and always will be unequalled in life and in death.

Ashanthi Jayasekera

You were so cute and small

TIRZAH Thambirajah

We can’t just believe,
That it’s one year,
Since you’ve flown away
From us, your dear friends.

We were quite shaken first,
As we didn’t know what to do,
We came to terms, when
Everyone said that you’re with the Almighty.

You’re there in our memory,
Although time has passed,
We see you in the characters,
We read in the story books.

You stand very special to us,
For your kind behaviour,
Running so briskly, up and down.
And telling us things which
Made all of us have a laugh

Those features of yours,
We try to match with characters,
You run and move around
So small and cute you were Tirzah!
We’ll have you forever with us.

We feel so proud that we had
A friend like you from Grade One onwards,
We feel so sad that you’re not there for us,
We do console that you live with us, in our hearts.
Your loving friends

Former Grade 3A (2010), Methodist College, Colombo 3

Central Bank’s Manik was loved and treasured by friends at every level

P. M. Nagahawatte

Punsisi Manik Nagahawatte, retired Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (Chairman, NBD Bank), bid farewell to this world in the early hours of August 1. His death came as a shock to all. Manik showed no outward signs of having a serious medical problem. He was leading quite an active life after retirement from the Central Bank. He seemed made of durable stuff. In fact, he was serving as Chairman of the NDB Bank at the time of his demise.

It appears that his generous heart, which seemed so big and indefatigable, failed him at the relatively early age of 68 years. It is with sadness that I pen this tribute to a colleague and friend.

I first met Manik in 1966. We were among a batch of eight officers recruited to the staff class of the Central Bank that year. Manik had studied at Ananda College, Colombo, where he had excelled in his studies. He proceeded to the University of Peradeniya to study law. With abundant intelligence and methodical application, he completed his LLB degree in 1965 with a Second Class Upper Division honours, topping the list in that year’s law degree examination at Peradeniya. With such academic excellence, Manik was well in line for a post at the Central Bank.

Manik Nagahawatte’s first posting in the Central Bank was as Assistant Controller of Exchange, quite a formidable position at the time, when exchange control restrictions were severe. With dwindling foreign exchange reserves and not much prospects for increasing export earnings, conserving foreign exchange became a matter of paramount importance for the country’s economic survival.

All imports, except the bare essentials, had come to an end. All one could get when travelling abroad on holiday (on pre-paid tickets) were three sterling pounds and 10 shillings (Rs. 50). Against this backdrop, the Exchange Control Department became one of the Bank’s most important divisions.
After a number of years in the Exchange Control Department, Manik moved to other departments of the Central Bank, including the Banking Department, Secretariat Department and the Premises Department. This way, he gained wide experience and deep insight into the Central Bank’s operations. He never hesitated to undertake any challenging task entrusted to him, and he performed with distinction and dedication.

He was appointed Director of the Premises Department in 1983, Controller of Exchange in 1985 and Superintendent, Employees’ Provident Fund in 1989. He was made Executive Director in 1992.
The high point of Manik Nagahawatte’s career at the Central Bank was his appointment as Deputy Governor of the Bank in 1999. This is the highest position that an average Central Bank employee can aspire to, the Governor’s appointment invariably being a political one. It was from the position of Deputy Governor that Manik eventually retired from the Central Bank in 2005, after 39 years of service.

After retiring from the Central Bank, and in recognition of his knowledge of banking and finance, Manik was appointed Chairman of the Bank of Ceylon – the largest commercial bank in Sri Lanka – in 2005. He had to give up this position not long after, following a change of government. He then had a spell at the Ministry of Finance as legal adviser. Manik was made Chairman of the NDB Bank in 2009, at the time an upcoming private commercial bank. With his modest, friendly disposition, Manik would have been a very welcome Chairman at the NDB Bank.

Perhaps more than his achievements at the Central Bank and elsewhere, Manik’s greatest achievement was his ability to remain popular at all levels. This he achieved through his friendly disposition and humane qualities. His associates came from many ranks of the Central Bank staff, and were not confined to his peers or superiors.

Although he rose to the highest positions in the Bank, he did not lose the common touch, and so was loved by all. He was a gentleman of the first order and a true real “people person”.

The large number of retired Central Bank personnel of all ranks who gathered at his residence on the morning of August 1 to bid him farewell, without there being any formal notification of Manik’s demise, testify to his popularity. It has long been the order of things at the Central Bank that with upward mobility and greater management responsibilities come acrimony and animosity from rank and file. It is a singular honour that Manik escaped all this unpleasantness.

To his colleagues, Manik was a true friend, a cherished associate, not to mention a lively conversationalist and an entertaining lunch companion in the 9th Floor dining room. We will remember the entertainment he routinely provided, at the expense of certain incorrigible and idiosyncratic Bank officials. He was a thoroughly decent person, someone to be trusted and depended upon.

The course of Manik Nagahawatte’s life at the Central Bank did not always go smoothly. There were times when he had to face the rough end of justice, not for any fault of his but because of changes of guard at the top. He remained unruffled, and faced those unsavoury episodes with equanimity and courage. During those periods, he opted to serve in government ministries rather than remain in the Central Bank’s “dog house”, without work.

A non-economist in a place where economists call the shots, Manik was not given the opportunity to go abroad on postgraduate studies, as many young recruits to the Central Bank did. This did not prevent him from gaining postgraduate qualifications. He successfully completed his LLM degree at the University of Colombo in 1984. That he was a non-economist did not in any way affect his career prospects in the Bank.

Although I retired from the Central Bank a few years before Manik did, I enjoyed his company again in public life when he served on the Securities and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka, where I served as Chairman during 1997-2000. With his legal knowledge and long experience at the Central Bank, he made valuable contributions to the Commission, which often involved intractable legal issues. Manik’s contribution to the decision-making process of the Commission during that time was greatly appreciated.

Manik Nagahawatte’s sudden departure from this world is a gentle reminder of the ephemeral nature of life, as enunciated in the Buddhist text, Lovada Sangarawa. Life is like the morning dew on a blade of grass.

Manik’s contribution to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, and to our banking system, is immeasurable.
Manik was devoted to his family. He gave his two children a good education and saw them settled with good jobs overseas. Two weeks before his demise, he accompanied his daughter and two grandchildren to Canada, where they live, to ensure they had a safe journey.

Simplicity was the keynote in Manik’s life. In keeping with his simple lifestyle and self-sacrificing qualities, his body was donated to the Colombo Medical College on the afternoon of August 1, within 12 hours of his demise, according to his wishes.

The memory of Manik Nagahawatte will echo in the corridors of the Central Bank, H, where he served for 39 long years, for many years to come.

As for me, it was a privilege to have known him and to be associated with him, not to mention the generous hospitality I enjoyed at his residence and elsewhere. We offer our deepest condolences to his wife Lalanie and the two children, Suranjeeva and Shiromali.

Dr. Wimal Hettiarachchi

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