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Tribute to Shyamlal Rajapaksa

‘The good die young’

Shyam was a good human being, just 43 years and a month, when he was suddenly snatched away from us. I was fortunate to know and associate with him, a gentleman-adversary in court and pleasant company outside.

He was the only son of late George Rajapaksa, the affable criminal lawyer and Minister and Lalitha, the well-known socialite, the first Lady President of the Lanka-Japan Friendship Society. Shyam was also the only brother of Nirupama Rajapaksa, Member of Parliament and former Junior Minister and the nephew of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.


Shyamlal Rajapaksa

He was born with the proverbial silver spoon as, like his father, he preferred the common man to the affluent. He was the grandson of the late D. M. Rajapaksa and late Edmund Samarasekara.

Born on July 11, 1966, his father named him Gemunu (and not George, which he considered colonial), befitting Shyam’s Southern ancestry.

He passed his GCE Advanced Level Examination from Royal College, at a time when institutions of higher learning in the country were closed due to the Southern insurgency. He was therefore sent to UK for further studies, on the advice of Sam Wijesinghe, a long-standing family friend, who found Shyam idling with his friends at home.

Having completed his three year LLB course in just two years, he was back in Sri Lanka, when another family friend, late Lalith Athulathmudali PC, advised that he be sent to an Inn of Court. He joined the Lincoln’s Inn, from which he was called to the English Bar. He also secured a LLM from the London University and on his return to Sri Lanka, he qualified to join the Sri Lankan Bar.

After being in the Chambers of President’s Counsel, Daya Perera, he joined the Official Bar as a State Counsel, in which capacity he prosecuted in the High Courts of Anuradhapura, Badulla, Galle, Balapitiya and Ratnapura. Soon, the constituents of his father’s old electorate urged him to enter the world of politics, which he did, securing the highest majority at his very first Southern Provincial Council election.

Soon disillusioned, he resigned prematurely and joined the UN to serve the International Criminal Tribunal for Ruwanda as a prosecutor, a job many dreaded to touch due to the risks involved. Shyam was made of sterner stuff and he went round Ruwanda interviewing a large mass of victims, a task which he completed by July. This is said to have earned him a standing ovation at the assembly and a promotion in his job. He was confident that his report would eventually open the eyes of the world.

Though entitled to a home vacation in July, he would gladly postpone it to December to complete his report. He was never destined to have that December holiday.

When his mother phoned him to wish him on his 43 birthday, he complained that he felt like an old man at that age. Lo and behold, it was in exactly a month, that his mother was to hear that he was seriously ill, from no less a person than the present Chief Justice, who probably did not have the heart to break the sad news of Shyam’s death to his mother.

Due to a heart attack he suffered at the age of 32, it was a heart attack that Lalitha initially had suspected as the cause of Shyam’s illness. She is yet to know for certain, the cause of her only son’s death.

Shyam was one of the most affable young men around. He was not only well-educated and well-connected, but also handsome, with a charming smile and endearing ways. Though many a young lady would have been attracted to him, it was only Prashanthi, a State Counsel herself, who won his heart.

Being a Buddhist, I wish that this wonderful human being should never ever encounter an untimely death again in his voyage through Sansara. May Shyam attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana.

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