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Friday, 29 July 2011






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A tribute to my friends gifted with words they seldom use

Not everyone ends up doing what he or she was trained to do. Sometimes it seems that life is nothing but unanticipated reinventions of self. Bends in the road don’t always come pre-announced. We rejoice in the circumstances we find ourselves in, congratulate ourselves if this is where we planned to be and worked to get to, resign ourselves to living out our remaining useful days doing what we do because we cannot do the things we like to do out of skill-lack or opportunity-lack.

People are not one dimensional. Many are endowed with multiple skills. Life does not always provide time and space to explore the limits of the full range of talents. This is why some people are occasionally told ‘you’ve missed your true vocation’. On the other hand, not having inhabited perceived ‘true vocation’, people cannot really get a sense of true-dimensionality. We get by, all of us, though.

Lack of competition

I write for a living, but I never thought ‘writing’ as a possible career in the first 35 years of my life. I have no way of knowing what people might think my career was at the point of death. Predictability is an imperfect science in these times of road-bend and circumstance-wrecking.

Yesterday I thought of writers and writing. As a schoolboy I had to write. It was part of the curriculum. On the other hand there was some out-of-classroom writing also. I contributed articles to souvenirs. I took part in essay writing and creative writing competitions. So did my contemporaries. This is a tribute to those among them who knew word and used it effectively.

First and foremost, there was Rajiva Weerasundera. Rajiva won the Senior Essay Prize in the year we both competed for it. He did not have reason to compete in the following year. I won, probably because of the lack of competition. Rajiva was at the time a student in the bio-stream. I was a mathematics student. He went on to complete a degree in medicine. While waiting for his A/L results, Rajiva spent some time at the now defunct ‘Sun’ and probably holds a record for the longest uninterrupted columns he writes in one of the Sunday newspapers.

I still remember an article he wrote for a souvenir to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the scout troop in our school that Kanishka Goonewardena and I edited. Rajiva poked fun at scouts and scouting in a very light and entertaining piece of writing. I think it was the best article in that collection. He has always been eloquent, insightful, witty, genial and most importantly never compromised his integrity.

Excellent essays

Kanishka was the scribe of our scout troop. His account of the 1982 Trinco Camp is the best report in that particular logbook. He studied architecture at Moratuwa University. Planning fascinated him more than designing houses did and he went on to complete a Masters in that subject at the University of Southern California and a PhD too, at Cornell University. From ‘planning’ it wasn’t a long jump to political philosophy, given his interest in Marxism and social transformation. He now heads the Department of Geography at the University of Toronto. He hardly ever writes to audiences outside academe but the few he has written are excellent essays.

Another regular contributor to souvenirs was Sanjeewa Jayawardena. Sanjeewa led the school debating team (English) and he was the best speaker I’ve heard from 1977 to 1984. He studied law and apart from a warm tribute to a much loved teacher in this year’s big match souvenir, he’s been absent in the public sphere in terms of writing. Pity.

Finally, there’s Panduka Karunanayake. Panduka was also a bio-student, like Rajiva. He was not a sourvenir-person. I remember him as a brilliant student, accomplished athlete, always good humoured and extremely sharp and thoughtful in conversation. I had lost touch for more than two decades and was pleased to run into him recently. A physician by training and university lecturer by profession, Panduka’s professional interest in infectious diseases has made him explore disciplines such as economics and sociology.

He has written to newspapers on occasion on areas he has invested time and reflection on. They are masterpieces. It is indeed a pity that he doesn’t write more often. Perhaps then, the relevant authorities might listen to him, take heed of his warnings and build upon his suggestions.

Good company

More than a quarter of a century after leaving school, following dreams, living realities and settling down in the unsettling contexts of being, I would not tell my friends they’ve missed their vocation. I am sure they all contribute one way or another to make things better for their fellow creatures. I am not a healer or a teacher, not a researcher or theorist and certainly not a lawyer. I write by default for I wandered into this field, perhaps by mistake or having lost my way pursuing other dreams that got derailed as often happens.

My friends are not known as writers because they are known for the other things they do. To me, though, they are masters of the word, good human beings and make good company in a strange kind of way.

Yes, I am proud of my writing contemporaries.



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