Unforgettable in every way
It has been one year since Nihal Jayamanne PC, eminent and senior counsel, past president of the Bar and wonderful man, passed away. He is deeply missed by friends, colleagues and juniors at the Bar, but none so much as by his family for whom he was the light that shone brightly. Though the lamp is out, its warmth remains with love and fond memories of times gone by.
Nihal Michael Jayamanne, uncle Nihal to me, came into my life when I was a toddler. At the time, he was an apprentice of Samuel J. Kadiragamar QC, and would bunk his apprentice time to court my aunt Rohini, whom he married and enjoyed 49 plus years of life with.
Uncle Nihal was a man of many parts; witty, intelligent, sporty, kind and compassionate, interested in the arts, and above all, a man who could relate to all, young and old. He could indeed walk with kings and not lose the common touch.
In the early days I remember him as a really fun character who would relate entertaining stories. I enjoyed going with him in his spanking new Peugeot which he drove very fast. He bought me my first TinTin book.
On his many visits to our house, he would challenge me to take a broader view of life, embracing all faiths and points of view. He introduced me to the Desiderata and would stress one of its lines; “…listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story”.
He encouraged me to read Fritjof Capra’s “Tao of Physics” about the dance of sub-atomic particles, and see how that compared to the Hindu view of the Universe. As a teenager I was fascinated by this man, who knew all these things about science, nature, the arts and humanities.
His varied interests were reflected in the art and artefacts he collected. In later years his whole house began to resemble a museum and art gallery. His good friend of many years Dr. K. Kanag-Isvaran PC, speaking at the unveiling of his bust at the Colombo Law Library recently, mentioned that it was rare to have a man with all these varied talents. He noted that uncle Nihal had donated a valuable statue of Nataraja from his collection of artifacts to a Hindu temple.
Uncle Nihal lived life in the present. Positive thinking came naturally to him.
Born to Bernadette (Bernie) and Senator J.M. Jayamanne, he had an elder sister Joan and younger brother Bandula (Bandu). He schooled at St. Joseph’s College, was a Senior Prefect and captained the tennis team. When he took to law, his leadership skills were recognized and he was elected President of the Law Students’ Union at Law College. Despite his father being a very successful lawyer, Senator and Minister of Justice, uncle Nihal chose to walk the path of his legal career on his own with no senior. His success was all his own having built up a civil practice in the outstation courts at Homagama and Gampaha and thereafter in Colombo, both in the original and appellate courts. He appeared in many high profile cases and was held in very high esteem by the Bench and the Bar.
From a young age he was a member of the Law Commission. He went on to be its Chairman and was responsible for proposing many useful amendments to both substantive and procedural laws. He was President of the Bar Association and on the suggestion of Judge C.G. Weeramantry then Vice President of the International Court of Justice, he initiated the “Law Week” – a programme for the Bar to interact with the public and solve their issues. This event has thereafter been held annually. He has also been Deputy President of SAARC Law, and President of SAARC Law – Sri Lanka Chapter.
The commercial world also sought his counsel and wanted him to be on several Boards, most notably he was Chairman of Seylan Bank.
When diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in his lungs and given two years to live, he continued working. He was very fortunate to have found a compatible donor and have a double lung transplant – the first time such a surgery was performed in Sri Lanka.
The average life span after such a transplant is five years. Uncle Nihal’s positive thinking and supportive family enabled him to double that. He used that time well, to be with family, pursue his interests and saw his son Tilanka marry Lydia. He also returned to practice and completed 50 years at the Bar – not an easy milestone to reach.
The next milestone was his golden wedding anniversary in October 2022. Coincidentally, my uncle and aunt married on my birthday. Alas, he passed away on the June 14, 2022 after a brief illness. He was a good man, who lived a good life and was fortunate to have a loving family that enjoyed life with him.
In addition to his painting skills, he had an excellent voice and even recorded some Dean Martin, Sinatra and Nat King Cole songs, which are on You Tube.
‘Unforgettable’ by Nat King Cole was one of his favourites. For all of us who knew him well, Nihal Jayamanne will remain;
“Unforgettable in every way,
And forever more, that’s how [he] will stay”.
Sadly I pen a tribute for another brilliant student
It was about one and half years ago that I contacted Jayantha Dhanapala to find his Kandy address in order to send him two of my books. On that day he informed me of the death of S.M.L. Marikkar, his classmate at Trinity College, Kandy, and my student to whom I had taught the classical languages.
In an appreciation on Mr. Marikkar I had used the well-known Latin dictum, “seniores priores” to indicate that in death too, the older should take precedence over the younger as in matters of ordinary life. Sadly it is my turn (as a teacher of few months duration) for the second time to pen some lines in appreciation of another outstanding student.
As I commenced teaching the classical languages I was more than surprised that I had to teach another subject to the students of the University Entrance class. It so happened that this was an exceedingly outstanding group of Arts and Science students. Among them were Jayantha, Marikkar, Sarath Amunugama, Arjuna Aluvihare, Nihal Perera, Breckenridge and Karaliyadde. The subject was called General English, a motley combination of general knowledge, language, precis writing and current affairs. In my school by the Beira this subject was taught by the Rector, Fr. Peter Pillai, a mathematician turned teacher of Government to senior students. Why the Principal, Norman Walter selected me, a greenhorn, to teach this subject was a mystery to me.
Sometimes I was out of my depth. Some of these outstanding students would help me by raising very appropriate questions in class before I got “drowned”. They were Jayantha Dhanapala, S.M.L. Marikkar, and Sarath Amunugama. The last two later joined the Civil Service. Sarath even became my boss when I returned to the public service, the SLAS, after premature retirement with full pension rights.
Jayantha won the Open Essay prize at Trinity in his final year. The English teacher Rev. Eliott shortlisted the competing essayists selecting Jayantha and J.K.L. Pereira as the two best and asked me to be the final arbiter. Though my talents were elsewhere, in the logic of grammar and in figures and less in literature, it was clear that Jayantha should be the winner. JKLP chose accountancy as a profession like me.
After finishing the English Honours degree with a good second class Jayantha had a short stint at my old school at Maradana. In the first Administrative Service examination held, after the abolition of the Civil Service, he was placed first. But he chose the diplomatic service. I heard that he had chosen to learn Mandarin Chinese as one of the foreign languages that young diplomats were required to learn. Another language he learnt was French, updating his knowledge of the language which he had studied as a student in the Department of English.
He later progressed to the top in his career as an Under Secretary to the Secretary General of the United Nations. I remember reading in the media how US President Bill Clinton had paid a tribute to him on his handling of the complex affairs with regard to nuclear arms proliferation and disarmament.
I had not met Jayantha while he was serving in the UN. It was only when he attended meetings of the Peradeniya Jayatilleke Hall old boys that I came face to face with him after 50 years or so. He would have been surprised to see me at these reunions, sometimes playing the piano accordion accompanying the ageing old boys of J Hall, many as silvery baldies singing golden oldies, their favourite songs. Among them were Jayantha’s close friends and Hall mates Rev. Fr. Derrick Mendis and his cousin Rev. Fr. Egerton Perera, both of whom had qualified as Chartered Accountants and had dedicated themselves to a life of poverty as Jesuits. Sadly they are no more.
Jayantha could have reached the top in the UN had the then SL government sponsored his candidacy with greater vigour and sincerity. Even in the case of his classmate Sarath, had the recommendation of the late Prof. Carlo Fonseka to his being the second in command, below the President, in managing the affairs of the country been realized, the world and our country would have been better places. To me his teacher for only six months, now living on borrowed time, it is so sad to say ‘au revoir’ while still being on terra firma.
May Jayantha Dhanapala’s soul rest in peace.
Dr Leo Fernando
This was a man who was generous with himself
A few days ago, I was looking for a game and when opening the old suitcase where they are stored, my eyes fell on a pack of ‘Monopoly Deal’. It was just a pack of cards but I felt that someone had punched me in the stomach. That pack of cards was one more reminder of Dinesh, among many beautiful memories of this outstanding man.
We had been on holiday: the kids were playing ‘Monopoly Deal’ and I commented on what a nice game it was; much quicker to finish than the long hours the board version takes. When packing up to leave, Dinesh comes along with the pack of cards and pops it into my bag. This was Dinesh.
The bell that stands on my mother’s bedside table: one of those old-fashioned ones that our fathers used, to call the office peon. I had wanted one when my mother fell ill, so that she could get the attention of the carer. I had inquired on our WhatsApp group if these were still available. No more than 15 minutes later I get a message from Dinesh, photo attached with details of the shop where it was available, the name of the person to contact and the discounted price he had negotiated! This was Dinesh.
Once we were leaving after one of the many fun-filled meals at Dinesh and Tarni’s beautiful home. My husband had to go home and then leave for a meeting. I told him to go ahead but keep the front door unlocked as I didn’t have the key. Dinesh, who always accompanied his guests to the car said, “have you got a minute?” He ran back in and came with a small steel box. It was a gadget that one could fix on the wall with a combination to store keys in! I didn’t even know such things existed. This was Dinesh.
Much has been written of Dinesh’s generosity and, the countless people he helped, many of them who didn’t even know it was him. Often quietly observing and stepping in to help without you realising that he had even noticed. Dinesh was generous not only with his money, he was generous with his time, with his friendship, with his love and with his kindness. In short, he was generous with himself. It was not that he was not a busy person either. With his demanding business commitments, he was under substantial pressure but he always had time for those that needed it.
Those who knew Dinesh would have known another aspect of him that defined and drove him. Dinesh did not tolerate injustice. And as many activists, he paid for it with his life. I recall the many conversations on the Palestinian crisis and how passionate Dinesh would become when discussing the many blatant aggressions by the Israeli government. As an activist, I too feel deep outrage at the double standards we witness on a daily basis, but unlike Dinesh, I was able to detach from the Palestinian crisis because there is nothing, I can do to change it. Better to concentrate on the mess in our own country. But Dinesh fought on both fronts; his intolerance of global injustice no less than his intolerance for it at home. He was actively engaged in many causes, particularly ones that gave voice to the voiceless.
Dinesh was not one to blare his own horn. He was happiest living his life quietly away from the pageantry, comfortable in his blue striped T shirt and chappals. How sad that in death he has been in the full glare of publicity, his name on everyone’s lips.
But Dinesh, we will remember you for who you were – kind, generous, brilliant, funny and so full of love. You were a steadfast friend, an utterly devoted father and husband, a loving son, brother and uncle. You gave unstintingly of yourself to those around you, and we are richer for having had you in our lives. We will fight for justice for you, and if that doesn’t come in this land of ours; where justice and accountability are words to be trod on and spat out, we will protect your name. And we know that whatever they say, we know the truth.
Rest easy dear friend. You have left a gaping hole in our hearts which we will fill with happy memories; and in time we will laugh without the tears.
Thank you for the golden memories
Geevaka Kosala de Soyza
It was a privilege to have known you for many, many years and to have been married to you at one time long years ago. I always thought of you as a Bodhisattva, a true follower of Buddhist teachings and practising them as closely as you could. Yet you would voluntarily accompany me to Church for Mass.
Your generosity to the homeless and destitute always made you invite them to live in the rooms of your private office for as long as they needed to. You offered lifts to complete strangers on the road, especially at night and if they had much baggage. All this was unlike anyone I knew or know and I was struck by your extreme compassion, generosity and selflessness.
Your architecture and artistry were bywords. The golden roof of the Dalada Maligawa is testimony of one of your masterpieces. The luxury homes and hotels you designed are works of art. You transformed the roof and several sections of my ancestral home which was over 200 years old.
You designed stage sets and took part in plays years ago. You were a student at Cambridge University in your youth. Your talents as a jazz and mood music pianist were amazing and not known to many. You played the piano at our home. I’ll always remember you calling me “Keli Poddi” and not by my name.
Your sense of humour was always irreplaceable and impish. You were self-effacing, humble, generous to a fault, totally without malice and rancour. I make you sound a paragon of virtue, yes I did mention earlier that I always thought of you as a Bodhisattva, that thought will remain. It is not easy to write about you and not be emotional. Your strong character did not allow anyone to influence you against others.
Thank you beloved Geevaka for the love, laughter and golden memories. May your journey in Sansara be brief, and yet peaceful and tranquil like you always were. You are much loved, adored, worshipped and missed.
Finally a beautiful line in someone else’s words that echo my sentiments: ‘The heart has its reasons that the head knows nothing of’.
Adios my friend
Chandra we first met in 1977
Last get-together was 25th December 2022
Our plans for 2023 never materialiaed
22nd March you were called to Heaven
Your presence is difficult to replace
Your knowledge of the world was amazing
Your advice to friends and foes was precious
Your smile and look was full of solace
Now you are no more in this wicked world
Darling wife, son and daughter are full of tears
Friends and colleagues are stunned by your death
Life is that; till we meet in Paradise, ‘Adios’.