Sri Lanka Express

Loss Of A Cultural  Icon and a Superlative Sportsman

By  Lakshman Ratnapala
San Francisco, CA


I was not merely saddened but left shell shocked by the loss of two friends, both decent men of high accomplishment, one a creative genius and the other a superlative sportsman, DB Nihalsingha and Jayampati Opatissa Yatawara..
 
DB Nihalsingha, was a young boy in his early teens when I, in my late teens befriended him, the son of my then boss, Lankadipa Editor, DB Dhanapala and his Indian wife, Rathi, an artist of consequence. 


I visited their home at De Fonseka Place Colombo 4, elegantly and artistically furnished, just to hang around and chat nonsense with Nihal, who if I remember right was studying for some exam, possibly the SSC. As the years rolled by, we lost touch, each preoccupied by one's own  predilections.

About 10 years later, I ran into him in the office of my later boss, then Director of Information, Sarath Amunugama, brilliant young Civil Servant and an enthusiastic comrade in arms of the younger "kultur" set, of which Nihal was one. I was surprised to find the tall and youthful Nihal flash that brilliant white smile that lit his ebony face, in a gesture of recognition and greet me warmly. We renewed our old friendship which was interrupted again  when I left, about ten years later for the U.S.A., never to meet again.

I kept abreast of his accomplishments via the news media and was proud of him as he transformed himself to a cultural icon of his time.  Then, less than three months ago, our paths crossed, not in person, but over the Internet. I was launching my book under the patronage of Sarath Amunugama, now a respected Minister of State, renowned for his humility and intellect in an age when Ministers are dime a dozen, but humility and intellect are rare commodities. I consulted some friends as to whom I should invite for the book launch and one of my closest friends, Bandula sent me Nihal's e-mail address to which I sent an invitation, not really expecting him to attend. Although personal issues prevented my own presence, I was told that Nihal was present. That was on January 28th.

Shortly afterwards, I received an e-mail from Nihal complimenting me on the book as being worthy of a documentary. I did not bother to
reply immediately. Then, the idea of a documentary was resurrected by Sri Lanka's eminent diplomat, Dr. Palitha Kohona in a review of the book and just last week end, I e-mailed Nihal inquiring about the logistics and costs of documentary production. A few days later Shantilal De Silva, a mutual friend resident in London, conveyed the sad news of Nihal's unexpected demise, from which I am still struggling to recover, because his loss is not only mine but the nation's as well. 

Nihal's loss is compounded by the loss of another friend, about which I read almost by accident, two days later. This time it is the passing of J.O. Yatawara, sportsman par excellence, a schoolmate at S. Thomas' and a dorm mate at Claughton House. Joy as he was known, was true blue Thomian, by the manner of his soft speech, gentle conduct and  brilliant sportsmanship.  He was Head Cop and colorsman in Athletics, Boxing, Cricket, Hockey, Soccer, Swimming and Tennis.
We became friends in the Claughton House dormitory, when he found I, as a newcomer, was being bullied  by hefty senior Jonklaas. Joy found me sulking and admonished me that I should get up and join the other boys at play. And, what a bunch of boys they were.


 
Diongu Badaturuge (DB)  Nihalsinghe
There were, Ajith Saravanamuttu, son of P.Sara in whose memory the Colombo Oval is named and Nalin Samarasekera, son of the enormously rich "Citronella King" of Matara who when visiting the son brought enough cans of Cadbury chocolates to distribute to all in the dorm.There were also cricketer Michael Tissera ,tennis champ, Rajah Praesody, all-rounders David  Schokman and Homer Titus. But Joy outshone them all with his versatility and humility. Nalin, however, was our envy with his stacks of the rare stiff collared Arrow Shirts, which he was willing to share with anyone and which "Korotta" Virasinghe flaunted as his own on Sunday evenings when all boarders  assembled on the quadrangle. Again it was Joy who admonished me with the words; "neither be a lender nor a borrower be" adding that good Thomians do not covet other's possessions.

Joy was about four years senior to me in school. I lost touch with him when he left college and sailed for the UK, and mailed me a postcard, enroute from Aden. We met all too briefly about 25 years later in Singapore at a Sri Lanka Independence Day celebration at the High Commissioner's residence. And, now we shall never meet. Good bye, adieu, adios, ciao Joy !

Nihal and Joy came from different backgrounds, but both were firmly grounded in what is best that our common culture has to offer. Nihal a Buddhist Anandian and Joy an Anglican Thomian. Now. as I bid farewell to them, I pray "May your journey across the Samsaric Ocean be a short one until Nihal, you attain the bliss of Nirvana and until Joy, you find comfort in the arms of a loving Jesus.