Tribute - Tommy and Indrika


Tommy and Indrika

By Priya Cooray

‘Make sure you meet Tommy and Indrika; they are good people and every Sri Lankan in Dubai knows them’, these were the words I heard from my mentor, Capt. Elmo Jayawardena when I broke the news of my posting to Dubai. He was giving me a Moratuwa connection. I wondered whether this was the same ‘Tommy Uncle’ who used to attend Jaycees meetings at our home when we were kids.

April 1999, my first week in Dubai, Heshan De Silva took me to meet Tommy at the Dubai Tennis Club as there was a Lanka Lions Tennis event. The moment I saw his broad smile, I knew it was the same ‘Tommy Uncle’ who had walked me as a kid holding my little fingers. I greeted him with a ‘hello Tommy Uncle’ and he greeted me back with a warm hug but followed by the words ‘umba maava kanna epa, everyone calls me Tommy, there is no uncle business here’. Heshan nodded his head to confirm and we all had a good old laugh. But that was the reality, Tommy he was; and Tommy and Indrika they were, for everyone without any frills.

The days of the 70s with Bee Gees, Bell bottoms, slim fit Terreline shirts and Sideburns; all those were common fashions in Moratuwa too. But it was not so common for a bell-bottom-wearing lad with bobbed hair from St. Sebastian’s College to have a pretty lass from Bishops College, Colombo ride on his creaking bicycle. Tommy probably was the envy of the other local Bee Gees in Koralawella as he had the bragging rights for netting the gold fish in the neighbourhood. The ever-sparkling love they had for each other was always the same as in the days of those creaky bicycle rides. It blossomed with even more colour when God blessed them with their precious bundles of joy: Thamindri and Indresh. Together the four of them formed one of the best family relationships many of us have ever witnessed.

For people like me who had come to Dubai in search of the Promised Land at tender ages, unbeknown to us there lurked ample vices and opportunities as in any country, to propel us right down Lucifer’s track. But then Tommy and Indrika who had arrived many years ahead of us were a God sent father and a mother to many of us. They held us together in various ways and protected us from straying, silently playing a big role in our lives. For close to 25 years of life in the Gulf my phone rang frequently, it was either Tommy or Indrika, not a long conversation but just to ask ‘Oya Kohomada? Okkoma hondaida?’ (Are you okay? is everything alright?). When I confirmed that I am good, the call got hung up with ‘that’s all I wanted to know’, to ring again in a week or so. The telephones of many a young and old rang the same way.

Us, who were from the hamlet of Moratuwa, Indrika jokingly tagged as ‘Welle Kollo’, boys from the seashore. But they never differentiated between anyone be it ‘Welle Kollo or Colamba Kollo’, for them all were the same. Tommy was always a community leader much respected as a wise man who could galvanise a multitude of people towards a common cause. He was a delightful orator and a natural toast master, who never backed down from calling things straight, as for him the principles of fairness applied before any other. Importantly he never played politics in what he did. These values were manifested throughout his life and especially during the time he presided over Lanka Lions to unify Sri Lankans in the UAE under a single banner, still spoken by many as the best days of any Sri Lankan association in the UAE.

Tommy and Indrika would work with people from all walks of life, sans all man-made divisions. They loved to work with young people, motivating and guiding them, exuding the same level of energy and enthusiasm. Tommy exemplified this trait again by helping to establish the St. Sebastian’s College OBA chapter in the UAE as its founder patron 12 years ago. He started it with a handful of Sebastianites at his home and helped grow it to a sizeable community of 60 members by the time he bade farewell to Dubai.

Tommy was also much respected in the world of Insurance by his superiors, colleagues and competitors alike. He was also instrumental in starting the ‘SriLankan Insurance Professionals Association’ in UAE. The respect he had in the insurance world was demonstrated by colleagues who had flown to pay their last respects to him even after five years of his leaving the shores of Dubai.

They were two of the most dedicated sports enthusiasts we had come across. They knew exactly how to motivate young sports people by their encouraging words, honest feed-back and being dedicated supporters. They would talk or debate long about all sports with former Srilankan greats playing in UAE and even shared a candid conversation with the visiting Sri Lankan national cricket and rugby teams.

All what Tommy did was backed to the fullest by his trusted lieutenant, Indrika. She was his strength in everything they did and a wonderful partner to Tommy in sharing the joys and sorrows of hundreds of people their lives touched. She was a great cook, with somewhat BAD timing, punctuality not being one of her strengths, but it was always worth waiting to enjoy her delicious dishes. When she catered for orders, she cooked extra for the poor who were stranded and those who came to the church looking for a free meal.

She never knew nor agreed that there were 24 hours to a day. Her day was not designed based on the clock, but based on the pulse of others. Probably someone who slept the least, staying up for young mums to look after their babies. Helping so many less fortunate people stranded in the UAE. If the day had 48 hours, she still would have slept very little, helping others the rest. Such was her kindness and selfless love, resonating the true human spirit.

The De Silva home had open doors and ready shoulders to accept other people’s burdens. I had never heard them talk about their own difficulties but mostly of the others and how they could provide comfort.

Their doors were also open for celebrating not only their joyful moments, but others’ too. During those times, when Indrika ran her fingers on their Piano it was literally music to our ears and Tommy complemented with his vocal talents which always included his favourite song ‘Thaniwee Sitinnai Ma Adahas Kare’.

They say when you leave the Middle East you carry a bucket-full of dollars and another full of pain. But De Silva family’s buckets were less of dollars and more of warmth and gratitude from their friends, for they never focused on amassing material wealth but more on building relationships through love and kindness. God's own kind, after God's own heart, these being the dividends that God would probably count.

Having given their best to their children and to others, they bade goodbye to Dubai to set-up their retirement dreams in the house they had built in Koralawella near where Tommy was brought up with his siblings, Lalitha, Henderson, Patterson and Jefferson and near where Indrika grew up with her sister Maneesha. But somehow God recalled Indrika home somewhat too soon, may be in his plans to set up a place for Tommy. But for Tommy, Thamindri and Indresh and for all of us, it was a devastating and an unfathomable loss.

Without his soul-mate who waltzed with him across the plateaus of life from the creaky bicycle days, Tommy’s favourite song ‘Thaniwee Sitinnai’ was way too painful for him and he ached only to go where Indrika went. He would have surely joined from Heaven with Indrika on a golden bicycle, when his friends sang it one last time at his wake.

We miss them badly, but we will surely reunite with them when the bell tolls for each and every one of us one day.



animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...