by Manik de Silva
The death last week of Nihal Ratnaike, among the country’s most senior English language journalists, brought memories of the fun days at the old Ceylon Observer, then one of two evening English dailies, published here. The other was the once British owned Times of Ceylon occupying what was then the tallest building in the country now dwarfed by the many high-rises that have dramatically changed the Colombo skyline. The Times was by then in gradual decline with many of its journalists joining Lake House.
Nihal began his career as a proof reader at the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. (ANCL) and was soon moved upstairs to the Editorial Department of the Observer, possibly during the time when Tarzie Vittachi, one of the most famous journalists this country had produced. About this I’m not too sure although I was privy to Nihal singing a Tarzie favourite of what happened to Aaron aiya’s narang eta deka to the great merriment of all those around.
When I joined the Observer around 1961 as what was known as a ‘stringer’ in newspaper parlance, Nihal was away in Yugoslavia on an extended scholarship but was much talked about. He returned a few months later to the great joy of Clarence Fernando (Clarrie to his staff and friends), the news editor, who was among the best in the trade, and the rest of the reporters on the Observer news desk as well as the features and sub-editing staff. He was a very popular guy. Given his style, conduct and ability, he had to be.
Denzil Pieris was the editor, a superb journalist bred in the “publish and be damned” tradition, whose talents were recognized and extensively used but never trusted by the owners (he was supposed to be a Communist Party member in his youth) to edit the Ceylon Daily News (CDN), the flagship English paper of the Lake House group. But with the editorship of the evening Observer, came the editorial chair of the Sunday Observer which was then the widest circulating English newspaper in the country commanding a great deal of influence.
Denzil was an easygoing man, though a glutton for work, and was addressed by his first name by all his staff. My father who was amazed by this once asked me, “you call your editor Denzil?” Getting telephone calls through the Lake House exchange was painful and reporters used to walk into the boss’s room to freely use his direct line even when he was at his desk. When I joined, Denzil came to work (except on Saturdays) in a tussore suit and tie driving his green Volkswagen Beetle, dispensing with the jacket which was hung on the back of his chair once in his office. Later the jacket was dropped but not the tie.
In those days the publication of racing news had been banned and the Observer which had a very wide circulation on Saturday race days had become an afternoon paper, out by lunchtime to be picked up by office workers in the Fort and elsewhere. The reporters were supposed to be in office by 7 a.m. but there were only a few – me included, but never Nihal, who kept that deadline. Denzil used to prowl the news room looking over the shoulders of his reporters at their typewriters to see what they were writing. He often wrote his front page editorial, running in a single column from top to the bottom on the left hand side of the page by eight in the morning.
The reporters then included the pipe-smoking William de Alwis, whose father R.E. de Alwis, had been a famous ‘scoop’ getter for Lake House in an earlier era; Nalin Fernando – his father J.L. Fernando, political correspondent for the CDN and later Chief Editorial Executive, H.L.D Mahindapala styled “our parliamentary reporter”, Ranji Handy, later Mrs. Maitripala Senanayake (our political reporter), Gamini Windsor (our shipping reporter) who used to say he was an “offshot of the Duke” mispronouncing the ‘o’, Peter van Reyk who wrote both features and the occasional news story, photographers Rienzie Wijeratne, Harvey Campbell, Wally Perera, Neil Moses and the inimitable Hector Sumathipala. And who can forget Neville Weeraratne (Nihal called him “brother-in-law”) and the diminutive LTP Manjusri who once advised me “kasada nang bandinna epa. Hari karadarai. The camaraderie around the news desk was tremendous and the laughter uproarious.
I remember an exchange between Ranji Handy and Nihal round the tea trolley one morning. Ranji was talking of being somewhere the previous evening when she’d been bored stiff. “Who bored you stiff, Ranji?,” asked Nihal smiling mischievously. I won’t write Ranji’s comeback but there were never hard feelings and it was all good fun.
Nihal was a superbly good human interest story writer whose news contacts I remember included Lincoln Abeywira, the Commissioner of Labour, Felix Dias Abeysinghe, Commissioner of Elections, Sylvia Fernando, one of the few women in the Central Bank hierarchy at that time, Bala Tampoe and DG William, the gravel-voiced LSSP trade unionist and later senator who used to introduce himself as “I, the William”. Nihal did what was called the “labour round” but was never styled “our labour reporter.” He was wont to write short crisp sentences, and whether he really wrote it or not, I don’t know, but he was reputed to have once started a story saying, “The train was late. It was always late. But today it was later than usual.”
When Nihal came back from Yugoslavia, he wrote a series on his experiences there that I, the tenderfoot at the Observer, lapped up. I can’t remember the substance, but anything he wrote was readable. I do remember, however, the many references to plum brandy in that series. As his friend Anura Gunasekera has written elsewhere in this issue, he was always a natty dresser with clothes hanging well on a lean and lanky frame. Although he enjoyed his drinks and drank quite a bit, I have never seen him under the influence.
Outside his Lake House friends I remember Freeman Weerasinghe and Ivan (pronounced evaan not eyevan) Ondatjie, an Assistant Commissioner of Labour, Chitrasena and Senator Reggie Perera. Then there was Tinker Dharmapala, Bevis Bawa and a host of other interesting people I met in his company. I once asked Col. CA Dharmapala, Tinker’s father, why the name board at the gate of his Matara home, Seedevi, merely read “Dharmapala” with no initials. The reply after a moment’s consideration, “I suppose there can be only one Dharmapala in Matara.”
Once Nihal came back from lunch at the senator’s home after a meal that Reggie had promised to cook himself. He wrote of the experience: After the pre-lunch drinks, the guests trooped behind the portly host who presided over the stove with a skillet in his hand “like a surgeon at an operating tables.” He would say “onions” and be provided with them ready peeled and chopped, “spatula,” and what he wanted was slapped into his hand, green chillies, tomatoes and many other ingredients needed were similarly provided. Then he assembled the lot over the stove and produced his culinary masterpiece. The punchline of the story was: “As we were leaving the kitchen, the old kussi amma said in an audible whisper, ohoma nam uyanne kata barida.”
Nihal with his easygoing ways was never a workaholic and perhaps a little lazy. Ironically, it was during a time that he had worked very hard as features editor of the CDN under Sisira Pathiravitarana, when a change of government led to his unfair and illegal sacking from Lake House. He successfully challenged the dismissal, and did various journalism connected jobs for many years until the wheel turned a full circle and he returned to Lake House, retiring as editor of the Daily News. In that avatar, he also held other senior appointments including Chief Editorial Administrative Office and Editorial Director.
Fortunately his years outside ANCL were added to his service period for purposes of calculating gratuity. This plus the fact that he retired on a top salary assured him a terminal award assuring financial stability post-retirement. He wrote well, valued good writing by his colleagues and juniors, always helpful, never malicious or unkind and adornment to the Observer in its heyday.
Those were good times on the Observer, and many were the times we crowded into the Morris Minor taxis of the day and drove to the Buhari for a buriyani and fried chicken (porichchi kikili) lunch after a stopover at a watering hole; or to the Nippon which had its own bar. We laughed, we had fun and hugely enjoyed our work. Nihal was very much a part of that time.
South’s development debacle compounded by SAARC’s inner paralysis
From a development point of view, it’s ‘the worst of times’ for the global South. The view of some of the most renowned development organizations is that the woes brought upon the hemisphere by the Covid-19 pandemic have probably stalled its development by decades. The inference is inescapable that the South would need to start from scratch as it were in its efforts to ease its material burdens, once the present health crisis shows signs of lifting.
A recent Jakarta Post/ANN news feature published in this newspaper on January 14th, detailing some of the dire economic fallout from the pandemic on the South said: ‘Between March and December 2020, the equivalent of 147 million full time jobs were lost in the Asia Pacific region. In 2020, the World Bank estimated that between 140 million people in Asia were pushed into poverty and in 2021 another 8 million became poor…..Vulnerable groups such as women, ethnic and religious minorities and migrant workers were worst affected. Across Asia, informal and migrant workers suffered an estimated 21.6 percent fall in their income in the first four months of the pandemic.’
Needless to say, being one of the least developed regions of the South and its most populous one, it is South Asia that is likely to be worst affected in the current global crunch. A phenomenon that should not go unnoticed in this connection, is the rising number of the ‘new poor’ in the South. This refers in the main to those sections of the middle class that are sliding into the lower middle class and the ranks of the poverty-stricken as a result of the ill-effects of the present crisis. Job loss and decreasing income are some of the causes behind this rising tide of pauperization.
Referring to this and connected processes the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka states in its ‘Sri Lanka State of the Economy 2021’report: ‘Estimates at the USD 3.20 poverty line are forecasted to be at least 228 million, with a larger share of the population emerging from South Asia yet again. Initial projections for 2021 estimate the number of individuals in extreme poverty to be between 143 and 163 million.’ The stark and widespread poverty emerging in Afghanistan since mid-August 2021, ought to push up these figures quite a bit.
Considering that the South is way behind the North in developmental terms, the unfolding global economic crisis could be expected to widen the chasm in material wellbeing between the hemispheres in the days ahead. However, ‘the overwhelming question’ for the South would be how it could fend for itself in the absence of those Southern-centred organizations that could take up its cause in the forums of the world and bring the region together in an effort to work towards its collective wellbeing. The importance of this question is strongly underscored by the fact that SAARC is more or less dysfunctional or paralyzed at present.
The immense magnitude of the poverty question is yet to be realized by the ruling elites of the South. It is as if the chimerical growth spurt in some sections of the South over the past 30 or so years has rendered them numb and insensitive to poverty-related issues, including the ever-yawning gulf within their countries between the obscenely wealthy and the desperately poor. As is known, while the so-called ordinary people of the South have been wilting in dire want over the past two years, the hemisphere has been producing billionaires in disconcertingly high numbers. This could be true of Sri Lanka as well and the Pandora Papers gave us the cue a few months back.
By burying their heads in the sands as it were in this manner, Southern political elites could very well be setting the stage for bloody upheavals within their states. The need for substantial ‘bread’ has always been a driver of socio-political change over the centuries. They are bound to find their problems compounded by the accentuation of ethnicity and religion related questions, considering that such issues are taking a turn for the worse amid the current economic debacle. Vulnerable groups would need to be cared for and looked after by rulers and these include women and ethnic minorities. An aggravation of their lot could compound the worries of Southern rulers.
The phenomenal increase of billionaires ought to be researched more intently and thoroughly by Southern think tanks, R and D organizations and the like. Among other things, does not this disquieting emergence of billionaires prove that classical economics was wrong in assuming that wealth would easily ‘trickle-down’ to the masses from wealth creators, such as businessmen and other owners of capital? After all, we now have clear evidence that mountainous wealth could exist amid vast wastes of poverty and powerlessness.
However, the view of some commentators that ‘neoliberal policies of privatization’ and connected issues should now be reassessed and even eschewed ought to strike the observer as worthy of consideration. These policies that enthrone free market economics should be viewed as badly in need of revision and correction in view of the inherently unstable economic systems that they have given rise to over the past three decades. Their serious flaws are thrown into strong relief by the present Southern economic crisis which has resulted in some isolated, formidable towers of wealth and opulence sprouting in a sea of hardship and economic want.
Hopefully, we would see a renewed wide-ranging discussion on development models from now on. Ideally, growth needs to go hand-in-hand with equity if development is to be achieved to a degree. There is no getting away from the need for central planning to some extent in our efforts to reach these ends. Capital and Labour would need to come together in a meeting of minds in these endeavours. Development thrusts would need to be launched on pragmatic considerations as well.
However, a regional approach to resolving these issues facing South Asia needs to be renewed and persisted with as well. As long as SAARC remains paralyzed such efforts are unlikely to bear full fruit. Accordingly, India and Pakistan, the regional heavyweights, need to negotiate an end to their differences and help rejuvenate SAARC; South Asia’s key collective body that could usher in a measure of regional development.
History of St. Sebastian’s Shrine, Kandana
By Godfrey Cooray
Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Norway, Finland and Iceland
According to legend, St. Sebastian was born at Narbonne in Gaul. He became a soldier in Rome and encouraged Marcellian and Marcus who were sentenced to death to remain firm in their faith. St. Sebastian made several converts; among them were master of the rolls Nicostratus, who was in charge of prisoners and his wife, Zoe, a deaf mute whom he cured.
Sebastian was named captain in the Roman Army by Emperor Diocletian, as Emperor Maximian went to the east. Neither knew that Sebastian was a Christian. When it was discovered that Sebastian was indeed a Christian, he was ordered to be executed. He was shot with arrows and left to die but when the widow of St. Castulas went to recover his body, she found out that he was still alive and nursed him back to health. Soon after his recovery, St. Sebastian intercepted the Emperor; denounced him for his cruelty to Christians and was beaten to death on the Emperor’s order.
St. Sebastian was venerated in Milan as early as the time of St. Ambrose. St. Sebastian is the patron of archers, athletes, soldiers, the Saint of the youths and is appealed to protection against the plagues. St. Ambrose reveals that the parents young Sebastian were living in Milan as a noble family. St. Ambrose further says that Sebastian along with his three friends, Pankasi, Pulvius and Thorvinus completed his education successfully with the blessing of his mother, Luciana. Rev. Fr. Dishnef guided him through his spiritual life. From his childhood, Sebastian wanted to join the Roman Army and with the help of King Karnus, young Sebastian became a soldier. Within as short span of time he was appointed as the Commander of the Army of king Karnus. Emperor Diocletian declared Christians the enemy of the Roman Empire and instructed judges to punish Christians who have embraced the Catholic Church. Young Sebastian as one of the servants of Christ converted thousands of other believers into Christians. When Emperor Diocletian revealed that Sebastian had become a Catholic, the angery Emperor ordered for Sebastian to be shot to death with arrows. After being shot, one of Sebastian supporters, Irane, treated him and cured him. When Sebastian was cured, he came to Emperor Diocletian and professed his faith for the second time disclosing that he is a servant of Christ. Astounded by the fact that Sebastian is a Christian, Emperor Diocletian ordered the Roman Army to kill Sebastian with club blows.
In the liturgical calendar of the Church, the feast of the St. Sebastian is celebrated on 20th of January. This day is, indeed, a mini Christmas to the people of Kandana, irrespective of their religion. The feast commences with the hoisting of the flag staff on the 11th of January at 4 p.m. at the Kandana junction, along the Colombo- Negombo road. There is a long history attached to the flag staff. The first flag staff which was an ariecanut tree, 25 feet tall was hoisted by the Aththidiya family of Kandana and today their descendants continue hoisting of the flag staff as a tradition. This year’s flag staff too was hoisted by the Raymond Aththidiya family. Several processions originating from different directions carrying flags meet at this flag staff junction. The pouring of milk on the flag staff has been a tradition in existence for a long time. The Nagasalan band was introduced by a well-known Jaffna businessman that had engaged in business in Kandana in the 1950s. The famous Kandaiyan Pille’s Nagasalan group takes the lead even today in the procession. Kiribath Dane in the Kandana town had been a tradition from the time immemorial.
According to the available history from the Catholic archives and volume III of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, the British period of vicariates of Colombo written by Rev. Ft. Vito Perniola SJ in 1806 states that the British government granted the freedom of conscious and religion to the Catholics in Ceylon and abolished all the anti-Catholic legislation enacted by the Dutch. The proclamation was declared and issued on the 3rd of August 1796 by Colonel James Stuart, the officer commanding the British forces of Ceylon stated “freedom granted to Catholics” (Sri Lanka national archives 20/5).
Before the Europeans, the missioners were all Goans from South India. In the year 1834, on the 3rd of December, XVI Gregory the Pope, issued a document Ex Muwere pastoralis ministeric, after which the Ceylon Catholic Church was made under the South Indian Cochin diocese. Very Rev. Fr. Vincent Rosario, the Apostolic VicarGeneral, was appointed along with 18 Goan priests (The Oratorion Mission in Sri Lanka being a history of the Catholic Chruch 1796-1874 by Arthur C Dep Chapter 11 pg 12) Rev Fr. Joachim Alberto arrived in Sri Lanka as missionary on the 6th of March 1830 when he was 31 years old and he was appointed to look after Catholics in Aluthkuru Korale consisting Kandana, Mabole, Nagodaa and Ragama. There have been one church built in 1810 in Wewala about three miles away from Kandana. Wewala Chruch was situated bordering Muthurajawela which rose to fame for its granary. History reveals that the entire area was under paddy cultivation of which most of them were either farmers or toddy tappers. History further reveals that there have been an old canal built by King Weera Parakrama Bahu. Later it was built to flow through the Kelani River and Muthurajawela up to Negombo which was named as the Dutch Canal (RL Brohier historian).
During the British time this canal was named as Hamilton Canal and was used to transport toddy, spices, paddy and tree planks of which tree planks were stored in Kandana. Therefore, Kandana name derives from “Kandan Aana”.
Rev. Fr. Joachim Alberto purchased a small piece of land called Haamuduruwange watte at Nadurupititya in Kandana and put up a small cadjan chapel and placed a picture of St. Sebastian for the benefit of his small congregation. In 1837 with the help of the devotees, he dug a small well of which water was used for drinking and bathing and today this well is still operative. He bought several acres of land including the present cemetery premises. Moreover, he had put up the church at Kalaeliya in honour of his patron St. Joachim where his body has been laid to rest according to his wish of the Last will attested by Weerasinghe Arachchige Brasianu Thilakaratne. Notary public dated 19th of July 1855. Present Church was built on the property bought on the 13th of August 1875 on deed no. 146 attested by Graciano Fernando. Notary public of the land Gorakagahawatta Aluthkuru Korale Ragam Pattu in Kandana within the extend ¼ acre from and out of the 16 acres. According to the old plan number 374 made by P.A. H. Philipia, Licensed surveyor on the 31st of January 195, 9 acres and 25 perches belonged to St. Sebastian church. However, today only 3 acres, 3 roods and 16.5 perches are left according to plan number 397surveyed by the same surveyor while the rest had been sold to the villagers. According to the survey conducted by Orithorian priest on the 12th of February 1844 there were only 18 school-going Catholic students in AluthKuru Korale and only one Antonio was the teacher for all classes. In 1844 there was no school at Kandana (APF SCG India Volume 9829).
According to Sri Lanka National Archives (The Ceylon Almanac page 185) in the year 1852 there were 982 Catholics – Male 265, female 290, children 365 with a total of 922. According to the census reports in 2014 prepared by Rev. Ft. Sumeda Dissanayake TOR, the director Franciscan Preaching group, Kadirana Negombo a survey revealed that there are 13,498 Catholics in Kandana.
According to the appointment of the Missionaries in the year 1866-1867 by Bishop Hillarien Sillani, Rev. Fr. Clement Pagnani OSB was sent to look after the missions in Negoda, Ragama, Batagama, Tudella, Kandana, Kala Eliya and Mabole. On the 18th of April 1866, the building of the new church commenced with a written agreement by and between Rec. Fr. Clement Pagnani and the then leaders of Kandana Catholic Village Committee. This committee consisted of Kanugalawattage Savial Perera Samarasinghe Welwidane, Amarathunga Arachchige Issak Perera Appuhamy, Jayasuriya Arachchige Don Isthewan Appuhamy, Jayasuriya Appuhamylage Elaris Perera Muhuppu, Padukkage Andiris Perera Opisara, Kanugalawattage Peduru Perera Annavi and Mallawa Arachchige Don Peduru Appujamy. The said agreement stated that they will give written undertaking that their labour and money will be utilised to build the new church of St. Sebastian and if they failed to do so they were ready to bear any punishment which will be imposed by the Catholic Church.
Rev. Fr. Bede Bercatta’s book “A History of the Vicariate of Colombo page 359” says that Rev. Fr. Stanislaus Tabarani had problems of finding rock stones to lay the foundation. He was greatly worried over this and placed his due trust in divine providence. He prayed for days to St. Sebastian for his intercession. One morning after mass, he was informed by some people that they had seen a small patch of granite at a place in Rilaulla, close to the church premises although such stones were never seen there earlier and requested him to inspect the place. The parish priest visited the location and was greatly delighted as his prayers has been answered. This small granite rock provided enough granite blocks for the full foundation of the present church. This place still known as “Rilaulla galwala”. The work on the building proceeded under successive parish priests but Rev. Fr. Stouter was responsible for much of it. The façade of the church was built so high that it crashed on the 2nf of April of 1893. The present façade was then built and completed in the year 1905. The statue of St. Sebastian which is behind the altar had been carved off a “Madan tree”. It was done by Paravara man named Costa Mama, who was staying with a resident named Miguel Baas a Ridualle, Kandana. This statue was made at the request of Pavistina Perera Amaratunge, mother of former Member of Parliament gate muadliyer D. Panthi Jayasuriya. The church was completed during the time of Rev. Fr. Keegar and was blessed by then Archbishop of Colombo Dr. Anthony Courdert OMI on the 20th of January 1912. In 1926, Rev. Fr. Romauld Fernando was appointed as the parish priest to Kandana Church. He was an educationalist and a social worker. Without any hesitation he can be called as the father of education in Kandana. He was the pioneer to build three schools to Kandana: Kandana St. Sebastian Boys School, Kandana St. Sebastian English Girls School and, the Mazenod College Kandana. Later he was appointed as the principal of the St. Sebastian Boys English School. He bought a property at Kandana close to Ganemulla road and started De Mazenod College. Later, it was given officially to Christian Brothers of Sri Lanka, by then Archbishop of Colombo, Peter Mark. In 1931, there were three hundred students (history of De Lasalle brothers by Rev. Fr. Bro Michael Robert). Today, there are over three thousand five hundred students and is one of the leading catholic schools in Sri Lanka. In 1924, one Karolis Jayasuriya Widanage donated two acres to build De Mazenod College for its extension.
First priest from Kandana to be ordained was Rev. Fr. William Perera in 1904. With the help of Rev. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody, he composed the famous hymn “the Vikshopa Geethaya”, the hymn of our Lady of Sorrow.
The Life story of St. Sebastian was portrayed through a stage play called “Wasappauwa” and the world famous German passion play Obar Amargave wchi was a sensation was initiated by Rev. Fr. Nicholas Perera. Legend reveals that in the year 1845, a South Indian catholic on his way to meet his relatives in Colombo had brought down a wooden statue of St. Sebastian, one and half feet tail to be sold in Sri Lanka. When he reached Kalpitiya he had unexpectedly contracted malaria. He had made a vow at St. Anne’s church. Thalawila expecting a full recovery. In route to Colombo he had come to know about the church in Kandana and dedicated to St. Sebastian. In the absence of the then parish priest Rev. Fr. Joachim Alberto, the Muhuppu of the Church with the help of the others had agreed to buy the statue for 75 pathagas (one pahtaga was 75 cent). Even though the seller had left the money in the hands of the “Muhuppu” to be collected in the meantime he never returned.
On the 19th of January 2006, Archbishop Oswald Gomis declared St. Sebastian Church as “St. Sebastian Shrine” by way of special notification and handed over the declaration to Rev. Fr. Susith Perera, the parish priest of Kandana.
On the 12th of January 2014, Catholics in Sri Lanka celebrated the reception of a reliquary containing a fragment of the arm of St. Sebastian. The reliquary was gifted from the administrator of the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua and was brought to Sri Lanka by Monsignor Neville Perera. His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjit, Archbishop of Colombo accompanied by priests and a large gathering received the relic at the Katunayake International Airport, brought to Kandana lead by a procession and was enthroned at the St. Sebastian Shrine.
Rev. Fr. Lalith Expeditus the present administrator of the shrine and other two assistant priests Rev. Fr. Sunath Udara and Fr. Sumeda Perea have finalized all arrangements to conduct the feast of St. Sebastian in grand scale. The vespers service will be officiated by his Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjit and the festival high mass will be solemnized by most Rev. his Lordship J.D. Anthony, Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo.
The latest book written by Senior Lawyer Godfrey Cooray named “Santha Sebastian Puranaya Saha Kandana”. (The history of St. Sebastian and Kandana) was launched at De La Salle Auditorium De Mazenod College, Kandana.
The Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and former Chief Justice Priyasath Dep were the guests at the event.
The book discusses about the buried history of Muthurajawela and Aluth Kuru Korale civilization, the history of Kandana and St. Sebastian. The author discusses the historical and archaeological values and culture.
His musical exploits has touched millions of fans
Tribute to entertainer-singer par excellence – Desmond de Silva
By Trevine Rodrigo
The great Desmond De Silva, who departed from this world, on Sunday, January 9th, had been in hibernation for several months, due to the devastating outbreak of Covid, which shut down many parts of Australia.
After border closures were lifted, he embarked on a 31st night dinner dance, at the Sri Lounge in the Docklands, in Melbourne, where he delivered his last fully energised performance.
Widely regarded as Sri Lanka’s best singer/entertainer by far, over five decades, Desmond has covered every spectrum of music, in Sri Lanka, and later, in England and Australia, while wowing millions of adoring fans around the globe.
His achievements in music cannot be encompassed in a few paragraphs but his fans will readily testify to the indelible mark he has made as a wonderful performer. He was to Sri Lankans what Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra was to the world, showcasing a rare and extraordinary talent that even extended to Motown.
He has travelled through numerous countries as a band member, mainly Europe and Asia, and has teamed up with hundreds of musicians along the way who have marvelled at his unique presence on stage.
After years of globe-trotting as a performer, with the Jetliners and later the Spitfires, he then continued his work as a leader of his own band, Desmond and the Clan, and this setup was very popular in Europe and Scandinavia.
After years of adventure, on the road, he then settled on a solo career, singing as a guest singer and his popularity soared when he ventured into the Sinhala music scene, as well.
Before long, he commanded the respect of the nation by being proclaimed the King of Baila which skyrocketed his fame in an era that gave fame but no massive financial gain, as he rose to an iconic status.
Ironically, Desmond always harboured his love for Western music and quite naturally chose not to be categorised, or pigeonholed, as one dimensional. He has produced many CDs, videos and commands thousands of followers on YouTube, and other related music channels.
His impressive versatility and ability to own the stage made him a standout among music lovers, immaterial of their ethnicity, and, sadly, he is another of the Sri Lankan icons who have departed this world, alongside Sunil Perera (of the Gypsies) and Ronnie Leitch, in recent times.
His musical exploits has touched millions of fans through several generations and will continue to do so, such is the impact he has cemented as a once-in-a-lifetime performer. He has nurtured several musicians, along the way, giving them pointers which have helped them launch their own careers in music to great heights. He maintained a high degree of professionalism and would not compromise his standards for anything less.
Never the arrogant performer, Des had an uncanny ability to interact with his fans, on and off stage, and this trait would see him draw invitations from all over the world.
I for one was amazed at his stamina and durability…to be in England one day, then on to Toronto and other cities in Canada, on to Sri Lanka, and several other countries, until, unfortunately, the pandemic curtailed his foreign assignments.
In our own interaction with him, my wife, Anne, and I, shared a special love for the man who slipped into our lifestyle, seamlessly, with wife, Phyllis.
He was a caring and wonderful friend and would call us at least once a week, from Sydney, to check how we were going or to share a joke. Our lives will never be the same without Desmond De Silva, a gentleman and wonderful friend.
Yes, the brilliant musician and singer/ entertainer Desmond De Silva was tragically snatched away from our midst in cruel circumstances when he suffered cardiac arrest, in his sleep, while in Melbourne. He was 77.
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