Segarajasingham Nagendra, known as Sega, met the love of his life when they were both children. Eight years her senior, Sega was the playmate and bodyguard of his cousin Sarla Murugaser. Both were direct descendants of Sir Ponnamabalam Arunachalam, being this illustrious Ceylonese’ great-grandchildren down different lines.
As they grew up, the newly qualified driver, Sega, would give Sarla lifts home from school, borrowing his father’s Humber Hawk motorcar. She remembers him shouting at the other drivers as they cut in front, or perhaps he cut in behind. Judging Colombo’s random roadsters then as today is more a matter of opinion than fact.
Those days Sega and Sarla were just playmate cousins. Sega was schooled at St Joseph’s College, where he was an enthusiastic sportsman, while Sarla excelled as a sprinter at Ladies College. It was a few years after her leaving school that this tall skinny but extremely handsome young man was presented to Sarla as a suitor by her mother. As was often the case in those days, it was not so much the young man pursuing the young lady. Following ancient tradition, the young lady’s mother, Maheswary Murugaser, caught the young man. Having been close from a young age, neither the young man nor the young lady made any attempt to escape the chase, falling willingly into each other’s arms. For their honeymoon in 1969 Sega borrowed his father’s second motorcar, a Ford Anglia, driving the happy couple on a 1,500 km tour around Ceylon.
Sega’s parents, Dr. T. Nagendra and Annarpoorni, were content that their devoted son moved them from primary to secondary place in his affections, yielding precedence to his new bride. With his parents living close by in Rosmead Place, Sega would continue to visit them every day, possibly for the rest of their lives.
Sarla’s father T. Murugaser, a senior public servant and later businessman, who for a time managed the Sri Lanka Cricket Team, gave Sega a fatherly lecture. Sega was instructed to look after his daughter as carefully as he himself had done and to never move far away from him. Sega honoured both these promises. He treasured and cared for Sarla, as she treasured and cared for him. With her family home on Alexandra Place Colombo 7, the furthest the young couple moved was to a rented property, Rs 150 per month, on Gregory’s Road. This is on the opposite side of St. Bridget’s Convent. Not long after, they bought the property adjacent to Sarla’s parents’ in Alexandra Place. Here they lived the rest of their lives together. Here they brought up their two children, Kshirabdhi and Prashan, and welcomed their son-in-law Jekhan and their daughter-in-law Chameli. And they enjoyed their two grandsons Karnan and Suhit.
Sega commenced his career at Ford Rhodes & Thornton, later to become KPMG. After part-qualifying, Sega joined Carson Cumberbatch, one of Sri Lanka’s leading firms. Starting as a junior accounts executive earning Rs1,500 per month, he rose through the ranks in that company to become the Senior Director. As he moved into the corporate’s upper echelons, Sega became the resident general manager of Pegasus Reef, at the time a leading beach hotel.
He moved on from there to become the director in charge where Carson was the Sri Lanka agent for leading foreign products such as Michelin Tyres. He rose to become Carson’s Chief Accountant before he took on his favourite role as KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Director. His KLM role, which he held for almost 20 years, provided perks allowing him to travel extensively around the world on free first-class tickets, often taking Sarla and their two children to the USA, Europe and the Middle East. Marketing the KLM brand in Sri Lanka put him in the limelight he relished. Even though Sega himself was a teetotaler, he headed campaigns including the popular annual Oktoberfest beer festival. After he retired from Carson in 1997 Sega joined his dear friend Dion Jayasuriya to become Finance Director of CML Edwards, a company building roads and bridges across Sri Lanka. He eventually retired from CML Edwards in 2018. Until his dying day, Sega continued to be chairman and director of companies, including the technology company E-Futures where his son Prashan is CEO.
Sega was an outstanding networker aided by Sarla who was every bit his equal in this sphere. Together they made the perfect partnership, sometimes attending several dinners in a day, maintaining strong relations with friends and influencers in Colombo. Sega was a past chairman/president of the Sri Lanka chapters of the Skal Club, the Pacific Asia Travel Association, and the Chartered Management Institute. He chaired the Sri Lanka Pakistan and the Sri Lanka Benelux Business Councils. In 2015 he became Chairman of perhaps Sri Lanka’s most prestigious association, The Colombo Club.
Every human enjoys happiness and suffers tragedy. Sega was a leading businessman, director and chairman of many companies, patron and trustee of temples and associations. He was highly respected as an honourable man who would do his utmost to see fair play. His relationship with his wife was one of the best I have ever seen. However, his greatest tragedy was losing his daughter, who suffered from pulmonary fibrosis and passed away in London in 2013 at 40 years of age, leaving her 16-year-old son and husband. For the remaining nine years of his life, this tragedy remained with him. He was her hero, she was his angel.
At Sega’s funeral, I was told by many what I already knew. That he
was a very good man. That he was a people’s person. I can personally attest he would greet the office peon as sincerely and kindly as he would an ambassador.
Sega passed away suddenly of a heart attack. He and Sarla had recently spent Christmas in England, visiting his grandson Karnan and fiancée Ellie at their new home in Folkestone. Just a month before they had visited me in Jaffna, the town of their ancestors. Sega had the good fortune to make these important reconnections before he was taken.
The world lost one of its gentlemen. I believe, by his example, others who knew him have learned to become gentlemen and gentlewomen.
A change of economic policies for Sri Lanka
Millions of Sri Lankans are anxiously waiting to see what actions will be taken to make life bearable again.If we follow the example of successful countries we see them exploit their opportunities, and use the wealth created, not to import cars and go on luxury trips abroad, but to re-invest the money proceeds in further projects to bring in even more money. They proceed in this way until their citizens have good standard of living. Probably, the best example of that compounding of wealth is Singapore.
Singapore exploited its geographic advantages. It provided cruise ships with bunkering services and repair, later they provided airlines with refueling and expanded that to one night free stop- overs for passengers to buy luxury goods at their glamorous, tax-free shopping malls. The Japanese were making wonderful new gadgets: cameras, music players, portable radio cassette players, binoculars, all available in the malls and sold tax free!! Lee Kuan Yu forbade the ladies to wear denim jeans, and to wear dresses with hem lines coming down two inches below the knee! He even instructed the ladies to smile! No man could have long hair for fear of arrest. Littering was prohibited, so was chewing gum and smoking butts on the roads and pavements. The place was kept clean!
They used the proceeds arising from all this commercial activity to build housing blocks, develop new roads and other beneficial projects. (Individuals were not allowed to walk away with the profits, just to fritter them away.) Sentosa Island had installed a communications dish antenna connecting it with New York and the financial markets. This was an example of intelligent seizing of opportunities. I account for this intelligent development as due to the high educational and knowledge of Singapore’s progressive management. The result is a firm currency, holding its value.
Something similar has happened to Russia. Russia is rich. It is under progressive intelligent management. Stalin had developed the railway network across the full eleven time zones. But many areas remained to be connected. Putin found the finances to develop coal mines, develop oil and gas deposits and build railway bridges and tunnels for better access to markets and their demand for Russian products. Even as you read this, trains of 70 plus trucks, each with 70 tons of coal are grinding their way to China, day and night. Gas is flowing through an extensive network of pipelines, both east to China and west to friendly countries in Southern Europe. Mr. Putin and his men have succeeded in getting Russia fully functional. And the more Russians there are to spend money, so the more demand for goods and services: shops, etc., providing multiplying employment in Russia.
Mr. Putin wants to build a road and rail link south through Iran to India. A design plan is in the works. It is being discussed with Iran and India. Putin is displaying initiative for the benefit of Russia and its citizens. Putin cares for the citizens of Russia and is creating both wealth and jobs too. Architects are designing attractive living spaces and buildings which provide a better environment for Russians and contractors are building it. Education of Russian citizens is playing a big part in Mr. Putin’s thinking, too. Russia needs a talented workforce.
The result is that the currency, the Ruble is strong and does not devalue. It keeps its value.Belarus, Russia’s neighbour, can also be praised for outstanding development. The population in the big towns is cossetted with amenities and facilities which provides a luxurious way of life for townspeople especially those with industrial jobs. However, it must be admitted, the standard of life for the minority 30% population living in the countryside has yet to catch up. The administration is strict and everyone is law abiding. For example, you can leave your hand phone at your seat while you visit the toilet conveniences and it will remain undisturbed until you return.
Belarus, being a mostly agricultural country has a big tractor manufacturing plant, it has a fertiliser mining and producing plant, it has a commercial vehicle plant, DK MAZ which produces industrial trucks such as fire extinguishing trucks and also produces the most comfortable, bright, low step buses and so on, and of course, Belarus makes its own industrial vehicle tyres. The towns are prosperous and clean and Minsk, the capital is a beautifully laid out city. Town apartment blocks are multi-storied living spaces, but are so well designed and fitted as to provide pleasant living spaces for its people. These reduce urban sprawl across the wooded countryside.
What are Sri Lanka’s strengths? It is a small island thus making communications short and sweet. Its location in the Indian Ocean is a plus, its scenic beauty is a plus allowing a thriving tourist trade for people from colder climates, and its soil and climate allows almost anything to be grown. Therefore its agriculture is a great strength. Its long coastline can provide fish if the fisherised. It has deposits of graphite and phosphates which can be exploited to produce profits for further investment in development projects. It has its illiminite sands which are an extremely valuable asset but need to be controlled and exploitation expanded. It has a whole gem mining industry which need to be managed in way beneficial to the government. It has several government owned businesses which need to be overhauled and modernized to convert losses to profits. The rupee in 1948 was equal to the English pound, now it is around 450 rupees to the Pound. That gives a good description of Sri Lankan past governance.
Profits from projects need to be ploughed back into further projects to bring about a higher standard of living for all its inhabitants. Then the Lankan reputation of being a paradise island with happy people will be restored.
Sapugaskanda: A huge challenge for RW
It will be interesting to see if anything fruitful will come of the so-called “investigation” announced by the Minister-in-charge, about what seemed like an outrageous overtime payment to the petroleum refinery workers.While waiting for the outcome of that investigation, I thought of highlighting again the real and central issue that cuts across all loss-making government undertakings in Sri Lanka, such as the CPC, CEB, SriLankan Airlines, etc. that have been mercilessly sucking off tax-payer’s money into them like “blackholes”.
These organisations have been typically sustaining a mutual understanding with corrupt or inept politicians. “Sahana milata sewaya” (service at a concessionary price) was the catchphrase used by them to cover up all their numerous irregularities, wanton wastage, gravy trains, jobs for the boys and massive corruption, mostly with direct and indirect blessings of the politicians.
Here, I’d like to bring out just one example to help readers to get an idea of the enormity of this crisis built up over the past few decades. You’ll only have to look at what seemed like gross over-staffing levels of the CPC’s Sapugaskanda refinery, compared to international standards as shown below:
* Sapugaskanda Refinery – 50,000 Barrels Per Day (BPD); 1,100 employees Superior Refinery, Wisconsin, USA – 40,000 BPD; 180 employees
* Louisiana Refinery (including a fairly complex petrochemicals section), USA – 180,000 BPD; 600 employees
* Hovensa Refinery (now closed) – US Virgin Islands; 500,000 BPD; 2,100 employees.
These are hard facts available on the Internet for anyone to see, but I’m open to being corrected. I doubt if any sensible private investor would even dream of allowing such a level of gross over-staffing in their businesses.
As everyone knows, this is the position in all government business undertakings, as well as in most other government agencies in Sri Lanka. One can say that Sri Lankans have been willingly maintaining a crop of GOWUs (Govt Owned Welfare Undertakings), primarily for the benefit of the “hard-working” employees of these organisations, but at an unconscionably enormous cost to the rest. Obviously, this “party” couldn’t have gone forever!
Will Ranil be up to this challenge? I doubt very much.
UPULl P Auckland
Edward Gunawardena: ‘The IGP the country never had’
On a seemingly fine Friday afternoon, day two of the England v India second Test of the LV Insurance Series (that turned out to be a day five thriller), oblivious to how his day would tragically pan out, our dad, retired Senior Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Edward Gunawardena, was glued to his television enjoying the contest between the two cricket giants. As time passed by that afternoon, he felt uncomfortable, weak and had minor discomfort in breathing. Our family doctor, Dr Lakshan Fernando, swiftly visited home and on strict instructions to bed rest, our dad enjoyed his chicken soup for dinner that was prepared by his beloved wife, our mum.
Later that night tragically he took the last breath of his life, and he completed the last heartbeat of his life in the presence of two of his most trusted people, our mum and our family doctor.
This day was that dreaded “Friday the Thirteenth” – in the month of August last year. Our tragedy was upon us.A year has passed, by but the loss is still deep rooted, although it was comforting that his passing was peaceful knowing that he had the assurance of having Dr Lakshan beside him, who in fact rushed him from our home to Central Hospital in Colombo that night in his own vehicle in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, ever so determined to save our dad’s life. It was a blessing to know that our dad had our mum and Dr Lakshan beside him as much as it was possible.
Edward Gunawardena had a successful journey starting his early years through St Joseph’s College, Colombo, Peradeniya University, Michigan State University, USA through sheer determination to succeed, despite him and his three brothers losing their mum when he was at a tender age of just four years. He served our country for nearly three decades in the Police Service in various capacities, including as the Director of Intelligence, Director of Presidential Security, DIG Metropolitan and Senior DIG Administration; and continued his services as the Special Advisor to the Chancellor at the University Grants Commission, Chairman of the National Lotteries Board and in the Board of Directors at the Lake House Newspapers Corporation.
Most would consider retirement in the ripe old age of sixties, but our dad was blessed to have joined JF&I Printing and Packaging Company, an international company with the head office close to our home. This enterprise was owned and led by renowned late Dr Neville Fernando and his son Neomal Fernando. Edward Gunawardena found his renewed passion and purpose of working with such a talented and committed group of colleagues, where he thrived in making a significant difference to a spectrum of many individuals with a common goal. There was a family atmosphere with abundance of gratitude whilst professionalism was being maintained. The feelings were mutual, and this was evident at a time when our dad was unwell and required a blood transfusion – seven of the junior colleagues at JF&I showed their willingness and donated their blood with heartfelt love and gratitude towards him. Knowing that such generosity and love existed in a working environment was a sincerely humble attitude. This is a true reflection of our dad’s character and personality of giving where reciprocation was demonstrated.
Patriotism and loyalty were two of his strengths. His dedication and professionalism in the Police Service were commendable. This was once clearly expressed by the late Professor Carlo Fonseka at the launch of our dad’s second novel “.. Edward was the IGP (Inspector General of Police) that the country never had”. A truly inspiring and a remarkable Officer and a Gentleman.
His generosity and care extended way beyond his professional arena. One of his many philanthropic contributions was the resurrection of the village Buddhist temple’s school ‘Daham Pasala’ with the support from the late Deshamanya H K Dharmadasa well known as ‘Nawaloka Mudalali’, the founder of the Nawaloka Group. Our extended family and many thousands of youth in the Battaramulla area have benefited and continue to imbibe the doctrine of Buddhism, thanks to the dedicated committee led by it’s Chief Monk, Jinarathana Himi.
As an enthusiastic writer and a passionate citizen, he wrote many thought provoking and fearless articles to the newspapers, which were very well received by the readers. He was not afraid to speak the truth and to stand up for those who did not have a voice, and he became a respected contributor maintaining honesty and integrity. One of his most poignant articles we recall was days after the tragic Easter Sunday bombings, titled “The Unpardonable Blunder” bravely challenging the chain of command and with deep sorrow on the devastating destruction, loss of lives and many innocent people maimed and scarred for their entire lives.
Today, we are relieved that he didn’t have to witness the dismal state of affairs our country is going through as a consequence of decades of poor leadership, mismanagement, and most of all, unprecedented levels of corruption in the recent era of respective governments.
As our dad, we are immensely proud of who he was, his achievements and most of all for how he has bettered many lives throughout his life, with his generosity, professionalism and willingness to help, advise, guide, nurture and mentor all with a selfless attitude. We believe that his legacy has been passed on through many who he has had close connections with. We are thankful that his writing legacy would also continue through his creations of the two novels “Blood and Cyanide” and “Memorable Tidbits…”.
Even until his last days and hours he was sharing his experience and wisdom with everyone around him, that was the calibre of the gentleman. His humble stories of meeting President Nixon at the Fulbright Scholar Dinner at the White House, meeting the 124th Emperor of Japan, Emperor Hirohito at the Akasaka Palace, and his conversations with the great Arthur C Clarke, will always be fondly remembered by us. One of the famous quotes that our dad hilariously shared was the quote from Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom about his political nemesis, the former and the predecessor Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. “The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: if Gladstone fell into the Thames it would be a misfortune, but if someone dragged him out again that would be a calamity.”
Our dad was and will continue to be our hero and mentor. Today, we wish to extend our utmost appreciation to each and every one of you who had a close bond with him and made his life purposeful, joyful and complete. We thank them sincerely.
His last day of life was instrumental to the creation of the Edward Gunawardena Memorial Trust that is being organically grown, currently sponsoring medical students at the Rajarata University who are striving to become medical professionals, and as with Dr Lakshan, who was taking care of our dad, these students will have the opportunity to potentially treat and care for many deserving people and make their lives better, and also save many lives.
Whilst we take this opportunity to once again thank all those who were in his life,we would love to hear and treasure all the memories they shared with him. We welcome your recollections, your thoughts and your appreciations of Edward Gunawardena and please do send them via the email
My sister and I would value and appreciate the stories that you have had the pleasure of experiencing with him and of him.
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