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The Unforgettable Nihal Jayamanne



Time and tide waits for no man. It has been one year since Nihal Jayamanne PC, eminent and senior counsel, a past president of the Bar, a well-loved personality, and a wonderful man, passed away. He is deeply missed, by friends, colleagues and juniors at the Bar, but none so much as by 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 but a toddler. At the time, he was an apprentice of Mr. Samuel J. Kadiragamar QC, and he would bunk his apprentice time with Mr. Kadiragamar at Queens road and walk over to my grandfather’s house to court my aunt Rohini who then was a science undergraduate at the Colombo University and had been introduced to him by his brother who was at the same Faculty at that time. They married and enjoyed 49 plus years of life together, till death parted them. She was the wind beneath his wings.

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 persons in society, young and old. In this respect he was indeed a man who could 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 also enjoyed going about with him as he had a spanking new Peugeot which he drove very fast. Among my many childhood memories of him is that he bought me my first TinTin book. I was so hooked on to it that I persuaded my father to walk with me to the book shop at the Dasa building at Bagatalle road to buy the rest of the series.

As I grew older he would chastise me saying that I belonged to a generation that watched television and did not read enough. On his many visits to our house where he would wait after court to pick up my aunt from work, 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 phrases; “…listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story”.

I was also encouraged by him to read Fritjof Capra’s “Tao of Physics” about the dance of sub atomic particles, and to see how that compared to the Hindu view of the Universe. As a teenager I was fascinated by this man, my uncle, who was a lawyer by profession but knew all these other things about science, nature, the arts and humanities – he would ask me to look up things like the Chandrasekhar Mass which is the critical mass of black holes and how this Nobel prize winning theory had been developed by Chandrasekhar an Indian while on his way by ship to England to accept a scholarship at Cambridge University.

Uncle Nihal did this for two reasons; not only to get me thinking but also to emphasize that it is we in the east who were responsible for some of the most interesting ideas that have come about. His varied interests were reflected in the art and artefacts he collected. Starting out as a cabinet of curiosities, in later years his whole house began to resemble a museum and art gallery with all manner of things and works of art. Mr. K. Kanag- Isvaran PC, his good friend of many years paying tribute to him 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 and drew attention to the fact that uncle Nihal had donated a valuable statue of Nataraja from his collection of artifacts to a Hindu temple at which the statue is presently venerated.

Nowadays one often hears of appeals to help small vendors on the basis that it is “an act of charity wrapped in dignity”. I learned this from uncle Nihal many years ago before it became fashionable to call it that. During my school holidays he would invite me to join him to go to outstation courts. He had no juniors then, and I read his briefs aloud for him in the car as he drove to refresh his memory.

On the way back he would often stop on a by-road to buy something that a little boy or girl was selling, not because he needed it but to help them. He would say; “do you know how hard they work to make that thing. You have it easy, they use that money to buy books”. Not only that, he would stop and chat with them, and per chance if they were playing a game, join in it too. As part of my scout activities when I was learning to identify trees by their leaves uncle Nihal would point out that any of these village boys or girls that we met on our travels could do that effortlessly.

He himself was very fond of nature and took a special interest in trees, planting various large trees on his family’s property. He was very happy to see them grow and bloom. In this respect he was creating carbon credits and was ahead of his time. Another fashionable phrase in the modern world is “be here now”; this too I learned observing uncle Nihal, not by reading books. He lived life in the present, was focused and enjoyed the moment. Positive thinking came naturally to him, so much so that whenever I was in a difficult situation I would ask myself; what would uncle Nihal do if he was in my place. I told this to him when he himself was very ill later in life. His positive thinking and that of his supportive wife and son Tilanka who left no stone unturned to find the medical attention required, enabled him to successfully survive a double lung transplant.

All who knew him as an adult knew him to be extroverted; he joked and laughed and enjoyed engaging with other people. A vivid memory I have, is of him dancing the tango with a rose between his teeth on December 31 to usher in the Millennium. Charles Spencer Chaplin said that a day in which one does not laugh is a day wasted. Uncle Nihal did not waste a single day, he laughed, joked and smiled every day that I knew him. His mother however, used to recall and tell us that he was not always like that and that as a child he was a shy boy; something we found very hard to believe!

Born to Bernadette (Bernie) and Senator J.M. Jayamanne, he was the second in the family and their first son. His siblings are Joan an elder sister who is an Attorney at Law and Bandula (Bandu) his younger brother who is a Chemistry Honours graduate. Uncle Nihal, schooled at St. Joseph’s College, was a Senior Prefect and captained the Tennis team. Recalling his school days, he would tell me what a great man Fr. Peter Pillai, the Rector of St. Josephs was and how he had a plethora of multi-disciplinary qualifications. Perhaps Uncle Nihal got his inspiration for his wide spectrum of interests from Fr. Pillai.

He took to law, and his leadership skills were recognized even at the Law College where he was elected President of the Law Student’s Union. Despite his father being a very successful lawyer in his time, a Senator and Minister of Justice, uncle Nihal chose to walk the path of his legal career on his own with no senior; starting at the very bottom. 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 which is charged with looking into amendments of the law. He went on to be its Chairman and was responsible for proposing many useful amendments to both substantive and procedural laws.

He was successively elected as President of the Bar Association. During his tenure as President of the Bar, on the suggestion of Judge C.G. Weeramantry who was the then Vice President of the International Court of Justice, he initiated the “Law Week”; a program for the Bar to interact with the pubic and solve their issues. This event has thereafter been successfully held annually.

Uncle Nihal’s reputation was not restricted to the Bar of Sri Lanka, he was elected deputy President of SAARC Law, President SAARC Law – Sri Lanka Chapter, and I was pleasantly surprised to find him on the Board of Trustees of the SAARC Law Centre of a leading Indian University which I visited. The Commercial world not only sought his counsel but wanted him to be on several Boards, most notably he was the Chairman of Seylan Bank.

At the peak of his career, he was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in his lungs. Being the positive thinker that he was, he continued working though given two years to live post diagnosis. We did not see any difference in him, attributing his tiredness to overwork. When this condition came to its peak he was very fortunate to have come across a compatible donor thereby enabling him to have a double lung transplant – the first time such a surgery was performed in Sri Lanka. The average life span of a person with such a transplant is five years post-surgery, Uncle Nihal’s positive thinking and supportive family enabled him to double that and live a decade thereafter.

He used that time well, to be with family, pursue his interests and watch his son Tilanka who graduated in law get married to Lydia, an Attorney at Law. In that time, he also returned to practice and completed 50 years at the Bar – a feat most practicing lawyers look forward to celebrating, because it is not an easy milestone to reach not only due to its professional rigour, but also because one has to live that long to celebrate it. We were all glad he made it to that point; I have on the mantelpiece a photograph of the two of us in celebration of that event, which I will continue to treasure.

The next milestone he looked forward to was his golden wedding anniversary in October 2022. Coincidentally, my uncle and aunt got married on my birthday and it was indeed something that we all would have liked to celebrate. Alas it was not to be, he passed away on June 14, 2022 after a brief illness, four months short of that anniversary. He was a good man, who lived a good life and was fortunate to have a loving family that enjoyed life with him.

Little known to the wider world was that in addition to his painting skills, he had an excellent voice and enjoyed singing Dean Martin, Sinatra and Nat King Cole songs and even recorded some of them. A senior member of the Bar having learned of this stopped me recently in the Supreme Court and asked me, “when are you going to give me a CD of your uncle’s songs” to which I replied that it is on You Tube and could be down loaded.

‘Unforgettable’ by Nat King Cole was one of his favorite renditions. The words of that song express the emotion and thoughts of all of us who knew him well. Nihal Jayamanne will remain;

“Unforgettable in every way,
And forever more, that’s how [he] will stay”.

Rajiv Goonetilleke
Deputy Solicitor General

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Speculations about origin of placename, ‘Negombo’ (Meegamuwa)



By Chandre Dharmawardana,

A writer using the pseudonym GADS, replying to a previous article regarding Negombo, states (The Island 17 Sept. 2023), “It is also historically recorded that the name Negombo is the Portuguese corruption of its Tamil name Neerakolombu and the Sinhala name Meegamuwa which means and comes from old Tamil Naval terminology Meegamam Pattnam. Meegamam denotes a naval captain”.

Unfortunately, the author does not give the reference to this “historical record” or elaborate on the details available from any early sources, Portuguese and Dutch maps etc. Furthermore, he asserts that “Meegamam” denotes a naval captain. Here again, this is certainly not so in any of the Dravidian languages, or Indic languages. No such usage exists even in Arabic and other languages of the Hebrew family, as far as we can ascertain.

A “naval captain” in Arabic would be Kabtin Bahriun, while the Tamil usage would be Katarpatai Kaptain in modern usage. In old Tamil words like Nakutawere used [1]. However, “gama, gamuwa, gammam, kamam, etc., are all refer “village”.

I have collected what is known about the place name Negombo in the website listed at the end of this note [2]. I quote from it below:

The name Meegamuva is believed to refer to a village (gamuwa) which was reputed for its honey (mee). Thus, the Mahavamsa-based tradition has it that honey was procured from this region for Queen Vihara Maha Devi, (2 century BCE)[3], initially from a honeycomb found in a boat turned upside down. It could also refer to a forest of Mee trees, Madhuca Longifolia (Koenig). It is well known that placenames have been based on vegetation and prominent land marks; in our view, this is the most likely source of the name.

Another interesting legend is that the name is related to “Nihumbala, the nephew of the Yakka king Raavana. The Tamil form, Neerkozimpu may mean water, and ‘kozimpu’ is sometimes claimed to mean ‘village’, but such a meaning is not recognised in standard Tamil Lexicons. Also, the Tamil name originally applied only to the lagoon-like area and not to the whole of Meegamuwa. Given the ancient histoofthe village, kozimpu may have comefrom the sinhala kalapuva adorned with the Tamil “nir”.

Maya Oya flows north of Negombo and falls into the ocean near Kochchikade. This was an early center of the cinnamon trade, set up by the Moors in medieval times. The Portuguese ousted them in the 16th century and built a fort, and established a strong Catholic religious centre here. The Dutch ousted the Portuguese in the 1644 CE. The ruins of the fort, with its fine archway marked ‘1672’ can still be seen. In 1796 the British took over Negombo, by which time the cinnamon trade had declined. The town has remained strongly Roman catholic to this day.

Frivolous folk-lore etymology attriutes the name ‘Negambo’ to nikam biruva. That is, a dog ‘just barked’ is said to be the response given by a non-comprehending bystander to a colonial who asked ‘what is the name of this town? While GADS recognizes such frivolities for what they are, the claim that Meegamuwa or Neer-kozimpu comes from the Tamil words for “sea captain” can be very intriguing if anyone takes it seriously; one cannot find a source for substantiating such a claim in any reputed Tamil lexicon or Tamil literary source.

[1]Madras Tamil Lexicon.

[2] index.html

[3] Mahawamsa, XXII, verse 48.

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How to conserve electricity at home and workplace



Going through my old paper clippings, I came across the following news item which is more applicable today when the country is facing a severe energy crisis on how to conserve or restrict the use of electricity at Offices and other working places.

There are several ways of conserving electricity at home, offices and other workplaces. It is absolutely necessary to do so because electricity is harmful for our environment and the planet we live in.

Here is how

(a)  Unplug all electrical appliances in the kitchen when not in use, except the refrigerator. This includes coffee pots, sandwich toasters, blenders and ovens. These appliances use small amounts of electricity when they are left in standby mode.

(b)  When it comes to washing, soap them first and then open the tap halfway to wash them.

(c)   Use the washing machine once a week. Try washing some of your lighter clothes by hand and save jeans and other heavy clothing for the washing machine

(d)  When drying your clothes, do not use the dryer unless very necessary. Hang wet clothes on a line in the backyard which is an easy way of drying them and clothes dry so easily during the day in this intensely hot weather.

(e)  Change the traditional light bulbs for energy saving bulbs. The garden lights can be replaced with solar powered lights. In the kitchen, the refrigerator is out of direct sunlight and not next to the oven. Avoid putting hot dishes in the refrigerator as it will have to work harder to cool the dish, therefore wait for a while for the dish to cool and then put it in the refrigerator.

(f)    Unplug any phone or laptop chargers when they are not in use.

(g)  Unplug the computer when it is not in use. This is very important because it can get very badly damaged if it is plugged in during a thunderstorm. You may not even be at home during the storm, so it is advisable to unplug the computer when it is not being used. Do not leave the computer switched on for long hours.

(h)  Unplug the television set and gaming consoles too, as they can get damaged if they are on standby mode during a thunderstorm.

(i)    Keep DVD players, TVs and other audio and stereo equipment plugged into a multi-port which can be turned off with one switch. This saves electricity.

(j)    Turn off the lights, fans and air-conditioner when you leave the room. Remember that you do not need the lights switched on during the day.

(k)  Do not use electric appliances such as vacuum cleaners and use the broom instead.


Via e-mail

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Some lesser known historical facts



The Greek women in ancient Greece realised to their utter dismay that their husbands were always fighting wars overseas. One brave Greek woman, Lysistrata, organised a women’s front with the sole purpose of denying their husbands the marital pleasures unless they remained at home to fulfill their marital duties

Socrates, known for his wisdom, was invited by the King of Sparta, which had waged war against Greece, to be an honorary citizen of Sparta. He gracefully turned down the offer as he valued the democratic way of life in Athens. As he was always arguing with fellow Athenians neglecting household work his wife used abusive language on him in the presence of his companions. Socrates continued with his arguments when his wife in utter exasperation treated him with a plate full of dish water. Socrates merely said to his companions that after thunder comes the rain.

In the Olympic games held during the peaceful times the athletes ran the races naked. Women were not permitted to attend them. The penalty was death if a woman was discovered breaking the law. On one occasion a middle-aged woman was caught breaking the law. As she happened to be the mother of a celebrated athlete she was forgiven.

Julius Caesar was caught dressed as a woman in a women only club in Rome. He was not punished since he had gone there only to meet his lover who saved him. On another occasion he had to offer a bribe to the ship’s captain, a pirate, who threatened to throw him overboard into the Mediterranean Sea.

Isaac Newton was accused by Robert Hooke for plagiarizing when the former introduced the gravitational constant in his book Principia Mathematica. Hooke was the Secretary of the Royal Society of which Newton was the President. Hooke was the person who encouraged Robert Knox to write the book “Historical Relations…” Newton was accused by the German philosopher Leibniz of plagiarism as the latter had published the calculations of infinitesimal calculus before Newton. There was a rule in the Universities that dons should take holy orders. The king exempted Newton from this obligation. Newton’s denial of the divinity of Jesus and the trinity did not earn any punishment from the ecclesiastical authorities. The complementary part of calculus, integral calculus, had been discovered by Archimedes in the second century BC. After the conquest of Greece by Rome the intellectual supremacy and the culture of Greece saw a gradual decline. It was known that the burial place of Archimedes was a much-venerated place visited by Greeks. The Romans did not show such veneration and the burial place got neglected. However, when Cicero, a Roman intellectual, lawyer and writer became the governor of Athens in the second half of the first century BC, he visited the burial site and had the monument restored to its former state. He noticed the epitaph wherein the symbol of a sphere within a cylinder had been inscribed.

A century later Rome conquered England, killing the English queen Boudica. There stands the figure of this queen on a horse (close to the underground tube station Westminster) with words emblazoned on the flanks in poetic language indicating that while England was colonised by Rome, England had conquered half of the world.

Guy Fawkes was the man who made an attempt to set fire to the Parliament building. This incident is known as the “Gunpowder plot”. He failed in his attempt and was executed. This incident may be compared to the attempt by a JVP member who threw a hand grenade when a Cabinet meeting was taking place in the Parliament building with the President JRJ presiding. The culprit got away.

When a German prince from Hanover became George the First of England, he found life in England very dull as he could not speak English. So, he invited his old German friend Handel, the musician, to be his companion. It was during this time that Handel composed his famous “Water music” and many operas.

Dr. Leo Fernando

Talahena, Negombo

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