By Palitha Pelpola –
“In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” ~ Khalil Gibran
My association with Dakshitha Thalgodapitiya began when both of us were at Ananda College. That was an eon ago, so to speak. Dakshitha entered Ananda as a migrant from St. Anne’s Kurunegala while I just had to move, more or less, across the road from Nalanda College. As was the practice then, most of us were known in school by our last name. That’s how our teachers used to address us, by our last name- so did we, our schoolmates. Dakshitha was known by his nickname, Thal, a shortened one for his Kandyan last name. Even then Dakshitha was never short of flamboyancy. The ease with which he made friends with total strangers was astounding and exemplary. Other students at the time, especially the shy kind like me, often wondered what made the man make friends so easily. Dakshitha was no shy guy.
His participation in the English debating team at Ananda was memorable. Ananda College was known to be among the elite of schools in Colombo. Royal, St Thomas’, St Peter’s and St Joseph’s were presumed to be ranked much higher than Ananda in the category of ‘English-speaking’ schools. With arrogance, condescending demeanor and sheer disregard for anything steeped in Sinhalese-Buddhist traditions, they honestly believed, that their schools were a shade above the rest of the country. These derelicts of a colonial era yet endured a delusional fantasy of ‘pukka sahibs’ and continued on their delusional journey of ‘colonial superiority’ without trying to cause any change from a colonial time to time of ‘Independence. But Ananda, Nalanda, Dharmaraja in Kandy, Mahinda in Galle and the rest of the country chose to flow with the cascade of change. The irony is we didn’t realize it at the time. Maybe we weren’t intellectually ripened enough to understand the nuances of these exclusively discriminatory notions of elitism and non-elitism.
Nevertheless, we, as young high school students, felt the effects of this utterly destructive dynamic of elitism among leading secondary schools in Colombo and other big city centers that manifested themselves on the platforms of inter-school debates. Ananda’s debating at the time was no second to any of these so-called English-style pukka sahibs. These pukka sahibs of course did not have any match to our Sinhala debating team. But the grandstanding the so-called elite schools assumed on the English debating stage was torn to pieces. One of those who shone in English debating during the time in school was my friend, Dakshitha Thalgodapitiya.
His attacking spirit was evident not only in his day-to-day mingling with his peers, it was more pronounced on the debating stage. Dakshitha did not let his team down and that quality of being an excellent team player was even more prevalent in his professional career right through. To be simultaneously placed in charge of three government institutions, Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (LRDC), River Valleys Development Board (RVDB) and Lanka Machine and Lease Company (LMC)- all three being engineering-dominant corporations despite Thalgodapitiya being an accountant by profession- speaks volumes for the confidence the then Minister Gamini Dissanayake had on the young shoulders of the man. Added to that distinguished honor of being simultaneously responsible for three corporations, the age at which young Dakshitha (in his early thirties) held these critically responsible billets spoke volumes for his prowess as an up and coming executive the likes of which one usually finds only in the private sector.
There is no dispute about Dakshitha’s capacity as a Chief Executive Officer. He did not have a match in the public sector at the time. Yet Dakshitha had some weaknesses. No man is perfect. So was Dakshitha Thalgodapitiya. His indulgences were well known among his close friends and sometimes these friends had to advise and warn him against such extravagances. Dakshitha willingly chose to live on the fringes. By not occupying the middle ground, he, more often than not, had to be extricated from the fringes by his friends many a time. But the man’s heart was a huge one. As much as his loyalty to his alma mater knew no bounds, his propensity to take risks and go where no public servant had dared to go made him unique and sometimes controversial.
His did care for those who were in need of such care. With special allegiance to his alma mater, Ananda, there were some occasions on which he helped many a hapless and helpless unemployed youth find gainful employment. Quite versatile in his conversational and negotiating skills, he put such talents to good use in order to win business opportunities for the institutions he worked for. After retiring from government service, he continued to be a Board Member of the Colombo Stock Exchange of which he was the most senior member until he passed away. His father, an old Trinitian who breathed his last at the ripe old age of ninety nine (99) was a Divisional Revenue Officer (DRO) and his younger brother himself, a Management Accountant, is one of the most successful teachers of the profession.
Oscar Wilde once said thus: ‘we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’. Dakshitha Thalgodapitiya chose to be one of the very few that believed anything is possible. He chose to focus on what you can do, not on what hasn’t already happened. That is how he treated his dreaded malignancy. A man who loved life and living ultimately had to face humanity’s great equalizer, death. He’ll be remembered by his friends and foes for his love for life and living. Being a victim of some of his own exigencies, Dakshitha lived a full life, albeit sixty eight (68), is young in the context of present day’s relative age. One friend of his described him as ‘one sitting on the cutting edge of a knife and consuming himself’.
All of us will have to reach the end of our journey of life. Along the way we meet many a foe and many a friend. But one must be exceptionally blessed to come across a friend like Dakshitha Thalgodapitiya. He succumbed to an illness for which no cure or cause has been found. The way he met his death, fighting to his last breath, ever so appraised of current affairs ranging from cricket, medicinal values of fruits and vegetables, foreign affairs to politics, was nothing short of marvelous. A fighter had to give up ultimately to life’s equalizer.
May he attain Nibbana!