[APPRECIATIONS - (12-08-2019)] | Daily News

[APPRECIATIONS - (12-08-2019)]

K. Gunaratnam

Man of humility

K. Gunaratnam, popularly known as ‘KG’, with his humble beginnings in Jaffna, had commenced businesses in Colombo. I came to know him in 1974, when his son G.R. Pathmaraj introduced me to him. K. Gunaratnam wanted me to join his businesses and I agreed to render my services as a part-time management consultant from August, 1974.

He allocated a separate room and a secretary for me to coordinate my work. I was directly responsible to him, and all the executives of his businesses were so informed. I more or less functioned as an executive consultant of the chairman, K. Gunaratnam.

Except when he was overseas, I used to meet him daily on early afternoons before he went for lunch and had a nap. He had strictly instructed that he wasn’t to be disturbed for whatever reason, whilst he had his afternoon nap. He socialised regularly in the evenings, moving with various levels of people; developing close friendships and business relationships.

Commencing a business in the film industry, he became Sri Lanka’s most successful film producer, distributor, and owner of a chain of cinemas island-wide. He had inspired and developed several personalities in the Sinhala film industry, including those such as Eddie Jayamanne, Rukmani Devi, Ananda Jayaratne, Sandya Kumari, and the legendary Gamini Fonseka.

One of his very popular productions was the film Sandeshaya, with the hit song Poorthugisi Karaya. Lester James Peries made a name for himself as the director of this film and Arisen Ahubudu came into recognition with this famous song Pruthugisi Karaya.

K. Gunaratnam had produced over 25 films while developing the Sinhala film industry. Some of the films having been Sujatha, Warada Kageda, Radala Piliruwa, Duppathage Duka, Wana Mohini, Sooraya, Weera Vijaya, Divarayo, Allapu Gedera, Chandiya, Oba Dutu Da, Ataweni Pudumaya, Lakseta Kodiya, Athma Puja, Hodai Narakai, Sandeshaya; and some of these films are lost forever to the present generation due to the barbaric black July riots of 1983.

Gunaratnam had also diversified into industries; manufacturing ballpoint pens, corrugated cartons, plastic containers; as well as developing state-of-the-art yarn spinning and weaving mills at Ja-Ela, with 24,000 Swiss Reiter spindles which was being expanded into weaving with 200 Picanol water jet looms and 100 looms having been imported in June, 1983, and temporarily stored at the Hendala industrial complex, until the foreign engineers were to install them at the weaving mills at Ja-Ela in August, 1983. The Hendala complex included Vijaya Studios, where films were produced. In addition, there were Studio facilities at Kirula Road, Colombo 5.The industrial complex at Hendala comprising factories manufacturing corrugated cartons, plastic containers, and ballpoint pens had just been developed with ultra-modern machinery and technology, with the traditional head office being at Sri Sangarajah Mawatha, Colombo 10, which also had a printing press, and with the original Cinemas head office being at New Chetty Street, Colombo 13.

A very large stock of paper reels and plastic granules had been stored at the Hendala complex. On the night of the ethnic riots of black July in 1983, Gunaratnam was chased away by rioters on the rampage from his luxurious house at Buller’s Road, which luckily, had not caught fire. K. Gunaratnam had sought refuge occupying an entire floor of then Holiday Inn Hotel, where he was a director. A few days later, on July 30, 1983, as it was his birthday, with a curfew pass, I went and saw him at the hotel. He wept.

The Hendala industrial complex was set ablaze and the fire lasted for over two weeks, destroying the huge stock of paper reels and plastic granules and also the 100 brand new picanol looms which had no insurance as they were waiting to be installed at the Ja-Ela mills. Gunaratnam lost over Rs.200 million due to the riots and had to shift to small house at Barnes Place.

Gunaratnam was the main owner of the Tower Hall, formerly known as Tower Talkies, which developed Sinhala drama and artistes. When President R. Premadasa requested for the premises, K. Gunaratnam, without any hesitation, gifted it to the government. Today, it has been developed as the ‘Tower Hall Theater’, with no mention whatsoever of the invaluable philanthropic donation of K. Gunaratnam.

When President R. Premadasa made a historic visit to Jaffna, Gunaratnam personally went to Jaffna; I, too, along with him. He got huge posters of President R. Premadasa put up on trees lining the roads in Jaffna, using his staff of the Wellington Cinema in Jaffna, and organised a rousing warm welcome reception for President Premadasa on his arrival at the Palalay Airport in Jaffna.

When I got married, K. Gunaratnam and his wife entertained us to a big reception at his residential house in Jaffna, inviting the Jaffna business community. More than from professional studies and work, I have gained much knowledge and experience from K. Gunaratnam as to how to deal with people with humbleness and humility. I have travelled overseas with him always in economy class and have stayed at three to four-star hotels. K. Gunaratnam never showed off his wealth.

On the other hand, Gunaratnam used to entertain lavishly, and on Thai Pongal night, he annually had a grand dinner at his luxurious house at Bullers Road with a large circle of persons who had interacted with him. The crab curry was flown from Jaffna. He moved with various politicians which included Hugh Fernando, Maithripala Senanayake, T.B. Illangaratne, as well as the Ratwattes. Albert Page of Ceylon Theaters, though a competitor, was a very close friend of his, with whom he used to have a regular get-together of four or five people with, including me.On the fateful day of August 9, 1989, K. Gunaratnam telephoned me at around 1.00 pm in the afternoon and had a chat, and I informed him that I was going to the UK that night for few days. I left for lunch with a friend of mine and was telephoned by my office to inform me that K. Gunaratnam had died. I immediately stopped the lunch and returned to my office thinking that he had had a natural death, as he had had a cardiac bypass operation in the US just a few years before that.

However, when I phoned his secretary, I was shocked to hear of the tragic shooting. I immediately cancelled my visit to the UK that night and contacted his son G.R. Pathmaraj and went to the mortuary. It was a very shocking and very sad day. Whilst coming out of his office, two gunmen on a motorcycle had shot him at very close range, whilst the attempted shooting of the driver had failed. K. Gunaratnam had then been rushed to the hospital, where he had been pronounced dead. His secretary later informed me that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had inquired as to who I was, as the last telephone call K. Gunaratnam had taken from his office before he died had been to me.

That era of 1989 was of sheer fear psychosis, and even after his killing and other killings at that time, there was a sense of fear and apprehension in society. Gamini Fonseka and I organised the funeral arrangements with a committee operating from my office. Both Gamini and I walked with K. Gunaratnam’s two sons behind the corpse at the funeral, though several persons cautioned us not to do so, out of the prevalent fear and tension that prevailed at that time.

Several other bodies of persons killed had also been found in front of the gate of the textile mill at Ja-Ela. It was indeed, an unforgivable tragedy that this man who had rendered such yeomen contribution to develop the Sinhala film industry and artistes, as well as the Sinhala people with employment, had been so brutally dealt with.

Nihal Sri Ameresekere


Ubeypale Gurugamage

Gentleman par excellence

Unselfish, unruffled; Ubeypale Gurugamage, a gentleman extraordinary

Benign lad, hailed from Baddegama, Galle; self-made man, exemplary

Endeavoured to keep everybody happy, duty-conscious sans excitement,

Youthful gura, career at Colombo Municipal Council till retirement

Par-excellence fulfilled duties; devoted husband, loving father; a friend exceptional,

Alma mater Wanduramba Central; excelled in studies and sports; all-rounder punctual

Large family, eight siblings; three girls, five boys; second one, never lost temper,

Extremely devout Buddhist parents, lived in luxury yet simple, rare calibre

Generous gura, ranked class one; clerical officer, epitome of sincerity,

Unbowed, unafraid till demise; righteous social worker, unquestionable integrity

Ruggerite indispensable in college team, loyal athlete trustworthy,

Ubeypale’s wedlock with Indra, ideal mate, almost half a century

Gura fortunate, gifted with two pleasant daughters-in-law: Rumaali and Geethika,

As pillars of strength blessed with two sons; executive officers; Gaurika and Dinuka

Marital happiness with dedicated wife, loving duo residing in Kottawa,

Among associates, wherever, present prominent figure, gura

Guiding star, sterling qualities; fruitful life, smooth and lucid plan,

Eight long decades and nine healthy years well past, biblical span

Octogenarian, significant milestone in life, passed away peacefully,

Fondly remembered, sadly missed, beacon of light to family successfully

By virtue of sky-high meritorious deeds, path to Nirvana be paved,

Ailing for a brief period, breathed your last calmly; may your wishes be granted

Dearest gura, our family friend, whatever you desired in Samsara, be acquired pleasingly,

Lacuna created, irreplaceable loss to four admirable grandsons, sad surprisingly

Embodiment of truthfulness, your fragrance will linger for many generations,

Gura eschewed publicity, executed temple duties with lavish donations

Amicable amigo, reminiscences too many to recall down memory lane of gura and Indra,

May your journey in Samsara be swift and short, till you attain the Supreme Bliss of Nirvana

At this grief-stricken moment, I extend my deepest sympathies to all bereaved family members.

Kumari Kumarasinghe Tennakoon,



Yasa Ediriweera

She was a loving mother

It has been three months since the day my beloved amma (mother) passed away, leaving our family with a profound sense of sadness and deep shock. Amma passed away unexpectedly on May 11, 2019, at home, after having her breakfast and taking her medicine for the day at the breakfast table. Though she was undergoing treatment for a few years, she was capable of managing her work at home and had the grit and determination to move on.

During her illness, I was always at her side, ensuring that due medical care was being provided by the doctors on time. As a result, amma did not experience any complexities or prolonged suffering during her time of ill health, and I personally attended to and followed up her medical treatment. As a son, I always looked after and cared for amma during her time of need, simply out of love and affection, and never considered it as my duty to provide her with the best medical care and attention.

Amma was a good wife to my father and a very affectionate mother to me and my sister. She was also a good housewife and had a natural talent for the preparation of food, including delicacies. Anybody who tasted her food always appreciated and admired it. Amma also had a talent for making birthday cakes, engagement cakes, and other type of sweets. It was not only for our birthdays; even our cousins used to get their birthday or engagement cakes prepared by amma. Her way of icing cakes was fabulous and our entire family circle would admire her marvellous talent.

Amma was very good at sewing; she never purchased ready-made clothes for herself; all her clothes were stitched by her. When my sister and I were schooling, our uniforms were stitched by amma and, unlike today, we never purchased ready-made school uniforms. Amma’s sisters got their clothes stitched by her as well.

Amma was a devout Buddhist and observed atasil every Poya day at the International Buddhist Centre in Wellawatta. She was a very kind lady and always had the intention of helping others; most of the time, she went out of her way to especially help her own siblings, nephews, and nieces. Amma was never possessive and was ever willing to help anyone in need. She was happy to see everyone doing well in their personal lives.

Whenever she bought something valuable, she always had the habit of informing her sisters and encouraging them to buy the same thing and her sisters always say that my mother has helped them tremendously in enormous ways. She gained immense pleasure in assisting all who sought her help and her irreparable loss is still being felt not only by the family, but by all those who associated her.

As I was brought up in a very homely environment with the utmost love and affection a parent could give a child; not only during my childhood, but even now, being a matured adult; my father’s demise two years and two months ago was a shock unbearable to me as during my entire life, I have not lived away from my parents, even during education or employment.

My father, prior to his demise, had settled everything: I had nothing left to do in this world on his behalf except to look after my mother. Consequently, although my father’s demise was unbearable, I consoled myself as I had a bigger and a greater responsibility to do, although I did not consider it as a duty and a responsibility; but cared for my mother with utmost love and affection. My father once told me that my mother had not done anything against his wishes from the day they got married and, as a faithful and loving wife, whatever she did, she always told my father and kept him aware of everything.

After my father had a mild stroke in the early part of the year 2011, I was there for him like a shadow as he found it difficult to attend to his day-to-day affairs on his own. I attended to all his needs every day, after work, in the evenings on week days and the entire day on weekends and holidays, and my mother, too, always helped. Although my father was adamant and keen to do his work on his own, my father’s illness became a worry, which my mother could not bear and gradually, that worry turned to dementia.

Although my father and I explained to my mother not to get worried about his illness as he was taking the best medical treatment which I personally attended to; by taking him to the doctors always on time, my mother did not overcome that worry and over the passage of time, her condition of dementia got aggravated where she, too, was referred to the best doctor in Sri Lanka for treatment, in addition to the usual medical treatment she received for her general sicknesses right on time from the specialised doctors.

Her sudden demise has created an emptiness in me as she was my protector from my childhood. Amma and I had a special bonding and a close relationship which cannot be explained in words, and I feel that she is still with me in my heart, guiding me on the righteous path of life. When I had issues, amma would always advise me to be calm and that those will get settled with the passing of time.

I should say that, especially after thathi’s demise, I never missed a single day without being with amma, and it was like a ritual for me that on weekdays, by 5.15 in the evening, to be at home as amma always had early dinner and pondered over the things that transpired during the day. She always used to wait for her putha to come home after work to enjoy her meal and if I did get late due to some commitment, she used to still wait for me to turn up at her bedside so that she knew I had come home safely. During the latter part of her life, I used to take amma to bed every day after her dinner and ensured that she lay down comfortably in bed, ensuring her a pleasant sleep.

After the funeral, I realised that not only had I lost a loving parent, but I felt insecure; although I looked after her due to her illness, the encouragement, care and attention I received from her was tremendous. My mind starts wondering and at times; I am in deep thought as to what happened to my amma and why she left me; where did she go suddenly, leaving me?

I used to make her watch the television in the evening as otherwise, she wanted to go to bed early. I always hugged amma like a small child when she was sitting and watching the television where, at times, she kept her head on my chest and fell asleep. If she was reluctant to take her meals, I used to tell her not to get sick and not to leave me as I loved her so much. I still recollect how she looked at me at that time and said that she would always be with me.

Her loving words still keep echoing in my ears, whenever I wonder why I could not save her. Like those days, I still have plenty of questions, but now, nobody is there to answer them. Though my relatives and friends have kept on telling me to “make up mind and move on,” I have realised that one of the hardest things about losing a loving parent, is feeling that nobody understands that loss.

My dear amma, I will never be the same as I was before and I feel as if I am incomplete without you. We shared memories that nobody else shared, which means you knew me more than anyone else. You gave me a mother’s true love even at this age of my life. We were a close-knit family and you and thathi had a happy married life of 52 years together, celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary in 2015. Now, when it gets dark in the evenings, I stare at the chair in the living room and wonder as to what happened to you and I terribly miss your words of wisdom.

During the past few years, you have been telling me that according to Lord Buddha’s teachings, one day, we need to leave this world in order to escape Samsara and attain Nirvana. However, the past three months have been hard for me to get over, as I realised that, when someone you love dies, that a part of you dies as well. When you left us, I used to cry because of the void left by your death, but now, I have gradually realised that it is easier to smile at the memories.

Amma, if you can see me, I want you to know that you are still guiding me and still answering my questions. I will always miss your blessings which helped me to overcome the difficulties that I faced in my life, but I know that you will always be there watching me. The void that has been created is hard-edged and now that you have left me, your cherished memories are enduring.

Amma, I am ever so grateful to you for being my mother. To have had such a wonderful and a lovable mother is something rare and I hope that I will meet you again in this journey of Samsara, once again with you as my mother. If so, rest assured that I will look after you the same way or more as I did for you prior to attaining Nirvana, which will be my happiest moment.

May you attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.

Your loving and ever-grieving son,


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