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An inspiring and remarkable friend, mentor and scholar

27 Jun 2020 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

 

 

Dr Jayatissa Perera (J.A.J Perera), a remarkably intelligent scientist born on 12 October 1949, was an internationally known expert for environmental pollution matters. He attended Thurstan College in Colombo (Sri Lanka) from 1962-1969 and was affectionately known by his friends as Jaya, Jaka or Jak. 


At the time of his retirement in 2002, after working for 10 years for the Commonwealth Secretariat (London), he was the Director for research activity and grants at the Commonwealth Science Council. Fortunately, all the others who studied in the German Democratic Republic (GDR - East Germany) and I had the privilege of associating with this outgoing, helpful and humble character. He was the key individual who actively and with dedication kept the harmony and unity among Sri Lankan students who studied in Germany. As a result, Jaya was the president of the German Alumni Association of Sri Lanka, which he formed with 65 lifetime members in 2007.  

 

 

Jaya knew his limitations and knew how to enjoy the freedom he had in Germany while maintaining his Sri Lankan traditional family values


I came to know him in August 1971 when I first arrived in Leipzig with Mahinda, Ravi and Sanath. Since it was his summer vacation, he came and stayed for about two weeks at our hostel at Lumumba Strasse, Leipzig.  Basically, he was my first friend, mentor and the interpreter in the GDR who helped us to get started in a totally unknown world. When we were learning German at the Herder Institute in Leipzig, our class teacher Herr Hessel once advised us to find a walking dictionary. To my surprise, what he meant was to find a German girl-friend to help us communicate. Jaya is the one who helped me to find one at the Leipziger Messe and helped me to write letters  in German. However, Jaya knew his limitations and knew how to enjoy the freedom he had in Germany while maintaining his Sri Lankan traditional family values. He always warned us not to jeopardise our studies by getting involved in limitless social and fun-filled activities. At the age of 20, we could have gone astray without such guidance. Jaya’s culinary skills were great. We initially learned from him how to cook, we did not even know how to cook rice and learned that onions have to be sliced lengthwise and not crosswise. His famous dish was spicy pork spare ribs. There was a time that we fondly named him as “Rippchen” (spare ribs in German). Jaya has been always a great coordinator and kept in touch with all the students who were scattered in various towns in Germany.

He was good in organising Sri Lankan cultural activities and one of the highlights when we all performed at the Arbeiter-Festspiele (Labour day festival) in Schwerin in 1972. He was a good guitarist and a very enthusiastic table tennis player. 


Those days, “Mango Kalu Nande” and “Malu Malu..Malu...Suranganita Malu Genawa” were his favourite hits. Jaya was a very enthusiastic and active student at the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) where he studied Technical Chemistry and read for his PhD. Yesterday, I spoke to some of his batch mates in Germany.

They all adored him as a humble, outgoing and helpful man with super interpersonal skills. I can still remember visiting him at his chemistry lab at the University, where he explained to me the importance of doing a PhD. That truly inspired me a lot. In early 1975, when I was desperately looking for an accommodation in Halle, he took permission from the University to keep me in his hostel room for a couple of months and even looked after me like an elder brother.  


After 1976, I lost contact with Jaya, as we all were globetrotters after completing studies in Germany. Sadly, those days there were no emails, mobile phones and social media platforms. Fortunately, I met him again in Sri Lanka after I left Germany in 1984. I think, during that time he was the Chief Chemist at the Cement Corporation Sri Lanka. From that point onwards, he kept climbing the ladder as a scientist. At that time, I was into gems and minerals and had the opportunity to meet Jaya in 1987, who was the head of the Mineral Science division of the Ceylon Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research (CISIR – known since 1998 as Industrial Technology Institute -ITI) in Colombo. He did very well at the CISIR and received scholarships to Karlsruhe, Germany and Saskatchewan in Canada. Sadly, I lost contact with him again as he became a globetrotter after leaving Canada.  


The highlights of his professional career came to the limelight when he joined the Commonwealth Secretariat, London in 1992. Since then, Jaya was extensively travelling between Commonwealth countries, organising seminars and disseminating his knowledge in environmental pollution. Surprisingly, again I was fortunate to visit him in 1993 at the Marlborough House, Commonwealth Secretariat, London when I became the Commonwealth Advisor on Precious Mineral Products to the Government of Ghana. It was amazing to see his interactions with his superiors and subordinates at the Commonwealth Office. The key to his success was his humbleness, genuineness and excellent interpersonal skills. Jaya was not a man to boast or talk about his achievements. It was a pleasure to meet him after 5 years in London. He invited me to his house in Haywards Heath in Sussex and I had the opportunity to meet his family, his wife Mangalika, son Anuk and daughter Adisha. After his retirement, he and Mangalika spent a couple of years in London having a great time with their children and the battalion of five grandsons. During his retirement in the year 2005, Jaya was very involved in arranging rehabilitation projects to help the fishermen in the southern coast of Sri Lanka. He was actively involved in getting funds from Germany by launching a Tsunami relief fund “German Graduates in Action”.  


I thank God that we had the opportunity to meet up and have a great time with him on the 18th of January this year at the lunch held at his home for over 20 GDR friends and their families. Well, he was a bit feeble and quiet. Even then, he kept on saying, “Theja machang kanna - monawa hari bonna etc” (Theja please serve yourself and enjoy the lunch). Jaya has been a great friend for all those who studied in East Germany.  He was the one who kept us together for the last 50+ years with his series of emails, which became very popular as the “Pachcha Lalla”. He was a highly educated person with wonderful human values and qualities. His winning quality was his friendliness, he always wanted to help his friends and enjoy time with them. The love he radiated will remain glowing in our hearts until we meet him again. We remember his face, so bright, so grand, and his voice so clear, full of spark and cheer. 


Albert Einstein said, “The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive.” In one word, Jaya was a man who gave. He gave much to his profession, to his family and to his friends. Lord Buddha has expressed in Dhammapada Verse 78, that One should not associate with bad friends, nor with the vile. One should associate with good friends, and with those who are noble. (Na bhaje papake mitte - na bhaje purisadhame - bhajetha mitte kalyane - bhajetha purisuttame)
Our Jaya was a noble and great friend to associate. “We miss him dearly”  
May our beloved Jaya attain blissful Nibbana! Knowing my association with Jaya, my dear friends Dr. Nimal Jayaweera and Dr. Iqbal Anver who were with me in Germany suggested and encouraged me to write this Eulogy. I am thankful to them for giving me the opportunity to reminisce the beautiful moments I had with Jaya.  
Dr.Theja Hettiaratchi  
Perth, Western Australia  
drtheja@gmail.com  
+61 422 050