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Tribute to a Doyen of creativity: Dr. Tissa Abeysekara

27 November 2013 04:59 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Deshamanya K.H.J. Wijayadasa
(Former Secretary to the Late President R. Premadasa)


Deshabandu Dr. Tissa Abeysekara, my school mate at Dharmapala Vidyalaya Pannipitiya in the early 1950’s, and since then my friend for nearly six decades has departed, leaving an indelible impression of awe and admiration in the minds of all Sri Lankans devoted to indigenous culture, literature and the arts. Happy and eventful memories of the time we spent together in school during those carefree and idyllic days of the post-independence era still linger in my mind. Even though Tissa was three years junior to me in class he came to prominence as a young and charismatic titan who spoke perfect English and made no bones about his revolutionary political leanings. He loved his school and respected his teachers. As a senior student he displayed exemplary leadership qualifies.




" His latest work in English is Roots, Reflections arid Reminiscences. It stands out as a work of art in which he embarked on a constant search for our roots as well as an identity of our own in the historical and cultural context "




The students of our generation enjoyed the best of both worlds with English as the medium of instruction and equal emphasis being given to the study of the Sinhala language and literature. Tissa was a voracious reader who had a good memory and in due course became a vast storehouse of knowledge. In later life he acknowledged with great humility that all the formal education he received was at Dharmapala, which was complete and comprehensive and had stood him in good stead in his literary pursuits. He participated in almost every conceivable extracurricular activity that the college offered. Being a good orator and debater he represented the college in inter-school oratorical contests and debates both in English and Sinhala. He held several key positions in the college literary societies - Film Society, Drama Society etc. He proved his journalistic capabilities by editing college magazine. He displayed his talents as a cadet in the college Cadet Platoon and was adjudged the best Sergeant at the annual cadet camp at Diyathalawa. While still in college, Tissa attempted a review of Dr. Lester James Pieris’s ‘Rekhawa’ the forerunner to a new generation of true to life art forms. Lester saw the streak of brilliance in young Tissa and took him into his fold and moulded him to be a great film director of our times.

Tissa Abeysekara was unique to the extent of being a genius in the two fields in which he excelled namely, creative writing and innovative film making. He made his debut in the Sinhala Silver screen in the early 1960s as a screenplay writer and later directed some box-office hits including Karumakkarayo, Mahagedara, Nidhanaya and Viragaya. Tissa had acknowledged in his writings that his mother’s influence in his life and demeanor through the inculcation of traditional Sinhala village values and human qualities of loving kindness and compassion had been positive and lasting.




" His mother’s influence in his life and demeanor through the inculcation of traditional Sinhala village values and human qualities of loving kindness and compassion had been positive and lasting "



He was supremely bilingual; communicating in both Sinhala his mother tongue and English which he calls his surrogate mother tongue. Among his literary works are; Ipanella (Short stories) and Pitagamkarayo (Novel); other creative literary works are Ayale Giya Sithaka Sata, (essay) Rupa-Svarupa (essay on film) and Cinema Sithuvili (art of film). Later in life Tissa Abeysekara started writing in English. His English novel 'Bringing.Tony Home' made him the winner of the coveted Gratian prize in 1996. His latest work in English is Roots, Reflections arid Reminiscences. It stands out as a work of art in which he embarked on a constant search for our roots as well as an identity of our own in the historical and cultural context.

He was a man of many parts; having been a versatile film director, actor, film critic and writer. As far as I could fathom his uniqueness stems from his genealogy, social background, rural upbringing and liberal education. His creativity and intellectual prowess could be attributed to the genetic diversity which he acquired through the two divergent genetic strains namely that of his father hailing from weather beaten low country stock as against that of his mother a serene, docile and deeply religious village lass of Kandyan roots. His personality, approach and behaviour have been characterised by this multi-cultural and multi-social background. His father came from an anglicised English-speaking upper middle-class and his mother from a Buddhist, vernacular lower middle-class with roots in the village.

As beautifully portrayed in his creative writings and on celluloid, Tissa Abeysekara was brought up in a modest, unpolluted and verdant rural environmental in the Kelani-valley rich in folk art, dance, drama, music etc. which had enriched his creativity and whetted his appetite. To cap it all, the wise decision made by his parents to admit Tissa Abeysekara to Dharmapala Vidyalaya opened the doors for a liberal, bilingual and complete education which gave him access to both Eastern and Western thinking, literature, culture and fine arts though he did not pursue higher studies, the senior secondary education be received at Dharmapala in the heydays of bilingualism was good enough to equip him with the necessary wherewithal for him to end up as a renowned writer and an accomplished filmmaker.
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