Thisun Sanjeewa Bandara Amarasinghe, more affectionately known as ‘Cheena’, ‘Phila’ (owing to the resemblance to the Pop singer Phil Collins) and other pseudonyms, was an irreplaceable, unique person who possessed extraordinary qualities and idiosyncrasies. I first met Thisun when we were in Grade 9 at Royal College, and had the good fortune of associating with this Gentle Ben for nearly 35 years. During this period, I had never observed him even once being annoyed or losing his temper. In fact, he was hardly ever seen without his trademark smile across his face. Proving true the famous adage, ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’, he steadfastly stood by my side during the highs and lows of my life, manifesting the proper meaning of a loyal and dependable friend, and so our friendship blossomed into perpetuity. Despite being cognizant of the fact that death is inevitable, his passing is a permanent and irremediable bereavement to me.
Thisun had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. He was immensely popular at college among his peers and loved by the teachers who taught him. He excelled in Rugby and was equally passionate about Cricket. Thisun was a gutsy player, whose nimbleness and speed made him a brilliant Wing Three-Quarter. Another Rugby Great with an impeccable track record, my very good friend late Sampath Agalawatte who was Captaining the College First XV Team then, further fine-tuned Thisun’s Rugby skills. Sadly, Sampath too passed away some time ago in the prime of his life: Apologies for the brief digression, but yours truly has a lot of respect and regard to this gentleman as well. Had Thisun not seriously injured himself by impulsively trying to tackle a very senior renowned Club Rugby player of that era during a friendly encounter, his Rugby career wouldn’t have ended so abruptly, and he would have flourished at the game.
His family was very closely knit, and he loved his parents and his only sibling Kusal immeasurably. He adored and revered his mother, Aunty Stella. Likewise, Aunty too loved her ‘podi putha’ boundlessly. Every chance she got, she used to pet and pamper Thisun, as if he was a five-year-old. Let me elaborate on one such occurrence, the family mealtime: Invariably there was High Drama whenever we sat at the dinner table, and a spectacle to watch! Aunty always thought that the pieces of Beans and Okra in the Curries were too big for Thisun to swallow, and was forever with a knife cutting these vegetables on Thisun’s plate into even smaller pieces. Of course, my friend never objected to this: In fact, he was looking forward to it! Meanwhile, his father (late Uncle Walter) was a silent onlooker to these mother-son theatrics, and Vajira and I would literally choke on our food, having a hearty laugh. There are many such stories I could relate. However, due to space constraints, I will refrain from delving into them. Thisun’s parents were like our surrogate parents, and his home was our ‘home away from home’. Its doors were always open for us, and Vajira, Gamini, Shalutha, Amith, Charaka and I were regular visitors to this charming abode situated at Sujatha Ave, Kalubowila, where we spent countless days and nights during our schooling days.
Thisun, Vajira and I were proverbial bosom buddies, and inseparable. I indulge in nostalgia and carry fond memories of the antics of the troika in school as well as outside. Anything and everything we did together, including getting punished; and by punished I mean physically getting thrashed by the sectional head, for the occasional ruckus we made, cutting classes and many other misdemeanours. Oh, how I cherish the fun, laughter and overall good times we had!
This marvel of a human being with a heart of Gold was a thoroughbred Gentleman and was the ‘Epitome’ of being human. The social standing of a person or the wealth one possessed did not matter to him at all. He treated everybody humanely, especially the underprivileged and the marginalised. Thisun’s ability to sincerely bond with whomever he met was exemplary. The domestic aide Kalyani and the entire workforce of his company ‘Route 69’ treasured him. Their ‘podi mahaththaya’ was eternally sympathetic and compassionate towards the grievances they ventilated, and redressed them graciously and with exceptional generosity. He always adopted sound ethical business practices, and conscientiously fulfilled his obligations and duties as an employer without vacillation or hesitation.
I was shocked and devastated to hear of Thisun’s untimely and tragic death on January 15, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand, where he lived with his daughter Samerah and wife Ruwani. Giving credence to the claim ‘Good die young’, he was just 48. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that something so terrible and vile can befall a person who was as kind and affable as Thisun. The answer to the lingering question as to what transpired on that fateful day will remain a mystery forever. Even though five years have elapsed, I still feel desolated, and inordinately regret that I could not be with my dearest and esteemed friend to help and support him to emancipate and extricate himself during the trying times he had had encountered. I wish I could turn back the clock to that ominous day, and recite to him the Chorus of this beautiful song ‘Come with me’ by Phil Collins, whose music Thisun and I enjoyed profoundly during the bygone days:
Come with me
Close your eyes
Hold my hands
It'll be alright
Don't be scared
Don't be shy
Lift your head
It's gonna be alright
It's gonna be alright….
Farewell, my friend, my brother! Thank you for the inimitable friendship you gave me. May you attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!