Piyal Parakrama (1960 – 2010): Another hasty departure…

Piyal Parakkrama in Sri Lanka 2048 TV show

Piyal Parakrama died so suddenly and unexpectedly on the night of March 3 that it’s hard to believe that he is no longer among us. Another public-spirited individual has left the public space all too soon.

Piyal combined the roles of environmentalist, educator, researcher and media personality. He was also a colleague who became a friend, and a fellow traveller for many years.

In a public career spanning 30 years, he wore multiple hats, among them: Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental and Nature Studies, founder President of the Nature Conservation Group (NatCog), President of the Green Party of Sri Lanka, and consultant to various state and academic institutions. He also worked for the now-defunct Sri Lanka Environmental Congress (SLEC) and now dormant Sri Lanka Environmental Television Project (SLETP).

But Piyal Parakrama was more than an amalgamation of these parts: he was his own distinctive brand — admired, trusted or feared by different sections of society. Even his ardent detractors (and he had a few) would readily agree that he gave far more to the public good than he took back personally.

Piyal’s forte was biodiversity. His interest and knowledge were nurtured first at the Young Zoologists Association (YZA) – where he remained a volunteer for 30 years – and later at the Lumumba Friendship University in Russia, where he studied biology from 1983 to 1986.

In searching for viable solutions for entrenched conservation problems, Piyal collaborated with scientists, educators, journalists, school children and local activists. Some industrialists and investors simply hated his guts, while concerned researchers and government officials sometimes gave him sensitive information which he could make public in ways they couldn’t.

Given our common interests in development issues and the media, Piyal and I moved in partly overlapping circles. Our paths crossed frequently, and we shared public platforms, newspaper space and broadcast airtime. We even worked together for a few months in the late 1990s at the SLETP. His communications skills were invaluable in rendering a number of international environmental films into Sinhala.

Piyal Parakrama (left) on the set of Sri Lanka 2048 - debate on Water Management

The last time we collaborated was in such a media venture. In mid 2008, Piyal joined an hour-long TV debate we produced as part of the Sri Lanka 2048 series. The show discussed the various choices and trade-offs that had to be made today to create a more sustainable Sri Lanka over the next 40 years. Taking such a long term view is rare in our professional and media spheres preoccupied with the challenges of now and here (or restricted in vision by short-termism).

Piyal could speak authoritatively on several topics we covered in the 10-part series, but I invited him to the one on managing freshwater, one of Sri Lanka’s once abundant but now threatened natural resources. With his deep knowledge and understanding of traditional water and soil conservation systems, he was truly in his element in that debate. He was also the ‘star’ among the diverse panel and studio audience we had carefully assembled.

I’m working on a longer tribute where I try to position Piyal’s role in Sri Lanka’s conservation movement. Watch this space…

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

4 thoughts on “Piyal Parakrama (1960 – 2010): Another hasty departure…”

  1. Very good man, good at heart. May you attain nibbana. Probably his friends didnt take care of him. In this day and age friends should have advised him to take regular cholesterol checkups and do regular exercise.

  2. @ Deshapaluwa,
    Thanks for comment – everyone I met at the funeral and since all agree on Piyal being a good-hearted man. Speaking to his mother and family members, I gathered that he did monitor his health status regularly. He was a strict vegetarian; had no high blood pressure; annual lipid profiles had all been within normal ranges; and had no other tell-tale signs of a cardiovascular problem. Not sure how much exercise he took, but he was active. This seems one instance where the health risk lurked unnoticed and struck suddenly – and fatally.

    Piyal gave life and society much more than he took for himself, and perhaps he didn’t take sufficient care of himself. I allude to this in a longer and reflective essay published at: http://www.groundviews.org/2010/03/09/death-of-a-green-activist-tribute-to-piyal-parakrama-1960-%E2%80%93-2010/

  3. Piyal Sir.
    I met you in Sri Jayawardenepura university in 2008 when I was a Post graduate student in sociology,Ur subject was Envieonmental Sociology.Then I followed Environmental Dipoloma course conducted by you in 2009.Actually you opened my eyes widely in social relation with the Environmental condition.Every Cultures,Traditions,Traditional knowledges,politics,laws,Economy,Agriculture etc..Depend on the Environment.you are the person who told me these things very intrestingly & Friendly.You are a very good person,very brave person.I remember you all the time.you live in my heart.SIR MAY YOU ATTEND NIBBANA.

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