Palitha Lakshman de Silva (1959 – 2010): Animator, stilled.

Palitha Lakshman de Silva, 1959-2010

For the second time in just over three months, I went to the Colombo general cemetery to bid farewell to a fellow traveller. This is becoming a worrying habit.

Those of us who’ve opted for the path less travelled don’t expect crowds or accolades. At least we have each other for company and inspiration. Suddenly it’s getting a bit lonely: long-standing friends and colleagues are dropping dead in the prime of their lives.

First, it was environmentalist, journalist and public intellectual Piyal Parakrama who left in early March. Now, it’s Palitha Lakshman de Silva — journalist, photographer, cartoonist, puppet animator and television professional among other pursuits and talents.

Uncannily, what I wrote upon hearing Piyal’s death applies – word by word – to Palitha too. I just have to change the name and date: Palitha died so suddenly and unexpectedly on the evening of June 11 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…

Both men had just passed 50, and were leading active, productive and busy lives. They had no known ailments, and were in apparent good health. Yet in the end, it was the unseen, gradual clogging of the heart’s arteries that struck them both down: the first heart attack was swift and fatal. Neither man reached the nearest hospital alive.

I had known Palitha for twice as long as I worked with him (in the past decade). Although we weren’t close friends, we shared a passionate, life-long interest in using broadcast television and narrowcast video to communicate public interest messages. Some call it non-formal education, but we avoided the e-word for it reminds some people of school that they didn’t enjoy. We believed – and demonstrated too – that the audio-visual medium can blend information with entertainment in ways that make learning effortless and painless.

Having started his career as a reporter and photojournalist at a leading newspaper, Palitha later moved on to TV, where he blazed new trails in cartoon animation, puppetry and documentary making. He was part of Sri Lanka’s first generation of television and video professionals who experimented with the medium, and found new ways of combining education, information and entertainment.

All this made Palitha a natural ally and partner in my work at TVE Asia Pacific. I just wrote a more official tribute tracing our collaborations over a decade, which the TVEAP website published: Tribute to Palitha Lakshman de Silva (1959 – 2010): Photojournalist and cartoon animator

I’ll write more reflectively once I recover from the shock of another colleague signing off for good. For now, I can only echo the lyrical sentiments in this leaflet distributed at Palitha’s funeral by his artistically-inclined friends. The English approximation (below) is mine, and not particularly good (though bilingual, I’m a lousy translator). I’m glad, however, that the original verse captures one intrinsic quality of Palitha: his gentle, soft-spoken nature which often concealed the creative genius inside him.

Goodbye, Palitha Lakshman de Silva

The day has arrived
Suddenly and shockingly
When you’ve gone away
Leaving us alone
All by ourselves
To write a verse
And choose an image
In your fond memory.

Flowers bloom and wither
Lakes flourish and drain
Such is the Circle of Life
Which your hasty exit
Once again reminds us
With a soft, little whisper.

We’ll travel to the end of time
If can we see, just once more,
Your gentle and soothing smile,
And listen to your stories
That you told us so gently.

Just once more…

4 Responses to “Palitha Lakshman de Silva (1959 – 2010): Animator, stilled.”

  1. Wipula Dahanayake Says:

    This is such shocking news and I almost fell from my chair while I was reading through this blog post. Palitha was such a nice pal I got to know and worked with breifly from time to time during my little over two years stay at TVE Asia Pacific. I really liked his temperament and he was such a wonderful person to work with. He is one such nice soul who would never make you irritate even by a single word. Though I did not know him professionally and personally well, I always felt that we had common interests and wavelengths at least on the working grounds we shared.

  2. Nalaka Gunawardene Says:

    Thanks for that warm comment, every word of which I can endorse. Palitha had the rare ability to remain calm, optimistic and unaffected in the midst of multiple crises, turbulences and stresses. I believe this quality is equanimity – the Buddhists call it upekkha. Whatever the spiritual roots, that’s a personal attribute that all of us must aspire to cultivate. I certainly wish I could be more like him in this respect.

  3. Raihana Says:

    Thanks for these moving words. You show that not only images but words can move our minds too. Are you training to be an obituarist? Having followed your published writing for a while i find that your best prose iis when you write from the heart in tribute to fallen friends.

  4. Nalaka Gunawardene Says:

    Thanks for compliment. Years ago I realised that the only kind of writing really worth doing is what stems from the heart. I still have to write impersonal, detached kind of prose to earn a living but I enjoy them less and less.

    As for trying to be an obituarist, I don’t know. I write about people I’ve known, worked with or cared for. An obituarist tries sums up the whole life of a public person. But I only write a few impressionistic, personalised glimpses of persons who created ripples in my mind. Often such writing has an underlying social commentary, but that’s incidental.

    I always wanted my late colleague Ajith Samaranayake – the Prince of Obituarists – to pen my own obit. That wish was forever shattered when Ajith died in November 2006 aged 53. When the news reached me in a lonely hotel room in Phuket, Thailand, I cried as much for him as for a whole generation…

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