Remembering Tissa Abeysekara...

By Carlo Fonseka

(April 19, Colombo, Sri Lnaka Guardian) Friends! One of the penalties I have had to pay for my 77 years on earth has been recurrent sorrow for near ones, dear ones and close ones who quit this vale of tears. Particularly gnawing has been the sorrow when it was occasioned by the death of a near, dear or close one who was much younger than I. My dear friend Tissa, the fragrance of whose memory we are gathered here to remember, belongs in that category. He was my junior by six years but his natural gifts were superior to those of mine. Though he didn’t quite fulfill the biblical lifespan during his life, Tissa achieved many things of enduring beauty, one hundredth part of which I will not achieve, even if I live another hundred years.


For me, his most enchanting creation was his exquisite film Viragaya, based on Martin Wickremasinghe’s sublime novel of the same name. By making it, Tissa achieved immortality in our world of cinema. Because of his unfathomable generosity and kindness to me, in his masterpiece he provided an opportunity for me to make my only minor contribution to our world of cinema, and thereby enjoy 15 seconds of glory in my long life. As it happened, he asked me to try and capture the essence of the novel and the film in a verse of not more than four short lines. I laboured for six weeks and came up with a dirge of 15 words. Tissa greatly appreciated it and incorporated it in the climax of the film. Nanda Malini sang the dirge hauntingly, superlatively, definitively. Friends, I have arranged for you to listen to it at the end of this eulogy especially because Tissa once told me that the philosophy of Viragaya captured in the dirge, inspired his maturity after his restless, eventful, youthful years filled with mad pursuits. "No more wishes / no more longings / no more passions for me / restful peace is all I seek", would be a rough translation of the sense of the Sinhala dirge.

Common interests

Our interest in cinema apart, there were many other passions Tissa and I shared. One was our enchantment with Sunil Shantha’s songs. Another was the deep loyalty he felt to the politics of the old LSSP. Still another was the admiration we had for Regi Siriwardane, whom Tissa considered to be his guru and mentor. Our interest in literature bonded us very strongly. He was deeply read in English and Sinhala literature, and expounded on them so learnedly and insightfully.

Phenomenon of Tissa

Some of the most rewarding and satisfying conversations I have had in my life have been those I had with Tissa. His bilingualism was phenomenal. His memory was prodigious. He could discourse for hours on films and novels and poetry and music and politics and history and architecture. His one blind spot was science. He publicly and good-humouredly distanced himself from my hard-nosed ‘rationalism’. His humour was delightful. Born actor that he was, even during ordinary conversation, he would impersonate to a nicety, histrionics included, any character he was talking about. Tissa Abeysekara was a phenomenon. When comes such another!