12 December 2014


There was a Sunday unlike any I can remember.  It is a Sunday I do not wish to revisit but which continues to visit me.  And others.  June 8, 2014.  It was a Sunday, the stay-home day of the week for those who work at ‘The Nation’, but it was a Sunday that dawned for many in the form of a piece of news no one wanted to believe.  Almost every member of the staff, including those who don’t concern themselves with news, features or any kind of ‘copy,’ wanted to verify.

Two young men, one 36 and the other 21.  Rukshan Abeywansha and Kavinda Vimarshana.  Both utterly lovable and much loved by all.  Kavinda suffered multiple fractures.  Rukshan, in addition to a couple of fractures, suffered a spinal injury that left him paralyzed neck downwards.  

Almost six months later, there arrived another Sunday that made all of us forget that terrible Sunday.  And that, all things considered, is a blessing.  A gift in fact.  No, a parting gift even if it were only mild consolation, all things considered.  Rukshan unburdened himself of all paralysis in the early hours of Sunday, November 30, 2014.   It was as unexpected as the ‘news’ from that earlier Sunday, but all of us, each in his/her own way did not think ‘unbelievable’.  And yet they came, everyone who could, to Ragama, where Rukshan lay.  Not because anything could be ‘done’, but there was nothing else that anyone could think of doing on that particular stay-home day of the week.

The six months between those two Sundays were made of prayers.  There was hope.  There was beseeching to deities known and unknown, familiar and unfamiliar.  In the more earthly realm, the best treatment was looked for and obtained.  There were costs.  There was the distraught life-companion Sharmila, the two children who were too young to know what had really happened to their appachchi, parents who were inconsolable and photographs that would not be taken.  All that was taken care of or rather ‘managed’.  Everyone wanted Rukshan to live. Everyone entertained the hope that one day he would walk again.  Ok, even if he didn’t walk, maybe he could recover the use of his hands, his fingers….something, anything….we all thought. 

During those six months, Rukshan was stretched out on a bed.  He was in the Intensive Care Unit at Aasiri Central, he was warded at the National Hospital, was even home for a couple of days and then shifted to a rehabilitation facility in Ragama.  He couldn’t speak for much of this time since a tube had to be inserted to help him breathe.  He suffered several bouts of pneumonia.  Friends and family had to lip-read.  And yet, in that ‘reduced’ state, Rukshan demonstrated he was more capable than most who could walk and talk.  He brought together people.  He turned them into a community.  He planted humanity in hearts and in those hearts that were humane he made generosity bloom.  Suffice to say that he turned a countless number of people into uncles and aunts for his children, brothers and sisters for his wife, children for his parents.  Without lifting a finger.  Literally. 

He could do this because he had lived a particular kind of life.  Rukshan had his problems.  He did not have an easy life.  His children were in and out of hospital.  And yet he never missed an announcement.  He never let his brow knit in a frown.  His face was always clear.  There was always a smile to greet everyone, even strangers.  And when he was silent, his gaze was articulate.  He had beautiful eyes, Rukshan did. 

The eternal verities never bested him.  He treated them with equanimity.  The man couldn’t even complain about anything without turning it into a joke.  He made it impossible for anyone around him to be upset for any length of time.  He left behind countless images.  He had eyes. Not just beautiful eyes, but eyes that could see things that escaped most people.  

And so through his work as a photojournalist Rukshan could make us see.  He gave us eyes.  But among the thousands photos he left behind, there’s perhaps nothing more powerful, more soft and tender, more sorrow-giving, more reassuring than the picture of this beautiful man with his wife and child, taken obviously before the second child was born. 

Rukshan was determined.  He knew what was what.  He wanted to hold an exhibition of his photographs.  February 2015 was the month he picked.  He wanted to recover the use of two fingers. ‘That’s all I need to move the mouse and select the pictures,’ he told his colleagues.  He never lost his sense of humor, teasing the young boys who came to see him about pretty nurses around the ward.  He never forgot ‘work’.  That was his first question to any colleague who visited.  He never forgot that colleagues had other lives about which he was aware.  He would inquire.  It was impossible to ask him ‘how are you?’ because he made us ask ourselves how we were ourselves. 

‘You have not sinned in this lifetime, Rukshan; this is an older sin you are paying for,’ I told him once.  I added that he of all people had the strength of character and the single-mindedness to come through.  He nodded, he smiled and inquired about my father. 

He brought into this world a karmic life expectancy. He paid for ancient sins.  He paid all his dues, I am convinced.  When the final payment was made, however, the physical body was beyond repair. There was no reason for him to suffer.  He left.  It was not the ‘escape’ or the ‘healing’ we wanted, but it was freedom nevertheless.  Rukshan went well. 

By Malinda Seneviratne, on behalf of ‘The Nation’ editorial team