24 October 2020

Maheel Kuragama cannot leave the building

Farewells make for speeches. Flowers and good luck notes. Everyone will miss you. Until the next person’s departure comes up. More speeches, more flowers and all-the-bests and of course more missing.

The well-wishers, these days, get to say it. And if they don’t they’ll be noted. That’s a social media product. Something has to be written on the wall, a record has to be kept, presence has to be marked.

Farewell parties are not uncommon either. They become almost mandatory the longer one has served in a particular institution. Speeches are made. Accolades abound. The leave of the moment is showered with praise and gifts.

There could be a few who’ve conducted themselves in such a manner that one or two, at least, feel a void when such people leave. And then there are legends. A sharp cut moves through heart and institution and it takes time to come to terms with the loss.

Maheel Kuragama is best known by his family. Fifty years of association from the first grade to the last and beyond leave a mark; friends know something. Colleagues get to see more for ‘office’ is where he spent the most amount of time outside of ‘home.’

‘Koora’ was a sportsman. He played Rugby for Royal College. He captained the school team in the lower age groups, but senior players had the position he played and Koora became a regular in the First XI only in his final year.  

Tough guy. None of his schoolmates and none of his on-field opponents would disagree.  And yet, I have not heard him every utter one word in anger or even annoyance. Indeed it is hard to think of a moment when Koora wasn’t smiling.

Except once. This was at the funeral of his lifelong friend and rugby captain at school, Sampath Agalawatta.

I do not know what kind of emotions Koora displayed when he finally left Sampath Bank after thirty two years, but how his friends and colleagues felt is best captured in a post by Banduwardena Piyasena. The sentiments therein prompted many responses, all of which expressed agreement. Here’s the English translation of the post:

I am writing this on the 30th of August 2020 as a note to one who was Maheel to some, Koora to others, Boss to still others and for most, including myself, Mister Kuragama, a gentleman in every sense of the word and a wonderful human being.

So, Mister Kuragma,

If today was a working day, it would have been the day that you officially bid farewell to all of us. The relationship which began when I came to the Nawam Mawatha Branch as Assistant Manager has developed into an incredible bond. I know fully well that this is true for many who worked with you.

It is no secret that your humble and absolutely genuine smile had the power to cleanse the minds of others.

I know you love immensely your alma mater Royal College and offering apologies therefore, let me mention that your regality does not obtain only from the fact that you lived in Colombo 5 and attended Royal College, located in Colombo 7. I always saw consistently in your, a humanity that transcends humanity almost, an exceptional individual, a giant of our times. I cannot think of anyone I know who equals you when it comes to this consistency. I believe that these are qualities cultivated from lifetime to lifetime throughout samsara.

During our various field visits during the time I worked in the Operations Department there were many occasions when I noticed how you treated everyone equally, regardless of identity or religion. The affection they showered on you testifies to this.  

You never rebuked anyone, ever. You are the only one I know who has this quality. You would call me ‘Bandu’ always, but whenever I erred, you called me ‘Piyasena.’ I should have realized that this was your peculiar way of expressing displeasure.

In a slanted world where people engage in an undying battle with others for position and for this very reason indulge in self-aggrandizement, I fervently believe you’ve conducted yourself as a husband, father, relative, friend and a manager in an exemplary manner so that no fingers can be pointed at you.

I wish you all strength and courage in all your future endeavors including those related to a wholesome journey through sansara.

Most references were to ‘The legendary (Mister) Kuragama.’ Ramya Dahanayake offers perspective thus: ‘It's very hard for one person to earn the respect of everyone in the Sampath [Bank] family. I never heard a word [utterd] against him in my 25 years.’

Retirement is about departure. Obviously. However, the nature of the departure differs from person to person. Some go and are gone. Some leave the building and a position, the relationships remain as do the values espoused and the goodness exemplified in conduct.

Koora hasn’t left the building.

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']  
Eyes that watch the world and cannot be forgotten   Let's start with the credits, shall we? 
The 'We' that 'I' forgot 
'Duwapang Askey,' screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing

Is the old house still standing?
 Magic doesn't make its way into the classifieds

Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ alre
ady a hurricane hunter
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo?
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky's Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let's learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry
There's never a 'right moment' for love
A love note to an unknown address in Los Ange
A dusk song for Rasika
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays  
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry

Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b'day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where's your 'One, Galle Face'?

Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies
S.A. Dissanayake taught children to walk in the clouds
White is a color we forget too often  
The most beautiful road is yet to meet a cartographer