13.05.1975 to 27.01.2002
Vijayanthi passed away from this world at a relatively young age of 26 years, on Sunday the 27th of January 2002. I have known Vijayanthi for a little over 2 years and in this short period I was able to realize that she was developing a role in life, which, under the present circumstances, could be called very remarkable. She had set a direction to her life. She was gradually laying a simple, but farsighted foundation, to what she could do, in her own small way, to help her country come out of the throes of anti-ethnic agony that she had been witnessing throughout her life. However, it was not to be, her lifes mission was tragically cut short. I strongly feel that her efforts should not go unsung and I write my thoughts, on this topic, as an appreciation for her.
I first got to know Vijayanthi when she applied for the post of elocution teacher at Crescent. During her short period as a teacher here we all noticed her quality of being committed to her duties and her persistence in getting a job done however hard it may appear. She did not depend on the participation, nor did she get deterred by the non co-operation or criticisms by her colleagues. She just kept on, till the job was done. All our teaching staff had observed this quality of hers and at a Management meeting of the school; I decided to give her the duty of monitoring some changes that were being implemented in the procedures of the school.
She was appointed as my Personal Assistant i.e. the Personal Assistant to the Managing Director. As expected, she carried out her duties with enthusiasm. She once asked me whether computerizing the office work would make things easier. I did mention to her that this could help us record and retrieve statistics and other material in an orderly and systemic manner. The next thing I knew is that she had enrolled for a very comprehensive computer course and had also purchased a Personal Computer!
She would regularly show me printouts of spread sheets and other documents that she had processed through the Computer. I knew that preparing these documents would have consumed much of her time, and on my querying she would joyfully say that she had been up till 4.00 a.m. working at her Computer. Much of her day and night was devoted to her work at school. She would travel to and from school in a van that also transported other students of the school. She made it her responsibility to watch over these students till they went back to their homes.
It was while working with her at the office that I began to learn about the more admirable aspects of her life. Vijayanthi was a Tamil Hindu girl who was proud of belonging to her community. She used to participate in all her religious rituals and signs of this were quite evident. One day, when the Sinhalese teacher at school applied for leave, and we were discussing the difficulty in making arrangements for a relief teacher, Vijayanthi volunteered to be the acting Sinhalese teacher. This surprised me. Vijayanthi was a Tamil and she had initially been employed as the English Elocution teacher. She then disclosed to me that she had her schooling in the Sinhala medium and that she had also obtained a distinction for Sinhala and for Buddhism at the OLevel examinations. This I thought was very unusual for a Tamil girl living in Sri Lanka, where the tragedy of this age is the suspicion, distrust and even open hatred that exists between communities; inclusive of their specific identities such as language and religion.
I later learnt that Vijayanthi was also teaching at the Daham Pasala (Sunday school) at the Vajirarama Buddhist Temple in Bambalapitiya!
This, I thought was sensational! From that day onwards I began to view Vijayanthi differently. I used to often tell her that I predicted that she would have a big role to play towards cultivating ethnic harmony in Sri Lanka. She possessed the vital ingredients, including resolve and courage. I encouraged her to always direct her thoughts and efforts in that direction. These statements used to make her very happy.
I found her to be a very loyal Sri Lankan. On two occasions, during the school vacations she went on visits to the UK and Australia. She required letters from the school, so as to obtain her visa. On both occasions I joked with her telling her that she was actually planning to migrate to these countries and would not return. However, her emphatic response on both occasions was, "No Sir, I will return to Sri Lanka, there is no place like Sri Lanka!" This I thought to be very unusual, coming from a Tamil, most of who try their utmost to migrate - an indication of the tragedy that is being enacted in Sri Lanka! She was in my opinion, fiercely loyal to Sri Lanka!
As an educationist I used to wonder from where, and how, she could have acquired such unusual (in the Sri Lankan ethnic context), and admirable qualities and attitudes.
Her father is the well known (former) DIG of Police Mr. Perinpanayagam. I am sure that it is from him that Vijayanthi has acquired many of her fine qualities and farsighted attitudes. We must appreciate the fact that it was he who enrolled her into the Sinhala medium, for her schooling.
Her attitudes towards her community and the other communities would have largely been influenced by his views and explanations to her on the unfortunate ethnic events in Sri Lanka. His views would surely have had emotional depth since he was a high ranking senior Police Officer belonging to the Tamil community! He has guided her through these emotionally scarring events and incidents of the past to bring out zeal in her for healing rather than for vengeance.
I must mention here that both Mr. Perinpanayagams children, Vijayanthi and her sister, have received their education in the Sinhala medium and have obtained Distinctions in Sinhala and Buddhism at the OLevel examinations.
Her funeral was conducted at Kanatte in front of a large and distinguished gathering. Amongst those present were some Supreme Court Judges, high ranking officials from the Attorney Generals Department, leading politicians, the former IGP, DIGs, many senior (retired and present) officers of the Police Department, leading Lawyers, the President and Members of the Sri Lanka Football Federation, staff of the Daham Pasala of the Vajirarama Temple at Bambalapitiya, some eminent educationists, other important personalities, her friends and relatives. This is evidence of the high regard society holds for Mr. Perinpanayagam and his family.
All those present would have noticed something very special in this funeral. Amongst other things one would have noticed that the funeral orations of this Hindu lady delivered by a Buddhist, Priest and a Muslim educationist!
Those who listened to the funeral orations would have heard the Buddhist Priest - the Most Venerable Vernon Supesala - the Vice Principal of the Daham Pasala at the Vajiraramaya Temple in Bambalapitiya paying tribute to Vijayanthi for having exerted herself in teaching the Sinhalese and Buddhist students who attended the Daham Pasala.
Similarly the Muslim educationist, which happened to be myself, paid tribute to Vijayanthi for having spent much of her latter two years of her life in assisting Crescent Schools International, a school catering to a predominantly Muslim student population. This is indeed very unusual when we remind ourselves again that the deceased was a young Tamil Hindu girl!
People who know me expressed surprise in hearing me delivering the funeral oration. I did this at the request of Mr. Perinpanayagam, the grief stricken father, for whom I have great respect. I just did not know how to refuse him! I also thought it a good opportunity to portray, the admirable role Vijayanthi had been playing in her short but well directed life.
Let this serve as a lesson in morals and values to us all!
The Politicians, Judges, Lawyers, Educationists, Police Officers, Sports Administrators and many others present have in their professional lives given much thought and action to cure Sri Lanka of its anti ethnic evils.
However, I am certain that all present would have realized that what we now desperately need is more Vijayanthies; or should I say more Perinpanayagams?
Be that as it may what Sri Lanka now needs are more Vijayanthi Perinpanayagams!
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