Remembering Reggie Candappa

Since the death of my friend Reggie Candappa on 6th December, 2003, many biographical obituaries had been written by numerous votaries, business beneficiaries and friends. Even a filmlet was shown over the electronic media. With the approach of his three month death remembrance, loving recollections of this unique humanist who was a symbol of human values have started to appear in diverse media.

Obituary writing about someone who leaves a void in your mundane existence, I consider as a noble act which eases one’s sadness. In modern Sri Lanka there are very few who deserve a written public eulogy so that the living may learn from the various facets of a genius. Reggie Candappa is one such human being where a compassionate public requiem can be made.

Reggie who straddled most of the 20th century and three years of the 21st as an Artist, Raconteur, Creater, Advertising Genius and above all as a Humanist, unlike many an influential person who lives after exceeding the Biblical Span, still had friends in all spheres of life and covering all age groups. He could enthusiastically engage in an absorbing conversation with a Cyber Kid working at Grants or with any of the few octogenarians who may occasionally visit the Colombo Club. Reggie was a man for all seasons and men.

Unlike many of his numerous friends (I have never met any enemy of Reggie) who knew this amiable man for many years, I met Reggie only five years before his death. That was through the friendship of my wife with Reggie’s late wife Therese who pre-deceased him by three years. So I am unable to give a first hand experience of Reggie’s odyssey from rags to riches except those Anecdotes that Reggie used to recount whenever we met. which was quite often.

Reggie has recounted how he was ‘adopted’ as a young boy by two of his uncles and one aunt as their own sibling, equally poignant was how the foster parents disowned Reggie when he eloped with non-Chattier Therese Senadhira even though she was from a Mudaliyar family.

Reggie’s impish humour become evident when he proudly recalls how he bicycled round Therese’s house and how he requested for the princely salary of Rs.25 per month from another symbol of Human Values, late Mr. D. R. Wijewardena when he was hired as an Artist at Lake House. Reggie’s affection and devotion was all consuming which reached celestial heights during the painful last year of Therese’s life. Reggie displayed courage and fortitude at the demise of his life’s partner but, privately I thought Reggie will not survive for long in the vacuum. Reggie was so profoundly affected that he hardly talked of Therese except on commemorative occasions.

Reggie had many unique traits, the most unique of which I thought was, he never criticized fellow human beings but praised and appreciated the work of others. This was very exceptional in the current cynical Sri Lankan Society where negativity pervades.

Reggie never publicly discussed politics, religion or race, even though he was a very influential person in the closely knit Chettiar community about which Reggie had written an excellent book. His collection of books on art, philosophy and history is one of Reggie’s possessions. He was very proud and invited his good friends to browse through his treasured collections.

Reggie’s passion for Art was a life-time vocation. Recently, I read an appreciation from an Artist living abroad who knew Reggie as an Art student. Reggie painted for his own elation and liked to appreciate his creations and relax and take his mind away from the grueling business world. When after the death of Therese, Reggie shifted to his talented daughter Neela’s residence, he built his own Art Gallery running along the spacious garden. It was an enchanting experience to surf through the pleasant moods of Reggie’s history captured in painting and water colours. Reggie never made a business of Art for he donated most of the paintings and raised funds for charities. His talent was placed in the service of the poor and the under privileged.

Reggie spent most of his time silently to bring about social redress according to his values and ability. He motivated his family specially Neela’s to inffise a sense of social responsibility to advertising, understandably the most influential medium in this electronic age. His firm produced a social advertisement on women victims of violence which won international acclaim. Neela was the key creator of the ‘One Sri Lanka Program’ which no doubt helped to create pro-peace culture in this country.

Reggie was a great exponent of active aging. He was nearing his mid eighties when the heart attack felled him. But still he participated fully in life both in business and social levels. I remember how Reggie often discussed ‘active ageing’ at the Colombo West Rotary Club, personally visited the launching of the Mobile Legal Aid to Elders’ Program vehicle which was loaned by Central Finance Chief Chandra Wijenayake. We shared the view that rapidly ageing Sri Lankan population was the greatest demographic challenge still ignored by political leadership.

In my personal view, there are only few individuals in Sri Lanka of Reggie’s generation left, who deserve an unreserved public eulogy, Human Values with which Reggie lived should inspire Sri Lankans for generations to come.

S. S. Wijeratne