To Remember DR DANIEL MUTHUMALA (QSM) 25 MAY 1929- 24 MAY 2017
Dr Daniel Muthumala, Founder member and former Secretary of United Sri Lanka Association (USLA) and Sri Lanka Association of New Zealand (SLANZ) passed away. Ever since the establishment of SLANZ in 2004 Daniel held executive positions and guided the organisation to success, and at the time of his death was its Funds Coordinator.
To use a local expression: a mighty Totara has fallen. This note is not to mourn the sad loss of this stalwart of the Sri Lankan community, Dr Daniel Muthumala, but to celebrate his illustrious life.
- Muthu, as we fondly called him, came from a highly respected family of 7 siblings in southern Sri Lanka. His parents wanted to give him a good education and enrolled him at the premier Buddhist school Ananda College in Colombo from where he entered University of Ceylon Peradeniya.
- At the uni he completed a degree in economics. But that was only a part of the story. University life gave him something more, something that endured along side his academic prowess, right through his life. That was the opportunity to immerse in the cultural resurrection that was taking place in the country. That included moving with the pioneers of Sri Lankan arts, music and drama such as Dr. Ediriweera Sarachchandra, Dayananda Gunawardene, Gunasena Galapththi, W.D Amaradewa, and many others. He grabbed the opportunity with both hands and became popular as a singer, drummer and dancer. His performance on the public stage commenced with a role in Sarachchandra’s ‘Bahina Kalawa’ in 1951 and followed by characters in several other well known plays such as ‘Ratnavali’, Dena Deyyo’ and Bak Maha Akuna’ and playing the lead role in the popular film Bak Maha Deege, which is still available in You Tube.
- In his young days Muthu enjoyed his fair share of youthful mischief. They often played an earlier version of ‘Candid Camera”. After a late show in the local cinema with his mates, along the way home, they exchanged precious pot plants in the foyers between different neighbouring houses. In the morning when the neighbours started squabbling they often fronted up and explained the joke and everybody had a good laugh. But not always.
- He commenced his working life as a teacher at Dharmapala Vidyalaya, Pannipitiya and held many senior positions including General Manager of two large conglomerates Ceylon Leather Products Corporation and Ceylon Fisheries Corporation.
- Muthu migrated to New Zealand with his young family in 1974. Here, he worked as an economist in several agencies (NZ Fishing Industry Board, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry of Works, and the Ministry of Health). Internationally he worked as a Member of New Zealand government missions: to Indonesia on fisheries, to Fiji to assess feasibility of a cattle industry, and Thailand to help in agricultural development. He served also as a Member of United Nations missions to Egypt, Pakistan and Tanzania on fisheries development.
- Amidst all these, travel and bringing up the young family, the hard working father also worked towards a post graduate degree and obtained a Doctorate from California University. Geetha, his wife, was right behind him in all these endeavours.
- In 1983 when the community was thrust into turmoil by a terrorist uprising back home Muthu rose to the occasion as a founder member of the United Sri Lanka Association to defend the country from false propaganda. Not only that Muthu single handedly took on the daunting task of being the Secretary of USLA.
- It was during this time that Muthu was instrumental, working in a special subcommittee, in processing hundreds of applications for visas to live in New Zealand by deserving Sri Lankans.
- Throughout these years, in spite of all other work, he nurtured his first love, culture. He was deeply concerned that there was a young Sri Lankan generation, which was growing up without any exposure to that 2500-year-old culture back home that we boast about. There were valiant efforts by some to help remedy the situation, such as Dayani Gonsalkorale and Marla Gunawardene but it needed more to address the many facets of culture, especially drama.
- Muthu’s contribution to address this deserves special mention. In 2002 the chance meeting of a renowned artiste, Yasodhara, daughter of the doyen of traditional SL drama, Ediriweera Sarachchandra, herself an accomplished actor, singer and composer, who was studying at Massey University, offered the opportunity to address the problem. The community received her and her husband, Kusumsiri, also a celebrated artiste, with great enthusiasm.
- Unfortunately, although the solution to our problem virtually fell into our lap the existing organisational structure within the SL community was not capable of utilising the duo productively. It was then that visionary leaders, a trio of doctors, Ramyasiri and Kalupahana, and of course Dr Muthumala, helped in the formation of the Sri Lanka Association of New Zealand (SLANZ). SLANZ under the advice and guidance of Muthu, underpinned the production of 11 plays and one short film choreographed and directed by Yasodhara and Kusumsiri, using entirely local talent.
- Muthu also had a strong desire to bring these workshops, classes and training to the community and the younger generation at the lowest possible cost. He knew the young families arriving in a new country trying to establish themselves should not be hampered with extra burdens.
- Muthu also had a vision of exposing our youth to other cultures and having cultural exchanges. He established a successful friendship with the Orongomai marae in Upper Hutt and SLANZ has been actively involved with the Marae regularly in their Waitangi day celebrations upto this day. Muthu was one the best sinhala orators and writers in our community. His knowledge, command and use of the Sinhalese language was excellent. He maintained a sharp mind and an intellect upto the very end.
- These are only a few instances of the great contribution made by Daniel Muthumala over four decades to the burgeoning expat community in New Zealand. A group of Sri Lankans who wanted to recognise this publicly wanted to propose his name for Queen’s honours. But Daniel, being his own man, flatly rejected the notion, and the effort was abandoned.
- Many years later they resurrected the same idea. That time they were more prepared to respond to likely objections from Muthu. They found that there were two people who had sway over Muthu and the group was prepared to seek their help as a last resort. They were the two grand daughters Charika and Tamara, apple of his eye. The reluctant warrior melted with a few words from the grand daughters. The rest, convincing the authorities with reams of testimonials, was easy. And he was awarded Queen’s birthday honours in 2015.
- But that is only a symbol of recognition for over four decades of unstinted service to the community. Hundreds and hundreds of those who appreciated the drama and other cultural activities, both as participants and audience, and hundreds who were given a hand to settle down in New Zealand with USLA recommendations which he meticulously helped implement, his advice, encouragement and promotion of Sri Lanka, and its culture and heritage in this far off land, and of course his exceptional contribution to the New Zealand society, have all earned Muthu a unique, and highly respected, place in history, which will be cherished for generations to come.
- Muthu has given to this world much more than what he himself asked from it. He has set a great example for others to follow.
- As for SLANZ Muthu, has left a vacuum hard to fill. His guidance, wise counsel and leadership, and most of all, his short sharp interventions at meetings to bring us down to earth when we got entangled in long, sometimes esoteric discussions, will be sorely missed.
- Grieving for him are Geetha, Dhammika, Deepika, Wasantha, Roshni, Gihan, Shamitha, Charika, Thamara and Ashvin and a whole lot of friends.
- May he attain Nibbana.