The demise of Tissa Abeysekera, has made us a few notches poorer as a nation. Poorer with tacit knowledge and facts on a wide variety of fields especially in the arts and humanity. We do concede that no one is in fact indispensable. But I believe there will only be one Tissa Abeysekera for Sri Lanka and I stand by that.
His death is an irreparable loss to us all as he was one of a kind human being. A storehouse of knowledge, an encyclopedia of information on cinema, culture, language, local heritage, tradition and literature, an intense actor, a rare species of film director, highly sought after script writer, a fire brand critique, a bi-lingual orator par excellence born with the most unforgettable voice, a writer with a unique style all his own, a proud man and a difficult customer to handle, yet an amiable man with wit and fine repartee. Amidst all, a wonderfully funny human being to spend time talking about all kinds of everything.
For all this and more, Tissa was a man I looked up to with great admiration and awe. I wish I could have penned these thoughts while he was alive. Tissa, this is my humble tribute to you. Hope you read it from where ever you are and make a nasty comment to pick an argument with me… usual Tissa style!
I met Tissa over two decades ago on work. I decided to talk to this doyen of tradition and cultural knowledge base, to discuss a concept for a television commercial that I wanted to create for a brand that I handled as a young, eager-beaver account manager! As an inexperienced rookie, naturally I was awed and excited to speak to a man held in such high esteem. That conversation I had with Tissa continued until his demise as we became such good pals thereafter.
I shall never forget how Tissa and I got chatty instantly and how he insisted that I stopped calling him Mr Abeysekera, the way I thought I should address such an eminent personality. He wouldn’t have any of it and would not respond until I started calling him ‘Tissa.’
Tissa has helped me in many a project as it would always be Tissa that I would turn for advice, guidance and reference for most matters pertaining to Sri Lankan heritage, culture, tradition or idiom. If ever I was stuck for a specific word or phrase be it Sinhala or English which needed proper adaptation, it would be Tissa that I would call. He had the most amazing language skills that I envied, and never forgot to tell him so each time.
I worked most closely with Tissa on two crucial projects. One was official while the other was completely personal. As one of the ad agencies handling communications for Commercial Bank, we had proposed that we publish a book on Sri Lankan culture, tradition, idiom, behavior and beliefs of our nation. An extremely ambitious project that was completed a few years back with excellent content, contributed by the Sri Lankan public themselves. Naturally, Tissa was my pick to be one of the resource persons of this wonderful publication called Helamaga Visithuru. Needless to say, Tissa helped immensely to create this masterpiece, one of a kind publication that had an endless demand from customers and public alike. What he ‘brought to the party’ was amazing. Commercial Bank would be saddened that they did not pursue the English adaptation of the same book that was planned but shelved. Tissa was so eager to complete this publication, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be.
I had many a memorable moment with Tissa whilst compiling this book which went on for nearly a year. Our relationship was both happy and rocky during this period as Tissa and I were equally stubborn when it came to decisions and compromises. But it all ended brilliantly and I cherish both the publication and Tissa’s contribution with equal pride. I felt I was many years richer with information on our local insights after working with Tissa on this book.
The other unforgettable experience I had with Tissa was rather an unusual one. A couple of years ago a Naval Admiral started writing articles to the papers about some of our younger film directors ; Handagama, Mahadivulwewa, Vimukthi and Prasanna, accusing them of selling the war through cinema, deemed funded by the NGO’s. I personally knew that some of his accusations were baseless and was saddened that these directors were targeted unfairly. I for one didn’t know this Admiral personally, but decided to invite him to my office to speak to these directors to clear his perceptions. A meeting of minds was thus organized by me between the two camps to sort out matters amicably. No surprises here as to who I called to be the mediator. Tissa it was.
I had absolutely no knowledge of cinema to be the convener of this meeting. Just a quest for justice. Therefore I sat in silence and awe, listening to both parties arguing their case while Tissa played the adjudicator! The joy for me was simply listening to Tissa. His approach, his position on cinema as an art form and media, his examples from world cinema pertaining to war and art, his interpretation of cinema contributing to a social dialogue…The whole episode was like a four hour lecture you couldn’t get from the best universities in the world even if you tried. What a wealth of knowledge and passion! Tissa, you really did the industry proud. I was speechless and mesmerized. That was the Tissa I knew and the Tissa we lost!
The last book he wrote ‘Ayale giya sithaka satahan’ is a must read. The last conversation I had was after I had read this book and called to complement him on yet another great piece of writing. He was so happy I called. We agreed to meet soon. But that’s not to be.
Tissa, you will always be my hero on Sri Lankanness and Cinema. I will continue to talk to you when I need some guidance on special projects. I am sure you will return my call as usual. I promise not to argue!
May you be happy and peaceful…