This Was PARAMI
Sunday Times June 2 2006:
Colleagues in the Army and friends recollect a lovable character, respected by both officers and men
An honest, upright officer and perfect gentleman is how one could best describe Parami Kulatunge, clichéd though it is. Above all, he was a caring human being, who was much loved by all who came within his sphere. He was so much a livewire, his death comes as an unbelievable shock.
His tragic assassination by a suicide bomber last Monday deeply saddened people from all walks of life. As he lay in a casket at his brother’s home, it became evident how much; people came in their numbers to pay their last respects.
Born and bred in Kandy, Parami was educated at Trinity College. The youngest in a close-knit family, he has a brother and two sisters. Having joined the Army in 1971, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1972. Posthumously promoted Lieutenant General, Parami, who held the post of Deputy Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Army, served in many positions during his long and distinguished career as a professional soldier. He served long spells in operational areas in the North and the East and participated in many major operations. He was also the recipient of several medals for gallantry in various operations.
“I first met Parami when he together with a group of young aspirants, was at the Panagoda Cantonment for his Officer Quality Tests,” recalled General (Ret.) Srilal Weerasooriya, a former Commander of the Army and currently Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Pakistan. “He passed out second in the order of merit in his batch and on being commissioned was posted to the 1st Battalion of the Gemunu Watch in Diyatalawa. He excelled as a young officer and caught the eye of the late General Tissa (Bull) Weeratunga, who, when taking over command of the Army made him his first Aide-de camp. Parami true to his nature, remained as the General’s ADC for life.”
“Para as fondly known to us has been a part of our family for many years,” said Annouchka, General Weeratunga’s daughter. “We were fortunate to meet him during the early stages of his army career. Para was with Thatha during the many times he served in the North. Between the two of them they made so many friends no matter what race or religion they were. As ADC, he planned out Thatha’s schedules to perfection. There was never a time that everything didn’t go like clock-work. He not only was a part of all this but very involved with the rest of the family too.
“Time passed and our lives moved on, but Para never stopped visiting my parents’ home and joining us for all important family events. He always kept in touch and always appreciated Thatha for what he was to him. The true sincere love that Para had for our family became evident when Thatha was diagnosed with cancer. Para shared this pain and sadness we were experiencing. He took care of Thatha like a son would do for a father; he did not hesitate to openly show his love and concern.”
It was during his service as ADC to Gen. Weeratunga, that this writer first met Parami. Our friendship grew over the years and he became very much a part of our family too. No function was complete without him. He was a wonderful friend not only to us but just as much to our son and daughter-in-law and also our little four year old grand-daughter, who loved ‘Uncle Parami’(pictured here with her). He leaves a void in many lives.
Parami was popular with most of his senior officers as well as his subordinates. “Although I have known Parami from the time he was a 2nd Lieutenant, it was during my tenure as GOC 54 Division (Elephant Pass) in 1997/98 that I became closely associated with him,” said Major General (Retd) Lohan Goonewardene, a former Chief-of-Staff of the Army. “As my Deputy GOC, I found him to be a solid and competent officer. He relieved me from all routine administration of the Division, thus enabling me to be free to plan and execute operational plans. He was with me during the difficult days at Elephant Pass, advising and giving me all the encouragement and support to take the correct decisions. He was more a friend than a deputy, and he was close to my family.”
“His organisational capabilities are well known in the Army. He attended to every minute detail and never took a chance. He was a man of principles and high moral values. He also practised his religion. He was warm-hearted and genuine in his feelings for others. A lovable character, he was respected by both officers and men since they had confidence in him.”
“Parami and I were buddies during our officer-cadet days,” said Major General Nanda Mallawarachchi, Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Army. “We developed a very close relationship. My two children are still crying. After the Commander’s illness, Parami carried most of my workload. It is a great loss for the country and for myself and my family.”
Maj. Gen. Mallawarachchi related how at the funeral he met a Buddhist monk who was in tears. “He told me that Parami had looked after him for three weeks when he was suffering from chicken pox.”
Over the years, Parami attended several training courses, as well as seminars, locally as well as abroad. A one year course at the prestigious US Army War College was the last of the training courses. Many touching tributes have been sent by his colleagues at the War College.
The many friends he had in the diplomatic community were deeply shocked and saddened by his tragic death. “He was a gentle giant,” commented Amandeep Singh Gill, Counsellor, Political, of the Indian High Commission. “He had an amazing way with children. Our kids would gravitate to him as if by magic. He was a professional soldier, but there was no hint of narrow-mindedness in him. He knew the importance of peace as much as he realised the importance of defending Sri Lanka’s unity and integrity.”
“Despite his senior rank he was a man without pretensions,” said Rachel Bedlington, Acting High Commissioner for Canada. “He was a decent, kind and generous man, fair in his views and a true gentleman. It is a great loss to the country and also to his family.”
“He was a friend,” said Colonel Colin Martin, Defence Attache of the British High Commission. “I knew him first when he was Director General, General Staff in 2004. We were working on the UN Peace Keeping training project. He is a real officer and gentleman; an absolutely charming man, extremely kind and generous. He enjoyed the humorous things. He was a very professional soldier, who always had his subordinates in mind. I last met him at the Queen’s Birthday celebrations, where we had a jovial time. We didn’t meet very often as he was senior in rank and worked at a different level, but when we did meet he was always hospitable and kind. We became good friends.”
Apart from his professional duties, Parami involved himself in several projects to help the needy. He was very committed to whatever he undertook to do. After the tsunami, he collected money from his friends and relatives to build some houses in Amparai, which were handed over recently.
A pet project of his was a village the army was helping to rehabilitate in Ella Kantalai, while he was stationed in Trincomalee. There too, he used his personal contacts to obtain contributions to help uplift the lives of the villagers. A pre-school was established, the children were given school uniforms, books and other needs through contributions collected.
He was thrilled with the progress of the kids in the school. A sewing class was conducted for the mothers. The villagers were helped to set themselves up in self-employment.
When he was stationed at Chavakachcheri, I recall how deeply concerned he was for the people there, whose houses had been destroyed when the town was hit by bombing. He and his soldiers helped many of them to recover their items of gold jewellery from the ruins.
Being firmly committed to what is right, Parami often ruffled some feathers by speaking his mind when he felt something was wrong.
Without thinking of how it would affect him personally, he always tried to stand up for what was right. As a relatively junior officer, he even had the courage to disagree with Lalith Athulathmudali, who was then Minister of National Security.
Speaking of Parami, Gamini Wijesinghe quotes, on the lines of Shakespeare:
“He was among the noblest of them,
He did what he had to do,
In general, honest thought,
And common good to all.
And the elements,
So mix’d in him that,
Nature might stand up,
And say to all the world,
This was a man!”
His life was the Army
Lt. Gen. Parami Kulatunga R.S.P.
In November 2002 when the National Remembrance Park was opened I penned the following verses:
Last Saturday afternoon
After its dedication
I visited National Remembrance Park
To pay my tribute and offer merits
To those faded human beings
Some known seniors: some sincere colleagues,
many unknown juniors
some fallen; some massacred
only their names carved in granite
--------- and pleasant memories remain.
Serene surroundings reverberated futility of War
Can glorified death justify value of human life?
plaque at the entrance states “Peace and life
Come from death and strife”
I left contemplating “are death and strife mandatory to peace and life”?
Last Monday, as usual on my way to Badulla from Kandy, I drove past NRP early in the morning. Around 7.45 I heard over the radio that a senior military officer was killed in a suicide attack off Pannipitiya. A while later I knew the victim was Major General Parami Kulatunga.
I first met Parami in 1965 as a junior cadet of the Ceylon Cadet Corps, sharing the same compartment in a train bound to Diyatalawa from Kandy carrying hundreds of cadets of the second battalion to their annual training camp. We got to know each other and our acquaintance progressed as senior cadets and as NCOs attending the NCO camp in 1969 at Diyalatawa.
As teenagers we loved the uniform and our dreams were realized when he joined the Army in July and I joined the Navy in August 1971 as cadets. Our paths differed. He selected the glamorous infantry and elite Gemunu Watch whilst I chose the Executive Branch to command ships and establishments. We kept in touch, matured and met in various parts of the island under various circumstances. Some were pleasant. Some were adventurous and some were very risky. However, we remained happy and contented wherever and whenever we met.
He came to Trincomalee with his bride to spend the honeymoon because all his Naval friends were at Dockyard. He became Juliano Gemma of “Blow Hot Blow Cold” and we had to provide scenic locations in beautiful beaches around the Dockyard. In the seventies Dockyard was a paradise. There were no suicide boats off Foul Point and snipers in Marble beach! In the eighties we had reunions in Palaly and at Karainagar. In the early nineties soon after Operation Balavegaya we spent a peaceful night on the beach of Vettilaikerny singing “Tharaka Nidana Maha Re….”
His life was the Army. He continued to love the uniform. As I lacked certain personal traits required for flag rank I retired from the Navy and joined Prima Ceylon Limited at China Bay in 1994. Then he came to Trincomalee as the Brigade Commander. We visited each other and on numerous occasions I stayed in his chalet at Plantain Point.
With his cherubic face, smiling eyes, warm embraces and hearty laugh he made his presence felt. He was lavish and gentle. He was simply a nice human being. He was proud of his school Trinity, his Gemunu Watch and our Kandy.
Parami, it was a pleasure and privilege knowing and associating with you during the past four decades. I simply cannot express the grief I felt when I saw the wreckof the vehicle in which you travelled for the last time. You certainly did not deserve such a violent death. You were so gentle to your fellow beings.
General Sir, sleep well. I am confident that we will meet again. May be on a moonlit beach at Vettillaikerny, Manalkadu or Coral Cove where there is no racial animosity and where human beings treat each other with love, dignity and nobility. That day we will sing again “Tharaka Nidana Maha Re”.
Gentle giant with a heart of gold
I was deeply saddened to hear of the untimely and tragic death of Lieutenant General Parami Kulatunge following an attack by an LTTE suicide bomber. It is ironic that an officer who fought bravely for more than two decades to safeguard the sovereignty and integrity of Sri Lanka had to die in this manner at the hands of a cowardly terrorist.
I first met Parami in 1971 when he, together with a group of young aspirants, was at the Panagoda cantonment for his Officer Quality Tests. He stood out from the rest because of his height and impressive bearing. He was a product of Trinity College, Kandy and joined the Army with Intake 5A.
He passed out second in the order of merit in his batch and on being commissioned was posted to the 1st Battalion Gemunu Watch in Diyatalawa. He excelled as a young officer and caught the eye of the late General Tissa (Bull) Weeratunga who, when taking over command of the Army made him his first aide-de camp. Parami, true to his nature, remained as the General's ADC for life!!
Parami was a professional soldier and over the years attended many courses of training, locally and abroad, culminating in the prestigious US Army War College Course. He commanded the Gemunu Watch, several brigades and divisions in operations in the North and the East. He participated in many major operations such as, Operation Liberation (1987), Operation Balavegaya (1991), Operation Riviresa (1995), Operation Jayasikuru (1997) - just to name a few. He held the prestigious appointments of Colombo Commander, Security Forces Commander Vavuniya, Director General General Staff (AHQ) and at the time of his death, the post of Deputy Chief of Staff.
One could write volumes about the military achievements of an officer who served for nearly thirty five years. However, I feel that in the final count what matters most is the impression one leaves behind as a human being. Parami was characterized by his genial and pleasant personality. He was much liked by his colleagues and was very popular among his many civilian friends. I would describe him as a gentle giant with a heart of gold. He was ever willing to be of assistance to anybody in need. He loved children although he did not have any of his own. In this appreciation, I have only scratched the surface in writing about the merits of Parami. He was one of those who could have sought safer and greener pastures when the situation in the country worsened, but who nevertheless decided to stay on and serve the motherland loyally, and in doing so paid the supreme sacrifice.
Parami will be remembered for his honesty, loyalty, dedication and commitment as a true son of Lanka. I wish to express my deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to all the members of his family.
May he rest in peace!
with the last arrow gone,
My blood dyes heaven and earth,
My spirit shall return, shall return
To defend the Motherland"
(Poem by Japanese Lt Gen Ushijima just before he died in 1945)
Tribute: Lt Gen PSB (Parami) Kulatunge Deputy Chief of Staff of the Sri Lanka Army, along with his driver Sgt. Gomez and bodyguard Corporal Buddhika paid the supreme sacrifice to the Motherland on June 26, 2006 at Pannipitiya. They were killed by an LTTE suicide bomber.
When the LTTE killed Parami they killed a man who worked positively to help bridge the divide between the majority community and the minorities. It was among the Tamils he did best. He counted many Tamil friends while in school and in Jaffna and Vavuniya during his tours of duty.
The insane LTTE murdered an exceptional officer and gentleman who bore no malice and harboured no prejudice. While he carried out his duties fearlessly he held fast to his beliefs that decency and humanity mattered very much especially in war.
His death is a great loss both to the country and the Army he served with pride, distinction and dedication. It will certainly be one more murder that Prabhakaran will most certainly have to answer to all the people of this land at the correct time.
Lt Gen Kulatunge was the much loved youngest child of Lionel Kulatunge, a former MMC, and Leela (nee Talwatte) and beloved brother of Samantha, Indu and Lumbini.
He was born in Lewella, Kandy on October 9, 1951. He had all the qualities of those indomitable hill-men whose courage protected the Kandyan kingdom from the ravages of colonial incursions over 300 years.
He also represented the gentle and well-mannered Kandyan way of life which has an abiding respect for elders and the traditions of the Sinhalese which they guard unobtrusively but with pride.
Parami was a typical product of Trinity College, Kandy. Joining the Army in 1971 he received his initial training at the Officer Cadet School at Diyatalawa, precursor to the SL Military Academy. He was commissioned into the Gemunu Watch, (King Dutugemunu's Own) in 1972. He first served as a platoon commander in B Company under Major Anandasunderam when Lt Col AW Thambirajah (later Brigadier) was in command. He also attended many courses in India mainly, the high point of his training was in the US Army War College.
Parami was a devout Buddhist. He tried as all Buddhist soldiers must to reconcile his duties in the Army with the Buddhist precept that prohibits taking life. It was especially difficult to do so when fighting a terrorist organisation that knows no limitations to brutality when it was one's duty to protect the lives of one's countrymen. Instead to the last he with touching innocence and very strong faith believed that a person who bore no ill will nor harmed another human being should fear nothing.
Parami lived without ostentation, loved children, and always had time to interact with his soldiers, officer colleagues and friends. He was well-known to the highest in the land almost from the time he started his career but it was not of his own seeking.
Lt Gen Kulatunge was an amiable giant of a man standing well over six foot with broad shoulders, weighing many pounds more than recommended. He was also magnanimous, generous and straight forward and honest. He rarely, if ever, lost his temper or spoke in anger. In his junior service when chastised he would simply keep quiet rather than seek to get away with an explanation.
He had an enviable record of service showing excellent qualities of leadership both in the field and in the staff. He "fought in many a fray and fought and won" including the gallant and epic relief of Elephant Pass in 1990 when he commanded the 6th Battalion.
As 52 Division Commander in the battle for Jaffna following the reverses at Elephant Pass in 1998 he turned back the marauding LTTE at Varaani. They never came back again. In between he commanded 22 Brigade and later 11 Division. He was also at different times Security Forces Commander of Jaffna and recently of Vavuniya. He held staff appointments with distinction from the rank of Captain to Major General.
Although we were from same regiment and played rugby together, we first worked as a team only when I was appointed Officer Commanding (OC) Troops in Jaffna in 1980.
He was a captain and the G3 staff officer and had been there the previous year when the situation was very tense there. Parami met me at Jaffna railway station around 5.30 AM and took me straight to Pallaly where HQ Task Force One our superior HQ commanded by then Colonel, (later Major General), Gratien Silva was also located.
The new senior staff officers in Task Force one were rotated during the year and included some of the best young officers of the time such as Majors Udena Gunawardene, Harin Malwatte, Mangala Ratnayake, Abdul Zaheer and Neil Dias (Later Maj Gen and Army Chief of Staff). They held Parami in great affection and humoured his methods of getting things done. He was a veteran of Jaffna!
Parami though quite young at the time had gained a lot of experience working with many future Army Commanders. What was very important was that he had an excellent rapport with the important officials, civil and religious dignitaries and many members of the public in Jaffna.
The Task Force had also started teaching spoken Tamil to all troops. Parami set an example by attending all the classes. I'm sure it stood him in good stead later on. It was to be the last year that there was no terrorist violence in Jaffna.
Whether it was operational training to hearts and minds efforts, Parami ensured all arrangements were done on time and effectively. The PR efforts certainly brought us many friends. The Pallaly officers' mess was always full of delightful Jaffna folk on many occasions. We had blood donation campaigns in the Jaffna General Hospital.
The first to donate blood was the priest in-charge of the Kankesanthurai (KKS) Temple, Ven. Mahinda at his own request. The KKS temple was never attacked by the militants ever as the priest was the saviour of any Tamil who thought he was in danger.
The lady doctor in-charge of the blood bank finding out probably from Parami that the OC Troops was present took me to task for not sending B positive donors that were on her list at a time when there was an urgent demand for blood. Parami very gently told her that the soldiers in Jaffna were transferred regularly every six months.
He had personally checked our list before he sent what the Army calls a nil return. That intrepid little lady was not overawed either by the OC Troops or his engagingly handsome six foot staff officer. That is the Jaffna I knew where you gave way to the cyclists, often school girls, riding abreast. We respected their tradition built over 50 years.
Another occasion was when a donation was made to the Illaveli Girls' Orphanage with the collections received from the always generous troops serving in Jaffna but organised by the staff officers with Parami.
At the orphanage we were entertained by the orphans to a programme of singing and oriental dancing after which a very pretty little girl made a speech in English saying that she never thought that the Army would help them as they believed we had "iron hearts". They had instead been pleasantly surprised more so because the Mother Superior had told them how generous was our contribution.
Everyone clapped and we all stood up to go. Parami without any warning announced that I would speak. I had no time to think. I mumbled that we delighted to help and overwhelmed by the reception we were given. I then blurted, not without some trepidation as were in a convent, that never before in my life had I seen such beautiful little girls. This was translated into Tamil by the Mother Superior and even though they were very small girls, they nearly brought the house down. That was the only time Parami had abandoned me!
We went on detachment visits which included Madagal, Vellvatithurai, Elephant Pass, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya and had a great time testing their battle readiness called Fitness for Role (FFR) in the Army.
Parami, I believe thought the OC had a pathological belief in being ready for war. Sadly, it was he and most of the others then in Jaffna who had to face the music when things heated up as I had retired from the Army by that time. Nevertheless he and Captains Malik Deen and later Hiran Halangode also prepared the first SOPS ever issued. They were considered at that time only as items to be collected.
Also issued amid some controversy were the white and meant to be yellow cards which informed the troops of their obligations before opening fire and after arresting persons found violating the law. The instruction not to open fire if someone ignored an order to halt at check points was criticised.
The staff officers loyally defended the measure knowing that the chance of a pregnant woman who was being taken past a check point being shot was not an option. In May 2006 this could have been considered treason after the AHQ suicide attack! Another controversial measure was the one that required the troops to inform the next of kin (NOK) where arrested suspects would be held.
Here too their loyalty was worth more than a ton of cleverness that some of the detachment commanders displayed in criticising these measures.
At the end of the year I left Jaffna and I believe Parami went to Trinco. I left the Army in 1981 for reasons that have no place here. We met again when the Gemunu Watch Ex-Servicemen's Association (GWESA) was formed and then regularly on our periodic visits to the Regimental HQ at Kuruwita. We saw how much Parami has done for the troops especially the disabled who have a wonderfully well maintained swimming pool.
The renovation of the Officers' Mess and the Library are examples of the super self help efforts he made. He was also the moving force with Maj Gen Patrick Fernando in the recruitment drive that quadrupled the intake to the GWESA.
Parami also took pains to ensure that new members' subscriptions were collected regularly. This has helped very much to enrich the coffers of GWESA. We had looked forward to welcoming him on his retirement in 3 months time. It was not to be. On a personal note I wrote to Parami a week before his untimely death officially thanking him for helping GWESA.
Though the letter was official I, for the first time in a letter wished him and all ranks of GW the blessings of the Triple Gem. Everyone knew the dangers they faced. Unfortunately he tempted fate. May the country in this time of peril remember with gratitude and pride, the devotion and courage of Parami, Sergeant Gomez and Corporal Buddhika and all our brothers and sisters who while playing their part in establishing peace, good will and justice among the people of our land, have made the supreme sacrifice. Their efforts will not be in vain. We will not forget them.
May his stay in Samsara be short and may he attain Nibbana.
"Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realise that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events." - Sir Winston Churchill
APPRECIATION: For Parami, the realisation was real but he never feared the unforeseeable and uncontrollable. He was a true soldier. It was war but the commanding general was a 'gentle giant' soft spoken and kind hearted. He was a soldier when he had to be one and a gentleman and human being in real life.
I had the privilege of knowing him due to his close relationship with our extended family of four generations, the fourth being three babies who may hardly remember him in the years to come.
Parami had the respect of his superiors, peers, and all his subordinates and friends who were ordinary people like me. I write this piece to bring together a completely different side of Parami that we so intimately enjoyed with him during his year at the US Army War College in Pennsylvania, USA.
His colleagues from the War College group can hardly hold their emotions in moving messages from them to his family. Our home was where Parami spent some of his weekends when not in sessions or on tours with the War College program.
Ours is a simple story of our time with a man who arrived here from Sri Lanka to spend a year gleaning what he could from here and giving what he knew when the US was also gripped with a new kind of war - terrorism. His colleagues drove Parami to and from Washington. My husband Sathy and I would chat for hours staying up at night listening to him.
Parami's first reaction on arrival in the US was a funny one. He told us how he looked around for people to carry his bags up the steps to his apartment. There were no aides. With his usual tender smile he asked his colleagues about help. They laughed and told him that he had to do it himself. Here was a General with privileges but carrying his own bags was not outside the realm of his humility. Soon he learned to help himself assuming those trivial responsibilities.
I remember very clearly the days he spent setting up his apartment. Being in the US for only a year, rather than acquire stuff we chipped in to furnish his place. He started with sparse needs. We offered him a choice of anything he needed for his new temporary home from a collection used by many newcomers before him.
He worked wonders with odds and ends. He had good buddies like Chip and Bill who would come along in their large vehicles and load for the 'General' and drive out to Pennsylvania. We laughed a lot around those trips. He had an eye for d‚cor and picked up some unobtrusive items from our basement. Only when we visited his place did we notice how he had so creatively decorated his temporary abode making it warm and cozy.
During his visits to Washington, he met many other Sri Lankan families too. We enjoyed some really happy social gatherings and he was a magnet for many who flocked around him - a real soldier, a survivor of the terrible ruthless conflict that gripped our country. At first, we were apprehensive about how he would feel meeting a mix of people especially with his role as an Army General.
At that time, we expected to encounter some feelings from our own friends and it did worry us. However, we were aware that he separated his job from his personal relationships. Our concerns were unfounded because he loved people. This was a refreshing relief to us as we included him in the multiethnic social circles that we built around us. He left lasting impressions on them.
Now we think back about how different it would have been for him to be in an environment where he did not have to listen for sounds of gunfire, mortars, and bombs even in his light sleep. It must have been a change and a different focus for him but he never lost sight of the purpose for which he was in the US as a soldier representing his country, learning and giving.
I remember a conversation with him after visiting the UN in New York. On that visit he also met Jayantha Dhanapala. It was with great pride that he introduced Jayantha Dhanapala to his War College Group - a Fellow Sri Lankan and Fellow Trinitian. He was a true son of Sri Lanka - proud of it and honest to the marrow of his bones.
We went out shopping for new electronic toys. Like a little child he got a camera phone - the first of its kind in the market at that time. Being technologically challenged, there was a learning curve to overcome - but he did fine. Often he arrived for the weekend with books and sat quietly in his room reading and preparing for tests - something new he experienced after many years.
It didn't take time for those in his international group to get totally enraptured by his unique gentle personality. Underneath the decorated soldier, they found a dear and caring friend who listened to their problems and understood the multifaceted perspective to people's lives and the cultures they embraced.
He understood them outside of his culture without judgment or opinion. That brought them closer than ever to this man who spent such a short time with them. To them he was "Para" our friend. He took his role seriously and purposefully and never put personal needs at the cost of his work.
He spent his year quietly and did not command any fanfare from the embassy or expect any special favours during his stay. He kept a low profile slipping quietly into Washington when he needed to be with his friends. In fact it was Ambassador Devinda Subasinghe who called me and asked if Parami would be in Washington for the Independence Day celebration in February that year.
I had to follow up with a message from the Ambassador to ask Parami to bring his ceremonial uniform. When I called, he was ready to perform his part for his country. I still remember how he spread his uniform on the bed and meticulously wiped the medals and pinned them on. We joked about not having his aides around to get his regalia ready.
Parami was with us following a bad winter storm. At that time we had a very dear friend Don McCoy who loved Sri Lanka, working on a de-mining project with Perry Baltimore of the Marshall Legacy Institute. They were seeking information on the northern region.
They struck it lucky as the man who knew Jaffna like the back of his palm was in our home. We set up a meeting with them in the midst of all the disarray in our snow and water damaged home.
They knew this was one of the best connections they could have made. Since then struck a wonderful relationship between Don McCoy and Parami. Don was so fond of Parami, he would choke with emotion being thankful to have met such a wonderful man.
We lost Don recently to a prolonged illness and before he said good bye called us knowing it was his last farewell and never failed to mention Parami. If Don was around today, he would have been devastated to learn of the fate Parami was dealt. No conflict should ever be expressed with destruction of life-- an unpardonable crime that will never be forgiven or forgotten.
Before Parami left the US, we had a final gathering with a few close friends. Don McCoy and Perry Baltimore had planned a little private appreciation for Parami but it was to be a well guarded secret meant to be a surprise. Officials from the embassy were also invited to be present but unfortunately no one was available to come. Parami had been out on a trip to Niagara and was late coming in.
Quite unlike an Army General, he walked in to the dinner party late but was excused by all in good humour.
In very touching speeches made by Don McCoy and Perry Baltimore, they bid farewell and thanks to their new friend and pinned an emblem representing the de-mining project on Parami in the living room of our humble home.
There were no VIPs around but only people who cared genuinely for Sri Lanka and those of us who felt deeply about what was going on in our country and how much he meant to us in that struggle. Thus grew a long and warm friendship between them with follow up trips to Sri Lanka. On hearing about Parami's death, Don's wife Billy expressed much sadness and mentioned that she received a beautiful message from Parami when Don passed away in 2005.
On that fateful day, June 26, 2006 we lost an icon that was so valuable to our country. As the news spread around the globe, at this end in the US, inquiries started pouring in from General Parami's group mates from the US War College and they shared many stories-endearing ones with expressions of genuine affection for him.
One such story was about the Christmas. He wanted to be Santa. Of course they had to quietly find all the gear that would fit him and they did. A few minutes before the time Santa had to arrive, much to his delight, they told him he had to be Santa and to put on the suit. With some coaching he arrived with bells and "Ho, ho, ho" attracting the attention of the children. From there on apparently there was no stopping him. His love for children made him natural in his new role.
We visited him at the War College. He took us on a tour of the place and we were in awe. A rare privilege we would not have experienced if not for him. Walking the tracks walked by many a brave soldier, we were proud to have one of our own walk the same tracks.
Today, even the War College is resonating with the sad news of Parami's fate in the hands of brutal terrorists. With Parami, we visited the Gettysburg battle ground known for the civil war. We stood with him at the foot of the podium where President Lincoln made his historic Gettysburg address.
With enactments so beautifully presented, we walked through Gettysburg and introduced our own General and stood for pictures with the costumed Generals and ladies who relived the history of the civil war on the Gettysburg grounds.
Since Parami left the US, we met with him in Sri Lanka at the wedding of our only daughter. He was posted in Vauniya but flew in to the reception and back to his post just to be with us - a gesture we truly appreciate as one of deep friendship and love for our children. He cared so much and shared so much affection for them without exception just like he did with other children he knew. Only memories of him will now be left with all of us.
Dear departed friend, you have left an indelible impression on in all who knew you. You did so with genuine love for your fellow beings who will in turn remember you without reservation. Goodbye to you our trusted friend - you taught us how to live by the tenets of Buddhism and made us all so proud to know you. May you be at peace in your final rest Nirvana.
He who is full of confidence and virtue, possessed of fame and wealth, he is honoured everywhere, in whatever land he sojourns.
A smile, a hug and so much more... that was Uncle Parami
Lt. Gen. Parami Kulatunga
It is the 26th of June, half past eight in the morning. I receive a call from my husband saying that there had been a bomb attack in Pannipitiya and Uncle Parami has been the target. A hundred more calls follow…some inform me that he is injured…some say he is critical…and others declare that he is dead.
I cling to every possible hope that he is not, perhaps he is badly hurt…Then the television screen blares in front of me confirming my worst fears. Tears roll down my cheeks uncontrollably.
My five-month-old son screams for milk… I am instantly reminded of Uncle Parami’s last words to me, almost a month ago, when I met him at my in-laws’ residence.
“Whatever you do remember your son is now your priority number one,” he had commanded with a gesture that suited only a commander before he hugged me tight with both arms flung around me and kissed my husband, Ashan and I goodnight stroking our faces lovingly as he always did, like a prayer, before leaving. Taking little Rahul in his arms he had said, “If ever ammi makes you cry for milk just let me know and I shall deal with her”.
And now Uncle Parami is no more…There is no more casual banter over coffee and cheese toast, no more laughter and antics, no more funny emails, no more teasing, no more reassurances and positive energy about the country’s situation, no more trips to Panagoda, no more chocolate cake and dark chocolate, no more fresh orange juice, and above all no more will we see the “gentle” lion sprawled over my mother-in-law’s sofa in a relaxed mood, talking, laughing, smiling away…so broadly.
I met Uncle Parami, almost five years ago, a few weeks after meeting my husband. Uncle Parami happened to be a very close family friend of my in-laws. He and I became friends, although I was 25 years his junior. Many a day while on our way home from work we would receive a call from my mother-in-law asking us to drop in at her place because uncle Parami was there and he would like to see us. We would readily agree for it has always been a pleasure being in his company.
Very often we would exchange emails. Some philosophical…some funny…I received the last email from him the Tuesday before he died. It still remains in my inbox, opened perhaps more than thousand times during the course of the day. The subject line read: “Are you a coffee bean?” and each time I go through it I wish we were all …so then we would have been able to bear the grief of his loss much better. His emails have always been a source of inspiration or have lifted my spirits whenever I was down.
What more…what more do I tell the world about this great human being, Parami Kulatunge? He was definitely a Major General with qualities extraordinaire…Inside this majestic and giant like figure was a very tender heart…a heart that worked in the name of humanity.
He was a man who strove to bring a smile to the face of the common man, children and disabled soldiers. He was silent on the many good deeds or the social work projects he carried out in the communities.
He was patriotic…with an outlook which has been nothing but positive he would often tell me, “Greener pastures are not all that green after all” and that we should not sacrifice the luxuries back home for the unknown in alien lands.
He was humble and compassionate…He spoke to each and everyone alike and never discriminated against people based on caste, creed, social status or nationality.
He was house proud…I have watched him in awe… as he inspected the polished floor or brassware…as he excused himself half way through a meal to go and straighten a cushion which lay haphazardly on the sofa or to adjust a slanted lampshade… as he strolled in the big garden inspecting the plants, seeing whether the new jasmine creeper has enough sunlight or whether the yam plants had enough water. I have listened admiringly as he gave explicit instructions to my mother-in-law on buying a new table cloth to match the curtains, cushions and floral arrangements….
He was brave, he feared no one. I witnessed many a time how he had been amused when he was told to be cautious and how he had shrugged when people said he might be a target.
He loved children…be it his own nieces, nephews, children of friends, colleagues or workers, he would so lovingly carry them, pat them on the back or stroke their head.
He possessed an
infectious smile and a cherubic personality…
He would be there with you on those important days…to share your happiness…to share your grief. I recollect how he joined Ashan and me for a little dinner the day we were engaged although he had a plane to catch in a couple of hours. The day my son was born it rained heavily but lo and behold there he was by my bedside carrying a pot of flowers to see our newborn.
He was so many things to
so many people…
Fare thee well our “gentle” Lion
And now that thou art lying deep…
A handful of grey ashes…finally at rest
Still are thy pleasant memories
For death, he taketh all away
But them he cannot take…
You will be sorely missed Uncle Parami!