The Path to a Vision and a Vision Pursued
Title: Pursuing a Vision of Justice
Essays in Honour of Maithri Panagoda
Editor: Senaka Weeraratna
Publisher: Vijitha Yapa Publications
Reviewer: Prof Srilal Perera
Dr. Palitha Kohona, in the foreword to this voluminous,part biography, part autobiography of Maithri Panagoda edited by Senaka Weeraratna, sets quite the appropriate backdrop to assess the life and times of an extra-ordinary professional, outstanding human being and a proud son of Sri Lanka. It is indeed challenging, as Dr. Kohona states, to review objectively when the central figure of the review happens to be one’s lifelong friend and professional colleague.
There is so much more to the individual than is revealed in the book. His humility, humble nature, caring for those that are underprivileged and poor, compassion and kindness, despite all his astounding achievements both as a successful legal professional and outstanding literary genius remain to be told. That, of course, is self-evident from himknowing his own humble nature, that he only chose to write about his life’s experiences in only one chapter of a book that has 30 chapters.
Maithri’s vision of justice must be gleaned from his family life, his early and advanced education, academic and professional institutions, his teachers, colleagues, peers and friends who have contributed to this exhaustive volume.
Much of our lives, our convictions and belief systems about what is right and wrong are molded around individuals who have a profound impact on our life, from the moment of our birth and into our adult lives. The autobiographical chapter “Along the Dusty Road” in many fundamental ways reflect this universal truth about the major influences on Maithri’s life, growing up.
His father, a renowned Ayurvedic Physician, with a generational legacy in that form of practice, was so well respected not only because of his formidable skills dedicated to the well-being of the larger community but also because of his enormous capacity for generosity, kindness and compassion, and yet firm and strict when needed.He later collected funds of his own to travel to Vienna, Austria (leaving behind his wife and five children) to study western medicine. That synthesis of indigenous medicine with western forms was indeed special. His mother, the simple enlightened teacher who epitomized kindness. These are quintessential qualities of parents of our generation, whose primary goal and objective was to ensure that their brood had the best of education and instilled in them the value of achieving the highest academic goals, social and survival skills in highly competitive environments.
Everything was sacrificed towards enabling the children to achieve those ends. And it did not stop there. It must be passed onto the next generation and the next. That this is so evident can be concluded not only from his own description of family lifeso sensitively described in the book but also from the outstanding achievements of Maithri’s own children in Australia.
Clearly, in addition to the solid family foundations, educational institutions with their renowned teachers had an extra-ordinary impact in moulding the professional out of Maithri. Chapters 5 and 6 authored by the Editor (Senaka Weeraratna) and Chapter 7 authored by a famous son of Ananda College, Berty Wijesinghe, speaks volumes to one of the finest and best Buddhist public schools in Sri Lanka and the influence that its famous teachers had not only on famous leaders of the land but on exceptionally talented students like Maithri.
Ananda’s Buddhist creed devoted to the preservation of the Dhamma, is well encapsulated by Sanjiva Senanayake, who cites Tarzie Vittachi, another famous product of Ananda, that “a school is a part of a society’s progressive purpose…..” Maithri, as we read about him in the book, has unquestionably contributed and dedicated his adult life to the progress of society.
The Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo, covered in Part 4 of the Book, where Maithri, first had his legal education, (and this year celebrates its 75th Diamond Jubilee), was the next foundational institution to influence Maithri’s future professional career in law. The 1969 entering batch, of which Maithri was one, was extra-ordinarily talented as it turned out. We were the beneficiaries of being taught by some of the most brilliant professors and lecturers, of whom Professors, G.L Pieris, M. Sornarajah, Mark Cooray, Savithri Gunesekera, and Palitha Kohona gained international and global recognition. The book contains the many written recommendations by them of Maithri’s proficiencies, which, of course, speak to his sterling nature and character