Post Card from Dhaka – Remembering Mike Udabage


 

Mike Udabage. Sydney 2009. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

In early September, before my departure to Dhaka, I wrote to my good friend and mentor,  Mike Udabage, about my forthcoming assignment in Dhaka.  I used to call him Purohita and was looking for some approval when I wrote to him. Mike had spent a life time in media and his opinion was of value. When most were questioning my decision, prompt came this reply from Sydney:

Chulie

This is very exciting your assignment in Bangladesh. Everything will be alright provided you don’t give people more than two options, talk less listen more.  In Dhaka don’t dress several steps ahead of your audience, only just one step ahead.  Pls keep us informed

Purohitha

Exactly a month after my arrival today, as I sat down to write my one month anniversary blog I got news that he had passed away.  Death took him so fast away from all of us who loved him –  he tailored his friendship in a unique and exceptional way to be that unforgettable friend  …I can’t believe we’ve lost him forever – no more jokes,  no shared laughter,  no more recollections of the good old days, no more debates,  no nothing now . …  We talked about the book he would write about his life. … now it is left to his friends to write about him. He the editor, who helped others to get their books published is no more.

When my father died Mike wrote to me “It’s OK to grieve for a good man.” We do grieve for you Mike.

Yatha idam tatha etam – Yatha etam tatha idam

As this (living body is), so that (dead one was)

As that (is), so this (will be)

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7 thoughts on “Post Card from Dhaka – Remembering Mike Udabage

  1. Mike started out as a client thanks to you Chulie, but over the last one and a half years became a close friend.

    I never could bring myself to call him “Mike”, even though he was constantly telling me to call him by his first name. To me he was “Mr. Udabage”, the man I had a great deal of respect for. Rosemarie likewise will always be “Mrs. Udabage” to me as I respect her just as much.

    I never expected to get so emotional at his passing away and my emotions took me by surprise, but it also showed me what an indelible mark he had left on my life.

    Some people come into our lives for a reason, some for a season, but you Mike have left your footprints in this heart for life.

    God Bless you.

  2. I was with him when he breathed his last. Just on Tuesday he was in high spirits ( as much as one can be in his condition) and we exchanged yarns about old times, had a good laugh. I told Rosemarie that he did not look like a sinking man…but it happened. I was privileged to have known him for over 55 years, the last 20 in Australia were great. Even to the last he did not lose his sense of humour. He had a wisdom beyond his years and was a positive influence upon me. What will stay in my memory is a simple camaraderie that we both enjoyed – he cooking Roti and me with the katta sambol washed down with a well chilled Guinness.
    Sumane Iyer

    • Hi Mr Iyer, So sorry to learn about your good friend’s passing. If you are the Mr. S. K. Iyer who was the Managing Director at Lambrettas during late 70’s/ early 80’s please drop me a line as I would love to get in touch with you. I am Asha Cooray who worked there. My email is asharanil330@msn.com. I live in Melbourne. Hoping against hope that you are the same person. Cheers.

  3. I knew Mike for several years, mainly through the Ceylon Society in Sydney. He impressed me as a person who had tremendous passion for his home country and its culture and related well with people who shared his sentiments. He was outspoken and showed qualities of honesty and sincererity which endeared him to many of his vintage. He showed considerable wisdom in expressing views of our society and brooked no nonsence. He was very supportive of those who had a love for his country regardless of their background. May he rest in peace.

  4. I’ve known Mike through his daughter Mihiri. What a gentle, intelligent and kind man Mike was. I remember dinners and occasions with Mike and his family. He had countless stories to share and always had a good joke or laugh to share.

    I will never forget sharing stories in the Hunter Valley, Mike with his trusty pipe, myself with a cigar. Good times old friend.

  5. My friendship with Mike was from 1968. He was more than a friend. His sudden departure cannot be imagined.
    He was the person who helped me immensely when I was doing my finals in Marketing. He helped others too and he taught at Aquinas on the CIM marketing course.

    I will miss him badly as he never failed to meet me or visit my home whenever he was in Colombo. He did it ever since he went to Australia.

    I am happy I came to know him. He is blessed in every way for what he has been to all. May he rest in peace and may his lovely family have the strength to conquer the grief.

  6. “ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL”
    Somasiri Devendra

    I never thought I would have to write an Appreciation of Mike Udabage. After all I am over 77 and he was yet a schoolboy when I joined Ananda College as a Teacher the year I earned my degree.

    I well remember my entry into the staff room. It was the third and last term for the year: I had spent the first as yet an undergraduate and the second in my first job as a Teacher at Kegalu Vidyalaya. And then I was transferred to Ananda and I spent days making new friends and catching up with campus buddies already on the staff. Ananda was a new world (I had schooled at the “Other Place” – Nalanda!) with all sorts of arcane traditions and a hilarious Staff Room. One of the stories circulating there was of a boy who had recently won an All-Island Essay Prize sponsored by the New York Herald Tribune and qualified for an all expenses paid stay of one month (or three?) in America. The legend was that he had returned a few days ago with an American nasal twang that he quickly abandoned when he met his classmates!

    That boy was Mike. Already a winner.

    With a fading memory I cannot recall actually teaching him, but I was in charge of the Debating Team he was a member of (he has the mug shot of us all in his house at Dehiwela). I do remember his schoolboy face and grin:just a slimmer version of the same face I met, again, about 50 years later. It was the CSA and the “Ceylankan” that brought us together again. We had exchanged emails about something I had written about and which had caught his eye because of his interest in ships and boats. Not long after, I had a call from him: from his house in the same town as mine. So he called over and thus began a new relationship that led to the creation of the Colombo Chapter of the CSA. He had already roped in his old friend Daya Wickramatunga to be Secretary and now wanted me to be President / Convenor. I was already familiar with the Journal and so had no hesitation in saying “Yes”. This was the beginning of our Chapter: the first time the CSA had ventured out of the comfort zone of Australia. Naturally, we encountered problems: partly because I was unaware of how the CSA functioned and partly because the lynch-pin of the partership was here today and in Australia tomorrow. We had heated arguments by email but much friendship over a beer back in Dehiwela. The arguments ended, with neither of us winning but with the CSA gaining! I remember that the CSA Constitution was once amended as a result. My role was of a father figure: it was Mike who looked after the nuts and bolts, kept accounts, collected subs, lent the Secretary (Daya) a helping hand, talked to the Bank, recruited new members and represented the CSA when the need arose. So it was he who presided at our inaugural meeting and I remember with gratitude that, when I launched a book at a Colombo Chapter meeting, it was Mike who chaired that meeting. When I resigned after two years of chairing, he carried on his broad shoulders the task of finding a sucessor – a most suitable one, at that. Who will, now, take up his task?

    The day I heard the bad news I was at a dinner where I met some friends who remembered Mike with great affection. One was fellow Anandian, Gen.Rohana Daulwatte. Another was Mahendra Senanayake who had been University Printer when Mike was also in the same trade. Mahendra – older than me – recalls that Mike was one who would accept advice gracefully and, most importantly, give equally good advice to someone who was much senior to him.

    Back to Ananda: he went much more than the extra mile to introduce Rowing to Ananda. He found boats and trained the rowers and was, as usual, their guide, philosopher and friend. As a Level-1 Australian Rowing Coach, he gave this advice to Ananda Rowing:

    “…These are the Rowing Nationals and they are not a dress rehersal. This is it -the final. My rowing coach the late Ray Wijewardane who passed away recently gave me a piece of advice I have never forgotton. He saw me getting off a boat after a race and Ray got really stuck into me saying he was watching me getting off the boat with plenty of energy left. ‘Next time when you finish a race I want see that you have given everything you got, nothing more left, just a limp body’. Extreme? But that is how it was.”

    The boys responded, winning two Golds and two Bronzes last month.

    I will end with Mike’s last letter to the Ananda Rowing Association. As I said, this is an Appreciation, not an Obituary. As Buddhists we know that every life is just another Hotel room –“another suitcase in another hall”. All that matters is not the leaving of it, but the manner of leaving. And this is how he left Ananda Rowing:

    “From: Mike Udabage
    To: Ravi Jayarathne
    Sent: Thursday, September 30, 2010 5:13 AM
    Subject: My resignation from post of President Ananda College Rowing Association

    Ravi,

    On my return from Sri Lanka last time I was admitted to hospital and now there is conclusive evidence that I am terminally ill with incurable cancer. Consequently I wish to resign from the post of the President Ananda College Rowing Association. If we stick o the foundations we laid down I have no doubt we will, one day, produce Sri Lanka’s best oarsmen. I leave you with the feeling that I have done the best I could.

    All my best,

    Mike”

    Ray would have been pleased: you gave your everything. And asked for nothing.

    Anicca vata sankhara

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