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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Summa Navaratnam - An Appreciation

By Sriani Dissanayake Basnayake
Recently a family friend of ours, Summa Navaratnam, celebrated his 90th birthday, and I wrote a tribute to him and sent it to several newspapers to be published on his birthday. The secretary to the Editor of one newspaper informed me that they don’t publish appreciations of “dead people”. I told her that he was very much alive, and that I wanted him and others to read my tribute. However, they ignored my request. Another journalist thanked me for my article and said, “Doctor, if not for your article, I would never have known that Summa had died”. When I told him that Summa had not died and was very much alive, he wanted to know why I wrote all those nice things about him before he died! I asked him to read the entire article, and especially the part which said that it is important for the person to realize that he is appreciated, while he is still alive.

It went like this  “In our country, people go to great lengths to write flowery or grandiose accounts of their friends and relatives once they have crossed over to “the other side”, and often, it makes one think that people are appreciated only after they have left our earthly shores. I am sure that the dear departed will be scanning the newspapers from their heavenly abode, and appreciating the sentiments expressed, but how much nicer it would be if we honoured a friend, and wrote all those wonderful things while they were still with us on terra firma, and not when fluttering their heavenly wings in some celestial abode.
It is for this reason that I pen these lines to salute Summa Navaratnam, one of the greatest sportsmen that Sri Lanka has produced in the last hundred years.”
Additionally, I sent him this poem, by an unknown author.
         He cannot read his tombstone when he’s dead.
If with pleasure you are viewing
Any work a man is doing,
And you like him or you love him,
Say it now!
Don’t withhold your approbation,
Till the Parson makes oration,
And he lies with snowy lilies o’er his brow.
For no matter how you shout it,
He won’t really care about it,
He won’t know how many teardrops you have shed.
If you think some praise is due him,
Now’s the time to hand it to him,
For he cannot read his tombstone when he’s dead!
More than fame and more than money
Is the comment kind and sunny,
And the hearty warm approval of a friend.
Oh, it gives to life a savour
And strengthens those who waver
And gives one heart and courage to the end.
If one earns your praise, bestow it!
If you like him, let his know it!
Let the words of true encouragement be said.
Let’s not wait till life is over
And he lies beneath the clover,
For he cannot read his tombstone when he’s dead!
Blog Administrator's note: As Sriani says, Summa Navaratnam is one of the greatest sportsmen Sri Lanka has produced. As an athlete, he was once hailed as "Asia's Fastest Human" at the time he held the Ceylon record for the short sprint. He was also a superb wing three quarter (in rugby) who represented CR & FC and Ceylon.


  1. Sriani, you are so right. You may be interested to read the Blog I am goingto refer to by a person called Shuna Fish Lydon (A trained chef) where he floated the idea of "Memorializing the Living. or, celebrating people before they're dead". He says, "For a few years now I've had an idea. I've thought about how terrible it is for the dead to miss their own obituaries.I've often wondered if a person's quality of life might be bettered if she/he knew how appreciated they were. I want my idea to become real. I'm going to start writing Living Memorials. Some of them might be formal, some of them all-inclusive, some of people you have already heard of, some I'm sure don't even know who I am, some of people I've known my whole life.

    They will be about people whose lives I find wondrous, complicated, inspiring, joyful, radical, humble, tough, sharp, mysterious, generous, sexy, intense, quixotic, adventurous, frightening, enviable, quiet, colorful and more or less, depending on how you see and experience them yourself.There are no rules, none that I'm going to make, at any rate. I just want to see more celebratory words set down about people who are alive and actively living, doing, being. Foibles and all."


    1. Thanks Speedy. I fully believe in "celebrating people before they're dead". Thanks also for sending me that website. More people should get involved in this and not "waste" their time on flowery eulogies.

    2. Living 'obituary'! You know what I mean. What a great idea! Let's hear what our BA has to say about it. Once okayed, let us start straightaway to send contributions.

  2. "The height of a tree can only be measured accurately only after it has been cut down"--- an old saying,
    Otherwise, of course by the use of Applied Matths / Trigonomertry.

  3. Sriani,
    I agree wholeheartedly with what you have so vividly and eloquently expressed- thanks for sharing the excerpt as well as the poem with us

  4. Looks as if 4-5 of us have formed a "chat circle"!
    I hope there are others out there who read and appreciate our efforts.

    1. Cannot agree more!!
      Let us hear more voices LOUD AND CLAER.
      Hope this plea has been heard!!!!!!.

  5. This is one of the noblest ideas I have had the good fortune to hear. How right you are, Sriani!Let us all follow your lead and contribute our own tributes to the living.