Distinguished Old Boys

Captain Indika Rathnayake; Wesley’s unforgettable ‘Podiman’

(The late Captain Rathnayake in a field training exercise while at Sandhurst Royal Military Academy-England.)

Indika joined Wesley College at grade 6, in the year 1994, and still to this day I can recall the first glimpse I had of him being introduced to our class by our class teacher Mrs.Nanayakkara. Her words were that there is a new friend who is joining our class (6E), little did we know how great a friend podde would become in our lives endearing himself to us with his mischievous pranks and sincerely caring ways.

His career in college was characterized by numerous achievements that ranged from studies to sports and a host of extra curricular activities. He became the secretary of the Junior Buddhist Society in 1997, a forum that set the ground for his skills of Sinhala debating and oratory to gain note. It was during this time that he took an interest in giving his acting talents a chance to take the stage, and I fondly recall how we put on short play for a variety entertainment programme held at the college hall at the end of the term. Podde played one of the lead roles, which was of a politico who had arrives in hell and tries bribing his way out of paying for his sins. “Podiman” delivered an enthralling performance with his inimitable antics and expressions, which was imperative in making the play a hit amongst our peers.

In the arena of sports Podde first displayed his sporting agilities a ruggerite in the junior team. Taking an interest in athletics he later went on to become captain of his house in our senior year in college. While in the upper school Podde’s popularity grew tremendously with both staff and students. The remarks said of him by our school teachers were at times to his detriment on parent’s day when his restless streak of mischievousness came to be mentioned. Podde was famous as a ‘motor-mouthed’ talker whose vocal prowess served him well, and this talent culminated positively when he won the College prize for Sinhala debating (The Ranabahu memorial prize) while in grade 12.

In my opinion his most significant mark in College was made as a Prefect. Unflinchingly he carried out his duties to maintain discipline in the student body; he was known for his sternness which at times brought out an aggressive demeanor. But he was appreciated by many juniors for his fair play and boyishness that pulsated with fraternal feeling, which I know many younger Wesleyites found inspiring. He was ardently committed to perform his role as a prefect and wore his badge with pride as a member of the Prefect’s Guild of Wesley.

Upon completing his A/Ls in commerce with three ‘B’s he stuck to pursuing his ambition of a military career. He was accepted to the Diyatalawa military academy as an officer cadet of the Sri Lanka army and soon showed his talents in becoming an asset to the country’s defense establishment. Winning the prestigious officer-training scholarship to Sandhurst Royal Military Academy in England he returned with valuable military expertise, and passed out from Diyatalawa commissioned to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the SL Army’s Engineering regiment. He earned the respect of both rank and file with his dedicated hard work and conscientious valiance where ever the call of duty beckoned him such as precarious operations as the Silawathura campaign, and several others of note which posted him in the war front. He was by any standards a remarkable officer and a gentleman who served with untiring effort and undiminished courage, committed to serving the motherland and keeping true to the Wesley spirit which is evoked in our college song in the line-'and for our dear land we'd be men of grit and industry'.

He was last stationed in Vauniya, where he spent his final birthday, in active service, turning 25 and being promoted to the rank of (full) Lieutenant that very day. When I called him that day he said he got the best birthday present ever and told me of the elating news of his long awaited promotion. When ever he got time off from duty, he never failed to ring up his friends and meet up, now in retrospect it seems he new he had to make the most of every moment he got to spend the ones close to him, and to make life meaningful.

On his last visit home from the front, as always he met up with a bunch of us, his schoolmates and had a boy’s night out, sharing moments of great laughter and mirth in endeared camaraderie. Four days later Podde passed away falling victim to an anti-tank high pressure mine while engaged in a clearance operation in Vauniya on the 30th of April 2008.

And so, posthumously, he made the rank of captain.

Never did any of us imagine his unmistakable laughter could ever reach a stop. And now a year is coming to pass, but the memories of him will linger in us, leaving his lively laughter and goodhearted mockery to forever echo in the land called ‘the past’ to which we run to from time to time. He was a brother true to his friends and made every effort to be a friend in deed to those who made meaning in his life.

When the flames of war finally get doused in our beloved country and victory is proclaimed in triumphant finality over the barbarity of separatist terror, may his name be whispered in the solemnity of a prayer to blend with the winds that traverse this earth timelessly.

Dilshan Boange
October 2017