Lt. Gen. Parami Kulatunga: An Appreciation

Jumo Uduman (Island)

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” — Gen. Douglas MacArthur.article_image

Ministerial motorcades with backup commando escort and outriders whizzing past us on the busy streets in and around Colombo were a common sight in 2006. But, Lt-Gen. Parami Kulatunga travelled to Army Headquarters in Colombo from his quarters in Homagama every day in a marked green Peugeot, bearing a military license plate, followed only by a beat up pickup truck. He had no outriders, no protective units assigned to him, no bullet proof or bomb proof car. He wanted quarters inside the Army Headquarters (AHQ) complex but it was denied to him. So he had little choice.

As the third highest ranking officer in the Army, he travelled 28 kms to the Army Headquarters in Colombo, spending two hours each day on the road covering 56 kms both ways. The fact that he travels to work every morning along the High Level Road quickly became a public secret. Worse, all this was happening when just 2 months before – the Army Commander was targeted and blasted right inside the Army Headquarters!

This time, they very easily chose a point between Pannipitiya junction and Maharagama town. On the morning of 26th June 2006 a motorcycle packed with explosives rammed into his car reducing it to a mangled and smouldering heap. Parami died instantly, newspaper in hand, his body ridden with ball bearings, along with his trusted Sgt Gomes, Corporal Buddhika, and an innocent bystander. Even worse, he had just been betrayed by one of his own men.

I was one of the first to stand beside him when he lay on that cold grey slab at the General Hospital. After all the trauma, his face was (unbelievably) so serene. Many laid the blame squarely (and fairly) on the government for having neglected to protect such an outstanding and astounding military man, who had proved his mettle on (and off) the battlefield and was indeed a priceless resource in the country’s war with terror and beyond.

His family and friends were devastated. They thought he was invincible. I know of some who never recovered from the news, living now in eternal grief. His death evoked extraordinary indignation from the public. Malinda Seneviratne’s tribute to him “Requiem” which I read recently is extremely and deeply moving.

Parami was the youngest of Lionel and Leela Kulatunga of Lewella, Kandy and the adored, beloved and deeply missed brother of Lumbini, Samantha and Indu. A die hard Trinitian, although he played rugby his passion was for cadetting. He ended up as the Senior Regimental Sergeant Major of the Senior Cadet Platoon.

He decided to join the army in 1971 when the country was in the throes of the JVP insurgency and was commissioned into the elite Gemunu Watch. His detailed and impeccable 35 year military record is easily accessible so I will not delve too much on it.

He played a major role in the Vadamarachchi Operation of 1987, when the Jaffna peninsula was liberated under Lt General Denzil Kobbekaduwa, and also the Operation Balavegaya I and II in 1991 and 1992, which saved Elephant Pass. He was the General Officer Commanding the 52 Division which stopped the waves of the advancing LTTE cadres in Eluthumattuval, after the Elephant Pass camp was over run. Parallel to that he was an integral stakeholder of the then, ten Kinihira Operations which were meant for the capture of Jaffna. He also played his part in the Valampoori, Yal Devi and Jayasikurui Operations. His decorations included Rana Sura Padakkama (RSP), Uttama Seva Padakkama (USP), Sri Lanka Armed Services Long Service Medal, Riviresa Campaign Services Medal, Poorna Bhumi Padakkama, North and East Operations Medal, Desha Putra Sammanaya amongst others. In 2008, he was posthumously awarded the Vishista Seva Vibhushanaya (VSV), the second- highest ranked medal for gallantry.

Parami could very comfortably wear the badge of an officer and a gentleman. Nobody would ever deny him that. The manner in which he established rapport amongst the civil officials, religious dignitaries and members of the public in Jaffna, and for that matter wherever he was stationed, was so inspirational to all his junior officers and soldiers around him. I have personally seen how much he has done for disabled troops at Kuruwita. Then, after the tsunami he spearheaded a project for the Talwatte family to build and deliver 12 homes in Panama for the displaced. This was an incredible feat by one family which would not have been possible without Parami.

Parami was a bulwark to his large and endearing Talwatte and Kulatunge families. Like with all his friends and colleagues he always found time to visit his aging aunts and uncles, lift their spirits, listen with patience to their woes and swiftly reconcile them when he suspected disunity. He met up with his 42 cousins and their spouses regularly but would deftly maneuver himself out of difficult situations, when he was asked sensitive and probing questions on his work and national security. He loved his family and would magically defuse any crisis that was presented to him.

He was there for everybody and caste, creed or religion was never a criterion during his association with people. I remember when I had to undergo surgery he was there when I was wheeled in and there when I was wheeled out. And then, when I lived in denial he would visit me many times unannounced and prop me up with wonderful words of encouragement, and hand me inspirational books to help improve my sagging coping skills. That’s the kind of man Parami was and I am sure there are so many other people out there who have been touched by his presence at vital moments in their lives.

Parami was a devout Buddhist, and although he struggled at times to balance the Dhamma with the war he was fighting, I am sure he finally succeeded in achieving the harmony he sought. For he did not pay mere lip service to the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha but he truly took them as his refuge at all times. This was plain to see by all of us who knew him intimately.

And, as it has been said, he was bold, dashing and handsome, relentless in combat, magnanimous in victory, and gracious to his vanquished enemies.