It is with sadness that I must acknowledge the passing of a great friend and mentor, Thangarajah Arjuna, in Sri Lanka on this Easter Sunday, April 16th–the same day of his birth.
I had known Arjuna for many years as the upstairs neighbor of my Aunty Dora in the small cluster of flats on Park Street that they called home. Arjuna would always drop by unannounced, as friends and neighbors do in Sri Lanka, for a chat or a drink, and I valued and respected him for his intelligence, opinionated views, and superb sense of humor. Arjuna was also a very humble and likeable guy, whom I got to know even better when I drafted him to help out on a story on child soldiers that I produced for VICE and HBO.
It was 2010, the year following the demise of the Tamil Tigers and end of the 27-year conflict they waged against the Sri Lankan government. VICE sent myself and a small crew to interview some of the children who had been forced to fight for the Tigers as they were being reintegrated into society. Prior to this I had never been to the north of the country, where most of the war was waged, and I wanted to take someone with me who knew the territory as well as the history and the language. Arjuna, a Tamil himself, was also a veteran filmmaker, whose name is known throughout India and Sri Lanka, and I could think of no better resource to bring than him. As we got to know each other even better during those 2 weeks, I found out that Arjuna and I shared an even deeper bond–food.
So after the serious work was over, we got involved in a quest to find the best Tamil cuisine, which took us all over Jaffna as well as Mannar on the west coast. Ironically, we ended up back in Colombo in the enclave of Wellawatte, home to the largest community of Tamils on the island. On subsequent trips to Sri Lanka, Arjuna would take me to the latest little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that he had discovered, and I would document it because a “roving gastronaut” like myself is only as good as his local guide. I enjoyed many great meals and good times with this fellow, who became like an “uncle” to me, and I will forever cherish those times.
There is only one other person I know who passed away on the same day that he was born and that was Siddartha Gautama, otherwise know as Lord Buddha, who also attained enlightenment on that very same day. Likewise may you, too, dear friend, attain nibbana and forever be free. With All the blessings of the Noble Triple Gem.