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Sunil Perera wearing a blue shirt and a hat and flashing a smile.

A Beautiful Mind: My Tribute to Sunil Perera

Reading Time: 4 min

I loved listening to songs since I was a pre-school kid. Not nursery songs, I didn’t like them at all, but I liked songs enjoyed by grownups. Songs such as දෑස පියා ගත් කල (When I close my eyes…) and දේවතාවන් සිතන දේවල් (Things the gods think…) from the teledrama සුසීමා (Suseema: a women’s name in the 80s). I enjoyed songs by singers such as the late W. D. Amaradewa as much as I enjoyed the songs by Billy Ray Cyrus, Ace of Base, and ABBA. However, ලුණු – දෙහි (Salt & Lime) by the late Sunil Perera and Gypsies is the song that I enjoyed the most.

Today I am 40 and I still listen to Sunil and the Gypsies on YouTube because their songs are still relevant. Unfortunately, several Sri Lankan artists and entertainers left this world in the last two years owing to complications caused by COVID 19, and veteran singer Sunil was one of them. I have never known the man in person, but he was a man of principles. This is why I call him a man with a beautiful mind. In today’s post, which is a tribute to Sunil I want to share three principles I learned from him.

Sunil Perera refused to kiss the Hand

I wanted to say “Sunil Perera refused to kiss the a**” but decided to stick with “…refused to kiss the hand…” instead. While the Sri Lankan audience has seen several celebrity figures (I mentioned a few names while writing this post but edited them out later) shamelessly bent on kissing it up in exchange for political patronage but Sunil Perera was not so. He addressed sociopolitical issues through humor using his works such as “I don’t know why”, “Signore” and “Lankawe” – that made him a man with a beautiful mind.

It was evident to everyone that knew him. Upul Shantha Sannasgala, the social critic and teacher said that Sunil was honest and truthful when expressing his views and opinions regardless that his opinions and viewpoints were contradictory from time to time. He said that’s acceptable because people change the way they think with their age, experience, and even illnesses. He added that he respects Sunil for not being biased towards a particular religion, race, or class in a country like Sri Lanka. [Source: BBC News]

Sunil refused to be Politically Correct

As an artist and a musician, Sunil Perera attracted the masses. He entertained the masses, but he refused to please the masses. Although a sweet person, he did not dare sugar coating the reality. He confronted religious extremism and condemned racism without mercy regardless of the threats to his life and family. At a time when the nationalistic wings persecuted the minorities on the grounds of protecting the Sinhalese Buddhism in the country, he said:

Religion is there to guide the man to be a better man. Man is not there to safeguard the religion. Here, the people are fighting over it. It is absurd. Tomorrow if my son becomes a better person by worshipping the coconut tree, I will tell him to continue with the coconut tree religion. If my son turns out to be a better person tomorrow because he worships Mercedes Benz, I’ll tell my other son also “Aiya, is a better person, you also better join the Mercedes Benz religion.”

Sunil Perera to Leisure Times on Religion, Politics, and Sex

For a middle-classed individual wearing a large cross, he respected people from every walk of life, every human being regardless of religious, ethnic, gender, and differences in sexual orientation. He wasn’t a people pleaser. Trust me, there are other singers whose names I will not mention here but known for being people pleasers and inciting violence in the name of religion and patriotism. Sunil Perera was not that man – that made him a man with a beautiful mind. As a Monotheistic Judeo-Christian, I don’t always agree with his religious views, but the man-made his point!

Sunil Perera refused to be a Hypocrite

He was not a රෑ ඩැනියෙල් දවල් මිගෙල් (Daniel by night, Miguel by the day. A Sri Lankan proverb used for hypocrites). Haters shall say Sunil wasn’t a saint himself. Well, he wasn’t a saint, but he wasn’t a hypocrite either. He openly talked about sensitive topics, such as sex, which are often deemed taboo subjects in conservative Sri Lanka. In his interview with Leisure Times, he even said “I read mainly about sex. If I grab a magazine, I try to see whether it has anything with regard to Sex.”

I mainly read about sex! If I grab a magazine, I try to see whether it has anything with regard to Sex!

Sunil Perera to Leisure Times on Religion, Politics, and Sex

I applauded when he admitted in a TV Programme, he had an affair and planned to divorce his wife but had his eyes opened when he had a heart attack while touring in the USA. Who in his right mind will confess to having had an affair in front of a TV audience? Well, that was Sunil. He never used his public image to cover up the struggles in his private life. Again, I don’t agree with his sexuality as a whole but the man made his point! – that made him a man with a beautiful mind.

Wrap Up

In his interview with the Leisure Magazine Sunil Perera shared an interesting story. One day Sunil and the Gypsies were in Chilaw when a girl invited them for tea. The girl’s family served them sandwiches. Unfortunately, the sandwiches were nearing the expiry date. Sunil however ate the sandwiches and urged his team to do the same. He told them: “Eat! You will suffer only tomorrow. They wanted you all to come with so much love, so, if you don’t have a bloody engagement tomorrow, go to the toilet. What’s the big deal?” Simply because he did not want that girl and her family to feel bad. Farewell Sunil and rest in Peace. You are a man with a beautiful mind indeed.

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