TRIBUTEs | Sunday Observer


Joseph Sinniah: World class tea blender

The Colombo Tea Trade mourns a stalwart of the Tea Industry, with the passing of Joseph Sinniah. His association with Tea commenced in 1962, with a leading Ceylonese tea export company, M.S. Hebtulabhoy. In the process of evolution, the Akbarally family branched out in 1969 to form its independent identity as Akbar Brothers and Joseph and his brother, Gabriel, became their first employees. Ever since, he has been a pillar of that company and has served it with fierce loyalty and total commitment.

He was rewarded by being appointed a Director of the Company in 1988, a unique gesture of gratitude for a closely-knit family firm. Since then, Akbar Brothers has become the largest exporter of Ceylon Tea, a position it has unassailably held for over two decades.

His mentor was Abbas Akbarally, the Chairman of the Company, with whom he has worked closely for almost fifty years and to whom he attributed all his achievements in his career.

Notwithstanding his demanding responsibilities with the Company, he served on the Committee of the Colombo Tea Traders’ Association [CTTA], the Apex Body of the country’s Tea Industry, for over a decade, as representative of Akbar Brothers by virtue of the Company being elected to the Committee by the membership of the Association, consecutively, for many years. Abbas Akbarally and his eldest son, Tyeab, both served as Chairmen of the Association at various times.

One of Joseph’s outstanding achievements was the chairing of a Sub-Committee that formulated the Grades Nomenclature for Ceylon Tea, a landmark development in the Tea Industry.

Joseph was also elected as Vice Chairman of the CTTA for the year 2014/2015, but stepped down after one term of office due to exigencies of his obligations to the Company.

He served as an indefatigable member of the Panel for the “Ceylon Specialty Tea of the Year” awards, for a number of years, held at regular intervals in USA, Japan, Russia, Dubai and China.

In regard to the last venue, where the auction of award winners was held earlier this year, although he participated in the adjudication and selection of the short list of teas vying for the awards, he was unable to travel to China with the rest of the team to help conduct the auction, due to ill-health. He was appointed by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce in 2017, to its Panel of Arbitrators for Tea.

He was accorded the rare honour of receiving an award from the prestigious French international magazine, “The Magazine”, in 2014, on being selected as the “World’s Best Tea Blender”.

Barely two weeks ago, Joseph was conferred the singular honour of Honorary Membership of the Colombo Tea Traders’ Association, at its Annual General Meeting held, significantly, in the year that the country’s Tea Industry is commemorating its 150th Anniversary, for his service and contribution to the Association and the Tea Industry.

Sadly, ill-health prevented him from personally receiving the citation and plaque on the occasion, which his brother, Gabriel accepted on his behalf.

Joseph was an amiable personality, who readily extended his assistance, advice and guidance to anyone who sought his counsel.

He shunned the limelight and preferred sharing his experience and expertise without any fanfare. Never did a harsh word cross his lips. He always believed in playing a straight bat. He was a good boss, a good team man, a good friend and, above all, a good person.

We were proud to have Joseph as a senior colleague in the Tea Trade and we shall miss him.


Anselm Perera
The Colombo Tea Traders’


Dr. Muhammad Ma’ruf: The village lad within him stood out even in the US

Each day passing after, Dr. Muhammad Ma’ruf, my eldest brother left this world, is bringing more memories of him than the previous day.

Suddenly, I feel lonely in the midst of a jungle of people of all walks and desires. I find I have nobody to talk to.

Pouring out my feelings by way of typing on the electronic monitor gives me some relief.

Almost twenty years younger to him, I have been a child, a teenager, a young adult, a married man and a father, in his presence.

In all these stages, there was one thing in common.

He made me feel that I am important. He gave me the highest respect at all stages. Others who knew him have had the same experience.

He was most exemplary in greeting and treating others. As the elders in our village, Kurugoda, Akurana and senior teachers recall, his conduct was such even in his childhood.

Much later in life in the US, being settled in the most advanced country in the world, he would recollect his fond memories of growing up in the village in those non-motorable days. He would bring out memories with certain honourable elders he admired.

He would also regret the fact that such genuine guidance to look up to, kept fast diminishing in our villages. He was disappointed with the tendency of getting attracted to artificial life.

This he said, sitting in his home in the most modern world. In the five decades of being a resident in the USA, the selfless Sri Lankan village lad within him always stood out. The American who knew him closely, found this exciting.

I had the opportunity to sit with them in some of their contact moments. He was mostly the informant of the world on those occasions, and was a gateway for them to learn the good things of the rest of the world.

He would tell me that during his early days, all alone in the US, when things he would not want to be part of were happening around him, he was tormented by an almost unbearable sense of loneliness.

He would miss the family the most then, a luxury he did not have during most part of his life. At those moments, he would turn to the glorious Qur’an, and recite it loud.

Then, he would find peace. This was in his twenties. I used to wonder, where he learned to be so near perfect all the way from his childhood. I have only one answer.

He understood and practised at every moment he got, the aqeedha and teachings of our beloved Prophet (SA). He found real meaning in each moment of the Prophet’s life.

My brother has never told a lie, even a white lie, as far as I knew. Even as a joke, he did not like to do that.

My sister Haja Sithy Fathima, much senior to me, and his close companion, shared some memories of him. This seems the time he was doing his HSC.

During Ramadan, he would wear a turban at night and go to the masjid with his friends, and during sahar time they would approach houses and wake up people for sahar.

In this time period, an elderly person, a leprosy patient living alone in a small house, had passed away all alone in his house, his body infected with wounds. Nobody went forward to perform his last rites.

My brother, wrapped the turban around his head, called his associates, stormed into the house of the dead person, washed his body and prepared it for burial. My brother was somewhere between 15 to 17 years then.

My sister-in-law in the US related another interesting incident. She and my brother were driving on an open country road.

Not much traffic. The occasional vehicles would pass at considerable speed. Suddenly, my brother who was driving spotted a turtle starting to cross the road at a speed it is normally known for.

He stopped the car, picked up the turtle and took it to the other side of the road, and made sure it went into the woods safely before resuming his drive.

I see a man in him who, while attending to what the modern world demanded of him, sitting in a country like the United States, truly believed in our leader and mentor, Prophet Muhammad’s (SA) examples and tried his best to bring them into every moment of his life.

Our household in the village got some recognition among village folk because he once lived there.

If we had not lost him to the United States, he would have found the need to wear that turban on a great number of occasions.

At fifty, I am not there yet. I am still not wearing that turban. The turban that Rasoolillah wore and changed the world.

Mazhar M. Fazie 

Dr. Abey Gunapala: A talented German Language lecturer

Dr. Abey Gunapala of Dambulla Road, Kurunegala passed away a few days ago.

He was a highly educated person and obtained his doctorate in Zoology, at the University of East Germany.

He was President of the German Trained Professionals Association, “Carl-Duisberg Alumni Association of Sri Lanka for several years.

He dedicated his time for this Association, organising seminars, workshops, excursions and social activities, funded by the German Government. He was the live wire of the Association.

He was a talented German Language lecturer who conducted German Language classes in several institutions.

His name is engraved in the hearts of the people who knew him.

Dr. Gunapala was also, President of “Swa-shakthi”, A Self-Reliance Movement” in Kurunegala.

We have lost an unassumingly, simple and friendly man.

His kind words and genuine smile will remain in our hearts forever.

“May you attain supreme Bliss of Nibbana.”

A.D.T. Maithripala