Undeterred by visual impairment | Sunday Observer

Undeterred by visual impairment

 Kanthi Swarnalatha reads out a document aloud to Udayasiri Rajapaksa.             Pic : Roshan Pitipana
Kanthi Swarnalatha reads out a document aloud to Udayasiri Rajapaksa. Pic : Roshan Pitipana

Despite being visually-impaired, Attorney-at-Law Udayasiri Rajapaksa is the Director, Legal Affairs of the Land Reform Commission. Endurance, dedication to the job and firm determination are the driving forces of his life. How he appears at Court or discharges his duties efficiently in his position would puzzle any interviewer.

Revisiting his past, Rajapaksa said, “The tragedy happened when I was just four-years-old. It was a medical misadventure. The doctor to whom I went for treatment prescribed medicine for a person of 40 years, seemingly forgetting that I was just a four- year-old,” he said.

Rajapaksa first realised something was amiss when he inquired from his grandmother one day why it was dark despite it still being evening. Everything appeared dark than usual. “ She then told me that it was still day time,” he said.

As he continued to lose his vision little by little his parents had sought treatment for him from every medical expert possible till he was 25 years of age.

“They even took me to a famous specialist who had arrived from Vienna,” he recalled. But all efforts were of no avail. “I now have no interest in finding a remedy for this ailment,” he said.

Despite determined to continue a normal life, initially, Rajapaksa was not accepted to a school. “My aunt wanted me to have an education and got me admitted to Sri Palee Vidyalaya, Horana, where she was a teacher. I studied along with other children there,” he said.

He saw the world through the eyes of his loving family. “My aunt would read books to me and my family would take me on trips so that I could experience the world,” he said. At a time when braille was not used in Sri Lanka, he was able to continue his studies by memorising the lessons taught on a daily basis.

Revealing the secret of his success, he said “I never postponed my lessons and firmly retained everything in my memory.”

Emboldened by the tragedy, Rajapaksa did not let things go but accepted challenges and even went onto pursue higher studies. The eldest of a family of two brothers and two sisters, he entered the Law Faculty of the Colombo University in 1986 and took seven years to pass out, due to the unrest that prevailed in the country at the time.

Having apprenticed under Attorney-at-Law Upali Senaratne for a short time he appeared for cases in Courts and in 1998 joined the Land Reform Commission.

“Initially they did not want to give me the post because I was blind. It was Thabugala, the Commissioner of this institution at the time who decided I should be hired because I was the most qualified,” he said. He has been working as the Director of Legal Affairs since then.

His scope of official duties includes land transfers and issue of deeds and the related legal issues.

Over the years his office staff has been of tremendous assistance to him. Kanthi Swarnalatha, a staffer said, “It is a wonder that our boss speaks from memory when his peer lawyers refer to their notes. His memory is wonderful!” She reads every document out loud to him which he retains in his memory. “When we cannot locate a file we often ask him and he is able to recall on which date and in which file the document was stored in,” she said. According to her, he is even able to recall Acts and legal provisions by memory.

He has got used to his normal pattern of life. Refreshing his memory, Rajapaksa traced his contemporaries in the University - Dr Krishanthi Pinto Jayawardena, Chulani Kodikara, Dr Shyamalie Gomes and Jayantha Dhanapala.

He is a bachelor and is determined to remain so. “I have no regrets about my decision,” he said. He now has no high hopes in life but to acquire further knowledge and experience.

He remains the only visually impaired government employee holding a responsible position today.

Translated by Michael Kiththampahuwa