for Two very different personalities, each powerful in their own way, succumbed to the deadly Covid-19 virus recently. Both of them, in departing this world at ages that you wouldn’t expect their deaths, left us wondering what is wrong with the ‘system’ in Sri Lanka. The first was legendary entertainer Sunil Perera. The other was Eliyantha White.

Much has been written about Sunil Perera’scontribution to music. His talent and his ability to produce his own brand of music and become popular at a time when it was the more classical genre that was in vogue has been widely acknowledged.

What set Sunil apart and endeared him to millions though was not his music alone. It was his ability to provoke debate and discussion about vital socio-political issues through music. In a country where, for decades, politics has taken precedence and pervades all sectors in society, this was a path that few musicians dared to take. It would be accurate to say that he was the only Sri Lankan singer who did so on a regular basis although female vocalist Nanda Malini has, in the past, been strident about some political issues of a different era.    

Sunil’s signature hit ‘Signore’ became extremely popular because it hit politicians where it hurt them most, exposing their corruption and their greed for power and revealing the hypocrisy about what they preach before coming to office and what they do thereafter.


Disguised in the form of a lament from a defeated politician, the song, with a catchy upbeat tune, details how politicians exploit the public by offering them empty promises and how people are duped by meagre assurances of obtaining electricity for their village or having their road paved in return for their vote. It also ridiculed politicians’ cravings for vehicles and bodyguards and their hunger for publicity.


Two other songs which highlighted how corrupt Sri Lanka’s political system followed thereafter. His song ‘Lankaawe, apey Lankaawe’ exposed not only the country’s political shortcomings but also poked fun at our system of elections, the rampant bribery and corruption in politics and other social issues such as our chaotic traffic, strikes in universities and in the health sector and the state of our roads. The subsequent song, ‘I don’t know why’ was a further extension of this theme.


In his later years, Sunil saw how race and religion was being manipulated to win votes. He abhorred this practice and spoke out against it openly. More recently, he was quite vocal about how all political parties have failed the country and spared no one in his criticism.    


What all this reveals is that, apart from being a talented musician, Sunil Perera was also a man who deeply cared about his country and was saddened by its exploitation by a handful of politicians to the detriment of the majority. Rather than suffering in silence as most other musicians did, he used his talent to condemn this- and because it was done in the guise of music with a liberal dash of good humour, he was phenomenally successful. Moreover, because of his stature in the local music world, no politician, not even leaders of the country he lampooned, dared to cross swords with him.  

Sunil Perera therefore was not simply a musician. Behind the flamboyant personality, the lush beard and the trademark hat, there was a political analyst who was astute enough to use his talent and standing in the country to call a spade a bloody shovel and awaken the masses to the political fraud they were being subjected to.

If Sunil Perera saw that the ‘system’ in Sri Lanka was flawed and made an attempt to alert us to this, Eliyantha White was at the opposite end of the spectrum. He too saw that the ‘system’ was flawed but he was astute about it in another way: he used it for his own advantage.

Previously known as Imesh Rangana who struggled to make a name for himself as a singer, this gentleman re-invented himself as a ‘physician’ claiming that he has special powers that enable him to cure the sick and dying. That is a familiar refrain we hear from time to time in our society, but no one who has claimed such attributes made it to the top as much as White did.

White was the self-proclaimed physician to Mahinda Rajapaksa when he was President. He also famously treated cricketers Lasith Malingaand Indian batting icon Sachin Tendulkar. More recently, he was in the news again when he gave pots of so-called ‘holy water’ that would ward off the dangers of Covid-19 to minister PavithraWanniarachchi, Prasanna Ranatunga and UdayaGammanpila who were caught on camera throwing those pots into different rivers.


White’s conduct and the patronage he enjoyed illustrates just how broke our ‘system’ is. How can an individual with no medical training or recognised qualification function as a self-proclaimed physician and that too not surreptitiously but treating the country’s first citizen?

That question was indeed posed to the Sri Lanka Medical Council about ten years ago, when White emerged on the scene and there were reports that he was ‘treating’ Sri Lanka’s national cricket team. One cricketer, UpulTharanga, failed a drug test after taking substances prescribed by White and almost put his cricket career in jeopardy.

Yet, White continued to wield influence and ‘treat’ patients. Neither the Sri Lanka Medical Council nor that pious defender of the medical profession, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) bothered to prosecute him for misleading the public and putting lives in jeopardy.

All this not the fault of Eliyantha White. He was merely a product of a system that allows manipulation, corruption and political patronage to override rules, regulations, laws and ethics. He exploited that system to his advantage. While some can fault him for that, the greater error lies in the fact that our system does not allow for checks and balances that are independent of politics to take their natural course- and that was precisely the message that Sunil Perera was trying to convey.    





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