“මට වයස හැට four,” says Welipenna Vithanage Sugathapala. This is how he always answers whenever someone inquires his age. Other than the fact that his clothes were drenched in sweat, the sweltering heat did little to dampen the spirit of this man who was honoured as the happiest man in the world when he received the highest number of likes, 258,000 in a competition conducted by YouTube in 2013.
Sugathapala was the face of the first video Mike Worsman produced for ‘A Million Smiles’, an organization he founded to share stories that inspire people.
What’s inspiring about his story is the way Sugathapala, a man of meager means, chooses to live his life. His never fading smile is testimony to the fact that one does not need money to be happy. A resident of Beruwala and father of three, Sugathapala says that he wouldn’t be so happy had it not been for his beloved wife, KD Somavathi.
His wife and kids Mangala Prabath, Sandun Kumara and Sarala Ushani are quite happy with his happy ways. “My wife is a Mathru Bharya (like a mother) to me, always looking after me”, he says.
Sugathapala had previously worked at Asian Cotton Mills located in Mount Lavinia which shut down. “I was walking down the road one day when I saw this place,” said Sugathapala pointing at the New Monis Bakery, Maggona outlet, where he had been working for the past 14 years. “I asked whether they were hiring, and they said yes.”
Sugathapala was hired the next day by their security service Eagle Vision. New Monis is managed by its fourth generation of owners and it doesn’t look like the managers want to let go of Sugathapala, who is a celebrity in his own right, any time soon.
He explains that his animated gestures are a way of keeping his body well exercised. “It purifies my blood and it keeps the customers happy,” says Sugathapala. He beckoned passing vehicles to park at the bakery for a snack. Unsuspecting drivers would stop at his whimsical gestures and loud whistle and when they realize that Sugathapala is just being his happy self, would drive off with a wave and a smile on their face. “You don’t have to know a person to crack a joke,” says Sugathapala. “The smile has to come from the heart.”
He had only studied till the eighth grade at the Aluthgama VIdyalaya, but few minutes into a conversation with this man and you know he is more learned that most MPs in the Sri Lankan Parliament.
“Life is just a pit-stop. We’re born only to die and be reborn. There’s no point in harbouring anger, hate and jealousy,” says Sugathapala.
Quoting from Buddhist scriptures Sugathapala says that we should all consider ourselves lucky. “We’re born in a period when the Buddha Sasana exists, a human birth is extremely rare and being born physically and mentally healthy in order to be able to comprehend this Dhamma is even rarer. Therefore, we are all extremely lucky,” he said.
Sugathapala explains that it is through the instruments of mind, body and word (Sitha, Kaya, Wachanaya) we can hone this luck. “We must always think of the wellbeing of others and must be amiable in deed and speech,” he says.
He reflected on the impermanence of life. “We must keep in mind that we all die.” But he observed that the rest of the world is doing exactly the opposite. “They are afflicted with greed, anger and hatred. They pick on others’ faults, but don’t see their own. They carry tales to get in people’s good books, but what they end up doing is paving their own path to hell,” he relates.
But Sugathapala points out that it’s never too late to start anew. “You can turn your life around even at the age of 50,” says Sugathapala who is a vegetarian and recommends it to anyone who wants to lead a happy life. “Moreover you should spread loving kindness to all beings.”
Sugathapala is a practical Buddhist, who maintains that religious and racial discrimination is futile. He even has scripted his own theme on the issue.
ආගම්, කුල මල, ජාති භේදයෙන් තොරව ඊර්ෂ්යාව, වෛරයෙන්, ක්රෝධයෙන් මිදී අපි හැදෙමු. අපගේ අනාගත පුතුන්ගේ සිතුවිලි යහපත් කරවමු.”
‘Devoid of religious, caste and racial discrimination
Let’s banish jealousy, anger and hate
Let the thoughts of our future generations be pleasant.’
“Our kids take after us. So we have to act responsibly,” concluded Sugathapala.
Pics by Mushtaq Thasleem