There’s a hook in the office of Maithri Panagoda. It’s where he hangs his suit coat – and his work problems – at the end of each day as a personal injury lawyer and partner at Carroll & O’Dea.
I tell young lawyers and anyone who comes here for work experience that you need to leave your problems at the office. That’s where they belong,” says Maithri Panagoda from his office overlooking Sydney’s Hyde Park. “Law is a tough business, but people can get addicted to alcohol or cigarettes or even the work as a way of dealing with it. I know leaving my coat here is a symbol, but it means something. To have work life balance you need something else in your life. For me, it is music and songs.”
For Panagoda, 64, writing lyrics and contributing to the Sri Lankan community are his outlets. He started writing short stories and then songs when he was in his teens. In the 1970s, he had many songs recorded and broadcast. However, when he left Sri Lanka in 1975 for London to pursue post-graduate studies, he says he lost his energy for the creative arts.
Now with his three adult children and two grandchildren to inspire him, he has started writing again. He has released a CD with 19 Sinhalese songs he has penned, 10 which were released in the 1970s and nine that he has created in the past two years. “For 30 years I didn’t do anything with music,” he says. “But about two years ago the urge to write came back to me. My children are happy and independent, so I guess I felt a bit free to start writing again.
“My songs are love songs or patriotic songs. Recently, a friend asked me to write a song for his father who has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t recognise him. He wanted the song as a way of reaching him. When I am writing I have a melody in my head, but I am not a singer. For me it’s about the words.”