Sunil Madhawa & my 89


Most of the people who called themselves as journalists today are not journalists! But Sunil Madhawa Premathilake is a journalist. He is a sensitive person and he had a limitless love for the country and man-kind. He was brave enough to fight against powerful capitalist governments on behalf of liberty of the community. Most of all, he knew the responsibility of a journalist. His thirst for literature, passion of revealing the reality and committing any personal possessions for the betterment of others raised him to an honorable platform.

My memories on Sunil Aiya (most common way of calling him) go back to the dark age of 1989. It was the time that young generation took violent steps to challenge the government while unrest of the civil community was so high. In return, counter violence from the government was so terrible and that trend was targeting thousands of civilian lives also. This cyclic effect was making things worse.

None of the remarkable interferences were come through so called “international community”, but some of the artists and writers were doing their duty even without thinking of their lives. Sunil was one of the key writers who wanted to write against the dictatorship which was rising.. Sunil Madhawa became a giant in this manner.. He couldn’t exist in his position in most of the traditional newspapers because of the contexts of his writings. He left one by one.. there wasn’t any media to publish his bold ideas.. Sunil with few other brave writers gave birth to the trend of “Tabloid papers”.. they were actually not much focusing at profit, but it made some room for writing the reality.. people gathered around them while government kept on threatening the journalists who wrote the reality. Sunil became the target of few brutal attacks but survived with injuries.

In this time, I was just a student at Ananda College and was so inspired by literature and youthful radical ideas. As a group of amateur writers, we too were writing in our scales. Sunil Madhawa was a big hero in our arena. We were operating a writing circle in the college and we had some frequent activities, where Sunil Madhawa became a useful resource person. Sunil Madhawa’s passion of writing against suppression came to a climax by translating the book “Cry Freedom” (story of Steve Biko) to Sinhala (as Handanu Mana Nidahasa). Sinhala readers accept it with a great gravity since Sri Lanka itself had been showing the mirror images of the dictatorship and killing revealed in the book. Anyway, this book dragged his life to a great risk.

I used to visit the office of Lakdiva tabloid paper at Borella. Lakdiva editorial team was fabulous. Some of the famous people were blooming in it. Famous Wini Hettigoda was the cartoonist. Dalas Alahapperuma (minister in current parliament) was one of the writers. There was another special person called “Vimalasiri Gamlath”, that was Wimal Weerawansa who is playing a big role in today’s politics. His literature skills were tremendous. I wonder why he is not writing much today.. I call it a crime! Sunil Aiya was not much interested in anything else than literature and writing, but hanging around public bars. People were claiming that Sunil was addicted to alcohol. Sunil told that Bars are the best place to meet people; common people like factory workers, government servants, thieves, thugs, prostitutes and people of all calibers. Once, I wanted to ask about this and he honestly told that he is not addicted to alcohols, but to Pub societies. Dialog we had could be well-explained in Sinhala as it was;

I started an Open Wallpaper in school where I too started to reveal my radical feelings about what is happening in the country. I too understood it was time to go beyond Gamperaliya/Sinhabahu; our paper was bit aggressive. Aggressive enough to question the school whether it is justifiable to have a big-match fun while our motherland was on crisis! There is something else I need to tell, a lot of people around me was not approving this aggression. I guess they simply couldn’t accept this harsh criticism or they might have judged it as more political. I was “political” since I was schooling. I invited Sunil Aiya to visit my wallpaper and he came with Professor Somarathne Balasuriya (he is the translator of Albert Camus’ “The Stranger”). He went through the pages and gave some comments. By the time he didn’t forget to convey a warning message too; “You are so young, be careful.. this is not a good time”.

In the meantime, one of the students invited me to write to a weekly magazine and he didn’t mention what it was. (Later, I found out that he was lead by a JVP activist)

I didn’t know the scale of trouble I was heading to, but one incident clearly gave me a red light. I was hanging around Kotte where I had a lot of friends. Actually, I was sitting on a half wall talking to the friends.. We saw a couple of people were at a distance with a broken down motor bike as it was shown.. One of my other friends was coming passing those two strangers and he asked me whether you know those fellows.. I said “no, seems their bike is giving trouble” He replied with an amazement “But they were telling your name in a whispering voice and pointing at you!”

Everything came in to my mind with a flash. What Sunil Aiya told and etc. I understood that we were playing with fire. I simply stopped writing much radical type things and updating the Wall Paper was not done.

It was a dark age in deed. Youths were killed and burnt with tires here and there. Apart from the rebels, a lot of people died without any reason. Both rebels and government bodies sometimes diverted their guns to stop all kinds of rivals.. Sometimes to stop journalists, artists and for personal reasons too! In one such incident, a dozen of school children was labeled as rebels and killed for a personal reason lead by a minister (namely Nanda Mathew!) Not only him, most of the powerful people got their personal things done and accounted to the revolution. Some of the civil activists and intellectuals left the country for their own survival. Still I feel pathetic to see some of the ministers who approved brutal killing, being the members of that cabinet in that era, are now behaving like very honorable politicians. (this included our current speaker in the parliament Mr. V.J.Mu Lokubandara!)

Now it is 2009! No one talks much about the lost revolution and the crisis we faced 20 years ago, but I have my emotions with the tragic incidents happened in front of my eyes.

When I recall those past incidents I see Sunil Madhawa Premathilake as a great giant who fight against authorities on behalf of people.. he is a role model of a great journalist!

Recently, I saw Sunil Aiya at Borella bus stand. I knew he is with his noble dreams of a better world..!


Anonymous said...

I did really your article and the content.
Please try to translate this to sinhalese,so that a wide range of audience will recieve view.
All the Best!

sumedha Obeysekera said...

Thanks for the compliment. In deed, I need to publish some of the articles in this blog in Sinhala too.. Time is a big constrain for the moment.. also I am not very good in typing Sinhala in keyboard.
Thax again.

Priyantha Ganegoda said...

I guess Sunil Ayya is a tragic hero of this age; his decision not to enter into mainstream journalism and to remain in the radical movement has not endeared him to either to the establishment or the corporations that do journalism as a business.Thus, when he could have comfortably earned a living as a servile journalist, as many do in this time and age, he chose to dance in the shadows of obscurity, always with his love for the common people-from whence he emerged and to raise his voice against all forms of oppression.Every individual has a flaw-his is the continued dalliance with bacchus, for which most people wrong him by saying his ideas are ramblings of a drunkard.I admire him for sticking to his ideal despite that earned him nothing but troubles.

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