Posted on October 24th, 2009

Shelton A. Gunaratne ©2009

 My last fling with Lake House (June 4-Aug. 16, 1991) did not work out as well as I expected because ANCL failed to honor the terms of a paid internship as stipulated by the ASNE. Observer editor H. L. D. Mahindapala expected “donated” labor at his disposal and presumed that the ASNE support was adequate. This easygoing attitude toward a formal internship and the unwillingness of Lake House management to pay a regular stipend during the internship created apathy toward the job on my part.  

In contrast to the five-week internship in Longview, the 10-week ANCL “internship” was too long and unorganized. Moreover, the latter contained a consultancy provision for me to coach Sri Lankan journalists in routines like interviewing and   page layout/design

Despite my correspondence with Mahindapala, he had not made arrangements with Lake House management for my internship-cum-consultancy. On June 4, when I again climbed the staircase at the Beira Lake entrance to inquire about my internship schedule, Mahindapala was nowhere around. He was visiting Australia. My diary entry for June 4 reads:

At Lake House, I met with ANCL Chairman Sunil Rodrigo who said I should await the arrival of Mahindapala to make the work arrangements. He also called Manik de Silva, editor of the Daily News, who was not friendly. Thereafter, I had the opportunity to meet with several Observer journalists, including Nicholas Candappa, Sugeeswara Senadhira and Winston de Vallure.

The next day, I met with veteran Observer journalist Leslie Dahanayake, who welcomed me back to Lake House and connected me with Harold Peiris. I was commuting between Happawana, my older sister Rani’s home close to Galle, and Colombo to make these preliminary arrangements.

A week later (June 11), Harold Peiris and I met at Hotel Intercontinental. Then I accompanied him to attend a meeting of the Colombo North Rotary Club. It was the same afternoon that Observer secretary Lourdes Jayasinghe took me to see Mahindapala at his seventh-floor apartment in the National Housing Development Authority Building, close to Lake House Bookshop. I joined him for dinner at Saraswathie Lodge in Wellawatte.

The next day, Mahindapala sent me on a major news assignment to cover the preparations for the Gam Udawa ’91 at its Kamburupitiya site. I left in a Lake House car with photographer Kingsley Perera and Silumina reporter Sarath Perera. Our driver was K. Thilakaratne.

On the way, I, “Weligama Podda” of yore, had the supreme honor of re-visiting, or rather passing through, Weligama after more than 25 years. “I was surprised at the changes in the [Weligama] Rest House area,” I wrote in my diary.

At the Kamburupitiya site, I did the journalistic field work needed for writing a major feature. We returned to Colombo in the wee hours of the next morning. The whole assignment seemed like an extension of my old Lake House days interrupted by a hazy time span. My news feature, “Gam Udawa ’91: Growth prospects awaken in Matara District,” appeared in the Sunday Observer, June 16, 1991. Lake House paid me Rs. 500 ($12 .50 at the then exchange rate) for the story, a consummate piece of developmental journalism. Here’s how I began the story:

KAMBURUPITIYA, June 12″”‚A new cock tower is the center of attraction at Ridigahawakkala Junction on the Matara- Kamburupitiya road.

When Gam Udawa ’91 Exhibition opens on June 23, people will rename the clock tower area the Gam Udawa Junction.

Thousands of people from all over Sri Lanka will go past the clock tower to see the 11-day exhibition on a nearby 65-acre site.

Mahindapala was gracious enough to permit me to stay in his apartment whenever I needed lodging in Colombo. On June 13, I accompanied Mahindapala to the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute to attend the D. R. Wijeyawardene Memorial Award ceremony, where I met Ranjit Wijeyawardene for the first time since I left Lake House.

Mahindapala did not send me out on any other assignments perhaps because he sensed my dukkha (disappointment) co-arising from tanhƒÆ’-¾ (desire for better compensation) and related nidƒÆ’-¾nas. Moreover, Mahindapala appeared to be more interested in promoting his nƒÆ’-¾marƒÆ’-¦«pa as a political reporter close to President Premadasa than in scheduling me a more productive internship. Adding to my dukkha, I was taken to the Asiri Hospital, where I had to spend a week after I fainted from a diabetic fit on July 2.  [Mahindapala paid me a visit at the Asiri Hospital on July 7, two days before I checked out.]

These factors and my intensive travel schedule with family members explain the lack of productivity during the first month of my internship.

Despite these distractions, I managed to write an in-depth news feature on the Galle Municipal Council in three parts after considerable research and interviewing:

  1. “Facelift for Galle MC with a four-year action plan,” Sunday Observer, July 7, 1991.
  2. “Three projects of Galle MC complete; work on rest proceeds,” Sunday Observer, Aug. 4, 1991.
  3. “NAAL [Netherlands Alumni Association of Lanka] help for housing in Galle,” Sunday Observer, Aug. 11, 1991[?].                                      

I also wrote a series of in-depth features under the general rubric Reflections of an expatriate Sri Lankan””‚After 14 years.

  1. “From Jathika Chintanaya to Loka Chintanaya” (Sunday Observer, July 29, 1991) was the first in the series. I convinced Dinamina Editor B. S. de Silva to carry a Sinhala translation of this article in the Dinamina. The translation appeared on two days ending Sept. 4, 1991. I crave to add the following elucidation to my 1991 article:

Buddhist philosophy demands that we look at the universe as a holistic co-operative made up of several hierarchies of interlinked and interdependent systems that interact with one another. The same architecture applies to the planet where we live. All elements within it are interlinked and interdependent. Jathika Chintanaya makes no sense without the context of Loka Chintanaya or the global environment. Yet those who are vociferous on Jathika Chintanaya call themselves Buddhists. Do paticca samuppada and Jathika Chintanaya match?

  1. “Ideology and matters at the brass tacks,” Sunday Observer, Aug. 4, 1991. This example of advocacy journalism exhorts Sri Lanka to promptly focus on improving its telecommunication and transportation infrastructure to enable it to get a competitive edge in the global economy in the context of Loka Chintanaya.
  2. “Passenger comfort should have priority in road transport,” Sunday Observer, Aug 18, 1991. My reflections on public transportation were carryovers from my observations in the Daily Mirror [Feb. 18, 1972] mentioned in a previous installment. This article provides my personal experiences as a frequent user of public transportation and my suggestions for solutions.
  3. “Promotion to attract N-American and Scandinavian tourists vital,” Sunday Observer, Aug. 25, 1991.
  4. “Power contortions of the JVP,” Sunday Observer, Sept. 8, 1991. This article provides my reflections on C.A. Chandraprema’s book on the JVP insurrection, Sri Lanka“”‚The Years of Terror.

Other examples of my internship work:

  • “Separatism in Yugoslavia,” Sunday Observer, July 14, 1991. I wrote this background piece (on a suggestion by Mahindapala) to enable the reader to infer the pros and cons of a call for Tamil separatism.
  • “Sri Lanka to get Rs. 1,644m in US aid for fiscal year ’92,” Sunday Observer, July 28, 1991. I wrote this story attributed to “informed U.S. sources” under the ground rules for an interview I conducted on July 23 with Richard Brown, director of USAID in Colombo.

The Lankadeepa also published an interview with me by Ranjit Nimalasiri on Sept. 10, 1991. In this article headlined “Rights and responsibilities of a journalist,” I explained the role of the journalist in a democracy.

Evans Gunalal Cooray, press secretary to President Premadasa, met with me on June 28 to edit Premadasa’s Gam Udawa speech for Sunday publication. Cooray and I had the opportunity to talk about our good old days as journalists. The same afternoon, Harold Peiris took me for a visit with Reuter correspondent A.W. Amunugama, a (Jayatilaka Hall) Peradeniya graduate who joined Lake House in 1964. Amunugama helped me to fax material to The (Longview) Daily News.

On July 18, I contacted three of my cotemporaries from the Peradeniya days””‚T.P.G.N. “Nandasiri” Leelaratne, H.G. “Gaya” Gunawardena and B.M. Kiri Banda. On July 20, the four of us plus two other contemporaries””‚(the late) D.B. Ranatunge and (the late) S.G. Tennekoon””‚met for lunch at Kiri Banda’s home in Uda Iriyagama, Peradeniya.

On July 24, I joined Mahindapala to visit the new Parliament premises, where we had lunch with Sgt.-at-Arms Ronnie Abeysinghe. This fulfilled my nostalgic craving (tanhƒÆ’-¾) for a meal at the Parliamentary cafeteria.  Again, on July 31, Mahindapala asked me to tag on to him to eat dinner with former Observer editor Tarzi Vittachi, then attached to UNICEF, at the Galle Face Hotel.

[I had forgotten that I met with Tarzi at lunch in Hong Kong two decades ago. Ditto with Tarzi.]

 Reversing the Roles

I turned into a journalism coach for the Observer journalists in the second week of August. With Mahindapala moderating the session, which began at 10.30 a.m. on Aug. 7, I passed on to my fellow journalists the dos and don’ts of journalistic interviewing that I had taught my college students for almost 20 years.  I used Ken Metzler’s creative interviewing techniques to illustrate my points: An interview ought to be an exchange of information, not a top-down vertical flow of information. Build the questions to achieve the purpose of a given interview. Research must precede the planning of the interview. Begin with the easy questions first. Ask the difficult questions later but wrap them in words that cause the least degree of resistance. If you need colorful quotes and anecdotes, build on similar quotes and anecdotes to your own input to the conversation. The more informal you make the interview, the better the outcome would be. Our discussion ended at 12 p.m.

I conducted a similar coaching session for the Lankadeepa journalists on Aug. 14 in their newsroom at 8 Hunupitiya Cross Road. At a discussion, moderated by Editor Siri Ranasinghe, I again spoke on creative interviewing and contemporary newspaper layout. I pointed out that the American newspapers of the “ƒ”¹…”90s used the four principles of design””‚balance, contrast, proportion and unity””‚to lay out the front pages of each section. The result was a pleasing mixture of text, contrasting headlines and photos with each story and the appertaining material placed within contrasting rectangular spaces to provide either a vertical or horizontal overall format.

  Rustic Nostalgia

I focused less on my internship as I got entangled attending to family concerns following the arrival of my mother and my youngest sister Nayana from Australia so all of us, including my then 11-year-old son Junius Asela, could pay a family visit to our ancestral property in Pathegama, where I was born.

Sunday, June 23, was a memorable day for me. It’s the day that I, “Weligama Podda” of Pathegama, went back to my ancestral village after a quarter-century. Starting from Happawana, we reached the village through the backdoor route of Habaraduwa, Kathaluwa and Midigama. Our first stop was Mederikoratuwa, my father’s ancestral home, where now Punchi Appuhamy and his family lived. Hinni Akka, a cousin from Midigama, was there to greet us. Another cousin, Sudu Malli, who lived next door, insisted on eating a meal with his family.

We also stopped at Siddappuwatte, Udagedera, Puvakwatte and Lindagahawatte to see other relatives and friends.

Our final stop was Habaradugewatte, the domain of my imperious grandfather, where my sisters, brother and I were all born and raised. The property had now become the residence of Ukkun Mama, younger son of my grandfather’s older brother.  I told my son, “The place has changed very much since I was last here.  I can’t see even a trace of the old well where we used to bathe, the “ƒ”¹…”koratuwa’ where my grandfather used to grow vegetables, or the creek where I used to observe turtles, frogs and little fish.”

We drove back to Happawana at nightfall via Ibbawala, Panchaliya and Dikkumbura””‚a distance of 11 miles.

Next: Part 10A Advising “ƒ”¹…”Yankee Doodles’ and “ƒ”¹…”Consulting’ in Colombo

[The writer is a professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead. He dedicates this installment to the memory of the late M.A. de Silva, editor of the Dinamina; and the late Cecil D. Graham, editor of the Ceylon Daily News, in the early “ƒ”¹…”60s.]                                                         

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