Sri Lanka’s renowned political cartoonist Wijesoma was having an exhibition at the BMICH in October 1997. Having known him from my earlier journalistic days, I went to see the exhibition and we got chatting. He was lamenting on how he had donated the original drawings to the Sri Jayewardenapura University in 1990 hoping they would be preserved for posterity, but months later found them lying in a corner in a few boxes. He brought them back and was negotiating with the Department of National Archives on conserving them.
I thought it was an interesting story. Being an “admirer” of the ‘Sunday Times’ I thought too it may be a good start for a column on local arts and met editor Sinha Ratnatunga.”Good idea”, he told me and wanted me to meet Renuka Sadanandan, the features editor. That was the start of ‘Kala Korner’ which I have been writing for the past 15 years.
The primary aim was to create an interest about what was going on in the realm of Sinhala theatre, cinema, arts and literature.
The inaugural column (it was first titled All that Jazz) had ‘Punchi Singho’s problem’ as the main item and also referred to the release of a Sinhala book on cricket by veteran radio commentator Premasara Epasinghe, and publisher Sirimevan Godage hitting the Guinness Book of Records for releasing the largest number of new books in Sinhala within a year for 18 consecutive years (the figure for 1996 was 350). It also covered the release of ‘Sri Lanka: A Personal Odyssey’ by celebrated photographer Nihal Fernando.
The response to the column was encouraging. Talented local artistes, Sinhala books and CDs with quality Sinhala songs, Sinhala films and dramas worth seeing were all featured, including the veterans, Premasiri Khemadasa and Nanda Malini and many more artistes, too numerous to list here.
The only occasion I really felt bad was when I mixed up two names. When Fitzroy de Mel died, I mentioned it was Felix Premawardena who had passed away.
As soon as the paper was out, Manel Jayasena called me. I was very upset. I immediately rang up Felix, whom I knew quite well, but he was not at home. I left my number and he rang me back. The voice at the other end started laughing loudly. When I apologised profusely, Felix said ‘Forget about it ‘. I felt relieved. We made the correction the following week. I was so happy that there are human beings amongst us who take life in their stride.
Just as much as I enjoy writing the ‘Kala Korner’, I hope readers will continue to appreciate it.