The last of a glorious age
Mervyn De Silva
Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born.
-Matthew Arnold
On June 22 1999, as the twentieth century drew to an end, Mervyn de Silva left us. At that time one could sense that with his passing, an era in the literary history of Sri Lanka had ended. Because he was the last of a glorious age of journalism. He belonged to an illustrious tradition of English journalism in Sri Lanka that gave us H.A.J. Hulugalle, Jayantha Padmanabha, Tarzie Vittachi and Denzil Peiris. They were brilliant editors who provided us with not just world-class newspapers; they were also erudite men who helped build a Ceylonese literati that any society can be proud of.

Today, three years after his departure, it is time for considered reflection on Mervyn, his life and his contribution. His literary pilgrimage took him through three stages. The first began with the liberal education that he received at Royal and Peradeniya. Here he acquired and imbibed all that was admirable in Western culture, literature and thought. And he was able to transform these literary skills into a career in journalism at Lake House that climaxed in the early seventies with him becoming editor of the Daily News and the Sunday Observer.

By then he was Sri Lanka's best-known journalist. He would cover and report on the country for the most prestigious international journals: the Economist, Newsweek and the London Financial Times. He also reported for the BBC. As a foreign correspondent he was the driving force behind the Foreign Corespondents' Association, serving as its president. He left an indelible mark on journalism in this country.

But he went beyond being just another literary dilettante. The rise of nationalism that came with the post-colonial years interacted with and impacted on his Western sophistication to give this country, for the first time, an editor who was liberal in the most profound sense of the word, in that he was sensitive to the aspirations of the emerging Sinhala and Tamil speaking world.

His second arena was international affairs. He schooled himself in foreign affairs so that he became the country's foremost writer and broadcaster in this field. As Secretary-General of the Ceylon Institute of World Affairs he fashioned a forum where the issues of the day could be discussed and developed. One of my earliest recollections of Mervyn was at a presentation by Shirley Amerasinghe, then Colombo's Permanent Representative at the United Nations. While Maj. Gen. Anton Muttukumaru presided it was the debonair Mervyn, immaculately dressed, pipe in hand, who gave the vote of thanks. He opened with: they say it's a good thing that diplomats have long noses, because they cannot see beyond it. It was pure Mervyn, charming, witty, the consummate speaker, a treat to listen to. The two-day seminar that he was to organize in 1972 at the Taprobane on The Indian Ocean Region, brought together the best minds of the day, among them jurist Lalith Athulathmudali, diplomat Yogeswaran Duraisamy, academic K. H. Jayasinghe, writer Hector Abhayavardhana and strategist Rajan Kadiragamar.

At a time when the Cold War had left the emerging states in the South with little option but to formulate their own foreign policy, Sri Lanka was fortunate to have in Mervyn someone who was gifted with a sense of history. It enabled him to respond to the flood of ideas coming out of the South as it grappled with its newfound freedom and evolved a policy of Non Alignment.

Understandably the mainstream media could not accommodate him or contain him; so he had to break out, he had to do his own thing. And so began the third phase of his journey. He set out to create and fashion a literary vehicle that quintessentially could carry his progressive liberal vision. And in 1978 was born The Lanka Guardian. He shared his dream with me on a warm afternoon at the Orient Club. This was where Mervyn retired each day, and as his eye focused on the billiard table, his mind grappled with the challenge of launching a new magazine, a different magazine.

In those early days, The Lanka Guardian drew on the literary talents of independent writers like S. Pathiravitharne, Regi Siriwardene and V. P. Vittachi providing them, and later countless other writers with a unique forum. Mervyn also built around him a loyal team, Hugh Abeyaratne who single-handedly sub-edited the magazine, Gamini Dissanayake who looked after the business side and Shahareen Ismail behind her typewriter. And from a small office at the YMBA they opened a window through which a generation could view Sri Lanka, could share ideas, could debate issues and could publish poetry.

In the years that followed, as tame journalism became the hallmark of the mainstream media, the Guardian stood out as a fiercely independent magazine, which opened its pages to diverse views and distant voices. It was honest and intelligent in a world that had become mediocre and mundane. It conveyed news, made analyses and poked fun, as everything around was reduced to stultified regimentation. As Sri Lanka passed through the darkness of the eighties and nineties, as violence swept the land, destroying dissent and creativity, Mervyn ensured that the Guardian hit the streets. It was his statement of faith, his belief in getting truth and opinion out there regardless of the cost..

He kept at it with tenacity, undaunted by the challenges. At that tenuous period of time, it was his testament, his legacy. History called him to independently take a stand as a commentator, and this he did without a moment's hesitation. And he kept on at it until the very end, writing, broadcasting, thinking and speaking, never disheartened by the carnage, the futility and the vanity of that era. He kept true to the end. Surely could he have said when it was all over, like Mark Anthony before him? Unarm Eros, the long day's task is done.
Jayantha Somasundaram

A reservoir of knowledge
Victor Gunawardena
Last Thursday, June 13, 2002, a legend in Sri Lankan journalism, Victor Gunawar-dena died after a brief illness.

I first came to know Victor when I was the Director of the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) in 1995. My close association with him began with my introducing an idea to him of starting a course of study in Journalism and Communication for school leavers. The accent of this course was to be on ethics and professionalism, in print journalism and the related fields of TV, radio, advertising and public relations.

Victor grasped this idea with vigour, within weeks fleshed out comprehensively the concept paper I had prepared, and made it possible for us to operationalize the course in 1996. The first Diploma Course in Journalism and Communication in the English medium for school leavers was thus born with Victor as its Project Director.

Within a short period, with Victor's guidance, direction meticulous arrangements and planning, the course enjoyed a considerable reputation. Victor believed in assuring quality, and his attention to every detail in developing the curriculum, his exhaustive consultations with highly reputable resource persons and his dedication and commitment to the Project, helped make my dream become a reality. Soon, the Diploma Course at the SLFI was referred to as 'Victor's baby'. How true! He nurtured it with tender, loving care and treated the students like his own children sometimes even compromising on discipline and order.

Sadly, Victor's premature exit from the Course, left him a highly disappointed man. Predictably the Course took a different turn, having lost its father figure.

During these past few years Victor was also a strong arm of support and strength to me whenever I sought his counsel on a variety of matters.

Newspapers described Victor as a 'living encyclopaedia' and a 'walking library'. This is only an underestimation of what he was. He was all of it rolled into one - a reservoir of knowledge, information and wisdom.

On the June 1, this year, I began a new association with Victor when he joined the President's office as its Consulting Editor, Publications. Within a span of 12 days he taught all of us so much, and quickly became an indispensable resource.

On that fateful day last week, Victor had just completed an interview with the Chairman, Ranaviru Seva Authority on a story he was writing on welfare measures introduced for armed forces personnel and their families. While leaving the building he fainted, and on admission to hospital was discovered to have an expanding intra-cranial haemorrhage, which the doctors pronounced inoperable. Victor's condition deteriorated rapidly and within 24 hours he was gone.

With Victor's demise, Sri Lanka lost a highly respected journalist with unparalleled integrity. His daughters lost a father one could only dream of having.

I lost a guide and mentor, I will perhaps never have.
Dr. Tara de Mel

Fond farewell dearest mother
Winifred de Silva
You are the dearest mother
Are the best that's ever been!
The world has ever seen
To us your children, you, dear mother
From the time that we were children
You taught us right from wrong
You built up our characters
To be just, clean and strong

Love for God and our Heavenly Mother
You firmly instilled in our mind
To tend and care for the poor and needy
And our neighbours to be kind

You loved us all so dearly
With your very heart and soul
And with care and understanding
Guided each one to their goal

Even with nine children
To nurse, to clothe, to teach
When other's children sought your help
You always were within their reach

You cooked and washed and fed us
Then rushed off to teach at school
But still had time to show us how
To abide by the rules.

Through example and precept
You taught us how to gain respect
Give unto others their rightful place
And to look at things from their aspect

For grand and great grandchildren
You had all the time
And with the in-laws gathered round you
Your life was so sublime

You also were a friend indeed
With kith and kin who were in need
Your generosity you'd never show
What your right hand gave, your left would never know!

You carried us on the wings of an eagle
Through good times and in bad
You were our trusted confidante
The best friend we ever had

Our friends were welcomed, sans reservations
And you helped our friendships, grow so strong
They'll miss you as much, as us dear mother
And remember you their whole lives long

We thank God for you dear mother
and your exemplary life
The way you held your head up high
Through trouble and through strife

Ever noble, strong and silent
You shielded us from harm
Every time we failed or faltered
You were there, with outstretched arm

To keep you longer with us
We tried our very best
But God thought it was time for you
To have that well deserved rest

So, farewell, farewell dearest mother
Ever gentle and so kind
Etched indelibly you will stay
In each one's heart and each one's mind

Mother we pray, please guard and guide us
From your special place in heaven
And forgive us our trespasses
Even seventy seven times seven

We know you're seated by God's side
With our father gone before
And hope one day to join you
And together live for evermore!

Your grateful children

The epitome of spirituality
Mohamedali Sultan Abdul Cader
Marhoom M.S.A. Cader passed away on March 12 in Colombo, surrounded by his loved ones. The beautiful smile and the tranquil look even in death bore testimony to the dignified and pious life he had led.

In a Hadeeth, the Prophet had said: "The angels will descend upon a person who is nearing death. If he is good the angels will say, 'Come out! O good soul proceeding from a good body! Come out in an honourable way and rejoice in God's bounty and favour and the Lord is ever happy with you'. The angels will then escort his soul to heaven and upon reaching the heavenly entrance, the inhabitants would say: 'Welcome! O good soul proceeding from a good body, enter ye with full honour and rejoice in the bounty and pleasure of Allah.' His soul is then taken from one heaven to the next and eventually escorted to the presence of Allah, the Most Exalted."

Marhoom Cader certainly lived a rich and eventful life. Having received his secondary education at the prestigious Jaffna Hindu College, he pursued higher education at the Colombia University, New York, where he was the vice president, of the Foreign Students' Association.

He was the second Muslim from Jaffna to enter the Ceylon Administrative Service after Senator A.M.A. Azeez.

He was secretary at our embassy in Jakarta, served in the Ceylon delegation to the United Nations, New York and led a many a Sri Lankan delegation abroad for conferences.

This brilliant public servant served his motherland untiringly and held many prestigious positions. At the time of his demise, he was a member of the Colombo Mediation Board and the panel of Disciplinary Tribunals for Public Servants. He was also a fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society, Sri Lanka.

Despite all the glorious feats achieved, he remained the epitome of modesty, simplicity and humility with a deep and abiding sense of spirituality. His face would light up with a smile as he greeted his friends and relatives at his home, 'Villa Qadir'.

It was Mr. Cader who translated "Guru Mani" one of the earliest works of Guru Bawa Muhiyaddeen, and named his translation "The Pearl of Wisdom" and credited the entire proceeds of the sale of this book to the Serendib Sufi Study Circle.

Innaa Lillaahi Wainnaa Ilayhi Raajioon - to Allah we belong and to Him we return.

May he attain Jannathul Firdause.
M. Z. Akbar

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