Sketch off simplicity, brilliance and wit

Receiving a Journalism Award of Excellence from The Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka

It was indeed sad to hear of cartoonist Wijesoma's death. He was a brilliant cartoonist. A simple, kind-hearted man, he was also a great nature lover and fine conversationalist.

I had the good fortune of getting to know him closely during a short stint I had with the Upali Group of Newspapers. We used to chat about many topics - from politics to jungle lore. Often in the late mornings I would see him roaming around in office - aimlessly I thought. No - he was looking for an idea for a cartoon for the next morning's paper. He would go to the library, scan the day's newspapers, discuss with friends what was happening in the country - all to hit upon the subject for the next day's cartoon.

When I met him at his exhibition held at the BMICH to mark the launch of his second collection of cartoons 'Wijesoma - cartoon ekathuwak' ('A Collection of Cartoons by Wijesoma') released in 1985, he lamented about not knowing how to preserve the thousands of cartoons he had drawn.

In 1990 he presented the collection to the Sri Jayawardenapura University. They were to open a section in the library to preserve them. In fact, I remember going for the exhibition of his cartoons organised by the University in August 1990 which was opened by Professor Sarachchandra.

But a few months later, he found them lying there in a couple of boxes. He had brought them back. He was glad that his wife Mallika had carefully dated and filed the cartoons "with the hope that some day it would help me bring out a book of cartoons".

He dedicated his second book to her. We are lucky we have at least the two books to remember him. They are fine political commentaries of our times.
Among the few politicians who asked for the original cartoon was Anura Bandaranaike, Wijesoma told me. He always asked for the cartoons which featured him.

In a note to the second book (1997) Wijesoma referred to the 'period of terror' ('bheeshana vakavaanuva') over one and a half decades. "Even I was faced with threats of abduction and bodily harm. The cartoons produced during this period will join the political history of this country as a mirror of that period" he wrote. He emphasized that "my readers were always with me".

Wijesoma was never affected by his fame and reputation as the foremost political cartoonist of the day. As I wrote many years ago, "simple and unassuming Wijesoma hasn't changed over the years - whether in looks or his ways. He is the same old Punchi Singho in his white open collar, short sleeved shirt and light trousers". He remained so till the last.

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