|Sunday, 8 May 2005|
Remembrance of things past
Sunday Essay by Ajith Samaranayake
Last week I closed this column by saying that by certain deaths we stand condemned. I would want to add that by certain deaths we are also impoverished and debilitated as a society and a nation. Since the abduction and killing of D. Sivaram reams and reams have been written about him and as a journalist and political columnist he enjoyed the dubious posthumous distinction of having become the journalist who himself made the news.
In this column last week I wrote about Siva's personality and politics and added that this was not the time for self-indulgent personal memories. But personal memories are also important and this is the only excuse for this excursion into personal reminiscences.
I first met Siva in the company of D. B. S. Jeyaraj who was at that time a colleague of mine in The Island. That was the time Siva had come to Colombo after the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord to set up the political arm of the PLOTE. Siva, late Ravi John and Qadri Ismail were batch mates at the Peradeniya University and Qadri was the attesting witness at Siva's marriage.
The PLOTE political project never got off the ground and the next time I met Siva it was at The Island where he first started his celebrated political column under the pseudonym Taraki a byline that was given to him by the then Editor of The Island Gamini Weerakoon. When I succeeded Mr. Weerakoon as the Editor of the Sunday Island he invited me to meet Taraki over a drink at the Grand Oriental Hotel. Taraki's identity was a closely-guarded secret. But I recognised Siva as someone whom I had met in Jeyaraj's company.
By that time Jeyaraj had migrated and Siva became the main columnist on Tamil politics in the newspaper. Unlike Jeyaraj however Siva was not on the staff and was not a regular reporter. However his weekly column was hailed by discerning readers as an authoritative weekly view point on Tamil politics. The difference between Siva and Jeyaraj perhaps was that Siva was most strong on opinion whereas Jeyaraj was more strong on facts.
The difference however stemmed from the fact that Jeyaraj had been a professional reporter in the Veerakesari and The Island whereas Siva had been a political activist of the PLOTE whose leader was Uma Maheswaran who believed in the common struggle of the Sinhalese and the Tamils always upholding the point of view that the liberation of the Tamil people could not take place in the absence of a socialist government in the Sinhala south.
I got to know Siva very intimately when both of us were living at Ratmalana, Siva at Mahindarama road and I at William Place. Those days Siva's house used to go constantly under water for a rather heavy rain and as a young husband and father he waged a relentless struggle to bring up his family in these inhospitable circumstances.
Siva's death brings back unpleasant memories to me because the first time that he was taken into custody by the Mount Lavinia police I was the one who intervened on his behalf. Another neighbour at that time was Harsha Gunawardene then press secretary of the ICRC and it was his wife Elizabeth and Siva's wife Bavani who came one morning and told me that he was at the Mount Lavinia Police station.
The SSP of the time Pathmasiri Liyanage was good enough to take a special interest in Siva's case and Siva was released by noon that day.
While writing the Taraki column in The Island Siva started doing some freelance work for the Inter Press Service whose Editor was the late Richard de Zoysa.
At that time Richard too used to write to the Sunday Island and our last meeting was at the Lionel Wendt Art Centre Club, the day before his own abduction and killing. It was Siva who identified Richard's mutilated body when it was washed ashore at Koralawella, Moratuwa and it is perhaps an enormous commentary on the barbarity that has overtaken this country that two brilliant products of a generation such as Siva and Richard should no longer be available to us.
Another outstanding recollection of Siva is our visits to Jaffna and Batticaloa. In Jaffna we were in the company of Victor Ivan, Editor of the Ravaya and Anandi Sooriyaprakasan of the BBC Tamil service. While crossing the Killali lagoon Siva used to wade into the water which was rather shallow at the point of entry which showed that Siva during his militant days would have crossed that lagoon many times.In Jaffna we met all the principal leaders of the LTTE except, of course, for the elusive Prabhakaran and the high point of our visit was addressing seminarians.
In Batticaloa his native town Siva was in his element when the Eastern Journalists Association hosted us at a seminar. Among our team was apart from me, Siva and Marwan Macan Markar who was then the Feature's Editor of the Sunday Leader. There too we addressed a public meeting and made an unauthorised visit to Kokkadicholai an uncleared area where the high point of our visit was a lunch of Koththu rotti and 'gal arrack'.
Somehow since I shifted from Ratmalana to Dehiwela six years ago I have not had the contacts that I would have liked to have with Siva.
That was the time he became the Editor of the short lived North-East Herald and later the Editor of the TamilNet. That was also the time that his children were growing up and both my wife and I have fond reminiscences of how he and his wife brought up the young family.
But is there any meaning in this pointless reminiscences when confronted by the grim truth of Siva's slaying!.
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