10 November 2017

We lost a prince 11 years ago

He was the uncrowned king of our profession. For breadth of knowledge on a myriad of subjects, keenness of perception, genius in articulation, versatility (he wrote with equal skill in both Sinhala and English), self-effacing demeanor, soft ways even in hard expression, fidelity to principles and an overall life practice that eschewed personal gain, Ajith Samaranayake was unmatched.

Ajith has been profiled elsewhere in The Nation and so we shall skip the biographical details save to mention that he was not one to roll out his curriculum vitae at every opportunity. Much of what he has been and done will no doubt be revealed now, as is often the case with such people. 

He once remarked that those who read newspapers are apt to believe that journalists are the best people on earth, pure at heart and utterly selfless. He pointed out that those who work in newspapers know that this is a scandalous lie. 

Ajith was an exception. In a profession where petty-mindedness, propensity to sell oneself cheap, sycophancy and other things no one can be proud of abound, Ajith was in many ways an anomaly. 

He was in fact, an adornment that served to hide a lot of ugliness. There would naturally be those who disagreed with him ideologically, but no one will dispute the fact that Ajith Samaranayake single-handedly redeemed our profession, true to his one time alias, Aravinda, a lotus rooted in mediocre-mud but blooms resplendent about the water.

He acquainted himself with the key figures of our time, the ideologues, the artistes, the professionals and didn’t treat with less respect the ordinary men and women he would meet. He was ‘left’ ideologically and the humanitarian roots of the Marxist school were very apparent in his approach to subject; personality, event and metaphor. Some would argue no doubt, so too the theoretical flaws and general unease of theory with reality. To his credit he had the patience to suffer those of different ideological persuasion and articulate his position with clarity, logic and a creativity that was rare among his contemporaries. 

He stood, sometimes, with people on the basis of agreement with stated ideological position, even when position was more dependent on benefits that accrue rather than conviction. This was Ajith’s innocence. He, on the other hand, never profited and never sought to either. 

As was pointed out by Charitha Herath, consultant to the Media Ministry, recently, Ajith, in character, persuasion and other things, belongs to a tragic group of exceptionally talented people, among whom were the likes of Simon Navagaththegama, Newton Gunasinghe and Gunadasa Kapuge. They chose to live life in a particular way and exercised choice in the manner of death as well. They may or may not have known their true worth but were not seekers of accolade or material benefit. Perhaps we were collectively not worthy to benefit from Ajith’s genius. 

His pen was less prolific in his last years but he was still very present in the relevant fora. No one ever stopped him, regardless of ideological difference. Simply, he spoke his views and was never a purchased mouthpiece for anyone. 

Ajith Samaranayake enriched us. He leaves us impoverished. And even naked, one might add. That perhaps might not be a bad thing, all factors considered. 

Yesterday the journalist fraternity bade goodnight to its prince, to the person most eminently qualified to carry the title ‘uncommonly common man’. He would not want lament but perhaps would be agreeable to raising a toast to a time that has passed and a time those who are yet to arrive might have reason to celebrate. 

Cheers Ajith!

[This was 'The Nation' editorial of November 26, 2006}