03 July 2018

Chamara Lakshan’s ‘long rest’ is a different and difficult experience

On the 16th of June, 2018, Chamara Lakshan Perera, posted the following Facebook status update: ‘Bed rest. A different and difficult experience. anyway waiting eagerly to watch lio messi’s magic. 4 and a half hours more.’

That little note says a lot about the man. He was at the time the Chief Editor of two Lake House newspapers, the daily ‘Resa’ and the institution’s flagship publication, ‘Silumina’.  That makes for a lot of hard work, but then again Chamara always worked, always worked hard.  Forget ‘bed rest,’ it was as though he never rested. Rest, as he said was a different experience and in fact, more tellingly, a ‘difficult’ experience for him. It was, apparently, something alien.

And yet, according to his friends, in his early days as a journalist, especially when he was at Rivira and Irudina, Chamara was always out of office by 4 pm, perhaps because he traveled from Matugama but maybe that was his way of carving out personal space in an unforgiving vocation. Things must have changed after he was handed more responsibilities.

I don’t know why he had to bed-rest, but Chamara certainly made light of such things. The excitement of a Soccer World Cup game clearly made his ailment, whatever it was, small. I have never discussed soccer with him, so I don’t know if that note was about him being a fan of Argentine soccer or just Lionel Messi, the iconic player of that team. All I know is that Chamara loved sports and he knew a lot of stuff about lots of sports. 

The truth is that he was interested in a wide range of things. He wrote about them all. As a journalist, he could handle news, politics, sports or any other subject if called upon to do so. He was really good at all these things, but particularly so when it came to interviews, especially politicians. 

When Chamara launched a collection of interviews in late 2014 titled ‘Sanlaapa’ one of the speakers, Lalkantha of the JVP, remarked that it was impossible to figure out Chamara’s political leanings from the questions he asked and from what he wrote. Chamara, towards the end of the event, remarked that he does have a political position but that this was not very relevant to the work he did.  

It was probably in 2004 that I first met Chamara. He was a student at the University of Colombo at the time and was working as a freelance writer for the ‘Lakbima’.  It was not a paper I read frequently so his name was not familiar. He said he wanted to interview me for a page he did, Ahasgawwa. We met at Phoenix-Ogilvy where I was doing some part time work. We discussed Buddhism, nationalism, creative writing and advertising. I remember being impressed by the probing questions he asked to obtain detailed and comprehensive answers.  We became friends.

I remember him calling me about a year later to tell me that he would like to join Rivira, a newspaper that was about to be launched. I remember him saying ‘I would like to work with you.’ This morning however, I came across a note he had written on the third anniversary of ‘Rivira’, where he says that I had urged him to join and had arranged interview with the then CEO Krishantha Cooray and the then editor Upali Tennekoon.  

I knew he would be an asset. Later, when I left that company I wrote to Krishantha saying that the future of Rivira was in the hands of two young journalists, one of whom was Chamara and the other Rasika Jayakody.  When I returned in 2011, Rasika had left but Chamara was there, versatile and productive as ever.  Until he left Rivira to join ‘Irudina’ Chamara was a great source of strength although we worked in two different newspapers.

He told me he was going to another newspaper. I remember telling him he would do well wherever he goes. I wished him well.  When he joined Lake House in 2015, I felt that it was not the best place for him, but then again it was better that people like Chamara were there rather than party loyalists. 

When he was appointed Chief Editor of a new daily paper, he called me and ran the proposed names through me. He insisted that I should write. It was a privilege to write for Chamara. The space he provided was payment enough, I told him. When he was put in charge of Silumina a few weeks ago, he called and asked me to check out the new-look Silumina and tell him what I thought. Time had passed and the time for me to offer any advice to Chamara had also passed. It was kind of him to ask for my opinion for he knew much more about newspapers than I did. That’s how he was. Respectful and kind.  In fact I cannot think of any journalist his age loved, admired and respected by peers, senior journalists and juniors as much as he was.  

Kasun Pussawella, a younger journalist and one of the best of his generation, told me that he had tendered his resignation over some matter of principle. Apparently Chamara had simply said ‘I respect your decision, but malli, if people like you also leave, who will remain to make this industry thrive?’  Ironically, he’s gone too, this kind, capable and energetic man who was always with a smile.

Chamara didn’t have a strong social media presence. He was fully engaged with two newspapers. He had to work seven days a week. He must have watched Iceland hold Argentina to a 1-1 draw. He must have been disappointed with Lionel Messi’s ‘no-show’ performance that day. We don’t know if he watched Argentina lose 0-3 to Croatia on the 21st and beat Nigeria 2-1 on the 26th. He would have known that they made it to the knockouts. We know that he didn’t see France beat Argentina 4-3 on the 30th, because he suffered a sudden illness on the 26th which rendered him unconscious and from which he never recovered. 

Our tribe is not endowed with a lot of riches. Chamara Lakshan Perera was a giant and a gentle one too who enriched all of us. His exit has made us acutely aware of the extent of our poverty.   

He’s gone. That’s a long rest. A different and difficult experience.