13 May 2023

The day I won a Pulitzer

It must have been in the year 2001 that all this happened. No, before we get ahead of ourselves, I didn’t win a Pulitzer back then. And not after. This is about Eranga Jayawardena the photojournalist working for the Associated Press who was among three photojournalists shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize.

I met Eranga in the year 2000. That’s when I formally entered the field of journalism, joining the editorial staff of the 'Sunday Island.' Eranga was comparatively a veteran, having joined Upali Newspapers some years before. Our friendship is almost a quarter of a century old and obviously we have many stories to tell about each other. I will stick to the photography-related story.

There were many photojournalists at Upali Newspapers, some of them truly veterans in the trade. Eranga was probably the youngest. He was good friends with Saman Indrajith, one of my closest friends at the Island. That’s probably how we became friends.

I think it was in 2001 that I got involved in the features section of the newspaper. With the permission of the Editor, Manik de Silva, and the Features Editor, Zanita Careem,’ I took over a page of what was then called the ‘Lifestyle’ section. It was for a photo essay. Eranga provided the photographs, I gave a headline and wrote a paragraph or two. It was pretty. It was made prettier subsequently when Shantha K Herrath of the Divaina, an artist, cartoonist, layout designer, teacher and friend, helped design the page.

Eranga faithfully provided photographs. The page was done on Thursday because that section went to print on Thursday night. This went on for a few months. I enjoyed producing this page. It all depended on Eranga delivering photographs that Shantha Aiya could play with.

One Thursday Eranga didn’t deliver.  This I had forgotten until yesterday.

I called Eranga to congratulate him on being shortlisted for a Pulitzer. I had thought that the winner hadn’t been announced. Eranga told me otherwise. Then he told me that when we were both at Upali Newspapers I had written him a formal letter.

"It is with regret that I inform you about the fate that has befallen Page 3 of the ‘Lifestyle’ supplement of the Sunday Island. As you are aware, in the midst of all kind of problems, we have managed to carry a photo essay on this page for a whole year. Among these difficulties is the strange truth that category of persons who have expended the least effort in maintaining quality and continuity of this page are the photographers themselves. As you are aware, this has probably been the best opportunity offered to photographers in the entire history of newspapers in this country to express themselves and improve their craft. This week I am extremely sorry to have to inform you that Page 3 of the Lifestyle section will not carry a photo essay. I do not know who is to blame, and in any case ‘blaming’ will not any of us anywhere. I only want to say this: I tried. And failed."

I had forgotten all about this. But for all the seriousness, it was essentially a joke. Friend to friend and for the pleasure and joy of other friends. Newspapers are like that. Journalists are like that. We enjoy teasing each other. Shamindra Ferdinando and Rex Clementine, still at ‘The Island,’ are grandmasters at it.

Eranga informed me that I had gone further. I had, he says, put up something on the notice board near the canteen. It was in the form of a ‘missing person’ notice with a not so flattering picture of Eranga. He said he has it somewhere and will look for it. The gist: ‘This person, Eranga Jayardena, has gone missing. He promised to deliver some pictures and left the office. He has not been seen since. He was last seen wearing a blue checked shirt.’  It might have contained information of who should be informed should the missing photojournalist be spotted.

It touched me, though, that Eranga had bothered to hold on to these pieces of paper for more than twenty years.  He said that it mattered to him: ‘even something in which you’ve scolded me was important to me.’ He’s like that. Modest. Soft. Self-effacing even. Never forgets a face. People know, companies may not. A pity, that.

So, anyway, that, ladies and gentleman, is as close I could get to a Pulitzer Prize. Indeed, all things considered, far more precious. So thank you, Eranga. And congrats again. 

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:


Ella Deloria's silences

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable 


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan

Enlightening geometries

Let's meet at 'The Commons'

It all begins with a dot

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone

On sweeping close to one's feet

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts...

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday 

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart