15 July 2023

The Loku Ayya of all ‘Paththara Mallis’

Just the other day, while having a cup of plain tea outside Nihal Aiya’s ‘kade’ down 27th Lane with my good friend Daminda WIjewardana when a bearded man just walking by recognized and approached me. He said he had been looking for my number. My friend interjected, ‘Paththara Malli neda (‘Aren’t you the ‘Paper Boy’ — we’ll come to that later?]. He laughed, said ‘yes,’ and wanted my number to send me an invitation to an event.

First there was the ‘paththare-wisthare,’ the name of a radio program that cannot be translated into English with anything close to the punch it carries (‘newspaper accounts’ is patently bland, as is ‘newspaper descriptions’). Someone had to narrate of course and that’s how we got ‘Maththara Malli.’ That was 25 years ago. There are probably many, including those very much younger to Nuwan Jude Liyanage who still call him or refer to him as ‘Paththara Malli,’ and maybe he will never be able to shed that name, even when there’s only a handful of people to whom he would legitimately be a ‘malli.’  

Paththara Malli is 25 years old now. Liyanage is close to 50. A quarter of a century and half a century respectively. Should make quite a story.

He was born in 1973, and attended St Joseph’s (Grandpass) and later St Benedict’s College but did his AL’s from Pamunuvila Maha Vidyalaya because he wanted to study arts subjects. The reason tells us a lot about him. A school trip to Kandy saw him visiting Peradeniya University for the first time. The lush landscape, students strolling around, lovers in various corners and the entire ‘campus’ atmosphere outside of these things fascinated him.  His father wanted to move him to Baddegama, his hometown but his mother had objected.  

Nuwan didn’t get into Peradeniya. He was selected to Kelaniya University but never completed. He decided to join Veritas as their Colombo Correspondence. Not too long afterwards, Mohan Raj Madawala and some other friends had told him that SLBC was starting a new channel, Lakhanda. The opportunity to create something from scratch was compelling.

‘There were two challenges; old technology and old minds. We were innovative enough to handle the first but we just couldn’t overcome the second.’

So, when Chirantha Ranwala spoke about ABC Hiru, Nuwan as well as ’75% of the young people at Lakhanda,’ left. He was hired as a Research Officer. He speaks proudly about the jingles he made and the creation of the Hiru tag, ‘open Thora lovak natha.’

A few days before the station was launched Thamali Peiris had suggested that they read newspapers. This made him remember the ‘kavi kola karaya,’ a character who frequented crowded places such as bus stands, reciting the choicest verses and enticing the audience to purchase the ‘kavi kolaya’ or ‘sheaf of poems.’  

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how ‘Paththara Malli’ (or, ‘Paper Boy’) came into being. A few years later, he moved to Neth FM, but ‘Paththara Malli’ still enjoys the No 1 position in ratings for the particular time slot.  In fact it is the most expensive radio slot in Sri Lanka even now. This, despite the fact that the idea was replicated by all existing radio stations, radio stations set up later and even television stations, following Bandula Padmakura convincing Swarnavahini to do a television version of the program, ‘Mul Pituwa (Page One).’ As he observed, the cycle-bell that is heard on his program is probably the one heard most in the country; it is his bell, from the Raleigh bicycle his father used and which he later rode to school. This no one can replicate.

I asked Nuwan if the program irked those in newspapers. He said, on the contrary, they loved it.

THAT bell!

‘I had my ethical standards; I never went into the stories themselves. That, I felt and still feel, is the property of the newspaper and contains the intellectual effort of the particular journalist. I can’t steal and earn money off it. I just read the headlines and made a comment or two, sometimes adding a touch of irony or humour. Whenever new newspapers were launched, the editors and owners would approach me and request that I read their headlines as well. I had good relations with news editors. There were times when I suggested an innovative headline and sometimes I would give an idea or two to a cartoonist.’

Nuwan Jude Liyanage didn’t have it easy. At the beginning politicians who felt threatened by him threatened him in turn. They threatened the stations. ‘Later,’ he says, ‘they probably figured out I cannot be stopped.’

Some claim that newspapers will die a natural death soon. Some doubt this assertion. If they die, then we won’t have a ‘Paththara Malli’ or any cheap or equal imitation. Nuwan Jude Liyanage, either way, has left a mark. As someone had said during one of the earlier celebrations of landmarks, his program is probably unique in that it changed the behaviour patterns of a significant segment of the population.

A 'loku aiya (older brother)' in that sense, that is what he is.  

['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: 

Subverting the indecency of the mind

Character theft and the perennial question 'who am I?'


A degree in people

Faces dripping with time

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

Revolutionary unburdening

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Alex Carey and the (small) matter of legacy

The Edelweiss of Mirissa 

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga 

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down) 

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred 

Manufacturing passivity and obedience 

Precept and practice 

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited 

In praise of courage, determination and insanity 

The relative values of life and death 

Feet that walk 

Sarinda's eyes 

Poetry and poets will not be buried 

Sunny Dayananda 

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990) 

What makes Oxygen breathable?  

Sorrowing and delighting the world 

The greatest fallacy  

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi 

Beyond praise and blame 

Letters that cut and heal the heart 

Vanished and vanishing trails 


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya 

The soft rain of neighbourliness  

The Gold Medals of being 

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri 

All those we've loved before 

Reflections on waves and markings 

A chorus of National Anthems 

Saying what and how 

'Say when' 

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra 

The loves of our lives 

The right time, the right person 

The silent equivalent of a thousand words 

Crazy cousins are besties for life 

Unities, free and endearing 

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!" 

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis 

The revolution is the song 

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins 

The day I won a Pulitzer 


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
The allegory of the slow road