12 November 2023

Stop Press!

I wanted to write about two terms that are of particular political interest to me in these terrible days of absolutely barbaric assaults on civilians in Gaza and the West Bank and the shocking silence of the mainstream media: writers' bloc (yes, not ‘block’ and the apostrophe after and not before the 's') and dead-lines (not ‘deadlines’). I can’t.

I’ve seen ‘Stop Press’ exclamation in newspapers from the time I was very small. It took me a while to understand that it referred to the fact that the particular story thus marked was added after the printing process started. It has to be something important enough, of course. Most editors, especially those who have extraordinary long lives in such positions, have had to stop the press one time or another. Gamini Weerakoon too, I’m sure.  

I didn’t know of a Gamini Weerakoon for many years, even though I had read it avidly since ours was an ‘Island household.’ We have bought the paper since its inception and I always read the editorial, his included, after he became the editor of the ‘Daily Island.’ I didn’t know because editorials don’t carry bylines. I first met the man when I joined the ‘Sunday Island’ in October 2000.

Journalists of both the daily and Sunday papers shared the same office space down Bloemendhal Road. Only the two editors and the then Deputy Editor of the daily paper, my friend and batchmate from the University of Peradeniya, Prabath Sahabandu (the current editor) had cubicles back then. All of us could submit content to the ‘other paper’ if we wanted to. I did.

Gamma allowed me to write a column for the Midweek Review and, during the 2001 General Election accommodated a special column related to associated political issues titled ‘The Election Monitor.’ Those who worked directly under him would have benefitted much more than I did. They probably have many ‘Gamma Stories’ to tell, far more than I.

I remember two incidents. Sometime in 2001, again around the time of the election, a brash and utterly obnoxious doctor charged into the editorial offices of the Island, angered apparently by something published that was critical of his brother-in-law, a ‘revolutionary’ leader killed during the unprecedented blood shedding of the late eighties.

‘Who is the *&%$$ing editor?’ he is said to have thundered.

Everyone had been shocked, I was told later. Except Gamma. He had just walked out of his room and calmly said, ‘I am the &%$$ing editor.’

Gamma always stood his ground, in word and deed.  

His political preferences in terms of parties notwithstanding Gamma adopted a liberal editorial policy. He gave space to everyone along the political spectrum. He was always kind to me. I will never forget something he told me about writing. He called me into his office. He didn’t have to. He was kind.

‘Let me give you a piece of unsolicited advice. You don’t have to be angry when you are critical. Sometimes you can say it softly and be more effective.’  

He was right. Absolutely.  I’ve not always been soft, but even when I am sharp I remember what Gamma said and try not to be angry. I have not always been successful.

In later years, when he wrote for the Sunday Leader he did refer to me, critically. This was in 2006 when the then government was involved in ‘peace talks’ with the LTTE. Gamma was opposed to any talks with the LTTE and noted, in passing, that some columnists (that’s me) previously of this view had changed their stance. I won’t debate the point here; what counts is the affection he showed me.

He had a sense of humour. I remember some of the young journalists bringing a cake to celebrate some anniversary. The two editors were invited to cut the cake. It is no secret that they didn’t see eye to eye. Manik ambled to the middle of the office and asked ‘where’s Gamma?’

Gamma was a few minutes late.  When he did arrive, Prabath made a joke about it. He said something like ‘Manik was asking where you were…you both only pretend to be angry.’
Gamma had a butter knife in his hand and promptly responded, ‘Ah! Is that so? Ask him to come. We can bury the hatchet for good.’  We all laughed. Manik would too, I’m sure, if he read this. ‘The  Island’ was a fun place back then. A lot of words, a lot of laughs. It helped that there were people like Shamindra Ferdinando and Rex Clementine around; they seemed to have been born to be mischievous around. It had to do with leadership too. Both Manik and Gamma were gentle in their own ways and both liked a good joke.  

Gamma kept his anxieties to himself as far as I know. There was one occasion when I felt he was genuinely upset. This was in 2003-4, around the time he was rather unceremoniously ‘unseated.’ The complaint had been that circulation had gone down. Well, newspaper owners rarely divulge true numbers. Gamma had gone to several newspaper stands and inquired. ‘No one said that there was a drop in sales,’ he told me.

He left. It may have hurt, but he didn’t show it. He continued to write, this time under his name. He went to the Orient Club. He enjoyed his drink. In the few times that I met him, he was his usual self; he always offered to buy a drink, always articulated his opinions, was cogent in his arguments, accommodating of different opinions and genuinely interested in what I did. I am sure it was the same with everyone else.

When I saw the Facebook post of my friend and former colleague at ‘The Island’ and ‘Rivira,’ Dhammika Ratnaweera, about Gamma passing away, I suddenly felt that things had come to a sudden halt. There’s always something to write about and that’s also something being around people like Gamma taught me. But I cannot write about all those other things. I can’t stop the presses, but I must stop now. Out of deep respect and much sadness.

['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 the 266th article in the new series that began in December 2022. Links to previous articles are given below]


Other articles in this series: 

The world shall not be emptied of poetry

Reclaiming the everyday with solidarities of tender fury

An Aussie broke a SLan heart in Ind for Afg

Writing magical pieces about something beautiful when time permits

The scattered archives of art and protest

Friendship that keep friends permanently at 16

Amherst: silent, rural, poetic and serendipitous 

The virtues of unemployability

A breathless hush at the close

Ahmed Issa, fearless and audacious in Gaza

Let us take a deep breath now...

How Grolier Poetry writes 'Harvard Square'

Let us write beautiful poetry

Following children and their smiles

Let's plant words in cracks and craters

Re-weaving lives and love

When the earth closes upon us...

Let us now march to the battleground of words

The most pernicious human shield

Who bombed Frankfurter Buchmesse

The truly besieged 

Love's austere and lonely offices

The mysteriously enjoined in the middle of nowhere

Serendipity now!

Reflections on the unimaginable 

Jackson Anthony is a book and will be read 

A village called Narberth Bookshop

Gateway drugs to A-B-C

'Irvin' and other one-word poems

Earth pieces Kerala and Sri Lanka

Obligation as bomb and ocean

In the land of insomnial poets

In and out of shadows

Over to Eve

When you don't need an invitation, it's home

When the Canadian House of Commons applauded a Nazi...

Touching the touch-me-nots

The importance of not skipping steps

No free passes to the Land of Integrity

Hector Kobbekaduwa is not a building, statue, street or stamp

Rajagala and the Parable of the Panner

Let's show love to Starbucks employees!

You've got mail?

Octavio Paz and Arthur C Clarke in the stratosphere 

Enduring solidarities 

Coco 'Quotes' Gauff!

9/11 and the calm metal instrument of Salvador Allende's voice 

What a memory-keeper foregoes 

Whitman, Neruda and things that wait in all things

Thilina Kaluthotage's eyes keep watch

Those made of love will fly

Profit: the peragamankaru of major wars

Helplessness and innocence

The parameters of entirety

In loving memory of Carrie Lee (1956-2020)

Mobsters on and off the screen

Transfixing and freeing dawns

We're here because we're here because we're here

Life signatures

Sha'Carri Richardson versus and with Sha'Carri Richardson  

A canvas for a mind-brush

Sybil Wettasinghe's shoes

Love is...

A stroll with Pragg and Arjun along a boulevard in Baku

Meditation on tree-art

Daya Sahabandu ran out of partners but must have smiled to the end

Gentle intrusions 

Sleeping well

The unleashing of inspiration

Write, for Pete's sake

Autumn Leaves Safeness

 Sapan and voices that erase borders

Problem elephants and problem humans

Songs from the vaekanda

The 'inhuman' elephant in a human zoo

Ivan Art: Ivanthi Fernando's efforts to align meaning

Arwa Turra, heart-stitcher

Let's help Jagana Krishnakumar rebuild our ancestral home

True national anthems

Do you have a friend in Pennsylvania (or anywhere?)

A gateway to illumination in West Virginia

Through strange fissures into magical orchards

There's sea glass love few will see 

Re-residencing Lakdasa Wikkramasinha

Poisoning poets and shredding books of verse

The responsible will not be broken

Home worlds

Ownership and tenuriality of the Wissahickon

Did you notice the 'tiny, tiny wayside flowers'?

Gifts, gifting and their rubbishing

History is new(s)

Journalism inadvertently learned

Reflections on the young poetic heart

Wordaholic, trynasty and other portmanteaus

The 'Loku Aiya' of all 'Paththara Mallis'

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