Sri Lanka News

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A journalist and gentleman

Ajith is no more! The icy cold hand of death has cruelly removed from our midst a brilliant journalist and wonderful friend. We are at a loss for words to describe how diminished we are. Our sorrow knows no bounds.

Ajith (Samaranayake) began his brilliant career way back in 1975 at Lake House as a young radical bubbling with zest and burning passion for the printed word. Having already cut his teeth on writing at Trinity, he took to journalism like a duck to water. Under the tutelage of heavyweights of the day, he rose to the cruising altitude of Sri Lankan journalism in no time.

He joined The Island at its inception and went on to edit The Island Sunday Edition. No respecter of political potentates and their commissars, he led the charge against the dictatorial regime at that time from the front to keep the popular struggle to democratise Sri Lankan politics alive. He also lent his voice fearlessly to mass movements for democracy and human rights.

There was hardly a subject that he didn’t write about. He excelled as a literary critic, political commentator and editorialist par excellence. Anything that he wrote, the people devoured avidly. His columns sold newspapers. To us the fellow scribes, it was a pleasure to be with Ajith and see him at work. He would sit in his editorial chair stroking his greying beard and suddenly he would spring into action. He would take out his small typewriter—by the ear as we jokingly said—and produce a juicy copy in record time and disappear equally fast after finishing it to exercise his elbow at a watering hole, a habit that never deserted him. He apparently thought on the same lines as Mark Twain, who said:

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"- a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.

Following the false beginning of a new era in 1994, immersed in the prevailing zeitgeist, he went whence he had come—to edit The Sunday Observer. His going back was a mistake as he used to confide in the editor of this newspaper whenever they met. At the time of his death, he was Editor of The Friday tabloid.

Ajith obsessively strove to maintain what he fondly referred to as gravitas in journalism, which is fast disappearing with packaging taking precedence over content in today’s newspapers, as he recently pointed out in a column. He jealously guarded editorial freedom and had the knack for having a tiff with those who wielded authority. He knew there was a Brutus behind every pillar in state media institutions but didn’t give two hoots about the consequences that his defiance would lead to. For, he didn’t care for positions. A good journalist, it is said, works with the resignation letter in his pocket.

The tragic death of his sister last week dealt a devastating blow that Ajith could hardly withstand. Since then, he had been battling death in an ICU of a Colombo hospital. A fighter to the last, he may have thought like Donne:

Death be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so`85

With Ajith’s untimely demise, gone is a man who never bartered standards and ethics of his profession for personal gain. Ajith leaves us sad but proud.

Adios amigo!

-The Island Editorial

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November 23, 2006 - Posted by | Media Journalism, News and politics, South Asia

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