Appreciations | Sunday Observer


Somaweera Senanayake:Literary and media personage par excellence

Somaweera Senanayake, an accomplished literary and media personage in contemporary Sri Lanka is no more. A quintessential gentleman, who through personal example and literary and media products sought to reinforce wholesome values in people and society, has left us unobtrusively as he was apt to behave in his heyday. Somaweera’s uniqueness was his extraordinary ability to marry the two strands, media and wholesome values into an attractive artistic package that was continuously sought after by readers and audiences.

This did not mean that he used literary or media scripts to directly preach or that he assumed the role of a lay preacher. The characters he created were men and women of flesh and blood. They were black, white and brown, all types of people whom we see and come into contact with everyday. But he used these characters into crafting a story that (through his genius) was entertaining, portraying realistic situations of day to day societal life, while, however, reinforcing positive and wholesome values in people, families, and society. In a world where violence and vulgarity are being dished out brazenly in the race for high TV rankings, box office success or copy sales, he stood out as a beacon, exemplifying the fact that artistic creations facilitating the spread of goodness can also reach the zenith of acceptance. The examples are teledramas that he scripted such as, Yashoravaya, Kande Gedera, Doo Daruwo and Paligumenike. These and all of his TV scripts turned into productions-be they teledramas, documentaries, or one act plays-could be viewed by the whole family without any qualms whatsoever.

Somaweera himself had once said, he was called by some, the ‘pavule katha karaya’, (‘the man who tells stories about families’). Though intended perhaps, to be a dubious comment, the majority of his audiences and readership, I believe, would consider it as a compliment. Somaweera was undoubtedly a gifted story teller who was equally adept at integrating that story into a novel, a teledrama or a film. He also considered the Sri Lankan family unit as the vital foundation of a contented ethical Sri Lankan society. Therefore, it was natural to combine the two which he did aesthetically and artistically and with aplomb.

Somaweera also helped in introducing variety to the Poya Day programmes of TV in Sri Lanka by scripting a series of one- act -plays named, Sitha Nivena Katha ( stories that calm the mind). Under the auspices of a National Bank he also scripted a series named Paramitha that brought to the TV screen plays adapted from PansiyapanasJathika Potha ( Book of 500 Birth Stories of the Bodhisathva). He also wrote a book titled Saru Diviyata Bosath Maga (The Bodhisathva Path for a Fruitful Life) in 2012. I had the privilege of lighting the traditional oil lamp at the launching ceremony of this book which I consider to be my humble honour to a gentleman and a humanizing story teller who served and moved across three media - the novel, the film, and the television with such ease and distinction.

We came to know each other in 1968. The initiation of our collegial association, which later blossomed into a friendship that goes back to the time we worked at Lake House. I can still visualise a shy reserved young man being escorted to my work table by Wimalasiri Perera the then Editor of Sarasaviya with a request to mentor him in the finer points of sub-editing. I was the sole sub-editor in the Sarasaviya editorial and barely two years older than Somaweera, though there was a large team of freelance writers to bring in the news and write features. Somaweera was to be groomed as a future sub-editor of Nava Yugaya after an initial training in the Sarasaviya editorial section. Subsequently, he rose up to be the Editor of Nava Yugaya.

He was a graduate of Sri Jayawardenapura University, and obtained a Master’s degree in Creative Writing. Somaweera was from a village near Avissawella. His father, a respected Ayurvedic Physisician, was a leader in the village. Somaweera’s ethical approach to everything he did was due to the close association his family had with the village temple and the resident Buddhist monks. According to his memoirs ‘Sansare Api’ (Our Sojourn in Samsara) of all his siblings he had the closest ties with the village temple and the Buddhist monks. He maintained this throughout his life.

I recall, after I joined UNICEF Sri Lanka, with the support of Mohamed Nizar of UNICEF, we coordinated the development of a communication campaign along with the Ministry of Health led by the late Dr. Merle Perera, the then Director of the Health Education Bureau, to help raise child immunisation rates. This was in the mid 1980s. One component of the communication campaign was the involvement of the clergy of all religions, especially, the venerable Buddhist monks to promote the concept of immunization among lay followers, mainly parents and grandparents. Somaweera was one of the strong pillars in this work for children.

The late Venerable Dr. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Nayaka Thera became a strong architect of promoting child immunisation and disseminating child health knowledge among the people in the area, due to Somaweera helping in the cause through the temple community development initiatives.

Somaweera, thereafter, began on his own to contribute to the cause, through the subtle introduction of key messages on child health in his teledrama, film scripts and novels. He also took the initiative to create awareness among colleagues in the film industry about carrying such messages.

The messages were on immunization, breast feeding, nutrition for pregnant mothers, and prevention of dehydration in young children during diarrohea. He also helped in disseminating health knowledge by editing the quarterly journal of the Health Education Bureau Sepatha( Happiness). This is to highlight that Somaweera, other than his interest in novels, teledramas and films, also had other wider social and moral interests.

May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.

M. Lakshman Wickramasinghe, ex - Journalist, Communication Researcher, retd. Staff Member of the International Civil Service of the UN System

Hema Nalin Karunaratne: He did yeomen service for IESL

Having served as members of the Museum Committee of the Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka, we wish to express our appreciation for the valuable contribution made by the late Hema Nalin Karunaratne to the Museum Project of the Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka (IESL).

The IESL gifted the National Museum with a National Heritage Gallery comprising six selected exhibits representing the ancient engineering skills of the country. A large room on the second floor of the Natural History Museum was allocated for the purpose. When the project, which took some years to reach fruition, was almost ready to be opened to the public, we initially called him to obtain his services as the compere for the opening ceremony.

But since Hema Nalin insisted on knowing what he was to compere, we explained our original idea and mentioned our inability to achieve what we desired owing to financial and other limitations. He was fascinated by the idea, but sad about the situation, and offered to give at least a few final touches to enhance our work. It resulted in the idea of an approach passageway and adocumentary.

The existing approach to the gallery was a rather dreary and narrow passageway, ending with about four steps to reach the gallery level. He inquired from the committee as to what exactly was to be exhibited and the reasons for their choice, and then proposed to decorate the passageway with huge posters that would introduce the visitor to what was on display. He did not have sufficient time to achieve all that he wanted to.

But the walls of the passageway were fully covered with huge colourful posters introducing the architectural and engineering wonders of Sigiriya, the Jetawanaramaya, the Bisokottuwa, the Wind Driven Steel Furnace, the Athpahana.

The entrance, with steps leading to the gallery became a model of the stone archway in Sigiriya, so that the whole passageway was transformed into a colourful and fascinating introduction to the exhibits.

He also prepared an informative documentary which was shown at the opening ceremony. The attractive leaflet distributed during the ceremony was also one of his contributions.

The Institution paid him for the services, ut we know in our hearts that he did the job not for the money, but out of interest and a sense of dedication, for what he could give back to the project.

Even after the formal handing over of the gallery to the public, he continued to liaise with the Museum Committee. He voluntarily gave his invaluable suggestions on how we can continue the task and make the public aware of the engineering and Technological aspects of our ancient wonders of which only the historical, cultural, aesthetic and architectural side have so far been admired and highlighted.

When Dr Gill Juleff, the British archaeometallurgist who discovered the Samanala Wewa monsoon wind driven steel smelting technology visited Sri Lanka in 2013, a group of Engineers including a few from the Museum organized an exhibition, Wind Powered Smelt at Samanala Wewa, using a reconstructed furnace, replicating ancient technology. When Hema Nalin came to know of the event, he offered to give free video coverage to the smelt. He came to the Kinchigune site at SamanalaWewa driving his small hatchback car packed with his crew and equipment and stayed three days with us at the site actively assisting Gill and the local team to do the smelt.

Thereafter, he initiated a documentary using his coverage and even posted an introductory video of it on YouTube, which is still available. Unfortunately, due to whatever reason, he could not complete the documentary. If someone could complete what Hema Nalin started, it would be an invaluable educational material.

Although our association with Hema Nalin was short lived, during such a short time, we learnt how talented and creative an individual he was. Thus, besides all the accolades and tributes he would have received by now, this short note of appreciation is from the engineering fraternity, marking our gratitude to the great individual who is no more.

May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana

Engineers Rohana de Silva, Lakshitha Weerasinghe and Dr Premala Sivaprakasapillai Sivasegaram