Sri Lankan newspapers have honoured and are paying tribute to veteran journalist Ajith Samaranayake in their recent Editorials.
Ajith, who died aged 51 on Wednesday Nov 22, after a brief illness, began his brilliant career in 1975 at Lake House.
He was also a prolific writer on the arts, drama, cinema, literature, on current personalities and contemporary events. He was also renowned as one of the best leader (editorial) writers in the country and as a political commentator.
He frequently wrote to Sinhala newspapers and some of his articles were translated and published in Tamil newspapers.
The following are Editorials from Daily Mirror, The Island and Daily News:
Island: 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.
Daily Mirror: Our departed friend Ajith
It is with a deep sense of grief and loss that we pen these words after hearing of the death of our friend and fellow journalist Ajith Samaranayake. His untimely demise has removed from Sri Lanka’s Fourth Estate one of the best, if not the most versatile and accomplished among English writers.
Besides his outstanding achievements in his profession, he was a remarkable human being with sterling qualities. Always smiling and cheerful and never letting his colleagues down or betraying them, he endeared himself to everybody who had the fortune to work with him. He belonged to a fraternity of media men that kept their head high, remained independent and acted according to the dictates of conscience without succumbing to powers that be for selfish gain.
Ajith was a prolific and fluent writer. It was indeed a treat and marvel to watch, during his days at the Island, how he hammered his way through his editorials on an old-fashioned typewriter emitting a staccato sound around the office. As he was unfamiliar with the touch system he used his forefinger to type but finished the task at breakneck speed before he adjourned for lunch.
He was one of the best lobby correspondents in the country. His accounts of parliamentary proceedings interspersed with wit and humour were widely and avidly read by those desiring to get an objective view of what transpired in the House. He earned an honoured niche as a literary and art critic contributing many columns and articles to the newspapers.
All his fellow journalists loved him and he in turn was close to them. He was always quick to write an appreciation whenever the death of a colleague occurred. He brought out in his inimitable style how each of them enriched the profession of journalism in this country.
It was unfortunate that towards the end of his sojourn here, the reading public was deprived of the effusions from the prolific pen he deftly wielded from the time he took to journalism as a young man fresh from a leading school, Trinity in the Hill Capital. The void that his death has created at a time when journalists writing in good English are a vanishing tribe, is certain to remain unfilled for a long time to come.
We offer our condolences to his wife Mano and other members of his family.
Editorial By Daily News
THE sudden demise of journalist and writer par excellence Ajith Samaranayake has not only caused shock and sorrow among fellow scribes but has also cast a pall of gloom over the entire media scene of which was a live wire.
As seen from the tributes that kept pouring after the sad news broke out, Ajith was no ordinary journalist. His genius was evident to those of his colleagues and not least the readers who lapped up his articles on wide and varied topics.
Ajith wrote on a broad canvas and there was practically no subject that eluded his pen. The depth of the analysis of his subjects made for compelling reading. Ajith had no peer for the uncanny turn of phrase and he brought out the nuances in the craft which could only come from a genius.
Although Ajith was not in the field during what is described as the golden era of Lake House journalists in the 60s and early 70s, there is no doubt that he could wear the mantle alongside such giants as Denzil Peiris, Tarzie Vittachi and Mervyn De Silva et al in those halcyon days of independent journalism.
He brought out the best from the old school of journalism to bear on the contemporary times which was evident from his swashbuckling style that held readers in thrall.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that The Island and the Sunday Observer where he was editor at different times, upped their circulation purely through the overwhelming demand by readers for Ajith Samaranayake bylined articles.
His topics ranged from politics, personal profiles to arts and culture. His editorials were lively and dynamic and went into the core of the issue while the appreciations he wrote on the demise of colleagues and other worthies were simply out of this world. As a lobby correspondent he had no equal in his time.
Those of us who were close to him knew Ajith as an independent thinker who brooked no interference from any quarter in his line of duty.
Though known to be of a socialist bent he however was no bigot and liberally engaged in political discourse with his colleagues, bringing forth the depth of his knowledge of men and matters.
Ajith cultivated a large circle of politicians who were on first name terms with him but he never deigned to be at their beck and call. He was the quintessential journalist who made is mark through sheer brilliance in his chosen field.
Ajith was also known to espouse the cause of colleagues who had fallen foul with the establishment and was generally the pivot around which journalists fraternised.
He would go to any lengths to defend a colleague, a trait which was demonstrated in ample measure when he once publicly challenged a one time all powerful deputy defence minister over his remark that he would imprison journalist who failed to toe the line.
In a way he was a rebel who called a spade a spade and often formed the bulwark against attacks on the journalist tribe.
His views were often reflected in his spicy articles which titillated the reading public. Ajith walked with Presidents and Prime Ministers but never lost his balance and wore his childlike simplicity at all times.
Ajith was a powerhouse of knowledge on almost on all contemporary topics and his anecdotal writing style gripped the reader to the pages.
Though conferred with high posts in the newspapers Ajith was modest to a fault and it was common to see him in the company of a band of journalist colleagues trekking to his famous haunt in the blazing sun. Ajith made waves with his writing, like the waves of sympathy that has engulfed the media scene today with his passing away.