Malinda Seneviratne Should Not Have Won The ‘Gratiaen’!

Eight years ago, outside the “drivers’ room” of Rivira Media Corporation, I, a young reporter who had just entered the field of journalism, was sharing a puff with the then Deputy Editor of ‘The Nation’ Malinda Seneviratne after a long day at work.

It was actually a struggling period for me and I told him that I was sick of doing ‘news’. By the time I entered journalism, I wanted to write features on arts, culture, history, literature and many other things including social commentary and political reviews. Perhaps I was over-inspired by the’ giants’ of the field – such as Sunil Madhawa Premathilaka, B.A. Siriwardena, Mervyn de Silva and Ajith Samaranayake - who drew me into journalism by their awe-inspiring writing! I wanted to follow their footsteps in journalism and I did not want to be a news-hound running on the street, looking for stories. However, my editor was adamant that I should stay in the news desk and write “news copies” and confine my entire life to nothing but news copies.

I can’t remember whether my complaint made Malinda laugh. But he advised me to remain in the news desk at least for two years. “After two years, you will be able to write what you want to write!” he said with a cloud of smoke swirling around his head. Although I did not understand what he actually meant, I decided to heed his advice and continue with what I was doing as I did not have many choices! 

Malinda, who advised me to remain in the news desk, could not survive in ‘The Nation’ for so long. After a few months, he tendered his resignation and left the company under unfortunate circumstances. After his departure from ‘The Nation’ he worked for many publications writing an unimaginably large number of columns every week, and I, the one heeded his advice, remained with “news”. Even after two years I never got to write what I wanted to write initially, but I grew a strong penchant for news. After two years I did not want to write anything else and was happy to walk on the street looking for stories and run from one press conference to another. I thought news was the’ pinnacle’ of journalism and everything else came second.

Soon after I left the company ‘Rivira’ – the publisher of two national newspapers ‘Rivira ‘ and ‘The Nation’- Malinda returned to the same place as the Editor in Chief of ‘The Nation’. By the time I left the place where I first met him, I only knew how to run a news desk and nothing else. But he had a strong foothold in the field of writing (which is much broader than journalism) as a poet, critic, columnist and a commentator. I looked at him with envy of some sort, but I knew that I could not become someone like him.

Two days ago, “The Nation's Editor-in-Chief Malinda Seneviratne” was awarded the Gratiaen Prize 2013 for Creative Writing in English for his collection of poetry: 'Edges'. He was short-listed for the same prize four times before and won it in style on the fifth occasion. I knew he thoroughly deserved the prize although he never went behind awards or ‘glory’ that they bring in. Poetry, as far as I know, is his way of expression and probably the primary source of happiness. “Writing is the only thing I am good at. So I keep writing” he would say. As a driver would drive, a flirt would flirt, my friend would keep writing.

Today, when his contribution to the field of creative writing (in English) is measured and appreciated with the much coveted Gratiaen prize, I cannot write a review of his collection of poetry “Edges” for I am not familiar with that aspect of writing – thanks to his advice! I cannot share my happiness with the rest of the world by writing a poem as my words only revolve around news. (and ‘women’, as he would say)

So I wrote the news of his achievement, on Saturday, recalling the advice he gave me eight years back- with a swirl of smoke around his head.

Today, looking at the narrowed path of my career and looking at Malinda’s poetry transcending self-imposed boundaries of life, I pose only two questions to myself.

“What if I didn’t share a puff with Malinda eight years ago outside the drivers’ room of Rivira office?”

“What if Malinda didn’t win the ‘Gratiaen Prize 2013’ for Creative Writing in English for his collection of poetry: 'Edges'?”



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