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‘Ode to a Guru’:

D. F. Kariyakarawana: 60 years a ‘working journalist’

TRIBUTE: This is not a mere write up about the oldest ‘working journalist’ amongst us, it is a personal tribute as well.

A tribute to a man along with a few others who made me what I am today! Not that I am ‘somebody’, but without the Kariyakarawana brothers (D.F. and Eamon), Ranjith Wijewardene (then Chairman ANCL), Sisira Kumara Manikkaarachchi, to whom I was ‘entrusted’ by the then boss Esmund Wickramasinghe, I certainly would have been a ‘nobody’.

I was a mere ‘stringer’ attached to the Observer when D.F.’s younger brother, the affable Eamon, asked me whether I could ‘do’ the permanent Night Shift at the Janata, the Sinhala evening daily. Thus started a long and rewarding association with not only ‘Kari’ but his family as well which exist to this day.

When I joined the ‘Janata’ one of the first pieces of advice he gave me was, ‘in the newspaper world you do not ‘Sir’ any body. Use the First name. I am ‘Kari. If you do not wish to call me that you may call me ‘Mr. Kariyakarawana.’ Of course there is an exception to this. ‘Loku Sir’ - Piyasena Nissanka is ‘Loku Sir’ to us. We ‘sir’ him because of the tremendous affection we have for him as the Senior most amongst us!’

D.F. thus became ‘Mr. Kariyakarawana’ to me to this day and I am privileged to be considered both as a student and a friend of the maestro.

Daniel Francis Kariyakarawana was born to a Catholic family on 8th February 1922 in Kurana, Negombo. He had his early education at the Bolawalana Boys’ School and later at Maris Stella College Negombo.

There was then a Boy Scout ‘Colony’ at Kalutara and ‘Kari’ won a scholarship as a Resident Teacher there to teach English and also such things as carpentry, masonry, farming and the culinary arts. After a year at Kalutara, he joined the Higher English Institute at Katunayka.

His turning point in life was when he joined the Peradeniya Teachers’ Training College as a 20-year-old, in 1942. No Sinhala newspaper or magazine escaped this young man who contributed short stories under the name ‘Kurana Kariyakarawana’ and his poems were published under the pseudonym, ‘Meegomu Kumara’.

‘Sinhala Balaya’ was a magazine authored by the famous Hemapala Munidasa and it regularly carried the works of the leading poets of the day such as P.B. Alwis Perera, Sagara Palansuriya (Kayus), Meemana Premathilaka, Upananda Batugedra, John Rajadasa, H.M. Kudaligama, Makandure Gunawardene, Wilson Hegoda, Hubert Dissanayake et al. Soon ‘Meegomu Kumara’ announced his entry in to the literary world.

After completing his training he was posted as a teacher to St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota, which offer he declined due to the premature demise of his father, as the responsibility of being the eldest of four brothers and two sisters compelled him to seek better pastures.

Through relation he secured a job as a clerk at the Chalmer’s granary which, with Over Time, earned for him a salary five times more than what he would have earned as a teacher.

Having learnt that a branch of his Alma Mater - Maris Stella had been opened in Tudella in Ja-Ela it was functioning as ‘Christ the King’ College, under an elderly French ‘Brother’ Louis who recruited ‘Kari’ at Rs. 100 p.m. Rs. 20 more than the starting salary of a Trained Teacher. It was ‘Kari’ who gave the ‘Christ King (Christu Raja Vidyalaya) its present name.

The duo of ‘Kari’ and Father Jayakody carried on a campaign via the Gnanartha Pradeepa that the hymns should be in the vernacular thereby raising a hornets’ nest amongst the conservative Catholics with D. P. Kurukulasuriya adding fuel to the fire that was raging.

‘Kari’ was branded an atheist and a ‘Samasamajist’ a word anathema to the Catholics of the day. Causing a further controversy ‘Kari’ advocated that Catholics too should indulge in Vesak decorations and illuminations.

Although Father Jayakody (who later earned a name as the ‘Malpele upan Pansale Piyathuma’ due to his contribution to Buddhist activities) and Father Anthony did not object to ‘Kari’s proposals the die-hard conservative Catholics demanded the sacking of ‘Kari’ accusing of being a Martin Luther and a Buddhist in disguise.

Those who branded ‘Kari’ as a Samasamajist and a Buddhist would have later exclaimed ‘Didn’t we say so?’ for ‘Kari’ became a disciple of Santiago Fernando (‘Santi Gurunnanse’) the first Catholic to embrace the Samasamajism doctrine. Santi Gurunnanse too advocated that the Latin hymns be replaced by Sinhala hymns.

‘Kari’ was attracted towards not only the new political doctrine that Santi Gurunnanse espoused but also to the ‘Hela Howla’ of Munidasa Cumaratunga of which Santiago Fernando being a prolific writer, was a leader.

‘Kari’ married the comely Lalitha from Giragama. A hamlet off Peradeniya whom he met during his Training School days. It so happened that Lalitha though accepted into the very conservative Catholic household of the Kariyakarawanas was from a very strong Buddhist family with roots in Giragama and Galle. They were married on 4th February 1948 the very day that Ceylon gained her Independence.

Kariyakarawana knew it was time to throw in the towel and through a friend, Koggala Marakkalage Sirisena learnt that the Times of Ceylon was to launch a Sinhala daily to rival the Dinamina. Sirisena himself has joined the new paper, which had not yet hit the stands.

‘Lankadeepa’ was to be the name of the new paper and Sirisena took ‘Kari’ to meet the ‘de facto’ editor Diyangu Badathuru Dhanapala.

The cigar smoking Dhanapala could not write Sinhala and read Sinhala laboriously. He used to get someone else to read out the Sinhala papers to him. An ex-Daily News man he used to contribute a very popular column under the nom de plume ‘Janus’.

He quit Lake House due to the disagreements he had with the ‘Ole Man’ D. R. Wijewardene. The Editor of ‘Lankadeepa’ was the very erudite Julius de Lanarolle who was also the Editor of the Sinhala Dictionary.

Though the Editor, Lanarolle’s only tasks were to write the Editorial and to preside over the daily morning conference which decided on the contents of the following day’s paper.

All the day-to-day affairs, including the hiring (and firing) of staff were handled by the ‘Captain’ as Dhanapala was popularly known (in my day at Lake House there was another ‘Captain - Denzil Peiris).

‘Captain’s’ Right Hand man was an acquaintance of ‘Kari’s from his Peradeniya Training College Days a young and handsome man by the name of Nimal Karunathilaka whose father was the Principal of the Peradeniya MV. Nimal produced ‘Kari’ to the Captain who initially showed no interest in the scrapbook that ‘Kari’ showed the maestro. However he was visibly pleased when he saw the ‘lay out’ of the ‘Mihira’ magazine.

‘Whose idea is this?’ the Captain wanted to know. ‘Mine’ said ‘Kari’. That settled the issue. Although there had been only one vacancy and a person who happened to be Raja Thilakaratne has already been earmarked ‘Kari’ made such a good impression that both ‘Kari’ and Raja were recruited.

Raja was just out of School - Ananda College. All others were Journalists of repute such as Sri Chandraratne Manawasinghe of ‘Waga Thuga’ fame, Kalalelle Ananda Sagara (Kayus of ‘Sudo Sudu’ fame) Dharmasiri Kuruppu, Dharmasiri Jayakodi, Ratna Deshapriya, who was later better known as Ratna Deshapriya Senanayake just to name a few.

‘Captain’ excelled in making the ‘Dummy’ and he always did the page 1 (those days there were no computers!) Once Dhanapala was going to be away for three days and the question arose as to who should do the ‘Page One’, Nimal Karunathilake, who knew of ‘Kari’s talents as a ‘page maker’ suggested that ‘Kari’ be entrusted with the task. On the fourth day Dhanapala arrived in office and was so pleased with ‘Kari’s performance asked him to continue with the ‘page making’.

This allowed ‘Kari’ to show his colours and this he did with great enthusiasm. However, ‘Kari’s designation was that of a Translator. This was the time that Esmund Wickramasinghe assumed control at Lake House following the death of his Father-in-Law, D. R. Wijewardene.

A ‘go getter’ and a man with a vision, he realized that Lankadeepa was surging ahead because it had Dhanapala, who was well versed in English. Esmund made some swift changes which saw Tarzie Vittachchi (of ‘Fly By Night’s fame) being brought from the Deputy Editorship of the Observer as the Executive Editor of the Dinamina causing ‘Loku Sir’ Piyasena Nissanka to take a back seat and be content with writing the editorial.

Tarzie’s main task was to rejuvenate the Dinamina and he roped in Meemana Premathilaka from the Silumina and photographer Rienzie Wijeratne from the Observer and started building up a good team. However, the Dinamina badly needed a Page Maker, Esmund sent out talent scouts and one of them, Dharmapala Jayaweera approached ‘Kari’.

After some hesitation, ‘Kari’ agreed to meet with Esmund - the Strong man at Lake House. Esmund who had the knack of ‘smelling’ a good man when he saw one immediately realised that ‘Kari’ was the man he was looking for and asked ‘Kari’ to report to work from the following day.

‘Kari’ asked for one week’s time to consider the offer and he was fully aware that he had to give one month’s notice if he resigned. But not if he was sacked! The wily Kariyakarawana decided on his game plan.

The next day he went to the Lankadeepa Office and read the Riot Act. He gave a letter in writing that until his designation was changed from Translator to that of a Sub Editor he would stage a ‘sit-in’. So, for three days ‘Kari’ came to office signed the Attendance Register and went to a corner with a book not attending to any office work.

The fourth day he was asked to see the Accountant who served him with the letter of Termination plus two months salary in lieu of Notice! Hiding his joy he bid the Captain farewell and Dhanapala was really sorry to lose a good man.

He asked ‘Kari’ to sleep it over for a few days and then to see him. ‘Kari’ overheard the caustic remark made by Prince Gunasekera, the Chief Sub Editor, ‘who will give him a job?’

The very next day, he reported for work at Lake House and was appointed as the sub editor of both the Dinamina and the Silumina. One of the first things he did was to telephone his friend and former colleague at the Lankadeepa, K. M. Sirisena to inform him and through him the others that he was then a Lake Houseman. ‘He who laughs last laughs Best’! so goes the saying.

Thus commenced a long and eventful career for Kariyakarawana at Lake House, which he joined in 1951 and retired in 1989. During his tenure at Lake House he held many important positions such as Chief Sub-Editor of the Dinamina, Editor of the Janata, the Editor-in-Chief of the Janata, the Yovun Janata and the Silumina. He also functioned as a consultant for four years from 1982. He was brought back from retirement to handle the School of Journalism in 1995.

When ‘Kari’ was attached to the Gnanartha Pradeepaya some Catholics who resented his innovations accused him of being a ‘Buddhist in disguise’. Disguise or not, ‘Kari’ did embrace Buddhism by observing the five precepts at the feet of the Most Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Nayaka Thera at the Vajirarama in Bambalapitiya on the Buddha Jayanthi Vesak Full Moon Day on 23rd May 1956. His son Ruwan was also born on this very day.

‘Kari’ still wields his pen. He contributes weekly columns to several ‘weeklies’ on a regular basis and has also authored several books. A collection of his writings will be launched today (Feb 8) at 4.00 p.m. at the Public Library to coincide with his 85th birth anniversary.

‘The best birthday present that I dream of is a ‘home’ for journalists somewhere in Colombo. The out-station journalists who visit their offices in Colombo have to rough it out often sleeping on the benches of the Fort Railway Station. There should be a fund created to help the journalists in need of medical attention.

Also we must have some mechanism of according them a decent funeral when they die. Let’s hope that ‘Kari’ would be able to see his dream come true before long.

Most of the Senior Editors in the National Newspapers were trained by ‘Kari’ whose biggest contribution to journalism as this writer sees it, is to produce a son, Muditha who is the Secretary General of the Journalists’ Association and a grandson, Kurulu Kariyakarawana, (Muditha’s son) who is attached to the Daily Mirror.

Belying his 85 years Kariyakarawana is yet active not only with the pen but also with the affairs of India - Sri Lanka Journalists’ Association of which he is the President. ‘Kari’s only source of regret today would be that his wife Lalitha who died a few years back would not be there to wish this Grand Ole Man a ‘Happy Birthday!’

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