Dayasena Gunasinghe, a journalist who worked for the people – Denagama Siriwardhane | Sunday Observer

Dayasena Gunasinghe, a journalist who worked for the people – Denagama Siriwardhane

1 November, 2020

Podu Janayage Pattarakaraya (The People’s journalist), a biography of Dayasena Gunasinghe by Denagama Siriwardhane was launched recently as a Sarasavi Publication. Denagama Siriwardhane is a close associate of Dayasena Gunasinghe, a well-known biographer and a veteran journalist. This is his fifteenth biographical work, and he has also published six novels, including the acclaimed book, Ayoma, two short story collections, two poetry books and twelve novels for young adults. He has published over 170 books. The Sunday Observer spoke to Denagama Siriwardhane to discuss his latest biographical work and its subject.


Q: Why did you decide to write a biography of Dayasena Gunasinghe?

A: Dayasena Gunasinghe was a senior journalist at the Divaina when I joined the Upali Newspapers (Pvt) Ltd. as a journalist. He was my mentor. I frequently met him and discussed the issues that I faced in journalism. I learned a lot from him. When he died on October 7, 1996, many people from his village, Ingiriya paid their last respects to him and talked about him admirably. Even after, they commemorated him and organised many events to highlight his art of journalism and literature. When I saw all these things, I realised that Dayasena Gunasinghe had a vast crowd around him who were from all social strata, and I finally decided to write a biography of him.

Q: How do you see Dayasena Gunasinghe?

A: He was the best people’s journalist in my life time. From the outset, he was with the people and never went after politicians. He had a dream of creating a people’s newspaper which discussed people’s problems and their rights. I never met a journalist like him, as I frequently saw journalists who worked for politicians or the owners of the newspaper company or for money.

Q: How about your research on him for the biography?

A: I started to find information about him in 2017. For two years, I was doing research and the book was released in 2019. The book might have been published early, if I hadn’t got ill during that time. However, Sonali Gunasinghe, Dayasena Gunasinghe’s daughter helped me in this book very much. She accompanied me to various people who associated Dayasena closely. Through Sonali, I could meet Ratnapala Wanasinghe who was a childhood friend and cousin of Dayasena.

He gave me valuable data about Dayasena. Sonali’s mother, other family members, close associates and his relatives were also helpful by giving information about him. I met veteran journalists, such as Edwin Ariyadasa, Somaweera Senanayake, Thilakarathne Kuruwita Banadara who worked with him at Lake House. I also met his Divaina colleagues, such as Sunil Madawa Premathilake, Daya Lankapura, Darshana Karunathilake, Shantha K. Herath and Rohana Wettasinghe.

Q: Have you discussed Dayasena with Sunil Madawa?

A: I met him and attempted to get him to talk about Dayasena. But he became speechless with emotion. It was through his gestures that he responded to my questions.

Q: How did Dayasena Gunasinghe lose his job at the Divaina?

A: Dayasena Gunasinghe was the first deputy editor of the Sunday Divaina which started on October 4, 1981. Though Edmond Ranasinghe was the editor, the editorial was written by Dayasena. The main reason for losing his job was one of his editorials about J.R. Jayewardene. At the time, President Jayewardene had introduced the open economy to the country and signed many controversial agreements.

When LTTE terrorism was intense, President Jayewardene requested the people to look after their own safety, because according to him, the Government was unable to provide protection for all citizens. In the wake of this statement, Dayasena, penning an editorial, stated that only a Government akin to a eunuch would make such a claim. Subsequently, President Jayewardene summoned the owners of the Upali Newspapers (Pvt) Ltd., and ordered them to fire Dayasena.

After his being sacked, the Company received many criticisms over its decision. Then, the Company decided to take him back. Within six months, he joined the Divaina again. But this time, he was not allowed to write, but only to report to work. He worked there as a journalist for another five years until he retired in 1991 when he was 51.

Q: Why did he work there without joining another paper?

A: That’s a problem for me too. But during that time, he wrote many of his great short stories and poems. He also wrote many book reviews and prefaces to various books. Actually, it was not a wasted time for him.

Q: Do you remember his last day at the Divaina?

A: At the time, I worked at the Vidusara newspaper. I remember well that he came to work early morning with a lot of books in his hand. He always had a book in his hand. On this day which was his fifty fifth birthday, he came to office as usual. Later in the morning, the Chief Clerk came to his room and greeted him saying Suba Upandinayak Dayasena mahattaya! (Wish you a happy birthday!) Dayasena retorted with a smile, Mage upandine tamunnasetath matakaine! (You also remember my birthday!) But then Chief Clerk gave him the letter which sated that his contract had expired and that it would not be extended. Dayasena in his usual humble manner acknowledged the receipt of the letter.

He started to collect his books in his office room. No one spoke to him. Finally, when it was time for him to leave, I volunteered to help carry some books. Subsequently, we two came out of the Divaina office and took a short cut to the Kotahena bus stand. Throughout our walk, none of us talked.

Reaching the bus stand, he got into a Maharagama bus from Kotahena. As the bus was late to start, he got down and bought some sweets from a shop. He once again got into the bus with me. Still we couldn’t talk. I only asked that why he bought so much sweets. He said as he was not eating beetles, he enjoyed sweets when travelling. However, when the bus started its journey, I stood up from the seat. We became speechless with emotion, but before we departed, I sought his blessings. And then I walked back to the Divaina office. That day of mine was gloomy.