Asanga Abeysundara was my zoology teacher as well as my earliest editor-publisher. For several years in the 1980s, he edited and published (in properly printed form) a progressive science magazine in Sinhala named Maanawa (meaning ‘human’).
This non-profit publication, started in 1978 as a wall newspaper at the University of Colombo by its founder when he was an undergraduate there, later evolved into a magazine with a small circulation and loyal readership.
It was a platform for aspiring young writers – many of them in school or university at the time – to write about science, technology and their impact on society. As part of the editorial team, I remember we covered big issues like the origins of life, cost-benefits of space exploration, HIV/AIDS and human evolution.
Maanawa was entirely a labour of love: everybody, including the editor, worked for free. But printers and distributors charged for their services, which the limited sales couldn’t recover. So, despite passion and voluntary editorial inputs, the magazine stopped printing after sometime.
Yet, showing resilience and innovation, Maanawa became the first Sinhala publication to produce an Internet edition in 1996 — the year after commercial connectivity was introduced in Sri Lanka. The web edition, which played a pioneering role, is no longer online.
But this modest yet spirited publication had lasting influence on Sri Lanka’s science communication scene. Many writers who cut their teeth at Maanawa later joined Vidusara, a weekly science magazine launched by a commercial publisher in late 1987.
Others, like Chanuka Wattegama and myself, went in different directions — but are still active in science communication in one way or another.
In December 2012, I invited Asanga as a guest of honour to the launch of my Sinhala book, Mind Journeys with Arthur C Clarke. Chanuka, who wrote the introduction to the book, was a speaker (along with Dr Rohan Samarajiva).
I’m delighted to read Asanga write a review of the book, which appears in Vidusara issue of 20 March 2013: