I just received a totally unexpected award from an unlikely source. Vidyodaya Literary Award for best newspaper column in Sinhala during 2012.
The award is one of several presented annually by the University of Sri Jayawardenapura to celebrate creative writing and journalism in Sri Lanka. Each September, the University’s faculty members and students announce their selection of the preceding year’s most outstanding published books in the Sinhala language.
The award ceremony, held on 2 September 2013 at the National Library Services Board auditorium in Colombo, recognized the best Sinhala novel, best short story collection, best poetry collection, best lyrics collection and the best newspaper column of 2012.
My award, for the best newspaper column collection of 2012, is for Sivu Mansala Kolu Getaya (සිවුමංසල කොලූ ගැටයා), which came out in September 2012.
Beginning in February 2011, I have sustained the weekly column that touches on many and varied topics related to popular science, human development, mass media and information society. The book compiled 44 of these columns.
The award citation, read by Professor Dammika Ganganath Dissanayeke, Head of the Department of Sinhala and Mass communication at the University, described Sivu Mansala Kolu Getaya as being in a league of its own, engaging twenty first century Lankans.
The citation noted the broad range of the column’s topics and subjects – such as information society, innovation, climate change, disaster management, HIV/AIDs, energy crisis and censorship – and commended the colloquial language in which it is written.My last awards were nearly two decades ago (and all for my English writing). These days, I’m much more involved in judging and giving awards to others – ranging from global Digital Emmys to national integrity awards.
The columns and the book are a personalised exploration of how Sri Lanka can cope with many challenges of globalisation and modernisation. Or, if you like more lofty words (ugh!), how a low middle income nation of 20 million can define its identity in turbulent times of rapid change.
The title is of my column puzzles some readers. It’s derived from the angle it offers, and a reflection of my own career and interests: I stand at the intersection (or confluence) of science, sustainable development, media and popular culture. From there, I often play the role of that cheeky lad who asked difficult questions, and once pointed out the Emperor(s) had nothing on when all others were either too polite — or too scared — to say so.
I write in conversational Sinhala mostly because that’s the only command of the language I can muster! Having studied the language only in primary and secondary school, I have no particular literary skill and certainly no artistic pretensions. I just write to express, not impress.
It looks as if others appreciate this simplicity. I use plenty of metaphor and analogy, and also draw on my own wide experiences as a journalist, filmmaker and development communicator.
I like to ‘zoom in’ and ‘zoom out’ when discussing diverse topics. I do so with an open mind and sense of wonder. I have no political ideology to promote — and also no sacred cows to protect or defend!
As a journalist, I was trained to look for what’s New, True and Interesting (‘NTI Test’). Early on in my career, I went beyond simply reporting events, and probed the underlying causes and processes. With those insights, I can now offer my readers perspectives and seasoned opinion. These are much needed today as we swim through massive volumes of information, trying to stay afloat and make sense of it all.
As I said when the book was launched: “In a sense, with this column I have come back home. The last time I wrote in Sinhala was in another century, and in what now feels like another country!”
So it’s nice to be recognized — in the very different land and time where I find myself both a native and an immigrant…