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:
The writer is Sunil Mihindukula, a senior journalist who is best known for his writing on the performing arts, especially cinema. But Sunil has broad interests, and is a rare open-minded and skeptical person among Sinhala language journalists many of who are ‘true believers’ of assorted dogmas.
Sunil places my book in the context of rationalism and critical thinking that is so lacking in today’s Sri Lanka. Here’s an excerpt:
This week, my Ravaya column (in Sinhala) is about why we in Sri Lanka should re-read Arthur C Clarke, author of 100 books and over 1,000 essays of both fiction and non-fiction. This marks his 95th birth anniversary that falls on 16 Dec 2012.
As a science writer, Sir Arthur wrote on many and varied topics. Here, I single out two aspects: human violence and human gullibility, both of which continue to affect societies around the world.