It is with great sadness that I write for the first time on my Blog after the advent of the April traditional new year “Hevilambi”! My first post for the new year is the last post for the Editor who first recruited me as a journalist.
Kandasamy Sivapragasam , Former Editor -in – chief of the “Virakesari” Group of newspapers published by the Express Newspapers (Ceylon)Ltd in Sri Lanka breathed his last on April 14th at the age of 81 in the USA. He passed away peacefully with his children and family members by his side on Friday April 14 just prior to noon EST in Fairfax, Virginia.
It was just a few days ago that I completed forty years as a journalist. I joined the Tamil newspaper “Virakesari” as a trainee journalist on April 11th 1977. It was K.Sivapragasam who gave me my first break in journalism and guided me as a reporter and feature writer during my formative years on the newspaper. I worked under him in the “Virakesari” from April 1977 to November 1981 until I moved away from Tamil journalism to English journalism by joining “The Island”edited by Vijitha Yapa.It is with much grief therefore that I write the news of his death here. I shall be writing an extensive tribute in due course.
Mr. Sivapragasam known as “Siva” and/or “Sivappi” to his friends and colleagues served in various journalistic capacities in Sri Lanka after graduating from the University of Peradeniya with a BA in Economics. While being a journalist he pursued studies at the Law College of Sri Lanka and took his oaths as an Attorney – at – law.
His entry into journalism was through the English daily “Observer” published by the Lake House Group of Newspapers in Colombo.Mr. Sivapragasam worked as a reporter,feature writer and sub – editor on the “Observer” from 1958 to 1962. He shifted to Tamil journalism in 1962 as News Editor of the Tamil Daily “Thinakaran” published by Lake House.
Sivapragasam was among the many proteges of Esmond Wickremesinghe the son in law of media baron D. R. Wijewardene. Esmond who ran the Lake House group of newspapers from the early fifties to mid-sixties of the 20th century was the father of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The winds of change blew breezily within the corridors of power in Lake House after 1965. Esmond Wickremesinghe re-located himself to the offices of the “Virakesari” at Grandpass road and began several newspapers. Incidently the premises on which “Virakesari” is located is the ancestral house of former president JR Jayewardene.
Esmond Wickremesinghe took a group of rising stars at Lake House along with him. The brightest of these was K. Sivaparagasam who was appointed Editor of the “Virakesari”. The chief editor of the “Virakesari” then was Mr.K.V. Srinivasa Iyengar known popularly as KVS Vas. With Esmond Wickremesinghe’s backing, Sivapragasam pioneered several new Tamil newspapers. These included the “Mithran”,”Jothi” and “Naveena Vignaani”.
After another hectic turn of events in the seventies, Esmond Wickremesinghe withdrew from “Virakesari”. Thereafter the “Virakesari” group of newspapers came under a new management. Industrialist AYS Gnanam became chairman and businessman M.G. Wenceslaus was the managing director. K. Sivapragasam became Editor -in – chief after KVS Vas retired in 1974.
The Virakesari both daily and weekly underwent a renaissance during his editorial tenure. It became the largest selling Tamil newspaper in Sri Lanka with a northern, eastern, up – country and City edition. More importantly it was highly influential as a leading Tamil opinion maker as well as an index of Tamil opinion. The “Virakesari” voiced the grievances and aspirations of the Tamil people in a moderate yet effective manner. Sivapragasam himself was highly respected and regarded by the Sri Lankan governing elite.
The “Black July” of 1983 affected, undermined and uprooted the lives of many Tamils. Sivapragasam’s house in Nugegoda and vehicle were torched by a mob and the family miraculously escaped death. Sivapragasam who strongly believed and strove for Tamil equality in a united Sri Lanka was shattered. After much deliberation he decided to leave Sri Lanka with his wife and childen. It was a painful decision for him and the family.
The USA Govt granted a special visa to him and his family. So Siva, wife Thiru, daughter Pradeepa and son Sanjeevan left the land of their birth and migrated to Boston, Massachusettes. Sivapragasam completed his bar exams and took up employment at a legal firm.
I was able to meet him and his family and partake of their hospitality in the years 1988 – 89 when I was a Nieman fellow at Harvard University in Cambridge,Mass. His wife Thirumagal who taught at Isipathana College was a gracious lady who was very kind to me both in Lanka and the USA. She died of cancer some years ago.
After I moved to Canada in 1989 I did engage in a few telephone conversations with Mr. Sivapragasam. But after a while I lost touch with him.
It was only on April 13th that I learnt from an article written by Ex- Virakesari colleague Murugapoobathy on the Tamil website”Thenee” that Mr. Sivapragasam was ailing and that he was in the last stages of his life. On the following day came the sorrowful news of his demise.My heartfelt condolences to his children Pradeepa and Sanjivan and other family members.
Thank you Sir for making me a journalist and moulding me! Farewell!!
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org