Due to a sudden illness, I had to refrain myself from writing for two consecutive weeks. I must admit that the comment made by Shehan Karunathilaka, the Booker Prize winner 2022 about my book titled ‘Paradise in Tears’, which was published in September 2008, generated an innocent pride in me while I was confined to a sick bed recently.
Karunathilaka, who was eight when the war began, says that he found his memories came back when he read a book called Paradise in Tears by the journalist Victor Ivan. “It brought back the mobs, and my mum pulled my face away. Later I found out they were pulling people out of cars to test whether they could speak Sinhalese; if they couldn’t, they were set on fire.” Despite it has not been subjected to an adequate academic review, the ‘Paradise in Tears’ is a valuable pictorial resume of the main events connected with the present crisis; it contains a large number of photographs (444) of historic importance followed by a brief description of each of them, and could be considered as a significant research study on how Sri Lanka has been pushed to its present state of failure, collapse and bankruptcy.
It has covered a large portion of the episode of the great collapse in the socio-political system of Sri Lanka. In that sense, this book explains not only the historical development of the crisis but also the way Sri Lanka was moving towards great devastation. In fact, what I really wanted was to present the serious events and the grim atmosphere that affected the course of the country in the form of an appropriate pictorial resume using a collection of rare photographs that have been published in regard to each event as and when they occurred, with a brief narration of each picture in a manner they would make an intense impact and a deep shock in the reader.
I originally dreamt not only of publishing just a book with a collection of annotated photographs, but also having an exhibition of them held across the country with the aim of educating and enlightening the general public of the situation. I had been working for a long time to achieve this objective. About 15 years had passed by the time the final collection of photographs was completed. Needless to say, that the selection of 442 photographs of historic importance and illustrating them with background details with specific dates alone is not a simple or easy task
In 1997, Mangala Samaraweera who was a powerful minister in the Cabinet of the Chandrika government knew that I had a comprehensive collection of photographs with captions written in respect of each of them and it could be used for a photo exhibition about the crisis in Sri Lanka. He called me and not only did he have a look at the collection of photographs but also read the captions I had written on them. He was of the opinion that this collection of photographs should be exhibited across the country. Along with that, he said that the narrative on the pictures, especially the critical ones written about the Bandaranaikes, should be edited in such a way that they would be acceptable to President Chandrika Bandaranaike.
But, I was of the view that the editing could only be allowed if the facts contained in the narrations are not true, and that it is not appropriate to edit them to please the Bandaranaike family. Consequently, the efforts made by Mangala to persuade me to change my authoritarian attitude proved to be unsuccessful; he gave up the idea of holding a photo exhibition at the national level using the collection in my possession. Had I not adhered to such a policy strictly and become flexible to the extent that Mangala wanted, it would have been possible to have an exhibition held across the country making a profound impact on the public. At the same time; it might have caused a big distortion in the purpose of exhibiting the photographs.
Investigator of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case
Dr. Pathum Kerner, who can be considered as a colourful young liberal leader of the youth struggle, had commented on my book ‘Paradise in Tears’ on social media, two to three weeks ago. Some experiences I encountered in regard to this work may be of importance not only for me but also for the people of this country. One day a person came to me with three copies of the English version of it. The price of the English version was Rs. 3,500 and I was curious to know his identity since he had purchased three copies of it. The happiness I felt when he disclosed his identity was immense and inexpressible. He was the retired CBI officer K. Raghothaman, the chief investigation officer of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that probed the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case in the early 1990s.
When asked as to why he had purchased three copies of the book, he replied that one copy was for him, one for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) library and the other for Sonia Gandhi. When I asked him about the relevance and importance of it for him he said that the importance of the book can be seen from the manner in which it has been compiled, and the notes written on the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi can be considered quite special and outstanding. Unfortunately, this excellent investigator died of COVID-19 in May 2021, at the age of 76.
I had commented that it was ironic that Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a Tamil woman from the north when in fact he could have been killed before that by a Sinhalese navy soldier in the south. I had a great respect for Rajiv Gandhi. He tried to rectify the mistakes made by his mother. He visited Sri Lanka to sign the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord in Colombo on 29 July 1987, knowing that there was a big risk involved in it. If the Indian troops were not sent to Sri Lanka at that stage at the request of President Jayewardene, Sri Lanka would certainly have ended up in a great destruction being unable to face two powerful rebellions.
If the responsibility of defeating the LTTE was entrusted to the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) instead of following a policy that demanded the IPKF to cease their operation against the LTTE, the defeat of the LTTE would have been a short-term affair and the damage to the Tamil people would have been minimal. Also it would have paved the way for arriving at a political solution to the Tamil problem. If that had been the case, the crisis facing Sri Lanka would not have reached such a decrepit state and the unfortunate situation that the country is in now. According to its location, Sri Lanka should not become a country which is either pro-Indian or anti-Indian. But, in view of the prominence India has gained in the region in terms of its location, size and power and the other aspects, it is important that Sri Lanka should always maintain close and healthy cooperation with India.
Another wonderful relationship that I developed as a result of this book is as follows. He was Patrick Lawrence, a British national and the editor of the Asian edition of the International Herald Tribune. One day he came to my office with a copy of the English translation of ‘Paradise in Tears’ to have it autographed by me as a memento. I asked him about his opinion of the book. He started the conversation by explaining how he came to know about it. He stayed in Mt. Lavinia. During a conversation he had with a Muslim shopkeeper whom he knew in that area, Patrick had asked him the kind of Sri Lanka that he would expect to live in. The latter had opened a table drawer in the shop and respectfully picked up a book from it and handed it to him and had said that he hopes for a Sri Lanka of the kind that the author of this book is looking forward to.
It was a copy of the Sinhala original of the ‘Paradise in Tears’ the trader had handed him. Although Patrick couldn’t read the Sinhala book, he was able to get an idea about the nature of the book to a certain extent with the aid of the visuals produced in it. Having come to know that there is an English edition as well, of the book he had bought a copy and read it. After that, we had several meetings.
He had read the English translation of ‘Nonimi Aragalaya’ (Unfinished Struggle) authored by me about the crisis in the judiciary. He said that the quality of the English translation of ‘Nonimi Aragalaya’ was not of a satisfactory standard and suggested that it should be re-edited urgently. I also knew that the English version of it was not in a satisfactory standard as the translation was done in a hurry. However, this defect was not rectified with an adequate speed as he expected. Later, he asked for the soft copy of the English translation and was kind enough to copy edit the English text by himself, improving its quality a great deal and without any payment which even after a long time I wish to place on record here as a mark of respect for this celebrated newspaper editor.
Later he quit the field of journalism for some time and worked with the Asian Human Rights Commission. During that time, he wrote and published a book about Sri Lanka titled ‘Conversations in A Failing State’ (in 2008). It was the conversation he had with me on this issue that he had included as the last conversation in that book. This can be considered as a book written on the emerging failure of Sri Lanka based on the views of various people whom he knew in Sri Lanka, about the country. It includes a critical analysis of the great collapse of the judiciary during the tenure of Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva. He wonders as to how the judiciary of the country has gone into such a state of ruin by the intervention of a single person.
The struggle I launched against Chief Justice Sarath Silva continued for 10 years. I neither won nor lost that long, protracted and abysmal struggle. More than a decade has passed since Sarath Silva’s retirement, but the legislature or the judiciary has not rectified the serious mistakes committed by him to the judiciary. Even the Bar Association has not made any effort to correct those mistakes. 15 years have lapsed since I wrote the ‘Paradise in Tears’. Sri Lanka is still living in tears. So far, Sri Lanka has not been able to rectify this ugly situation. Not only the outdated politicians but also the strugglers have failed to realise the reforms the country needs and act accordingly.
What is needed now is a reform program that will bring about a profound change in the system. It is something that should be achieved with the support of the Parliament and not through a struggle on the street. Even a change of the government could be effected only by an election, not by a struggle on the street. Only if all conflicting political forces are able to work together to achieve that purpose can the country be oriented to a reform program leading to a profound change in the system.