The making of a media prophet | Daily News


Dr. Edwin Ariyadasa turns 97 today

The making of a media prophet

I go down the memory lane. When I succeeded Mahagama Sekara in the then radio Ceylon’s Sinhala Music Division as the Scriptwriter, I was assigned to produce several other arts programmes like Nirmana Vindana. This was as far back as 1967. I was hunting for new talents when I came across Edwin Ariyadasa, the journalist who worked in the Sinhala newspapers.

He had already introduced new features on several journals such as Nava Yugaya. He is the best of my remembrance as a broadcaster. I met him at a place now I cannot quite recall. But I remember the conversation we had. I requested him to participate in one of my radio programmes. Then I remember what he said: “I’m not used to the radio medium, but I will try my best.”

As I remember, he presented a feature on the creative process in fairytales with special reference to the tales such as Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella. I was so delighted to see his skills. If I remember right, Thevis Guruge, the then Sinhala Programme Organiser wanted to get an idea of who had listened to my programmes. He commented that we get more out of Edwin Ariyadasa. I passed on the message.

He used to talk on subjects such as Nasreddin Hodja, world cinema trends and great profiles. Followed by the association of Edwin Ariyadasa, I had the chance of leaving the country to take up the post of the Producer-Presenter of the BBC’s Sinhala Programme Sandesaya. From Sri Lanka, Ariyadasa sent me a letter requesting me to pen a short story to be translated in the Sunday Observer. At that time, Ariyadasa had quite a number of Sinhala short stories translated into English under the heading Take Five Minutes. I submitted one short story written in Sinhala titled Nissabdatavaya. In 1969, I saw it printed under the title Men, Women and Silence with a short profile of mine.

The English short story received the attention of many of my colleagues in the BBC. That resulted in the selection of the story into the World Series of Short Stories broadcast on the World Service at the time. Time passed on. I returned to accept my position as a Senior Programme Producer in the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.

New happenings

The era of several new happenings emerged in the seventies. My attention was drawn once again to new radio formats like group discussions, magazine programmes and interviews. I kept close links with my friend cum advisor, Edwin Ariyadasa, especially during the morning hours when I had to travel by car to the office. I drove to Ariyadasa’s residence in Udahamulla Station Road.

He had ample time to discuss matters. By this time, Ariyadasa had transcended the state of being a mere senior journalist into the stage of a communication teacher, who, as I came to know, had initiated the pioneer junior university for communication in Dehiwela. This happened during my absence in the country.

Soon we had the chance of meeting each other in the evenings as a result of a chance academic event. The event is the formulation of a Board of Members to design the first-ever academic plan for a university course in Mass Communication. The Board comprised Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra, Professor MB Ariyapala, Dr. Wimal Disanayaka, Dr. Edwin Ariyadasa, DC Ranatunga, Dr. K. Kailasapathi and myself. I felt this as a boon in surprise.

As the meetings lingered on, quite a lot of discourses followed as to what type of academic design that should emerge.

Ariyadasa, if I remember correct, said that a good syllabus had to be designed for what approval was granted. Then came the place of work, which inevitably happened to be Kelaniya University where Wimal Disanayaka was a member of the academic staff. Ariyadasa received the help of us both, Wimal and myself. We met in the evenings to draft the syllabus. Once in a way, Dr. Kailasapathy joined us too. But the bulk of work was shouldered by Ariyadasa who was spick and span in terms of paperwork. He not only shouldered the task but also paid the tea bills at Pagoda Tearoom, Fort.

The syllabus thus came to be designed well on a par with most international academic curricula. We managed, with the help of Edwin Ariyadasa, to obtain the English and the Sinhala versions simultaneously. I now remember how the academics at the time were surprised at the outcome.

The syllabus was drawn and the place of work was selected. Then came the inevitable task of selecting the academic staff as the visiting lecturer staff. We all agreed to obtain the services of Ariyadasa as he was the most senior member known among us as the Media Prophet. We had the opportunity to invite persons such as Mahagama Sekara, K. Jayatilleke, DB Nihalsinghe, Piyasena Medis and Piyasiri Gunaratne.

The syllabus, as finalised by Ariyadasa, happened to be well received by the University Grants Council as well as the senior academic staff of all the universities. For the first intake, we had the subject taught in three languages: Sinhala, English and Tamil. Books came to be written. Academic work included several types of workshops.

Guruge of the SLBC paved the way for our undergraduates to study the sound communication aspects. Most of these factors are now recorded in the teacher guides issued by the National Institute of Education for any interested person to peruse.

Communication Studies

With all due respect to the teachers both at the school level as well as the university level, I consider one exception to the rule as Dr. Edwin Ariyadasa is a master, a mentor and a prophet when it comes to Communication. It is our utmost pleasure that he lives among us to enjoy the fruits of Communication Studies he sowed in the past.

Down the years of his long journey in the field of writing both as a journalist and as a scholar, Ariyadasa was a brilliant bilingual user of the language. He used the penname Janaka in some of his articles. When he was the Features Editor of Dinamina, he exhibited a clear-cut difference from the rest of his predecessors by making the readers enter into a globalised world. He excelled in the translation precisely by coining new science terms that are currently used in most glossaries.

When he assumed duties as the Chief Editor of Nava Yugaya weekly, the contents depicted a panorama to world vision enlightening the minds of the reader. He avoided the use of clichés paving the way for new horizons. Towards the end of his career as a professional journalist, he was enmeshed in the web of cinematography. In this direction, Ariyadasa happens to be the scholar who has presented the most number of key addresses at the annual film award ceremonies.

Dr. Edwin Ariyadasa’s contribution, even after the retirement, never dwindled for he undertook the task of editing a Sinhala monthly periodical titled Tulana.

This magazine opened the vistas for most monthly periodicals that entered the literary scene. All this goes to say that Dr. Ariyadasa was versatile. He had serialised Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s novel Malagiya Atto in Sunday Observer in English. Suffice to state that Ariyadasa is still steady-going vigilant at trendsetting.

With all these communication nuances, he possessed a grave sense of religious susceptibility which I presume culminated in his translation of Dhammapada, a magnum opus that we possess now. This edition of Dhammapada. I feel is just not another work but a dedicated scholarly work that transcends the barriers of mere popular religious literature.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, he did not want most of his contributions get tied into collections and anthologies. Had this been done, I am sure that the volumes may exceed fifty in number. But someday someone should assume that duty of collecting the contributions of Edwin Ariyadasa for the sake of posterity.

I sincerely feel that it was ecstasy for most of us to have had the chance of seeing the fruitful functions of our Media Prophet. I always felt that he was years younger than most of us when it comes to communication.

May you live long (sukhi dighayuko bhava)! 

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