By Ranga Kalansooriya –
The demise of Dr Ajantha Ranasinghe is the end of a legend, not only in one field but of two – Sinhala songs and journalism in Sri Lanka. His contributions to both fields counted over five decades and he rendered his services until his death. Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation admired this unmatchable personality by appointing as a Consultant to the institution at the last stage of his life.
Creating his own brand mainly in composing lyrics, probably Dr Ajantha himself would not be able to count the number of songs he has created for the past half-a-century period.
“Mahathmaya” was his most favorite word that was at the tip of his tongue. He would call even the highest rankers of the country with this slang and even his second generation like us, too, got used to it.
We grew up with his songs and are still living with them – those are not limited to any age group. Even in his 70’s, Dr Ajantha’s romances would never fade away, mainly in his lyrics. When I once mentioned this fact to him, the response was spontaneous. “That is the way Mahathmaya, never should one get old – young at heart forever.”
My engagement with him was since my childhood. Being a close friend and colleague of my mother (Somadevi Paranayapa) at Dinamina Editorial we grew up with his kids –Saaranga and Deva. We always were looking forward to annual staff trips of the Dinamina Editorial and it would never be completed with ‘Ajantha Uncle.’ Added to his team were Thilakaratna Kuruwita Bandara, N G Dharmawardhana, Anura Bandara Rajaguru, Mohan Lal Piyadasa, Amara P Weerasinghe , present Dinamina Editor Pushpa Rowel and a few others. Saman Chandranath Weerasinghe joined this team later. When my mother suffered a serious cancer in late 80s, this team organized a welfare system to our family took keep the home fire alive and a vehicle load of food and rations would reach our home on monthly basis with some cash donations – Ajantha uncle would bring them along.
When I joined Dinamina as a trainee journalist for a monthly allowance of Rs 500 in 1991, Ajantha uncle was the Provincial News Editor of the same news desk, then took over the editorship of Navayugaya a few months later. In an evening he walked up to my desk and sat in front of me. “I know you are getting a very low salary. That is not enough to run your family. I will give you the drama page of Navayugaya and probably you can something extra,” tears came to my eyes as he was telling this. Then onwards he paid me Rs 15 per piece of drama news and I would get a hull page per week. Ajantha uncle ensured that I get some extra income – some times more than my Dinamina monthly allowance.
When I run short of cash I would go to Navayugaya and ask some loan. “Ajantha uncle, can I have 100 rupees until next week?”
“Kollo – Me too, I have only 100 rupees in my wallet. Let us divide it,” – he would give me 50.
When the then Dinamina News Editor W G Gooneratne lambast me on a story that I have done, Ajantha uncle would watch this from a distant and later he would call me to his desk upstairs. Then he will explain in detail as to why Gooneratne shouted at me and he would correct my copy and its mistakes.
This is my story with Dr Ajantha Ranasinghe, where my life is entirely was shaped and nourished by his influence. In fact the story of many journalists of my era would be of no difference. Like his predecessors Dr. Edwin Ariyadasa and Somaweera Senanayake, Ajantha Ranasinghe, too made Navayugaya a learning platform for many buddying scribes.
His practice of helping cub reporters continued until his last breath. And we came up the ladder thanks to people like him.