16 October, 2019

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Richard: Whose Life Guides My Own

By Roel Raymond –

Roel Raymond

I never really knew my uncle Richard. I was five when he was murdered on February 18, 1990, and would have just entered kindergarten. The earliest reference of him came through a childhood incident that involved his mother, Manorani Saravanamuttu—‘Babbia Sinnamma’ to me. For a period after his death, Babbia Sinnamma lived in our house, in Colpetty. She had two Ridgebacks, a male and a female. The grumpy male was Porgy, and the sprightlier female, Bess; titular characters of Dorothy and DuBose Heyward’s play Porgy. One day, when I was about 11, and playing in the garden, I tried to feed Porgy a snail, and he bit me in the ear. In the ensuing caterwaul, I demanded my mother exact revenge—I wanted retribution for having my generous offer rejected so cruelly. 

My mother, who, together with Babbia Sinnamma had rushed out the house on hearing my wails of pain, whispered urgently for me to be quiet! I didn’t know why she asked me to be quiet, but I was hushed into silence by her unexpected tone. I could see Babbia Sinnamma’s quietly sympathetic face hovering over my mother’s shoulder. It was only later that my mother—my ordinarily fierce and over-protective mother— told me quietly that Porgy and Bess were “like children” to Babbia Sinnamma “after her son died.” She didn’t tell me how he had died, or why. Simply that he had. It was important to my mother at that moment, not to hurt the feeling of my grand aunt, her aunt, who had been through so much. It was only much later in life that I understood the significance of that incident. 

Richard de Zoysa

I remained largely untouched by Richard’s death during my adolescence. Babbia Sinnamma moved out to a place close to our home, and my mother visited her regularly. I heard Porgy and Bess had passed on, and much later, Babbia Sinnamma too, passed away. The murder of my uncle only came back to haunt me in my twenties, in my mother’s disapproval of my career as a journalist. While she has never explicitly said the words, ‘I don’t want you to be a journalist because of what happened to Richard,” she has in every other way, emphatically and repeatedly, voiced her displeasure at my involvement with anything even remotely linked to politics. My airy defence, “I didn’t choose journalism, journalism chose me (#fact),” does little to reduce her disapproval. 

With time, as I made deeper forays into journalism, my understanding of the circumstances surrounding Richard’s death became clearer. What also became manifestly clear to me, first as a cub journalist, and later as a more established one, was that the memory of the life and death of Richard De Zoyza belonged not solely to his family, but also to a larger cause and conversation. His name would come up habitually in the circles I frequented, and the conversations would invariably make me uncomfortable. Here, he was discussed as though he were a cardboard pin-up, a face on a poster, a stranger. And while people were mostly kind in their thoughts towards him, there were times his loyalties were questioned, his sexuality disparaged and the word ‘elitist’ bandied in too malicious a manner. And through it all, I remained quiet, just as my mother had once asked me to.

Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu

As a journalist in Sri Lanka, I am all too aware of the numbers of that have fallen. Beginning with the assassination of Thevis Guruge in 1989, the attacks against the media have been perpetrated with indemnity and impunity. Richard’s murder, in 1990, was the first by state-sponsored actors—and the incidents of intimidation, assault, murder and disappearances have only continued. There have been no convictions to date, and the absence of accountability is proof that the current respite is only temporary. Had there been any justice in Richard’s case, and the countless others that preceded and followed, my preoccupation with his murder and continued contemplation of the futility of justice may have never occurred. But the lacuna continues to breathe life to Richard’s death.

Although I have no memories of him, to me, Richard’s death is deeply personal. It is linked to my memories of Babbia Sinnamma’s sweet face; it is communicated to me in the anxiety of my mother’s voice; it is raised every time he is remembered with sorrow by friends and loved ones, and whenever he is spoken of in journalistic circles. I continue to carry with me the knowledge that Richard’s death was never resolved. It shapes the decisions I make, and emphasises my commitment to my craft. Despite her hope and fight for justice, Babbia Sinnamma did not believe the murder of her only son would be avenged. Richard would have been 61 this month. For his sake, and for the countless others who were killed like him, I hope, if not in this, world, there will be answers in the next, someday. “For now, we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face…”

*Roel Raymond is a journalist who is currently the Associate Editor of Roar Media. She may be contacted at roelraymond@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 9
    26

    Those who make lot of fuss about the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga do not utter a single word about the murder of Richard de Zoysa. These guys who talk a lot about Lasantha do not do so not because they love him but because they want to throw mud at Gotabhaya Rajapakse for his role in wiping out LTTE barbarians.

    • 13
      1

      BP Egle, aka BP MAHIND PALA FROM DOWN UNDER@
      Murder of RS and other men during 89 insurgency was connected with UNP and JVP. So, what is the point of even discussing about it. Gone are the days that the JVPrs were brutal. But for the last 3 decades they have performed well. If i would be asked about to give an analysis about local politics, I am ready to please JVP lot more than any other parties in recent times. Had JVPrs been away from local politics, things would not have ended up in favour of the people. Nothing could no thave worked to drive away Rajaakshes in 2015. Prior to that and since then, their service done to this nation is standing out compared to any other party politicians. Only that they dont care about the cultural ties being that crucial in local politcs, hinder them not getting elected by the grass eaters dominated srilanka. That is it.

      • 1
        1

        wHAT HAVE sRI lANKA GAINED BY CHANGING gOVT IN 2015? JVP changed too? Yes. It has become the tails green elephant who does immense damage to Sri Lankan culture, law, economy, sovereignty and dignity of it’s people.

      • 1
        7

        Buramphisincho,
        “Gone are the days that the JVPrs were brutal.”

        You are right. Now Jathiya Vinashakarane Peramuna has become the agents for Ranil and TNA to do their donkey work.
        ————
        JVP leaders are Sinhala terrorists and LTTE leaders are Demala terrorists who are responsible (among others) for ruining this country.

        • 3
          0

          Egale Eye,
          .
          Watch out. Australians white supremists will treat you accordingly.
          :
          Man, you ve been licking the balls of Extremists Rajaapkshes, but stand always against UNP and other parties. For us, we dont need to see the notherners as coming from an another country, since they should also have rights to claim their own rights. Non of us srilankens should be above the other: You guys, in your early 80ties, still have the termirity to come up with the kind of statements. You deliberately continue them as demal terrorists… I say, Rajapakshes are the most terrorists in this country, Ther eare records to prove that Rajapakshes are the mastermind of all the recent riots inflicted against Muslims in country.
          :
          With all is clear, Rajakashes to live scot free is the PAIN of us srilanknes that want CRIMINALS to be executed:

          • 2
            0

            Have you ever examined whether he Rajapaksha’s ancestry is Sinhalese or they came from South East Asia, probably Burma. Are they loyal Sri Lankans. Please observe their skin colour.

            • 0
              0

              It’s said that Jarapassas ancestry is from Malaya. Rouagh Malaccans of baccaneers

    • 13
      0

      Eagle Blind
      Every one knows who the real killer of Richard de Zoysa is.
      But he was all powerful at that time he had his way he could not be touched, and has passed on beyond the dark curtain.
      That is what has led later for one who later killed Lasantha to
      remaining untouched up to date.

    • 7
      2

      Agreed 100%; Even CT acts sometimes (sadly) in a hypocritical manner, and highlights only murders committed during the Rajapaksa regime. We should ask Sajith Premadasa how he comes clean when he remembers and mentions his father’s acts, actually the acts of terrorism just to safeguard his ‘image’.
      The Premadasas are scared of their own past acts, (one of which is obviously the brutal murder of Richard de Soyza)! Even RanilW knows this weakness of the Premadasa family very well and play with it at UNP’s top-level meetings.
      Look at how much Sajith Premadasa has spent to boost his image through Gam Udava (based on paltry farms concept)! Its over 1.43 billion rupees for the last 3 years, according to most recent figures issued by the Housing Ministry!
      If he gets a chance he will make the same blunder like his father due to his (his hereditary) weakness of false image building.

    • 10
      2

      Eagle BLIND Eye – Are you trying to switch allegiance to GOTLER the serial killer who is aspiring to be President Dictator with the help of grass-eaters like you! Stop sniffing the loincloth of aiyya and malli.

    • 4
      0

      Does this Mahindapala have no ethics whatever? Yes, I’ve been fussing about the non-prosecuted murders of Lasantha Wickrematunga and Wasim Thajudeen, whom I had never seen in person. We do so because those murders were relatively recent and those responsible are living it up, as “distinguished citizens”. The Rajapaksas are in parliament and even wanting to contest for the Presidency of our land, probably later this year. Mahindapala is the sort of opportunist who would use the dastardly murder of any person if it serves his vile purposes.
      .
      He has said this at just the moment he saw a moving tribute to Richard by his niece. Yes, I, too am returning to remember Richard and to mourn for him. He was a wonderful guy, whom I got to know quite well for a couple of months. And now for about five hours I’ve been thinking out what I’m writing, and I’ve read up quite a lot that I hadn’t seen hitherto. That I’ve seen thise things because of the unfair and insincere writing by you. I will have to complete my comment tomorrow. So much evidence in his case, and the judge who seems so very biased allowed to retire, instead of being taken to task.
      .

      • 6
        0

        I had forgotten that I shared a birthday with Richard. Also a love of the theatre & for acting. Four days after his cremation, on an open pyre, I wrote these lines.

        To Catch the Conscience

        for Richard de Zoysa

        This breaking of a young and vibrant life
        Can be no act of God.
        So then what meaning
        In this play of ours?
        Do wanton ones dispose of us in sport?

        We are not toys
        Our severing is no game
        And I – an unbeliever – need a theme.
        I’ll find it yet
        And trace a young man’s part,
        The villain know, who had the Lion’s heart.

        He could have kept
        The cover of the mime
        Or lulled us with the glory of his voice.
        Instead, compassion forced him write the lines
        Of tragedy, his last and greatest part.

        We see the skull –
        For we are much possessed –
        As molten fingers ravel back the skin.
        And each one knows
        The time has long since passed
        When he, with confidence, can say: `This is the last.’

        • 0
          0

          I’m sorry, I forgot to add extra space between the verses. It is actually 4 or 5 separate stanzas.

          • 0
            0

            Manel, Richard continues to inspire even twenty-nine years after his death. His was a great talent, but he also he took immense pains to communicate important messages through his acting and his poetry.
            .
            I think that I must tell his friends and family how it was that we worked together on a production in 1984. That memory still inspires me.

      • 0
        0

        What is the Sinhala word for ethics?

    • 10
      2

      Premadasa, Ranjan Wijeyaratnam, Ronnie Gunnasinghe all died at the same bomb blast and they paid the price for what they did to Richard. But unfortunately the Ranchagoda bugger escaped. Today the mass murderer Goat is still living, can’t someone find this hoodlum and pick him up in a white van and send the bugger straight to hell?

    • 0
      0

      This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

  • 8
    0

    In the last 5yrs Richard’s murder reminds me of:
    The Judicial Mindin Sri Lanka: Responding to the Protection of Minority Rights, a short account of which appeared in these pages 5yrs ago.
    I appeal to the editor to publish the whole of the Conclusion in the book as a good learning material to the public, particularly to the young.

    • 2
      0

      That is a book written by Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena now in the RTI Commission of Sri Lanka and two of her esteemed colleagues in the legal profession. It is an excellent book and should be synopsied in CT like the Broken Palmyrah was. Good reading for the Sinhalese and the Tamils alike to see where we went wrong in this country.

  • 3
    0

    I mentally recall and picture myself chatting with Richard when he and his mum stayed with my uncle Mahadeva at Rosemead Avenue probably in the late ’60s or early ’70s who told me that he was planning to specialise in the field international affairs. He was quite congenial humble, simple and mild-mannered. Least did I expect him to metamorphose into the lead if not an important and authentic role that he played in the drama “Eques” at the Lionel Wendt Theatre. I too was saddened very much saddened at the way he died at such an early age with much to offer.

    Not much has changed since then with SL’s ruling elite that is even now mostly comprised of the corrupt and criminally minded self-aggrandizers who continue regardless with their rampage with ongoing indemnity and impunity that I doubt that I will ever visit SL since 86 when I last accompanied a dead body of a colleague from Abu-Dhabi and again passed through the same year on my permanent emigration.

  • 7
    0

    Thanks for the nicely written tribute, Roel. I have met Richard De Zoysa once at a drama workshop in Peradeniya (1881 / 82) and retain lasting memories of a great personality. Very few can leave such good impressions from a single meeting.
    De Zoysa’s murder was a turning point in the slight political soft spot I had for Premadasa in comparison to his predecessor (RP not being born into the political elite, his consistent anti-Indian stance etc.).

  • 3
    0

    Dear Roel, I don’t know you. But thank you for this sentient , kind ,beautiful piece. It breaks my heart to see Richard De Zoysa’s beautiful, gentle face.
    His poetry touches the heart like an unexpected spring. I cannot fathom how those who were close to him ever found solace, ever came to terms.
    I think the only thing worse than the death of a child is the disappearance of a child- not knowing if he/she is alive or dead.
    Renowned bi-lingual writer Sita Kulatunga called such sad nights “Richard nights” in her poems. We now have Richard Nights and Lasantha Mornings and Taraki Evenings. Nothing much has changed in 30 years. The sons of the same perpetrators promise us more of the same.
    Please keep writing more, and often.

  • 1
    0

    We have had unsolved brutal murders of our citizens especially journalists, for decades. It seems the filthy criminals get away with these horrible murders, and no one is held accountable, and the families of these poor victims do not have justice nor closure. Richard de Soyza’s mother lost everything she treasured and loved, and she passed away a broken hearted woman. From Richard to Lasantha, Sri Lanka lost top talented journalists, who contributed to keeping the people informed, and holding leaders accountable. It is a shame that we have had leaders who had too much to be afraid of, wanting them killed, rather than have their crimes revealed.

    Those responsible for the killing of Lasantha are trying hard to get back into power, and it seems many Sri Lankans with poor memories, have forgotten the white vans, kidnappings, journalists killed, and some missing even today. There is no democracy when the media is silenced, threatened, and harmed.
    .
    This is Sri Lanka’s shame.

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