By Ranga Kalansooriya –
That was somewhere in 2006, I wanted to check the ongoing studio development work at the College [Sri Lanka College of Journalism] as part of my morning routine work. Probably it would have been around 8.30 in the morning and hardly any staff member is in the office by this time. I knew the guys were working till late night to finish the studio on time for the new students to use it in a few weeks.
I tried to open the door of the studio but something was blocking it from inside. I pushed it hard. Oh God..! It was Sanjaya who was sleeping on the floor blocking studio door. Poor fellow has worked overnight probably with Prasad (Senaratne) and just catching up a last minute sleep. This was not once, it was Sanjaya’s practice almost every day to work day and night for at least a month to complete the radio and television studios for the college – for the future journalists in Sri Lanka. He would work without food, without sleep – but he would not miss his plain tea and the smoke – that took his life in the midst of his journey.
Sajnaya Senanayake was an extremely talented, committed and humble rare breed. One cannot work with him if you do not understand his style of behavior. His creativity is beyond any imaginary level and could match any international standards, but no administration system could control him to abide by office regulations. I had to face many challenges from my own admin system and sometimes from the Board of Directors on his untamed behavior, but his contributions to the institution was far more valuable and important compared to these challenges – so I would defend him at any cost. Typical journalist… I liked him a lot for all his rare qualities and more than all, his unblemished record of honesty.
I saw Sanjaya Nallaperuma has reminded in his facebook page how Sanjaya Senanayake took them – when they were students at the college – to cover the suicide attack on the Defence Secretary at the Pittala Junction. I still can remember how Sanjaya rushed into my office and yelled ‘I am taking the kids to the blast scene’ and he did not seek my permission, he just informed me. I knew how important and useful for the kids to be there in person and do a good practical exercise – but given the volatile situation how I can take the risk of sending these young ‘non-journalists’ to the blast scene with cameras [there were a considerable number of Tamil students too]? I had no option – than nodding to Sanjaya – but he did not care of my nodding. He has already got into a three-wheeler with a group kids. I turned to Namal (Perera) and requested him to keep a tab on the situation. We had a fantastic team at Sri Lanka Press Institute and at the College I must admit, that included Sanjaya.
Sanjaya invited his own death. His chain-smoking habit super ceased all his other good qualities. Once my wife heard a familiar voice within the premises of our next door. She had a look from our balcony and saw Sanjaya’s face in the midst of a thick cloud of smoke. He has come there to purchase the car of my neighbor (and we did not know about it and I was out of the country). During a mere half-hour stay, Sanjaya had finished a full packet of cigarettes and my wife predicted then that he was going to get into trouble soon. Many times I have warned him too – though me too sometimes shared a puff with him – but he would smile it off.
I met Sanjaya at Central Hospital about two months ago when I took my father-in-law for some treatments. Sanjaya was on a wheel-chair and had come there for some physiotherapy. He explained to me about a spinal issue. But I asked him about his lungs where the cancer had been diagnosed. “Well, I do not care about it anymore. I will live with it,” said with his usual full-face smile. Then he went on to talk about politics and many other things. I was happy to see him in good spirit.
But that spirit lasted only for a few weeks. Sanjaya said good bye to us with full awareness of his departure.