Memories Of H. L. D. Mahindapala
By L. Murugapoopathy
H. L. D. Mahindapala, former editor-in-chief of Sri Lanka’s Sunday Observer and a renowned writer, passed away on January 30 in Colombo. I was introduced to Mahindapala by Noel Nadesan, a literary friend of mine who lives in Melbourne. Nadesan was publishing a bilingual (Tamil-English) newspaper called Uthayam at the time. Mahindapala also spoke at some of Uthayam’s seminar’s. Mahindapala migrated from Sri Lanka to Melbourne, Australia, in the 1970s with his wife, Ranjini. Ranjini was a Tamil lady whom Mahindapala loved and married. Despite the absence of offspring, their love blossomed for half a century, imbued with the pure, innocent affection of childlike devotion.
They wanted to live in their homeland in their final years. Mahindapala’s beloved wife, Ranjini, passed away in Colombo in May 2021.
Though his wife’s passing left a void, Mahindapala found solace and support in his family as he approached his 92nd birthday. Yet, his right-wing convictions remained ever-present, fuelling a prolific career as a political commentator. He tackled pressing issues in English newspapers, online magazines, and even Australian government radio, his voice resonating across geographical boundaries. Melbourne’s The Age and the Colombo Telegraph regularly featured his astute social and political critiques, a continuation of the themes explored in his early poems published in British media.
Mahindapala was a prolific critic of Sri Lankan politicians. He also wrote criticism articles on world politics. Beyond his writing, Mahindapala actively championed peace and human rights through his membership in the Society for Peace Unity and Human Rights for Sri Lanka (SPUR). His voice held substantial weight within the organization, evidenced by their respect for his advice. Though SPUR courted controversy for its perceived hard-line stances, particularly among Tamil nationalist activists, Mahindapala navigated criticism with grace and a disarming smile. His affable nature transcended ideological divides, earning him a place in my circle of friends.
He would occasionally discuss Professor K. Kailasapathy and A.J. Kanagaratna with me. He also took away English books written about them from me to read.
When ‘Nallai Kumaran‘ Kumarasamy, a writer who lives in Melbourne, translated Noel Nadesan’s novel “Vannaathi kulam” into English under the title “Butterfly Lake,” Mahindapala beautifully refined it. He has also improved some of my work in English.
Mahindapala, who was always searching for a mindset, discussing with others, and collecting data to write, once tried to change my life.
A minister who is currently a target of severe criticism and condemnation in Sri Lankan politics, while visiting Melbourne, was injured in an accident and admitted to the hospital. At that time, the minister was responsible for the media in Sri Lanka.
Despite knowing the volatile political climate in Sri Lanka, Mahindapala, ever helpful, connected me with a government minister seeking someone for their Tamil media section. He even went the extra mile by preparing my application himself! However, I ultimately declined due to the uncertain political landscape. Because of this, my friend Mahindapala, who was a little disappointed, reminded him of why he left Sri Lanka in the 1970s.
After the general election held in that particular year, the United National Party-led coalition government of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the Communist Party, and the Sama samaaja Party came to power.
Following this, a major protest took place in front of the Lake house Newspapers building. The company, which had the support of the United National Party, was later nationalized. After that, it has been operating under the full control of the governments that have come to power. It was ironic that Mahindapala, who fled his homeland due to the 1970 crisis and championed media freedom, would recommend me to that very minister. Yet, his warmth and kindness shone through even after my polite refusal.
When Madulgiriye Wijeyaratne, a Tamil lover, translator, and Sinhala literary critic, visited Melbourne, Mahindapala led the event related to him.
He continued to write even at the age of ninety. He also replied to the emails that came to him without fail.
He also served as the president of the Working Journalists Association in the past while he was in Sri Lanka.
A poignant farewell to Mahindapala, a journalist who courageously fought for media freedom. Recently honoured at a function in Colombo with an Achievement Award, he passed away after returning to his beloved Sri Lanka after years as a resident in Australia.
Let us remember him not just for his achievements, but for his resilience and his spirit. Our deepest condolences to his family and friends. To my fellow media colleagues, we share this grief!