by Vidyan Ravinthiran
Author’s note: The Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of The Sunday Leader, was likely assassinated. He wrote an editorial that, published after his death, stirringly accused his alleged murderers from beyond the grave. He received several awards posthumously, including the UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize. Everything in italics was written by Wickrematunge. The editorial in question can be read online, but I’m also deeply indebted to And Then They Came For Me, a memoir by his widow, Raine Wickrematunge. In it she explains he once wrote a column appearing under the pseudonym “Suranimala”, which became famous for his use of the catchphrase: “be that as it may”.
– Look me up (one must with words you don’t understand) try: SRI LANKA GOVERNMENT WAR CRIMES or SRI LANKA JOURNALIST KILLED instead of Googling yourself, or the outrage du jour like a goldfish swimming circles in its bowl But who am I to howl: O Western Reader the best minds of your generation have no sense of history? My nation is the same and not – we’ve no Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum no poppies and no wreaths except the one killers sent my family before the act This is a fact we delete graveyards palmyra trees shells fired on civilians burnt black – rather than look back we build over tank-crunched tarmac silk-smooth lanes flowing from lens to horizon and where outposts of barbed wire shrines of the wrong religion once defaced good Buddhist soil we make a clean breast of it – the domes of stupas – pure white Be that as it may I’m curious about this thing you call a poem a strange transfusion “so in my veins red life might stream again, / And thou be conscience-calm’d” – it’s a bit suspicious don’t you think in the making of this poem was no one harmed? Journalists do things differently – though an alive-dead voice is news that stays news – the last words of Miguel Serveto: “I will burn, but this is a mere event; we shall continue our discussion in eternity” My printed voice (its grim chortle) rose from the grave – immortal No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last. – Some words have disappeared as if snatched off the street and detained without trial who does this poet think he is the TID comes for you in a white van the poet with his white space and a self-lacerating smile a blockhead 8,569 miles from my bloodshed but that’s ok you can look up what I really said Echo or ghost I haunt like a grease-devil a rakshasa the vast margin of your history / literature / world-phloem – take that Keats poem there is no evidence I ever read where the Ceylon diver’s ears gush blood so the fountains of Europe gush wealth Like finding a rupee or two you’d thought lost one discovers – in this, let’s face it, 63 stanza test of your wired attention span – a phrase that glints like a shell-casing on Attidiya Road the headline: “two brothers and their murder’d man” ride between realms to the forest of death from the city of love The shifted adjective foredooms Lorenzo, dead-alive and goes to show between there and then and here and now are strange bridges – moments fusing distant places and events in your chest beats – my heart and from my part of the world rushes toward you goods and bads too Be that as it may on Attidiya Road the tourist may discover my corpse in its silver Corolla I was stabbed in the temple men in black smashed the window – I say stabbed but a journalist must be exact their weapon wrapped in newsprint has in fact never been identified – my crushed skull’s tiny scars an inch apart suggest a cattle prod It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government’s sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me. I called out the Tigers and government both I took no sides which in my country is not considered a possibility – money laundering abductions ghost companies tsunami funds gone AWOL I exposed them all When the Tigers seized Palaly the censor stepped in – still I found a way: a Gordian NOT Heavy fighting was not raging in northern Jaffna peninsula and Tigers were not pounding Palaly with heavy artillery and mortars for the fourth consecutive day. Tigers did not enter Kaithady on Wednesday night after 12 hours of so-called fierce hand-to-hand fighting in which more than 40 soldiers were not killed and scores not wounded. those soldiers in Kaithady alive and dead – unreal as Schrödinger’s cat or our pal Lorenzo or my remains “warm and capable” of a last editorial The free media serves as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel – yes I said that me not this interfering busybody poet but they killed my paper bought us out (oh the good old days when the press at Ratmalana was set ablaze one could fight fire and not with fire) Frederica Jansz – my brave successor sent threats in red ink had to leave the country I’ve left too for here and nowhere else a citizen of your memory a citizen of this poem I want my murderer to know that I am not a coward like he is, hiding behind human shields while condemning thousands of innocents to death. What am I among so many? It has long been written that my life would be taken, and by whom. those are my words this is something else