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Mel Gunasekera - an eulogy
02 Feb, 2014 18:45:08
By Rohan Samarajiva
Feb 02, 2014 (LBO) - On the morning of the first Sunday of February 2014 I felt as though the ground I stood on suddenly disappeared.
I learned from a tweet that my friend and leading economic journalist Mel Gunasekera had been murdered in her home. How could this happen?

She was in the prime of her life. She was not sick. She was not run over by a bus.

She was stabbed and killed in her home, a place I had dropped her off at. How could this happen? Let posterity settle the why question. But how could this happen to someone so good, so vivacious, with so much to give?

I met Mel in 1998. I had come from the US and just started work at the Telecom Regulatory Commission. She was also recently returned from the UK after her degree and was working at the Sunday Times.

I recall her telling me how she walked home from work preferring the exercise to being groped in the bus.

I got to know a lot of journalists during my time at the TRC, but she and Asantha Sirimanne were special. In these young people I saw the possibility of an enlightened public discourse on economics, a subject sadly neglected by our media.

She then moved to Lanka Business Online to become its editor. She kept suggesting that I should write a column when we met on and off after my return in 2002.

And finally, a month after the 2004 tsunami over dinner at my house, I said yes. Thus began my Choices column in LBO, now going for almost nine years. What she told me in the nicest possible way about keeping it short and having lots of paragraphs, I followed. Mel will live on in my head, telling me to keep it short.

She should be writing my eulogy, not me hers. The young should not predecease the old. We should have built a country where a young journalist could take the bus with no fear and spend a Sunday morning in her own house without getting murdered. The war brutalized us. Killing became nothing.

We built fortified houses that were death traps should the perimeters be breached. What should we do? Put electric fences and fortify them further like my friends in South Africa have done? Or break down the walls and encourage eyes on the street?

I would have so loved to have this and many other conversations with Mel. Why were we too busy to enjoy her company while she was alive?

You lived well, Mel. We are bereft.

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11. Indika H Feb 03
I was very sad to hear this tragic incident and i am sure she will find eternal peace in heaven. I have never met her but have spoken to her a couple of times over the phone a few years ago and i am so much saddened by the fact that she had sent me an email a couple of days ago requesting for her to be included in our company mailing list.

I noted many people talk about how her career as a journalist, etc. but what about the loss to the family. There may be another journalist to fill her role, but can anyone replace the loss to the family and loved ones. It is so tragic and am sure there is one of many tragic incidents taking place in this country.

This is just one indication of emergence of break-down in society than law in my view. There has been some improvements of safety of citizens due to increase surveillance, etc., but unless steps are taken to stop eroding values in the society, these kind of things may continue to happen.

With my limited knowledge and interaction with society, I noted two main reasons for the breakdown in the society.

One is the trend of values and practices populated by “super” class in the society. I will give you two examples which I encountered: while I was driving close to Vihara Mahadevi Traffic lights (before surveillance cameras were installed), a flashy sports car blocked me and stopped me. It was obvious he was under influence of “drugs” and he threatened me for some traffic fault which I never committed. Of course he wanted to get into fight with me and he started beating my car. I tactfully apologized and pleaded and went away. If I argued and said something he could have even killed me. Colombo’s super society has broken down so much due to wrong values implanted sometime by no other than their own elders. They consider spending enormous amounts of money on partying (which of course involve drugs) as normal thing to be in the society. Some media further promote such trend.

Why would parents give tens of thousands for their young sons and daughters to party (for one night alone). When super class promotes values like these it trickles down to lower levels which try to follow them.

Another classic cause of breakdown in society is the “media”. Media is responsible to spreading all the wrong values and making people “dumb” and live in a “floating like stake continuously for hours wanting dumbest things”. People gradually begin to think these things they show are normal things and absorb these behaviors and value. May some media think it is advantageous to do so (sometime to show their power). But in the process they spread competition, greed, violence, etc – from very young age.

For example this killing is obviously motivated by greed and his loss of sense of value of a human life. Why cant that man make a decent living doing what he does and may professions like these actually earn more than some executive jobs. But when you look at media, often such professions are associated with some bad side.

10. Shehara Jayasinghe Feb 03
Every good memory of Mel should be remembered and celebrated. She was never stingy with her time and was a great teacher. i knew her when i worked at ETV, but she came to my church and helped us with a media workshop last year, that was my last encounter with her.

What a spirit she had, she will never be forgotten for how much she has contributed and given to the media world. Thank you Mel, may you be rejoicing in heaven...

9. Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne Feb 03
Mel was one of the first journalists I took to see the Elephant Gathering in Minneriya. During many hours of conversation I was struck by how nice a person she was and her intelligent curiosity as a journalist. It’s a loss for Sri Lanka to lose someone like her.
8. Nirmalie Feb 03
Mel was a great teacher. She was fiercely independent. I doubt there are many journalists of her ilk anymore and her demise is a very real loss to our country. I can't believe she's gone.

May her soul rest in peace.

7. Jayantha Fernando Feb 03
This is shocking news. She was one journalist who had a passion for ICT. Objectivity besides brevity was a great hall mark.

Well said Prof Rohan.

6. Sadeesh Krishnapillai Feb 03
Dear Mel,
Memories still linger in my mind about the days when we met for a week-long training on News Room Management at Habarana. You had been a thoughtful thinker; you daringly put forwarded your arguments; you had facts and figures to support your fearless discourses. Apart from that, you had been a nice human being to share you love for humanity with all of us despite the fact that you had been single female journo among all news editors of leading electronic media institutions.

Good by Mel, We love you.

Sadeesh Krishnapillai

5. Ruchira Feb 03
Really, really sad to hear and bear this loss. May you Rest in Peace!

My deepest sympathies to her family and friends.

4. Dinidu de Alwis Feb 03
Today on Facebook, Nalaka Gunawardena sumed up Mel. I shall not call her a fellow journalist, because there were many more rungs on the ladder that people like me had to climb before we could reach where she was. But, like Nalaka says, she was very amiable, fun loving and stayed above the fray.

She was also ever-willing to talk, and ever-willing to listen. Was full of advice, and would take time off to teach. (Mel, I have a style question? Mel, do you know anybody who can get me this information? Mel, where can I find this report? Mel, this. Mel, that).

She is no more, but she will always be there. She will also, from those who loved her, be loved. Always.

3. Indika Sakalasooriya Feb 03
I’m not going to write about Mel’s prowess as a journalist. There are enough people who could do that. I’m going to talk about Mel, the friend I lost. When I started as a business reporter, Mel was at the helm of her career, among the top few real business journalists in the country.

There was no need at all for her to take notice of us podiyans. But she took the trouble and I started getting emails from her almost on a daily basis. The emails contained her comments on my stories—the things I have missed and places where I could have spiced it up.

It didn't take a long time to transform this teacher-student relationship into a very strong and fruitful friendship—at least on my side. Mel, I would miss your regular morning calls, awesome wit, gossip sessions and most of all, your gleaming smile. Rest in Peace dearest Mel!

2. Navin Feb 02
May she rest in peace.
1. Sasanka De Silva Feb 02
Yes this is indeed very sad news and the trend of fortifying ourselves has to stop somewhere and as you correctly said that we should encourage eyes on the streets.
May her Rest in peace.