Tribute to Mel Gunasekera (1973-2014)
The Founding Editor/ LBO
This page is dedicated to the memories of Mel Gunasekera A journalist of distinction, who knew no bounds to her loyalty - to her family, profession and friends.
This is not something that I even dreamt that I will ever have to write.
Cold shivers ran through my body when I saw the SMS from a news website announcing Mel's passing away. I could not believe my eyes. How could this happen to her ? Is this message for real or somebody's sick idea of a joke ?There was only one way to find out and I immediately went to her house at Battaramulla. From a distance I saw several police vehicles parked down the road which told me the story.
I met Mel for the first time when she came to cover the launching of a website by my former employer little over ten years ago. We became friends and over the years our friendship grew stronger. Both of us changed jobs but we kept in touch, calling each other often to share news about the business world and stories about mutual friends. I found Mel to be a happy and a cheerful person and there were many times when she cheered me up when I was depressed over issues at work.
I spoke to her for the final time little over a week ago, in relation to a work matter which involved getting some information from her employer. When I hung up on her I didn't know that it was for the last time... ever..
I still cannot believe that Mel is no more.... that we will not see the cheerful smile ever again. It is not real. I wish that this is a dream that I could wake up from soon.
Mel, your body is no more.. but you will live in our hearts until the day we die.
May you rest in peace.
It was way back in 2000 if I recall right that I first crossed paths with Mel when I used to be a more regular at the forums & then also occasionally socially too.. For me then she was just another person who I've met through Lakshman & of course Asantha. Out of many, Mel was one of the few who kept in touch through out while even Asantha I lost contacts who I used to keep in touch quite regularly.
But the first moments it self she fascinated me simply because of her interest to the subject of course it was mostly IT, technology & a bit of business. She always made me feel good showing keen interest on my opinion & then talking further I realized what an awesome person to talk to who had magnificent contributions her self obviously later we all knew, at least I did.
Then time went by and a few years later my attendance was not so regular at the forum. By then we had already exchanged contact numbers and chatted or checked with each other occasionally on similar matters.
It's been awhile since I've been to a forum but we would still bump into each other mostly at a business function where she would be there to cover the event but always took time to find a seat to catch from where we left may even be from a few months back.
The beauty of her was that even if I bump into her at some place she would always have a story to tell & don't fail to get a bit more than a 'what's up, how are things or what you up to now?' through out mostly with a gin or with that nice wide smile of hers.
The last time was a couple of months back at the opticians where I called her standing a bit further away.. She was in a mighty rush but still picked up the phone to say will call back. I then tapped on her shoulder but that was the most brief encounter I had with Mel, the last one, where she took off in a hurry promising to call back. That call of course never came but we had opinions shared over fb on & off.
She was not my closest buddy but always appreciated her not really for the credentials but for simply what came out of her & what she perceived to be.
Left is the character to be cherished & wishes with blessings to rest peacefully.
Good bye Mel
I got to know Mel best after I started presenting LBR. We would have endless chats and I would try to convince her that where I worked before was a responsible corporate citizen even though it was a controversial industry. We would debate, until the set was ready for me to start recording.... And all of this with her million dollar smile. On a good day when she was working late...we would still be talking in the car park. We became friends and she moved on and I moved on....our discussions on the economy and the business front continued and she would never fail to ask how my children were..... I have only met a few who went to great lengths to finish a story and finish it well, and Mel was one of them. I still can't believe she is gone....as Amal says"it was a shock and many aftershocks"... Mel you will be missed! Rest in peace my friend.
Relentless, shining, effervescent
Some voices speak
For those who know not how
Some voices speak
For those who shirk their own
In the wake of your's….doused
May a thousand voices bloom"
In 2008, I was hired by the government of the Republic of Maldives to help prepare their state radio and TV broadcasters for the country's first multiparty democratic presidential election. But I wasn't the only journalist involved in the ambitious journalism training program. Mel Gunasekera was there first.
To appreciate what Mel did, you have to know that in many developing countries "business reporting" amounts to little more than taking bribes to publish press releases. Mel was different. An established journalist from Sri Lanka, Mel was able to teach the Maldivians about business journalism. She asked tough questions and recognized that compelling stories must be built around compelling characters. Her integrity could not be bought and she set the same high standards for her students. We clicked right away.
A few years later in 2010, I received a Fulbright grant to teach journalism workshops in Colombo and Male. Mel welcomed me to Colombo and helped me understand the challenges journalists were facing in a post-conflict environment with a government that did not welcome media scrutiny. We also enjoyed food and conversation at the Cricket Club, because you can't understand Sri Lanka without a passion for its national sport. Some of the journalists in my workshop were writing for LBO, the business news website that Mel helped to launch.
Mel was a world-class journalist who was modest about her talent. She could have made it at the Wall Street Journal or any major financial publication. She chose to use her skills in Sri Lanka. I always enjoyed it when she posted one of her stories on social media. Here is a link to one of my favorites.
It has been heartwarming to read all the tributes to Mel from those whose lives she touched. I hope there will be more. Her stories should be collected and printed out to inspire future journalists covering Sri Lanka and the world. She always went beyond the press release to get to the heart of the truth. Perhaps there should be an annual prize for business reporting in her memory. I am deeply saddened that a senseless act of violence robbed all of us who will never read the powerful stories she had yet to tell. RIP dear friend. I already miss you.
So it was a known construction worker cum odd job man who killed senior
Lankan journalist Mel Gunasekera.
The man, hunted down within the same day Mel was stabbed to death in her suburban home, was apparently familiar with the place and the family’s routine. When she recognised him, burglar had instantly turned killer.
Case closed? Prima facie, it seems so. But in a land where so many crimes are simply not solved and culprits never caught, some can’t believe this swift and efficient crime investigation. Public trust in institutions, once lost, is hard to regain.
Conspiracy theories won’t bring Mel back. Neither would heart-felt eulogies from her many friends and colleagues. But the latter helps the living: for those who knew and adored her to cope with grief. Mel would have been bemused by the spontaneous expressions of appreciation that have been pouring out on social media. I can almost hear her say, “Aiyo, what a fuss – get a life, men!”
But life is precisely what has become worthless in our troubled land. Life today is so cheap it can be snapped away at the slightest provocation. Or even without any.
According to police, the killer stole just LKR 1,200 (USD 10) and her mobile phone. No other motive is suspected.
Any death is a tragedy, but what do we make of a killing done for small change and a piece of metal?
As mutual friend Rohan Samarajiva noted: “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.” As young blogger and researcher Sharanya Sekaram asked in a tweet: “When we will change from being a nation of the dead and mourned to one of the alive and celebrated?”
Genie runs amok
I don’t think anyone has the answer. Or maybe everyone does.
By coincidence, on the very Sunday morning Mel was snatched away, I was reading Paulo Coelho’s 2011 novel Aleph and came across an unusual quote. It’s an idea the author heard from a man in Tunis: “In our culture, the criminal shares his guilt with everyone who allowed him to commit the crime. When a man is murdered, the one who sold him the weapon is also responsible before God.”
I’m more concerned about immediate culpability than any next-worldly liabilities. Perhaps that Tunisian wisdom applies to us here and now. Aren’t we all contributors to the dreadful nightmare that has just consumed Mel? It has been nurtured by our indifference, denial (or worse) for decades.
This ‘genie’ is home-grown: a beastly manifestation of our own collective reptilian psyche. For years, it did our bidding. Many among us cheered it while others looked away. The few who questioned -- or sounded caution -- about brutalising an entire society were shouted down.
Now, nearly five years after the war ended, the big bad genie just won’t behave. It won’t get back in the bottle. It’s running amok, terrorising hapless citizens. Almost like a snake eating itself… How do we protect ourselves from the phenomenon of our own making? Can we outrun our own shadows?
Fences or walls don’t help much. Elaborate home security systems can give us an illusion of safety. In any case, how many can afford gated and guarded communities? Do we want to live with 24/7 surveillance by private security and have ‘armed response’ -- as done in affluent parts of South Africa?
No arrangement is fail-safe. As Samarajiva noted, “we built fortified houses that were death traps should the perimeters be breached.” Has the breakdown of law and order in Sri Lanka reached such levels that we must now live in eternal fear inside our homes? Are we slowly joining the ranks of the perennially scared residents in sprawling metros like Johannesburg, Mexico City and Bangalore?
What next? Travel only in convoys at night, and start carrying small arms? Which way forward?
Surely, there must be another way. A bumpy and slow road that would probably be, but explore it we must.
Call it a path of healing, sharing and caring. Researchers might give it more lofty labels like ‘inclusive growth’, or ‘post-conflict transformation’. We can’t leave it to the government alone; individuals and community groups have to play a key role.
The metaphor of roads is apt because we have had a frenzy of road building since the war ended. Oh, we do need to fix the long neglected infrastructure: better roads not only enable movement of people and goods, but also spur entrepreneurship. We all gain.
Asphalt and concrete are necessary – but not sufficient. They need to be matched by ‘soft’ aspects such as social cohesion and social safety nets. So that no one gets left behind, or feeling too bitter…
Only by investing in collective human security can we hope to boost our personal security. This is not new idea; implementing it doesn’t need to burden the overstretched state either.
For example, Sri Lanka’s largest development organisation, the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement, has long advocated and practised a balanced approach to economic development. In thousands of villages across the island, they have engaged people to live by a slogan: “We build the road -- and the road builds us!”
In its haste to rebuild and grow fast, is post-war Lanka forgetting these and other proven strategies? Can we afford to race ahead leaving many citizens to fend for themselves? What happens when pent-up anger and frustrations spill over or blow up?
I’m not suggesting a simplistic link between these macro trends and the private tragedy that snuffed out Mel’s life. But none of us can claim to be innocent victims.
In Tunisian wisdom, at least, we all share the responsibility for things that go wrong – and the obligation to put things right again. This isn’t a call to charity, but an invocation of enlightened self interest. No one is immune or fully shielded from crime, pollution, disasters and epidemics.
In another century on the other side of the planet, pondering the imminent outbreak of the biggest of all wars, an Anglo-American poet wrote an evocative verse titled 'September 1, 1939'. It belied the helplessness of an individual against the forces of ultra-nationalism and tyranny.
I keep returning to Auden, who has captured our imperative so aptly:
“There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.”
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
Really, really sad to hear and bear this loss. May you Rest in Peace! My deepest sympathies to her family and friends.
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.
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!
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
Dearest Uncle, Aunty and Dayan, even though I've never got an opportunity to meet Mel, been in the Television and Media industry I felt so shocked and deeply saddened of your great loss. Been a Christian guy and having such a strong faith in Jesus I am so confused and so lost as to how come our beautiful country has become so violent and filled with crimes, murders, suicides.
I truly feel your pain as I my self have lost so many close loved ones. I know my words cant take your pain away and rest assured my daily prayers are with you all and May God grant you all the strength and courage to get over this tragic event and May Mel Rest In Peace in Lords Arms. My Deepest and Sincere heartfelt sympathies.
God Bless You and May you find comfort in Jesus.