Our Great Leader bids good bye
'Wifey, I love you'
By Sonali Samarasinghe
The Sunday Leader
It is not immediately apparent that Lasantha is a romantic. He is also incredibly shy for a person so much in the lime light. He would often squirm uncomfortably as scores of people would walk up to him at restaurants, malls, on the street, and admire his life work.
Perhaps in life there is no greater gift than marrying your best friend. And today as I look upon his lifeless frame I feel blessed for that. Little was I to know when we carefully eliminated beef from the modest menu to be served at a small reception for a few relatives and friends that two months to the day my best friend would lay murdered in a pool of blood.
'The trouble with us,' he would often say, 'is that we are both strong personalities.' True. We clashed over everything. He said tomayto I said Tomaato. But in many ways we were much alike. He was the youngest of an amazingly united family of six. Ditto for me. He was left handed. Ditto again. He was a lawyer. Likewise. We both had a passion for writing. We loved kids. We adored animals and yes, we were both bleeding hearts.
And yet, we would sometimes have intense disagreements on a story line, a policy issue at first glance. Ergo the Editor of The Sunday Leader and the Editor of The Morning Leader would have to thrash an issue out in our office and we came to an understanding every time. We always did, but not before some heated words. It was a stimulating journey. Never boring, never predictable.
Lasantha was also an honourable man. Work was work, personal relationship was quite something else. And never the twain did meet. At work we wereÿ neither best friends nor husband and wife. It was this sense of fair play and honour that was to endear him to his staff.
It was this sense of fair play and justice that he would bring to his newspaper and his work.
"Never," a friend told me, "had I seen Lasantha happier than I did at your reception." That was 13 days before he was brutally gunned down. Yes. Come to think of it, I think he may have been. On 31st evening he loudly sang a lengthy medley of songs in a mix of Sinhala and English, some of it quite flat, in the bathroom.
I giggled uncontrollably outside as he warbled on in tremulous tones and quietly reaching for the room phone dialed our best and darling friends Ajita and Khema De Costa to share the moment with them. "He must be happy," whispered Ajita.
It was Ajita and Khema to whom he and I would turn when we were most stressed. It was to their home we would go to relax. To talk of higher things and contemplate on Keats and Byron.
After wedlock it was Ajita who read us a verse from Kalil Gibran on marriage.
"You are a strong woman, don't give up," he would always encourage me when work would sometimes take its toll. Somehow, I don't want to be strong today. I want to think of how kind and gentle he was. How funny and mischievous. How incredibly joyous he could be. Those mushy things he pretended he had no time for.
On January 8, 2009 he and I knew we were being followed. We attended to some other work in the morning he then dropped me home advising me to come to office in my own car as we still had to attend to some domestic matters as he wanted to address the grave situation and also get to office quickly to start on his Suranimala column. I begged him not to go as we had already been alerted about the thugs but to at least allow me to come with him. But he was adamant and determined. Later I got to know he called many people along the way to inform them he was being followed.
It wasn't 10 minutes after we parted that I got the call I had always dreaded. My fingers hurriedly slid over my phone digits as I hastened to call him, more in hope than anything else. In my haste I pressed a wrong button. On the screen appeared a message I had received from Lasantha just hours before.
"Wifey," it said, "I love you."