Marianne David Interviews DBS Jeyaraj for DailyFT
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Forced into exile 25 years ago and compelled to stay away in order to stay alive, journalist D.B.S. Jeyaraj always dreamt of returning to Sri Lanka. That flame of hope flickered occasionally, as the war dragged on and then escalated despite intermittent ceasefires, but he never let it go out entirely.
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For David – who regards himself not as an emigrant but as an émigré – Sri Lanka has always been home, and the hope of return is what sustained him all these years. “The hope of return loomed larger and larger after the war ended and finally it became possible last year,” he told the Daily FT in an exclusive interview after returning to Toronto, Canada last December, following a two-month visit to Sri Lanka – his first since he left in 1988.
David, who stepped into the field of journalism 37 years ago when he joined Virakesari as a staff reporter in April 1977 and moved to English journalism in November 1981 when he joined The Island, left Sri Lanka in 1988 after articles on the plight of ordinary civilians suffering in the LTTE-IPKF clashes resulted in him being arrested, detained and produced in courts. Discharged when the Attorney General’s Department cleared him of any blame after many appearances in court, he was advised to leave Sri Lanka for some time.
Selected for a Nieman fellowship at Harvard University, David left Sri Lanka for the US, certain he would return in a year. When June 1989 approached and the time for return drew near, the situation in Sri Lanka worsened. He moved to Canada, but when he was preparing to return after about six months, his friend Richard de Zoysa, who was among those advising David not to return yet, was killed.
Then, as the war escalated, he realised there was no question of returning until peace was restored so he continued to live in Canada, waiting to come back home. During this period, he reported extensively on Sri Lanka and the war, despite being a vast distance away.
After prolonged agony and anxiety, it was September 2013. Having left Sri Lanka on 14 September 1988, 25 years had passed and he was determined to return, come what may. Finally D-day dawned. The return to his motherland was filled with emotion for David, who set foot in the Bandaranaike International Airport in October 2013, with a silent prayer on his lips and a sense of relief and happiness.
During his visit David stayed away from politics and spent time with family and friends, renewing relationships, and experiencing Sri Lanka all over again – from the northernmost point of Point Pedro to the southernmost point of Dondra. He found Sri Lanka had changed considerably, particularly Colombo. “I felt like Rip Van Winkle waking up after sleeping for years to find everything changed.”
In this wide-ranging interview, he speaks of his departure, return and two-month stay in Sri Lanka, during which he visited eight provinces, and shares his impressions of Sri Lanka and its people and plans for his next trip back home.
Following are excerpts:
Q: What were your first impressions of ‘home,’ seeing Sri Lanka after a quarter of a century?
A: I was feeling rather emotional. The situation had been so complex in the past that I thought I would never be able to set foot in the land of my birth. In recent times, after returning seemed possible, I had made several plans but due to different reasons they did not materialise.
Continue reading ‘D.B.S. Jeyaraj’s Journey Home: Journalist in Exile Visits Sri Lanka for the First Time in 25 Years’ »