September 19, 2011
School of Communication, Coimbatore
Arjun Menon and Vaishnavi Kanan, ASCOM students report on an encounter with N. Sathiya Moorthy, who was on campus as part of the seminar on Conflict Reporting and Peace Journalism.
They say that the values of generations long past are building blocks upon which the foundation of this country rests. From the moment he stood ready at the foyer of the guest house to the last wave of the hand as he departed, Mr. N. Sathiya Moorthy came across as a man of simplicity and humility. And one with a disarming sense of humour.
The cameras were rolling, spotlights were set and he was ready. The Dialogue, a tete-e-tete with student interviewers of the Amrita School of Communication. He reminisced about his early days as a reporter for The Indian Express, Palakkad. As fate would have it, he was the only Tamil speaking reporter at the time and was asked to cover the Sri Lankan Civil War.
Thus began his tryst with Sri Lanka. His work earned him many plaudits over the years and he gained a big readership base. It was his depth of understanding of both the issue and its history that was the most intriguing.
“I always had to read more than what I knew to understand the ethnic issue,” he confessed.
“The conflict between the Tamils and Singhalese goes back in history by 2500 years,” he shared. “This was when a young Singhala King, Duttugamunu, defeated an old Tamil King, Elara. The Tamils did not forgive the Singhalese for that. A thousand years later, when Raja Raja Chola defeated the Singhala King of Kendy, the Singhlalese held it against the Tamils of Sri Lanka.”
“Even today Sri Lankans learn these details in their history books, and that sows the seeds of mutual distrust, suspicion and hatred amongst them. Incredible though it may sound, this is the primary reason why there is a lack of unity amongst the Tamils and Singhalese of Sri Lanka even today.”
“In 2005, when Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse came to power, I felt that the long standing conflict would be resolved in three years. But no one believed me when I said that.”
As it turned out, the Sri Lankan conflict indeed ended within three and a half years with the Sri Lankan Army annihilating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
As The Dialogue drew to a close, one had the feeling that he enjoyed being in the presence of aspiring journalists. A former educator himself, Mr. Sathiya Moorthy seemed to like mentoring students.
“One thing you must remember is to keep calm always,” he advised. “Things will go wrong. But you should keep your cool.”
He shared an anecdote from his time in Sri Lanka. “I was at a restaurant in Trincomalee once. I was not supposed to be there; it was a conflict zone. I was sitting in a chair when I noticed four men were looking at me. They passed a note among themselves and then started approaching me. I knew they could belong to either the LTTE or the Sri Lankan Army. Both meant trouble.”
“They approached me and asked – Are you N. Sathiya Moorthy? Can we please have your autograph?”
In the end they gave me a lift back to Colombo!”
Conflict Reporting and Peace Journalism
Conversation with a Retired IPS Officer
An Interview with Iftikar Gilani
Chatting with Lt. Gen. (Retd.) K. Nagaraj