Richard de Zoysa, The Iron Pen of Sri Lanka

Richard Manik de Zoysa (18 March 1958– 18 February 1990) was a well-known Sri Lankan journalist, author, human rights activist and actor, who was abducted and murdered on 18 February 1990. His murder caused widespread outrage inside the country, and is widely believed to have been carried out by a death squad linked to elements within the government.

Richard de Zoysa was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka in March of 1958. His mother was, Dr Manorani Saravanamuttu, a prominent surgeon of the Tamil community and his father, Lucien de Zoysa, was Sinhalese. As a young man he was educated at S. Thomas’ College in Mount Lavinia 

He was considered born in a privileged class in Sri Lanka. In contradictory, his activities portrays his ideological liberation from a privileged class to which he was born, and shined for the first two decades of his life. Here, Richard, in his re-entering of society, has to first throw himself against the very walls which he was brought up to be the master of, cracking them from within and in breaking down the narrow, classed-corridor; and in venturing out. Most of his “political poetry”, dated between 1977 and 1990, readily testify to this coming of age, in political and class terms.

The most crucial observation that was made was as to how with Richard ends a writer’s concern with the immediate day-to-day politics and social issues: how, the generation that takes over from Richard and the like have produced very few writers who descend from the colonnades of ivory to prick the underbelly of socio-political transaction.

Perhaps, Richard’s greatest strength as a poet is his perception and his commitment to the world around him, which, twenty-five years after his death, remains one of the strongest achievements by a Lankan poet in the nation’s post-imperial aftermath. His is, with very little exception, the most progressive poetic intervention by a Lankan English author in the past three decades.

In his poem Apocalypse Soon, Richard skillfully captures the eerie atmosphere which led to bloody riots of 1989 and how it profoundly affects the lives of the people at large. One of the significant features of the poem is that it is laden with metaphors upon metaphors unfolding of which would reveal graphic descriptions of the racial strife, described using Tarzie Vittachi's potent metaphor of 'The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse'. Richard skillfully epitomizes the callous attitude and inaction on the part of the law enforcement authorities in the face of the 'racial strife' as 'and to the singing of the lead, khaki and gunmetal and iron tread, advance and take their vantage at the corner'.

The poem 'Animal Crackers' is also about the riots. The poet through a lesson to a child plays with the symbols associated with the parties to the conflict. The commotion out there is captured in an evocative line " Just a party down the lane, A bonfire, and some fireworks, and they're burning -No, not a tiger - just some silly cat". Who is burning is not 'a tiger' but 'a cat'. His skillful use of metaphors taken out of the day-to-day life is manifested in the poems such as 'Rites of Passage', '1984 - Elephant passes, GAJAGAVANNAMA and '.GOOD FRIDAY, 1975'

Although his pen was made silent giving no justice to his death, contrary to the expectations of his murderers his voice widespread around the world. His unanswered murder scarred the face of the nation still distorting the image of the country before the world. It is a great loss for the country as Sri Lanka could not produce a poet of such caliber up to now. His mastery of language and poetic perception is not second to any literature personality in the history.  


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