Candle Blown Out too Soon
By Chandana Ranaweera
This July marks 24 years since the young Sudeepa Purnajith was taken from us all too soon and all of a sudden. His demise came at the hands of terrorists who wrote history in red with the Dehiwala train bombing in 1996. So many years down the line, his name doesn’t ring that many bells among people, but there are some who try to keep the memory of the accomplished artist whose talent and prowess would have earned him a lot of acclaim had his life been not brutally cut short.
Sudeepa was an artist and a cartoonist who was employed at Lake House at the time of his demise. He was a cartoonist at the newspaper complex, and back in the day his caricatures and cartoons were very popular among readers. Apart from that, Sudeepa was a designer of stamps. While there were many other popular names in stamp designing at the time, Sudeepa’s name held a special recognition as he was one of the youngest among stamp designers and for his age he had one of the largest collection of stamps designed.
I knew Sudeepa from his times at Upali Newspapers working as a demonstrative artist. He was one of the few artists I knew, associated and admired. The few who know Sudeepa might relate to his newspaper cartoons and newspaper arts/caricatures. Understandably so as he knew what he was doing and had credentials to show for it. He had studied cartoons and caricatures in Czechoslovakia (in 1993) and in Germany (in 1994).
However, I prefer to remember Sudeepa in a different way. Sudeepa was an artist whose talents weren’t limited to one particular field although he had shown much prowess in caricature and cartoon drawing. I like to remember him through a particular work he did - a rather unconventional work for him. Karannata Deyak, written by Kamala Elgiriya is a children’s book and all the illustrations in the book, including the cover design, were done by Sudeepa.
Even at a mere glance, those who are at least remotely familiar with the work of Sudeepa can distinguish the striking differences between his usual work and the illustrations of the book. The contrast between styles is quite apparent and it looks as if he has created his own, unique, distinct style when it comes to children’s drawing.
Almost all the drawings have human figures drawn. A human figure is not that easy to draw unless you don’t want to show complex expressions. In Sudeepa’s drawings of people, the expressions are distinctly shown adding a bit of a complexity to the drawings. Sudeepa makes up for the intricacy by infusing childish shapes and lines in the drawing. In most of the demonstrative paintings Sudeepa has used a maximum of three to four colours to not overcomplicate the painting by colour-blasting it. He has not made most of the space for the sake of it being available.
Once the desired idea is conveyed, Sudeepa does little to fill the void which is a good thing as it could lead to overcomplicating the painting. Once the foreground is done and the idea is conveyed, Sudeepa takes a relaxed approach to complete the illustration thereafter.
Instead of detailing the background, he experiments with different shapes and spraying paint over voids to give the illustration some flair. Sometimes the house in the background is not completed but it strangely enough, doesn’t affect the story. Another unique feature of his illustrations for the book is that he has used more distinct shapes and intricate lines when illustrating the protagonist of the story, automatically focussing the reader’s attention on the lead character.
The illustrations of the book more or less depict Sudeepa’s personality. Sudeepa was a deeply sensitive soul with a childlike innocence. He never hurt anyone, even by a word. He spread goodness and kindness hoping to receive the same from the word. Unfortunately, his innocence held no value in the eyes of the LTTE terrorists.
On the evening of 24 July 1996, Sudeepa left Lake House and hurried towards the Fort Railway Station to catch a train going to Panadura where he lived. He had two options; an express train or a slow one. Although it was considerably crowded, Sudeepa opted for the latter for the sole reason that it stopped at Mt. Lavinia Station. Sudeepa’s fiancé worked at a private office in Mt. Lavinia and Sudeepa hoped to finish the latter half of his train trip back home with the love of his life. He never got to see her that day.
Before the train took off from Fort, an off-duty soldier noticed a suspicious package which was identified as a bomb. Consequently, Bomb Disposal was called and it was defused. Thinking the threat was now over, the authorities decided to run the train on schedule but the terrorists had other contingency plans. As the train pulled out from Dehiwala Station multiple bombs placed in different compartments went off simultaneously, killing 64 and injuring over 400. Among the dead was Sudeepa who died instantly. Just like that, a young live was abruptly snuffed out just when Sudeepa was starting off on his career.
Terrorism is now over but it came at the cost of thousands of more innocent lives like Sudeepa’s. His talent was promising and he would have gone on to become a much acclaimed artist had his life been spared that day.
(Translated by S.H.)