| by Pearl Thevanayagam
(March 16, 2014, Bradford, UK , Sri Lanka Guardian) As we proceeded along the dusty bumpy roads we came across a huge crater where a rocket launcher had landed. Bertie got down from the vehicle and spotting a ten year old boy asked him to climb down. Then he took the picture of the boy and the crater. Later I realised he wanted to show the depth of the crater compared to the height of the boy which showed the extent of the impact of the rocket launcher. He proved then the dictum that a picture speaks a thousand words.
The passing away of Bertie Mendis on March 12 is indeed a sad event for many of his colleagues, journalists, models, politicians and anyone who is news-worthy.
Bertie did not just take pictures; he brought news with them and delivered with flawless captions so that the editor was able to pass them blindfolded. Bertie did not sit with other photographers in the dark room. With two cameras slung on his shoulder and round his neck, he was always ready for action. He was the Clint Eastwood of news photography and he never said ‘no’ to an assignment.
I worked with Bertie in three newspapers. He moved to Lake House from Independent Newspapers when it folded in 1990 and followed me to the Sunday Leader. For some reason Lake House would not renew his contract when he reached retiring age.
He came to see me at the Sunday Leader and said he lost his job at Lake House. I could not believe what I was hearing since he was one of the best of his time and I introduced him to Lasantha who hired him immediately.
His piece de resistance I remember at the Sunday Leader is when he accompanied me to meet LTTE second-in-command Karikalan in the jungles of the Eastern Province in 1995. We had obtained informal permission from army commander Shantha Kottegoda to proceed to Karadiyanaru, the LTTE controlled village past the security checkpoints of Batticaloa through Kokkaddicholai but we had no papers.
Our driver was Jayasiri who became a nervous wreck at the sight of any villager and wanted to know if he was LTTE. My mastery of Sinhala was shaky and Jayasiri and Bertie’s Tamil non-existent.
I had briefed both of them before-hand that we were charity workers going to a church meeting and that is what we tell the check-point soldiers. I emphasised we were not meeting Karikalan. What does Bertie do as we were flagged down at the last post in Batticaloa? When asked where we were heading he said ‘Karikalan’. I quickly managed to say we were heading for a church in Karadiyanaru and displayed my rosary beads for authentication. The kind soldier waved us on with a smile.
As we proceeded along the dusty bumpy roads we came across a huge crater where a rocket launcher had landed. Bertie got down from the vehicle and spotting a ten year old boy asked him to climb down. Then he took the picture of the boy and the crater. Later I realised he wanted to show the depth of the crater compared to the height of the boy which showed the extent of the impact of the rocket launcher. He proved then the dictum that a picture speaks a thousand words.
That was Bertie, the tall man with few words and camera ready for action.
May your soul rest in peace.
(The writer has been a journalist for 25 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)