Two Uncles in Company
Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe #Mystorylk
I have been blogging since 2009. My collection of blogs is well over 5,000 in number. Most of them are in Sinhala. I write to newspapers as well. My interests are diverse. I have mostly written on politics, social issues, development and art. I am known as an influencer but none of my media work in the Sinhala language guaranteed me a regular income. I started blogging in English language and Google Adsense paid me several 100 dollars cheques. But now I mostly write in Sinhala because I want to influence my people.
I worked fulltime as a teacher for over 20 years. Most of the schools I taught were in remote villages. Since I was a blogger, the United Nations offered me a job as a content writer first. Then I was promoted as a Communication and Advocacy Assistant.
When I was a teacher, my salary was minimal. To earn some extra money, I started content writing and translations. A small advertisement on the right column of my blog kept me alive. I had a regular stream of freelance work. I still live in a village four kilometres away from Matugama town in Kalutara district. When I started content writing to Colombo Page website first in 2005, I had only a dial-up connection via a CDMA telephone to log into the internet. My 15 years’ experience of working online as a translator, content writer and content manager is a big book that I must write one day.
However, I was not a successful small businessman. My bookkeeping and public relations were horrible. I often forgot to send invoices for the jobs I had delivered. I was fed-up and gave it up to join the UN that paid me a good salary. I dismantled the small advertisement on my blog, but people continued to fetch me for translation and editing work.
But, as an activist, influencer and a blogger, the international diplomat status of UN employees was a prison for me. Politics was my passion, but the UN did not tolerate writing on politics. I wanted to quit. However, I knew the depth of the risk. With my experience, I knew how difficult it was to find a job in this country as a man who had passed 50 years of age.
In mid-2018, I visited my childhood friend Rajendra at Panadura. He is the only son of a former civil servant. He had returned from the US because his nonagenarian father was critically ill. He had rented his house in the town and lived in an upstairs apartment looking after his father, who was suffering from dementia. He has been living in Sri Lanka for around eight years ‘father-sitting’.
“Machan, can you help me to find some translations to work from home and earn a few bucks?” he asked me.
That was the start. I explained to him the opportunity available. He was a former banker and did not believe what I said. It was a small scale KPO (Knowledge Process Outsourcing) business that did not appear very lucrative. But I was sure that we would find our path there. He agreed to start a joint enterprise with me and engage in something at least to expel the boredom.
The old gentleman was about to bid farewell. My friend might go back to the US and re-start life there. But I decided to take the risk and leave the job. We started the company. He did all admin, account, PR and other odd work while I handled the creative side. It was a productive combination. We launched the company in May 2018. The first job was translating and subtitling of Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehtha’s 2016 film Anatomy of Violence. We published our first book, my novel KPoint and sold 100 books on the first day at the launch held in a packed hall at the National Library. We did about 25% of the sales through the online bookstore we are developing under the URL www.kathandara.com. In October 2018, we opened the office of Creative Content Consultants (www.contentlanka.com) in the front room at Rajendra’s own house at 88/5B, Cyril Janz Mw, Panadura which he retained from the tenant. In December, we opened our media and advocacy website www.praja.lk. We are maintaining our social media platforms with regular updates and interaction.
2019 was a highly successful year for us. We developed to a team of seven members who work as translators, editors, writers, designers and helpers. We faced many obstacles. We were hired for a number of high-quality outputs like the English translation of STF founder Ravi Jayawardane’s biography which we delivered to the STF within a week. We translated and edited presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa’s policy manifesto into Sinhala within 24 hours without a single criticism on translation. Our profit of the first publication pushed us to a legal battle because the friend whom we trusted for the distribution of the book breached the trust. All 1,000 copies of the book were sold out, but our publication arm was twisted with that fraud. However, we are positive-minded and still learning.
Rajendra’s good old father bade farewell in January 2020. My friend is a free man now, after ten years of ‘father-sitting’. But he will not go back to the US where his wife lives. He has decided to stay, and we have planned to run the company with new vigour this year. We work with more than 20 clients, including the UN, government institutes, INGOs, NGOs and private sector organizations.
In 2019, we initiated building a media and advocacy network with town-centric web platforms. In 2020, we will train professionals from outstations to develop our network. I am translating my novel KPoint into English and looking for avenues for an international publication. Also, we have plans to publish a set of Sinhala paperbacks and ebooks. We will start
Both I and Rajendra are in the mid-50s. This is not an age in this country to start new careers. We have plans to share this experience also with the other people of our generation. We are in business.