Radhika Philip was LT’s chief editor and creative director for more than 4 years. Many people have asked us why she resigned as editor. This is why this month’s People feature gives room to our former editor to explain her plans for the future, on the record!
Radhika was born and raised in Colombo until she was 9. Following the ‘83 riots when public schools closed for extended periods, her father sent the family to London. Soon thereafter, Radhika was sent to boarding school in Kent for some much needed ‘discipline’. After A-Levels, Radhika attended Queen Mary & Westfield College, University of London to read Law. Graduating with an LL.B. Honours in 1996, Radhika took a year off to return to Sri Lanka and see what it is that made her keep coming back. She has lived here (primarily) ever since.
After a few years settling in and not doing much of anything, she joined Asia Capital, and became Executive Director – Business Development of subsidiary, Investor Access Asia. There she learned about strategy, media and branding, in the process of launching CDAX, the first real time online trading system of the Colombo Stock Exchange. Enjoying working on business strategy particularly in relation to media and communications and working with ad agencies and creative teams, Radhika started a corporate communications consultancy and managed media strategies for many notable corporate clients.
In March 2012 Radhika became Editor in Chief of Life Times Sri Lanka (LT) magazine, more by circumstance than by choice. In 2014, Harper-Collins published Radhika’s first novel, Reyna’s Prophecy. This fantasy fiction story is the first installment of a trilogy she began writing in 2010.
With your background law and business, how did you become editor of LT?
Rakitha Jayewardena owned “Leisure Times”, this little magazine. They decided they wanted to sell it to a potential investor, so they asked me to write the business plan for strategic sale. It had a great name yet the magazine had become ‘tired’. When I wrote the plan, I realized that we were just post-conflict and there was a gap in the market for up-lifting educational journalism. Other ‘lifestyle’ magazines were printing generic content and chasing society gatherings to a large extent. What I felt is that most editorial content was really Colombo-centric. I advised against sale, the first time I had ever done that. Then somehow my best friend Pradeep and his father in law (Rakitha) struck a deal on Christmas day and a couple of days later, as I was lazing on a beach, Pradeep called and told me he has a magazine now and will be expecting me to implement my excellent plan! And I thought, “No”, I can’t be editor, I am a behind the scenes person. So we added my name as Editor for a month, until a new editor was found. I have been editor of LT for 55 monthly issues and that’s enough.
So you grew fond of it?
No. It wasn’t that I grew fond of it. It’s always been love/hate. I like putting the stories together, I like being behind the cameramen, directing. Those were the things I was doing in my job anyway, but more for media campaigns, never for journalism. Actually, when I realized that I loved it, was our first LGBT issue ‘Chasing Rainbows’ in June 2012. I had been chatting with my friend who is a lesbian, and she said that Pride month was coming up and no local media would cover it, unless there was a drag show or something fun and frivolous behind it. She claimed that no magazine in this country had the balls to cover LGBT. I was intrigued, so I investigated the boundaries of law and journalism (my idea of fun). The law prohibited covering LGBT sexuality, because physical acts are technically under our penal code, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t cover LGBT issues in general. On the day of shooting, everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. Models dropped out, out of fear, but then other people started to step in who were actual LGBT, they wanted to support the story, because they had been marginalized for so long. And suddenly we had this integrity of journalism that we never saw coming. Somehow, at the end, the shoot turned out fabulous. That made me feel like we could contribute to a bigger picture.
You wrote a fantasy fiction book. Where did that come from?
That is actually a long story. The short version is that ACT, the Trust I volunteered with during the tail end of war, involved emergency aid. ACT teams made repeated visits and things were really bad then. Amputations without painkillers, children with melted limbs, pregnant mothers under duress. There were great doctors working 24 hour days and sleeping on the floor with the patients, because there was no room. I worked full time in emergency aid for 6 months. I could handle the work but when I stopped, it became hard to carry on with regular life. I felt fairly hopeless, in every sense.
And in the meantime there was this 8 month old little baby, full of life and demanding my attention. Her first word was “KaKa” which means crow and her nanny said that she was friends with a crow (which I didn’t take seriously at the beginning). Previously, I had had a dog that was friends with a crow. If you’re truly friends with a crow, they will eventually start brining you things. One day I was sitting there and the bird actually had brought a chicken bone and threw it down to the baby. And they seemed to be talking to each other a lot. I thought, oh, wow, that’s something so beautiful there. It’s funny, when I couldn’t find peace anywhere, I could find serenity in that small interaction – there’s something in this world that is much bigger than us that we don’t know about, because these 2 are friends. This was when the idea of writing an animal adventure story based in contemporary Sri Lanka took root.
It is fantasy fiction, for young adults – that’s the genre, so it was definitely my imaginary diary. But it was more than that to me. We just see what is in front of us and everything is explained by logic and science. But what if there’s a whole world that logic and science can’t refute? Even if there is a plausible scientific explanation, that does not mean the ‘Reyna’s Prophecy’ reality is not true. Science can be limited and arrogant toward other species.
So you’re planning to write a sequel?
I don’t know. Unfortunately it ends on a cliff hanger, so people want to know what’s going to happen next. HarperCollins have optioned the sequels, but to write fantasy fiction you have to live in that world in your head. Nothing I would like more, but I don’t have the time right now, even post-resignation!
Why have you resigned as Editor LT?
There are 2 reasons. One is personal. I gave up my personal life for this job and I neglected someone who I love very much and she passed away. I don’t want the next mistake I make to affect Rory. The job can’t be your whole life. I let go of so much because I felt I had to micromanage 160 pages of content every month.
The professional reason is that if LT really want to make social change, we have to reach the masses. It seems that the Sinhala market responded really well to LT’s documentary content, like the zoo video, which reached over 2 million. I’d like to expand LT’s reach. I didn’t leave, I just resigned as editor.
What would you say were your best experiences with LT?
Those rare instances where the story becomes so much bigger than you. Where we just have to establish its physical identity – words and photos around what is actually the evolving story. Gender Identity was one example where we were all over the place and somehow the story just came together so organically. When we interviewed ex-LTTE for The Human Spirit (Feb 2013), when we worked on #protectYala and the zoo investigation, even our recent Jaffna coverage to an extent, these stories run themselves. You’re just a messenger for something much bigger than you. And then it’s like, how pure can you make the message without letting your own bias and your own ignorance or arrogance ruin it. So that’s a constant balance but I love that part about LT.
What are your plans for the future?
In an ideal world I’d like to spend at least half of my day figuring out what to do with Reyna’s Prophecy. Currently I can’t write about anything anymore that is not LT, because I am so used to writing in particular structures for the magazine. So, as a writer I really want to find my own voice again. And the other half of the day I will work on LT PRO, the private clients’ side of things and the A/V arm.
What do you love about Sri Lanka?
I love everything outside of Colombo, because it is far more real. People are so talented and warm, hospitable, friendly and helpful and similarly we have this amazing natural heritage and we’re not doing enough to protect it. And the quality of life we have here – even our poor, they are not starving. They always have a smile on their face, it’s that island mentality.
What is your favourite local food?
I suppose, if I had to pick a last meal, it would be Kiribath and Prawn Curry, with some katta sambol AND pol pani (yes!), and ideally, some kiri hodhi (white curry gravy) too. Also, I think milk hoppers are a thing of greatness.
If you could change anything about this country, what would it be?
If I had to pick one aspect, it would be the education system. I don’t think our national curriculum allows for initiative or independence. You’re taught at, rather than encouraged to interact and think for yourself. That third world gap keeps widening because of it. That’s why, in the absence of a proper education system, media can be an educator. It has to be.