Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A good year

(Illustration by Traci Daberko)

I was with my mother and sister who were visiting me, and surrounded by friends and a magnificent fireworks display overhead when it started. As I sit here at the end – a bit enfeebled but recovering after a few weeks of illness – to reflect on a year gone by, I am astounded but how much of what filled the past twelve months, I was able to plan for, anticipate, hope for, dream of and believe in. And yet, not all dreams came true in 2013, some hopes were dashed and some of the deepest desires of the heart remained unfulfilled. Yet it had enough wonderful surprises, disappointments, challenges and moments of utter helplessness to make it all the more life-like rather than dream-like.

Looking back, I will remember the year that’s about to end for the wonderful people who autographed some of its most memorable days – the thoughtfulness of my family that remained so far away and yet so close, old friends and new who brought old memories alive and new ones to be recalled for years to come, teachers who taught as much about life as of the subject matter and whose example and friendship will always inspire me, classmates and housemates with whom to share ideas and laughter in just the right measure. Generous bosses and a great mix of colleagues made transitioning to a new role that much easier and rewarding, despite being forced to part with perhaps one of the most inspiring leaders and friends i have had the honour of working with. A new house, a new neighbourhood, a new bike and an old car to explore new routes and go on new adventures; things that by themselves could never make 2013 a great year, but made sure that it was a good one.

Perhaps one day many years from now, when the intricate details and memories of 2013 blur and become no longer distinguishable from any other year, the one thing I will remember it for will be as the year that taught me ‘gratitude’. For all the years I had lived in hope and anticipation, the year that is about to end has taught me to be thankful and grateful for all I have received and for all that I can dare to hope for. Most of all, I am thankful for the people – every individual with whom I was able to share a minute, a word or a thought. As tempted as I am to wish you all good wishes for the coming year, perhaps I am tempered enough to realise that we may not know what the coming year will bring. All I can wish for you – and for myself – is that we may all have enough love and gratitude to last another year, because if we do, I feel fairly confident that it will turn out to be a wonderful year!

Sunday, December 29, 2013


He had lived there for more than eight months now, so he was a bit surprised that he hadn’t noticed it until now. It had been invisible - like dead flies behind closed blinds - at the break of dawn as in the dim ‘energy saving’ lights at night, and concealed by the shimmer and glow and noise of a TV. But it would appear in the midday sun on a warm summer day. On such days, he would occasionally catch glimpses of it when distracted from a book. It would appear through cracks in the ceiling or in perfect edges of plasterboard; in the cobwebs on the patio roof or in the hot glass panels; sometimes even through the peephole in the main door or in the in the scent of freshly pressed couch covers...

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Perpetual Conflict (3)

The politics of language and identity

It seems all too obvious that the regular cycles of violence that have emerged in Sri Lanka’s recent history since 1915 are distinctly communal in character. Indeed, every battle of every war in our history has always been characterised as those between communities on either side of cultural or religious divisions. However, there are two problems with that characterisation. First, Sri Lanka is – generally – an ethnically homogenous country consisting of an ancient mix of North Indian, South Indian, Persian, Arabian and South East Asian ethnic groups that have long lost much of their distinct differences. We were right in the middle of the Indian Ocean and for a very long time, the only country that had cinnamon; when spices and elephants were pretty much the only commodities worth trading and the entire Muslim world believed that it was the island that Adam and Eve got banished after tasting the forbidden fruit. Vestiges of the diverse cultures that settled and mixed in this tiny cosmopolitan island that lay in the path of the busiest sea routes of the ancient world, can be found in the names of its peoples. The fact that Sinhalese has always been natively spoken uniquely in Sri Lanka bear testimony to the fact that we were never a distinct ethnic group that migrated to this island en-mass, but that our unique identity evolved as a result of the mixing of diverse cultures over hundreds – I f not thousands - of years. 

Before the British built our modern road network and motorised transportation made it possible for us to traverse the length or breadth of the island in under a day, we only travelled long distances to migrate and settle. Much like the Sri Lankan migrants who settle in foreign lands adapt the native tongue of those countries, those of our ancestors and their children who settled in Tamil speaking areas became Tamil and those who settled in Sinhalese areas became Sinhalese. That is why Sri Lankan Tamils share closer genetic ties with their Sinhala brethren than they do with their Indian cousins. Those from similar caste backgrounds inter-married and when Sinhalese kings could not find suitable brides from among their clansmen, they married Tamil princesses from South India. It was a country whose population was made up of migrants – shivaite hindu’s from prehistoric times who settled in the island saw many waves of migrants; those who came from the southwest of India spoke Tamil and cooked ‘thosai’ and ‘vadai’ while those who came from the south east of India ate 'aappam'' and 'idi-aappam'. Muslims and Persian Christians came to trade and some settled down in and around the major trading hubs and ports. What differentiated communities in that feudal society was ‘caste’ – not language.

But the West came to the East and the world became one empire. Anyone who aspired for power or wealth had to learn the emperor’s language. To the extent that information makes the world work, and all its human inhabitants think in words, those who could speak and read English would not only gain access to larger portions of wealth and power, but they would also inevitably be transformed by it in ways that monolingual Sinhala and Tamil speaker weren’t. On one hand, they were exposed to a broader flow of information; and on the other, they would absorb western liberal values and worldview. The masses who were the kingmakers in our democracy, spoke only their mother tongue for the most part. That not only shielded them from the liberal democratic values that are usually associated with a vibrant democracy, but also limited their ability to interact with and understand the diverse cultures and communities that constituted the modern state of Sri Lanka. Even though the British empire had waned after WWII, English was still the language of the new ‘American’ empire. While small nations like Singapore realised that and structured their language policy accordingly, the burden of history weighed too heavily on Sri Lanka to be able to carve out a more visionary language policy. The leaders who inherited the reigns of democracy in Independent Sri Lanka and their citizens perceived their newly acquired independence from British colonial rule as a dismembering of the empire. What they failed to realise was that the world remained as connected and interdependent as before, and ruled by a new superpower to whom the words “conquest” and even “empire” meant different things; even though they spoke the same language. Politics in those early years since independence would give rise to a narrow and fiery brand of nationalism. Four centuries of colonial rule had eroded and adulterated the newly independent nation’s historical and cultural memory; paving way for overly romanticised notions of history and grandiose perceptions of cultural superiority.

Even though we have coexisted in this land from time immemorial, most Sinhalese and a large number of Tamils do not speak or understand each other’s languages. Is that why the Sinhalese and Tamils went to war against each other? Well, it’s not so clear that they did. Apart from the riots of July 1983, Sinhalese and Tamils not only coexisted but mingled with each other in the southern half of Sri Lanka largely on peaceful and cooperative terms. The tales we still hear about Sinhalese families sheltering their Tamil friends weren’t aberrations of reality – those who did were merely acting on their natural impulses. Even through the riots of 1915, a majority of Sinhalese and Muslims got along just fine. Therefore, differences in language, culture and faith do not offer straightforward answers to questions about the causes of conflict.

The cycles of violent conflicts in post independent Sri Lanka are described in the language of identity politics, as “youth insurrections”, “race riots” and “religious tension”. Yet we do not pay attention to who was involved and who wasn’t, why did some choose to fight while others chose not to? These are not easy questions to grapple with, let alone answer. But when one inspects more closely, the demographics of those who participated in and endured the violence, a clearer pattern emerges. It was predominantly the poor, historically oppressed and marginalised classes and casts that have been directly involved in each of these conflicts while the educated and privileged classes and casts have – by an large – have been commandeering it from a significant distance behind the frontlines.

The greatest burden that the British Empire left behind in most of the regions that they occupied was the useful, but nevertheless unnatural, idea of the modern nation state. In the many thousands of years that a myriad nationalities and tribes had lived side by side in the East, we never had state borders. Yet in the wake of independence, the various constellations of nationalities that the British had mixed and matched throughout the empire were hastily grouped together and state boarders were drawn by novice barristers to contain them for a thousand years to come. The words ‘class’ and ‘caste’ have not entirely lost their socio political relevance in the Indian Subcontinent. The decades that followed have pitted historical grievances between nationalities and castes, classes and religions, the native and the foreign, historical and modern against each other; where no river or mountain exists to mediate the conflicts that would inevitably erupt among them.

Friday, November 01, 2013


This verse will come one day; I know it will crawl to me
But not tonight; maybe it is not meant to be
Dissolved in whispers, or touched, or seen
Because all of that it has once been,
And lost, before time or light or memory...
This rhyme is not feeble, perhaps it's weary
Of dreams dared not dreamt, and eyes teary...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Words that change my life

Source: Wikipedia 

Power of words
As one who likes to think of himself as a writer, i am beginning to appreciate the fact that words don’t just give expression to our thoughts – they are often the source of our thoughts. We think and feel in words; if there is no word for it, then we can’t think or feel it. The breadth of our vocabulary shapes our attitudes and the depth in which we understand the words we use has a profound influence on way we live and how much meaning we are able to extract from life. I don’t think it is a coincidence that St John’s Gospel begins with: “In the beginning was the word, the word was with God, the word was god….” Much of human culture, civilisation and art is a product of and dedicated to the power and influence of words. One of my favorite descriptions of the power of words is by Maya Angelou, who says “Someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally into you.” Two words and one phrase stand out among the many words that have, and that continues to shape the trajectory and arc of my life.

Respice Finem
The phrase is “respice finem” and it is the motto of my school - Trinity College, Kandy. It means ‘look to the end”. It’s first recorded use is in a book called ‘Gesta Romanorum’ or ‘Deeds of the Romans’ of which nothing is known for certain about authorship or place of first publication. in its 103rd chapter is a verse that reads: ‘Quidquid agas, prudenter agas, et respice finem’ which means ‘Whatever you do, do cautiously, and look to the end’. In a way, it is about keeping our end goal in mind. Quite often those who have common objectives often have vastly contradictory views about the details of how to achieve them. For example, those holding opposing political views often have the best interest of the country at heart and want more or less the same end result. The more challenging and complex the common final objective is, the more it requires united and collective effort, and it becomes imperative for those with opposing views to ‘look to the end’ and acknowledge the common objective for them to work together to achieve it.

Trinity College Kandy was lished as a Christian Missionary school and it is possible that its founders were influenced more by the 36th verse in the 7th Chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Holy Bible which says “Whatsoever thou takest in hand, remember the end, and thou shalt never do amiss”. Here, “the end” refers to death itself. Christianity’s strong emphasis on ‘salvation after death’ brought death and mortality to the forefront of Christian thought and philosophy. “Respice Finem” has been used as a “memento mori” in post classical European literature. I would have thought that reminding young schoolboys about death may sound grim and therefore an unlikely bit of advice; until Steve Jobs touched on the subject in his now famous commencement address at Stanford in 2006. In it he acknowledged that “...remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

‘Introspection’ is one of the words that continue to influence me too. Children become self-aware at age one. by that age, I would have been able to recognise myself in a mirror as most toddlers that age do, but i did not encounter the word ‘introspection’ until i was much older - when I first read it in a poem that a friend had written for the School Officers’ Guild magazine in my senior year in school. It refers to “the examination or observation of one's own mental and emotional processes” - which means a lot more than mere ‘self awareness’ and requires the development of a mental capacity that is not necessarily innate but acquired. Ultimately, finding out that I could have an exciting, hilarious, probing, painful and honest conversation with myself was a pivotal moment in my life.

Being introspective doesn’t necessarily make me an introvert - i think. However, it draws focus inwards - away from the frustration and helplessness one feels at one’s inability to change the world and recreate it in our own image or one that pleases us - to how i can make a positive difference by the way live and and how i react to life’s challenges. For example, the introspective and examined life helps us contextualise big problems we face in our time such as pollution, climate change and corruption in terms of what we can and must do rather than worry about what everyone else should be doing. Mahatma Gandhi put it most eloquently when he said “...be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Introspection is as much about finding inner strength as it is about self-criticism, it is as much about humility as it is about self-awareness.

The other word that has shaped my life is, of course, Love.

Eskimos have 30 words to describe snow, because exact descriptions of snow is a matter of life-and-death for them. Sanskrit (from which much of my mother tongue – Sinhala – is derived) has 96 words for love; ancient Persian has 80, Greek three, and English only one. Perhaps the result of having only one word to describe a vast universe of emotion and driving motivation has led to a poverty of awareness of what love means. On the other hand, maybe it is an acknowledgment of the fact that no matter how many words we have to describe it, we may never understand the full breadth and depth of what it means - or can mean to us. We already know that ‘love’ can mean so much more or less than what each of us understand it to be. We love things and people, seasons and places. It is sometimes a word we use to describe our desire to possess things, and yet quite often we love what we know we will never possess. We love some things only for a short time – like a cold drink after a long run on a hot summer day. Some things we love may last an entire lifetime.

It is an important word because invariably, we all devote our entire lives to searching for love; both the intimacy of pure unconditional love and the love and acknowledgement of broader society. Our assessment of self worth is often dependant on what others think of us and how they perceive us. Expensive cars and big houses only make us happy (or feel loved) as long as there are people in the world who judge and assess our relative worth by those possessions. How beautiful we feel, how comfortable we feel about being ourselves and how much we are ‘worth’ is often defined by the ‘love’ and acceptance of a society that oscilates between complete neglect and harsh judgement of what we do and possess.

What we love also transforms us more than anything else. Society may unfairly pigeonhole us based on our occupation or the company we keep, but we do conform to our surroundings to a great extent. If all the complexity of ‘living’ were to be narrowly simplified it would eventually get condensed to a mission in search of the things we love to do and the people we love to be with. Chances are, while pursuing what we love doing, we will find like-minded individuals, among whom inevitably be will be those who will heighten our understanding and appreciation of what love means and by that, add meaning to our lives.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Perpetual Conflict (2)


Perhaps it is a tragic coincidence of our time; or maybe it was inevitable given the passage of generations, that we are marking the thirty year anniversary of Black July at the same time as we are approaching a centenary of such violence since the communal riots of 1915. With the escalation of religious intolerance and communal tension in recent months resembling the events of a century ago, we are faced with a peculiar dilemma: which anniversary shall we commemorate? The commemoration of historical events may be about preserving those memories for future generations to learn from, and for its darker chapters never to be repeated. But they must also compel us to be vigilant, and pay attention to the history that is in making today. In the space of four years since the war ended, communal intolerance is spreading its deadly tentacles through the cracks in our fractured national identity. Are we an inherently violent people who are incapable of peace? Of course not! But despite the significant influence of Buddhism on our civilisation, there is no evidence that we are inherently peaceful either. Ours is not unique among the ancient civilisations of the world. We adapt to our times and react to our environment like any other and we have always had choices to make about how we do so.

Before European colonisation, our society was organised hierarchically along social classes and castes. It may have been a strange twist of fate that the civilisations of the East and the colonial project of the West had to collide on our shores in the renaissance years, but in many aspects, it was only a matter of time. When that did happen, it was inevitable that our ancient social order which organised society in a stable – but broadly oppressive – caste based social structure would face direct competition from an alternative model for social organisation based – at least in principle - on the egalitarian aspirations that the reformation has unleashed in Europe.

A successful empire needed an efficient bureaucracy. Even though we tend to think of the colonial project in Sri Lanka as a time of foreign occupation, in truth it was run mostly by Sri Lankans who carried out the will of the British Crown. The colonial government and missionary movements were expanding an education system that the British had pioneered and perfected – aimed at producing the cogs and wheels of the machinery of empire. As a result, the late 19th century saw the emergence of a distinct class of educated Sri Lankan professionals and bureaucrats who symbolised avenues for upward social mobility that had never before existed in the island. The Ceylon Civil Service and other professions saw an influx of a new band of local elites. Aspirations of social mobility would no longer be restricted to those with a birth-right.

Education in colonial Ceylon; was designed to produce an efficient bureaucracy and disciplined professionals. It was not designed to produce leaders who could inspire the masses which may challenge the empire. The products of most elite missionary schools were accused of being ‘brown sahibs’ who thought and spoke like their imperial masters and far removed from their own countrymen and women who constituted the masses. Such accusations were not unfounded; nor were they broadly unfair. Students who spoke in a native tongue was often punished for it – and such punishment was accepted by parents who was adamant that their children must learn English – if they couldn’t wholly shed their own identity and learn to be English. This philosophy was not without its detractors and peculiarly enough, its dissenters were mostly found among the foreign educators. A. G. Fraser who became Principal of Trinity College, Kandy at the turn of the twentieth century was one of those few dissenting voices. Early into his tenure at Trinity, he wrote that:

“A thorough knowledge of the mother tongue is indispensable to the culture of real thinking power. More, a college fails if it is not producing true citizens; and men who are isolated from the masses of their own people by ignorance of their language and thought can never fulfil the part of educated citizens or be true leaders of their race” 
~ Fraser of Trinity and Achimota by W. E. F Ward, Ghana University Press, 1965 (p 49)

The views articulated by Fraser and others like him were radical then, and they remain at the fringes even today. They found little traction even in the institutions they built – which had to cater to the aspiring middle class parents who send their children to them. An ‘English education’ in an elite school still offer the safest – if not the only – avenue of entry to the middle class of Sri Lanka.

The Ceylon Legislative Council which was established in 1833 was expanded in 1889 to accommodate more ‘unofficial local members’. The idea that the colonial government had even symbolic local representation even in those early years would be obscured by the fact that those local members had little to do (and even less in common) with the ‘local people’ they were meant to represent. More significantly however, those local representatives to the legislative council were chosen based on their ethnic and religious identity – giving birth to the divergent ‘communal’ ideas about what it meant to be Sri Lankan that would eventually penetrate the public conscience – if not the political discourse in our country that persist to this day. The currents of democratic politics, as they flowed through the land in subsequent decades, would entrench those communal divisions in a society that was also remained stratified by caste and class. Those divisions would eventually become the fault lines along which subsequent conflicts would erupt for the next century and more.

Neither the colonial government nor the local intelligentsia that emerged from the education system would ever actively challenge – let alone try to dismantle or undermine – the hierarchical social order of the old world that persisted. Instead, they would perpetuate it with their own elitist ambitions and by using their privileged position in society as an entitlement to high status. They would use their education to gain proximity to power centres of society rather than to serve the underprivileged masses.

The democracy we enjoy today was prematurely inherited – long before it was demanded or earned. Therefore our political values have remained feudal, allowing the existing social divisions to get further entrenched. That is why political parties in independent Sri Lanka have often been tempted to carve out constituencies along the same narrow communal lines; which the unofficial representatives to the Legislative Council had been chosen from long before, by their colonial masters. Nothing really changed except that the old order that stratified our society by notions of caste and class had been democratised. A society that had in turn been fractured along communal divisions allowed the long subjugated majority to rise up on its own. They would do so in the form of a “pancha maha balawegaya”, to impose their own cultural and religious identity on the state. They would redefine what it means to be Sri Lankan in their own image.

As Fraser had feared half a century before Sri Lanka gained her independence; very few of the English speaking, cosmopolitan elite that inherited political power in the newly independent country were able to understand – let alone empathise with – the masses that they ruled. They represented, and rose to power, on the back of a powerful middle class that dominated industry, land and enterprise. Ironically, those elites who led the nationalist movements in newly independent Ceylon, could hardly speak the language of their constituents. The republic that subsequent generations inherited had been shaped irreversibly by the communal divisions and unbridled political forces that they had unleashed for petty political gains. Even today, political parties are forced to balance those same communal interests as well as class or caste interests in the constituency; both to assume power and to retain it amidst the many conflicts that would inevitably arise along those historical fault lines.

Starting with the land reforms of the mid 1950s, the tables would turn on the dominance of the middle class. Details of the subsequent social transformation may be analysed elsewhere, but today the English speaking middle class is too weak and not found in sufficient geographic concentration outside Colombo to be politically relevant. Outside of the sports and business pages of the English media, only the local blogosphere and Internet forums bear any evidence of their ghostly existence. The leaders they vote for do not get elected and the thoughts and ideas they express – mostly in English – rarely penetrates the public discourse (and its irony is not lost on me).

The tragedy of the middle class elite in Sri Lanka is not merely that they are politically or socially irrelevant. On the contrary, middle class Sri Lankans of all communities distinguishable not so much by their communal identity but rather by their shared liberal values and progressive political outlook. The small and shrinking numbers of Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims and Burghers of middle Sri Lanka who listen to the same kind of music, watch the same movies, read similar books and discuss very similar topics have more to do with each other than with rural cousins from their own ethnic or religious communities. Yet their ‘education’ separates them from the rest of their countrymen and women. The promises they make to never allow events such as Black July to happen again – though honest and well intentioned - are inherently unreliable; because they never understood the communal tensions and class struggles of the masses that have torn the social fabric of our country for over a century. They still remain ignorant of the dangers that A.G. Fraser had warned them about a century earlier.

The Perpetual Conflict (1)

The dark clouds of history

When I look back, I do not see the black smoke rising, or the cries of hapless countrymen, women and innocent children – victims turning into victimisers, turning into victims – caught in a cycle of violence that has persisted beyond living memory. Whatever I have seen of that time and moment of our flawed history; I have seen through the eyes of others. The picture has at times blurred with their tears and at times its intensity has been sharpened by the raw emotions that still engulf those who bear them; who are still griped by what they experienced in the deepest and rarely visited corners of their souls. But I do feel the heat of those fires that were lit long ago when I was barely two years old. No longer a toddler but not yet a child, I had been born into the violence that erupted then and accompanied me well into my adulthood like a dark shadow that still tug me at my feet wherever I go. I do not know how the events of that July should be remembered, because the embers of those fires still linger in the world we inhabit.

Must we reassemble those columns of thick black smoke and smell of burning rubber and burning flesh from the collective memory of a forgetful nation? The rich and eventful lives of even the most unforgettable people are eventually summed up in a short epitaph on a gravestone – if that. And so it is that the collective suffering, shame, pain and tragedy of the events of July 1983 has been etched in the gravestone of history merely as ‘Black July’; filing away the abridged events of preceding years and months that led up to the riots in a colour-coded folder in our collective memory. The mention of “Black July” evokes images of the sooty columns of smoke that would have risen up from the burning buildings, but the term also robs our imagination of the broad spectrum of colours that were lost in those fires. It says nothing of the vibrant lives that were consumed in that violence and the subsequent war that escalated. After thirty years, can we now hope to resurrect those vivid memories? Do we seek out the victims who have since lost their conception of ‘home’; picking up the pieces of their shattered lives in different parts of the world, trapped in places that cannot contain their memories and yet unable to return to where their journey began? Perhaps we should go in search of those dark faces of men who perpetrated the most heinous crimes in our recent history. We owe it to ourselves and all those who have paid the price for their mindless acts - to ask them and their loved ones whether they are proud of what they did back in July of 1983. Will their voices betray any guilt or shame? Are they haunted by the ghosts of their victims or troubled by their inner conscience?

But with each attempt we make at reconstructing those memories, we move away from their reality towards a constructed narrative and a new conception of how those events should be remembered. Because even the most intimate memories are never pure or uncorrupted – they are born tainted by the prejudices and affections of those who bear them. All our memories are continually reshaped for as long as we hold them – carved by emotion, chipped away by our biases and infused with other memories that cohabits the neural spaces they occupy. The actual history of the past three decades can never be fully reconstructed with fractured accounts of what happened in that fateful month in 1983. We must realise that even in their totality; all those accounts may never paint an accurate picture of those long bygone events. The narrative will inevitably evolve with each subsequent retelling, and if we are lucky, it will be retold more meaningfully and in ways that are relevant to their time and place.

Three decades on, as we seek to reconstruct the narrative in a way that is relevant to our time, perhaps we need to cast our nets in deeper waters and look beyond the events of 1983. Even though the smoke towers have dissipated long since, the trail of violence perpetrated by Sri Lankans on Sri Lankans extends for at least a century; well beyond ruins of July 1983. It is imperative that we recognise that the embers of that violence continue to burn today, undermining the very foundation of our society, four years after the end of a brutal civil war. Memories of the different cycles of violence have transformed and grown feeble with time, and resurrecting their fragile recollections from a century ago is going to be a precariously difficult task. Especially on emotionally charged days and anniversaries like these, we must be cautious not to assume that the recollection of historic milestones and anniversaries is the same as learning from our history’s long and painful passage. Breaking this cursed cycle of violence that we have been born into, requires more patient analysis and introspection than the frenzy of penning a moving memorial to one of many watershed moments in history usually affords.

Having been born in the early 80s, my generation has endured a series of significantly violent events starting with the riots of July 83’ and the insurrection of 1989. The war that raged in the 80s would escalate through our teenage years in the mid 90s and a great number of us would eventually be enlisted in the military or recruited to the LTTE in subsequent years. The remaining years of much of those recruits would be left to decay in the corrosive concoction of violent memories they bear. Yet for a majority of us – including myself, and I suspect, a disproportionate number of those who read this – are likely to belong to a demographic that could afford to distance ourselves from that physical mayhem, though not from the images of war. Hence, even though our entire lives have been engulfed and defined to a large extent by the events of 1983 and their consequences, we do not have any real experience of the violence that we were born into and grew up with. We must strive harder to broaden our understanding of how war and violence has shaped our thinking and expectations. The physical violence that ended in 2009 has left mental scars that will persist in our generation and influence the decisions that will shape our country in years to come.

But our generation is not unique by any stretch of the imagination. Preceding generations – for nearly a century – have all grown up in a vortex of violence that we have so far been unable to escape since the anti-Muslim riots in 1915. Every generation since, have inflicted and endured violence and conflict to the extent that we no longer have any living memory of peace. Having endured World War in the 1930s, a newly independent Sri Lanka was unable to resist the temptation of asserting the dominance of its majority on language policy in the mid 1950s, leading to the anti-Tamil violence in 1958. The generation that followed in the 1970s fractured both the North and South of the country. The northern conflict would endure for three decades while the south that ignited in the early seventies would flare up again in the late 80s. In the mid 1990s, war would resume with greater intensity, conditioning us to accept the loss of thousands of lives within the span of hours in single battles; not as some of the greatest tragedies in the history of our country, but as facts of daily life.

Indeed, at no point in the history of our tiny island have we known what a peaceful and equitable state looks like. Therefore we still do not know what to expect of one. It should have been clear to us even as we celebrated the end of war in 2009; that our collective imagination was unable to capture the true essence of peace. Because, for over two millennia, we have only experienced the subjugation of monarchs, the exploitation of empires, the coercive power of an insecure majority and the domination of a powerful presidential state that still unleashes violence to maintain its power over unarmed citizens as well as on the rule of law.

It is ironic that we take so much pride in being heirs to an ancient and rich history. Perhaps it is that rose-tinted perception of history that inspired us to celebrate in May 2009 – filled with optimism about the prospects of peace at the end of a thirty year war. But, not everyone who set off firecrackers in the streets on that bright and unforgettable day would have really understood the prematurity of their celebrations. As we look around today, it is quite apparent that the violence has not ended with the events of May 2009 – just as much as they did not begin in July 1983.

Given the pattern of events that have persisted for over a century, it is not altogether surprising that four years since war’s end, we have allowed ourselves to loop back in time to an eerily familiar place. Where we are now is not too dissimilar from the events and collective mindset that led to the Sinhala-Muslim communal violence almost exactly a century ago. The details of those events need to be explored separately, but every generation since then have been offered unique opportunities on separate occasions, to recognise our shared identity. Each generation was invited to the high table of history, to conceive of a state (and a state of mind) that is broad enough to contain our rich diversity. But today, we stand among the ruins of our past, where each of those subsequent generations failed. May 2009 was our moment. It still is. Are we destined to falter like those before us who never understood their place in history, or will we be the generation that will be remembered for constructing a new history, and a successful alternative path to a more equitable future? But even as we reflect on that moment, the bountiful reasons we had to celebrate at the conclusion of war in 2009 are dissolving one by one, eroding away what little remains of any faith we may have had in our ability to escape this multi generational cycle of violence.

The responsibilities and burdens of history rest on our shoulders now; notwithstanding that ours is a generation that is at a greater disadvantage than any before us. If we are to succeed, we must first have the courage to reject the violence and intolerance that has conditioned us over a lifetime. We cannot afford to take the unprecedented bloodshed and rule of violence which engulfed the North and South, for granted as facts of life. The thirty years that has passed since July of 1983, is significant not only for the victims of those despicable acts of violence, but for our generation that was born into it, grew up with it and is not called to on to be the ones to prevent our country from relapsing back into the ever more familiar cycle of violence. The history of violence in Sri Lanka runs much deeper in our collective memory than we are able to recall as individuals. That is why we must now reconstruct our history not merely as Sinhalese, Buddhists, or both, but together - collectively in a space that is large and hospitable enough to accommodate all communities that make up Sri Lanka.

So far, we have been learning the wrong lessons from history. Rather than learning how to avoid making the same mistakes we have made in the past, we seem to have instead learned how to use history to inflame and repeat those mistakes more competently. Perhaps if we can understand our place in history better than previous generations were able to, we may yet hope to break the cycle that made events like those of July 1983 possible. That is not going to be easy – and the odds of history are stacked heavily against us. However, if we can understand this moment in our history, and succeed in disentangling the truth about our past and present from the myths and falsehoods that have taken root in our belief system; we will have reason to be optimistic.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Beachline, originally uploaded by halwis.

When senses have all retreated
Into the frosty shadows of starlight
And the Earth is submerged in darkness
From ocean depth to mountain height
Only the faithful hearts keep beating
Enduring in faith, and hope’s delight
Waiting for the sun to reclaim its place
And rescue dawn from the depths of night


Sunday, June 02, 2013

A game like no other...


Dear member of the 1st XV,

No doubt today is a big day. I am sure you will recount the memories you are about to create, with longing and nostalgia, for the rest of your lives. But you will only get one chance to make your mark on this day and to be touched by it. How well others remember this day and your place in it will depend not only on how exceptionally you perform on the field, but also on factors that are beyond your control. So chasten your expectations and understand that there will be twists of fate and fortuities that will play their part too. This moment you have been waiting for years; will pass much sooner than you will ever be able to grasp it – even though it may seem like an eternity to you now. Perhaps others too may remember this day and its events for years to come, and be inspired by them. I am sure the wisdom of your decisions as well as the skill and courage of your actions will give you much reason to be proud. It is not impossible – though unlikely - that this day will be remembered in ignominy if the spirit of the Bradby Shield is transgressed. Remain dignified in defeat; and be humble and gracious in victory. The quill of history is in your hands – write your story well!

This moment and this day belong to you, and it is yours to share. No other day in your life will be made more memorable for such an absurd a pursuit as chasing, driving and kicking an odd-shaped ball; nor are you likely to be cheered on by so many seen and unseen thousands for throwing yourself across a fading line and soiling your clothes. But these actions cease to be trivial when you have trained for it all of your lives, and when you do so with such astonishing skill and with selfless motivations. Every sport is made entertaining by the skill of those who play them, and made meaningful by men and women who understand their greater significance. Sport has the ability to unify a diverse group of individuals with unique skills for a common purpose. They inspire us despite our flaws to strive for perfection, test leaders and challenge their followers. Sport, when played with intensity and fairness, have the ability to galvanise and inspire anonymous crowds because they bestow glory on only the most persistent, most enduring, most determined and wise - regardless of whether you emerge victorious or not. The game you indulge in today is an apt metaphor for the ideals you must strive for and treasure in life. Immerse yourselves in the lessons this day is about to teach you; persist, when it tests your courage or your will to endure and you will emerge from it a greater man than you were when you woke up this morning.

When you put that jersey on today, regardless of whether it has blue and gold stripes or solitary bands of red and gold on your chest, think back to your childhood, right back to the moment when you first started dreaming of this day and this moment that you have finally made come true. Acknowledge and honour all those who have guided and sustained you through the years, without whom you would not be standing here. Then look around you. Many thousands who could not dare to dream of standing where you are now and hundreds more whose dreams never came true, have all come to cheer you on and to catch a glimpse of their forgotten dreams coming true in you. Among them will be a handful, who have donned those same jerseys before you; who already know, that which you are about to find out. A great crowd has gathered, but you have been chosen to occupy this moment and place in history on their behalf. You have been chosen because you have proved yourself worthy. The perseverance that has brought you here will also guide you in every step you take towards victory. You will be tested by equally worthy opponents whose determination will inspire you to push harder and further than you ever imagined you could. Be grateful to your opponents and give them the respect and honour they deserve. In the end, some will claim victory over others, for being the more determined, more brave, more disciplined, more wise and a bit lucky.

This game may be the culmination of your aspirations, hard work and resilience; of ruptured veins, broken bones, twisted joints and worn out sinews endured. It is time to rise above all that pain and hardship and take the time to feel the glory of this summit to which they have elevated you. Do not let the weight of history be a burden on your shoulders. Though this moment belongs to you, its glory is not yours to keep. You are its guardian and keeper for a day, as others have been before you. But today, you are also its master; not its slave; for you determine the fate of this moment in ways that it may never determine yours. Soon you will have to descend the mountain you have just conquered to make way at the peak for those that follow in your footsteps. It may yet seem like the greatest gamble you have ever taken, because every victory you have ever won in the past, will be hung in balance on a distant scoreboard. This crowd may only ever remember you by whether you won or lost the Bradby Shield. But let me reassure you; the weight of all that expectation is only an illusion. I can promise you there will be higher, more challenging mountains to climb, if you can bring yourself to descend this one and start all over again.

Even as you revel or languish in your exploits at sunset today, you need to wake up with new dreams and greater ambitions tomorrow. You were never fated to seek daily victories; but seek instead the joys of a life well lived. The battle for the Bradby Shield may be won or lost, but the war has just begun. No matter how your love-affair with the oval ball unfolds, you will soon be called to pursue more substantial ambitions that will have a tangible impact on you, on your loved ones and on the world. For everything you have achieved on the playing fields of Trinity and Royal; you will be called on to prove the worth of your brawn and brains in the pursuit of even more ambitious goals. There won’t be any cheering crowds or ‘papare bands’ when you are called to lead and inspire change; to transform ourselves in ways that will help make the world a more just and dignified place for everyone to live. Even as you take off your blood and sweat drenched jerseys after a hard fought game this evening, remember that greater battles lay ahead. You were merely being prepared and trained to face more glorious victories and bitterer defeats that await you in life.

So it is my wish for you, that on such a day many years from now, when the world throws back challenges that seem daunting and insurmountable; you will be able to look back and draw inspiration from this game you are about to play. The strength of your character and the true greatness of the institutions you represent today will be proven only then. As much as you are determined to be the best you can be on the field today, you will have to continue to grow in strength and maturity to preserve that determination through more difficult confrontations. The lessons you begin to learn today must continue to teach and guide you for a lifetime, so as much as you put your bodies and limbs on the line in pursuit of the next goal today, continue to give life everything you’ve got without hesitation or restraint in years to come.

This day will galvanise existing friendships and new friends will grow out of acquaintances. The best friends that share in your revels and sustain you in hardship will also not hesitate to criticise you when you go astray. You will understand true friendship by those who caution you when distracted, cheer you when disheartened, inspire and sustain you when distressed and depend on you to do the same for them as you share in some of life’s greatest moments.

Nothing else you’ve ever known in life may seem greater or worthier than what you are about to experience when you hold that beautiful Shield aloft and immerse yourselves in the rapture of the crowds below. You are all rugby stars today, but soon you will be ex-Bradby winning or losing players. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but that is the truth. But do not be disheartened, because even greater moments of wonder and fulfilment are all but a few years away. You may celebrate them in silence with a kiss or know them in the smell of a newborn child. You will soon feel the need more intensely, to define who you really are and what you really want to be; not just as a sport star, but as fathers, executives, intellectuals, salesmen, politicians, artists, professionals... or whatever means you alone can choose to give real substance and meaning to the legacy you will ultimately leave behind. I wish you all the very best!

Respice Finem!

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stars are overrated!

Helix Nebula
Credit: NASA, NOAO, ESA, the Hubble Helix Nebula Team, M. Meixner (STScI), and T.A. Rector (NRAO).

After a childhood spent gazing at them, way more than any other 13 year old had the patience to, I had a deep appreciation of their power to amaze and mystify. I already knew at that age how their light was old and wise for it had travelled far through the hidden recesses of the universe. I knew from experience how their magic could entice me to waste uncounted hours staring at the abyss of night – at a sky that was splattered with those tiny specs of stupefaction from horizon to horizon. Yet for all the private, silent conversations I have had with them lying on a rooftop gazing at the uncounted balls of fissioning gas, I do not understand the poets’ fascination with them. Of course I have let many a feast go cold to my mother’s utter annoyance; enticed by the silence of night and the stillness of the starlit sky than by sumptuous spreads on the dinner table. But now I wonder, even though I have followed the clichéd example of bygone poets, how could I ever compare her eyes to all the starlight in the Milky Way? Those eyes have changed me forever because now when I gaze into the night sky, I notice not the stars but the vast and engulfing emptiness of the universe that I cohabit with these mysterious eyes that fill my own emptiness with their gaze. The stars still look on from their deep recesses in the Universe, but they seem ordinary and commonplace, unlike when she looks at me, and our eyes meet, making my heart explode and my blood fission, setting off a chain reaction...

Sunday, March 31, 2013

How am I redeemed?

Photo By Ian Bramham

Good Friday Reflection at St John's Anglican Church, Finch Street, Malvern East.

I thank you all and especially Fr. Sathi - very deeply and humbly - for inviting me to join you in your Good Friday reflection and prayer and feel truly grateful for the opportunity to share my faith with you. I suspect that the reason Fr. Sathi invited me today may have more to do with what I have written in the past than my oratory skills, and often I must write to gather my thoughts. So forgive me for reading to you rather than speaking to you. I feel I must first introduce myself - not only because most of you do not know me - but also because the testimony of faith that I am here to share with you is a very personal one. We all experience God in different ways in our daily lives, and in so far as who I am and the way I think has shaped my faith, knowing a bit about me may help you understand the message I am going to share with you.

Growing up in a multi religious and diverse environment, I learned to appreciate that even though there were significant differences in the core beliefs that my various friends subscribed to and in the way they expressed their spiritual reality, even though we used different words to describe God, we all share a common calling to serve, and a desire to partake of something greater than ourselves. We share a common aspiration to make life meaningful and perhaps even hope for a peaceful afterlife. Even though I was brought up in a confluence of strong Catholic and Anglican traditions at home, I still can’t distinguish between the many different denominations to be able to identify myself as belonging to any institutional church. I do go to church every Sunday, but I only believe what is necessary for my spiritual needs and do not subscribe to any religious dogma or doctrine out of compulsion.

I am also steeped in the scientific tradition - of free inquiry and vibrant, dispassionate debate. I find no conflict between my scientific search for insights into the physical universe around me, and an equally intense spiritual inquiry into the universe within - even though I do so through the lenses of a rather dogmatic faith in God. I try not to rely on reason or logic to validate my faith, or faith to substitute for reason. Yet I find that it is possible, and sometimes even necessary, to drive a wedge of reason into my faith to till the ground. I am not afraid to do so because I am assured of my faith in the same way I am assured that no amount of tilling the ground can change the shape of the Earth. What it can do is renew my faith and make it more fertile. It is in such a spirit that I would like to share with you my inquiries and reflections about what we are gathered here to remember and meditate on – the mystery of our redemption through Christ’s sacrificial death.

As I reflect on the significance of this holy week, I am inspired to ask myself, ‘how am I redeemed’?

The divine mystery of the redemption was passed on to me by my parents as all dutiful Christian parents are obliged to do. It seemed simple enough for a child to understand, as I was already familiar with the prospects of punishment when I did something wrong. Except in this instance, Jesus bore the punishment on all our behalf, so that we wouldn’t have to face the consequences of our actions and decisions. But as I grew up, the more I was moved to question the premise of our salvation. As I stuggled in vain to escape the inevitability of having to face the consequences of my actions and sympathies in daily life, the logic of my spiritual redemption seemed to diverge from my physical reality. I could still understand however, that even though it may seem like a travesty of justice for an innocent person to be punished for the wrongs of others, it doesn’t require a leap in the imagination to see why God in his infinite love would willingly sacrifice himself for us. Of course, the justice of someone innocent being sacrificed for the sake of the collective ills of society has hardly been questioned for millennia. Especially during the civil war in Sri Lanka that I grew up with, and wherever wars are fought or campaigned for, we find ourselves all too easily convinced that our way of life, our freedoms, prosperity and security is redeemed through the sacrifice of soldiers. Of course it is not only soldiers also willingly sacrifice themselves for the sake of their comrades and the cause they are fighting for; parents sacrifice much for their children; we all make sacrifices for our siblings and friends - sometimes even for strangers. But the mystery I would like to meditate with you today is this; as Christians, what does it imply for us to believe that we have been saved through Christ’s sacrificial death? Could someone - perhaps a non Christian - challenge our faith by asking how we can expect to be saved through someone else’s violent death – be it that of the son of God or an armed soldier, or for that matter, how can we expect to be safe through the death of a terrorist or maniacal dictator?

Of course I don’t have reasonable answers to those questions and i wonder whether I ever will. However those questions have in fact guided me in my spiritual journey so far and inspired me to search for answers in Christ’s life, work and mission before the cross. The few clues - if not answers - that I have found in that inquiry has strengthened my faith, but i am far from certain whether it has redeemed my soul.

The bible recounts how Jesus cured the lame and made the blind see again, but even from a purely rational perspective, his message is empowering in practical ways. His words continue to inspire us - his followers - to our feet. Even today at times when we feel paralysed and helpless, we as Christians are urged by his holy spirit to 'get up and walk', to lead and to serve. His teachings illuminate deep spiritual insights in our hearts and help us see the path we must take in this world. I would like to share with you three powerful examples of how we are empowered and redeamed though Christs word.

Christ’s message was simply one about God’s love for humanity, and his life story remains an astonishing example of the human capacity to love. But for all the endearing and enticing notions that we associate with love, it is worth acknowledging that Christ’s message about love is also a pragmatic and rational one. Because love is a transformational force, and the first example I would like to draw your attention to is his commandment to love our enemies. Loving one’s enemy is not an obligation any of us can dismiss lightly by saying “I wish I could love my enemies, but I am not Jesus, I am just a human being with human failings”. Loving our enemies is actually something we can do, and must do more often, because it is the most effective strategy for destroying our enemies - by converting them into friends. I think 'loving our enemies' is a lesson they should essentially teach in every single military academy that wish to remain true to its mission because to treat enemies with anything less than love is a sure way of spawning more of them. We know that.

The second example I want to share with you is about ‘turning the other cheek’. It has helped me realise, that the depth of Christ’s message can only be understood through its practice. I personally know the humiliation, hurt and pain of getting slapped, and therefore I can more intimately understand Jesus’ advice that at such times, we must turn the other cheek also. But each one of us may have our own memories of having to face aggression and violence in varying degrees and if we could literally bring ourselves to ‘turn the other cheek’, we would realise that to do so requires us to be stronger than those who attack us physically or emotionally. Turning the other cheek is not an act of submission to violence, but rather an act of defiance. It takes far more courage to look your attacker in the eye and turn the other cheek instead of running away or stricking back. Those who seek to hurt us in any conceivable way, do so expecting us to retaliate in kind, run away or submit to their domination. But turning the other cheek not only shocks and intimidates the aggressor, but also wrests the initiative and control of the situation away from them. We are - in a sense - redeemed by turning the other cheek, not only because it is an act of defiance in the face of hostility, but it immediately and cleary establishes who is stronger and least fearful. Above all, to turn the other cheek instead of striking back, we need to be able to love the enemies who attack us, and through that love and forgiveness, transform them.

The third example in the life of Jesus that I find redeeming is the way he acknowledges death and rests his hope in the promise of “resurrection”. As a civilisation, we have never been more fearful of death as we are now. Of course it is not always a bad thing, because the fear of death can often inspire us to appreciate life more, take better care of ourselves and each other and make our homes and workplaces safer. But it is problematic when our fear of death prevents us from accepting its inevitability, and makes us assume falsely that life is something that can, and therefore must be preserved at all cost. That is when our fear of death transmutes into a fear of bearing witness to god’s message; of a fear of standing up for justice and truth in times and places that most obligate us to do so. Jesus was never fearful of the consequences of speaking the truth even though he knew how gruesome his fate was going to be for doing so. Perhaps what relegated Jesus to his fate on the cross more than anything else was that uncompromising commitment to speaking the truth, his mission of giving voice to the cause of justice, and the affirmation of God’s equal love for men and women regardless of their vocation or social status.

We are a uniquely blessed species - the only one that is able to manifestly love one another as God loves us. But love exacts a price by making us vulnerable and open to being hurt. What really strikes me when I reflect on the agony of Jesus on the cross is the vulnerability of love. Jesus was rejected, and being hung on the cross and forsaken by all was the least of those rejections. None of us will have to go through such agony as Jesus did for the love of us, who to this day, think it fit to take it for granted – like Peter did, like Thomas did, and like we ourselves often do even to our own loved ones. I was listening to a morning radio show only a few days ago where the hosts were running a competition to find Jesus look-alikes from among their audience. Perhaps it seemed thematic during the holy week. They were asking for the opinion of listeners who called in, whether what they were doing was appropriate. One listener who identified himself as a Christian minister said ‘Jesus was crucified and still he got over that in three days. Even if this is not so respectful, he’ll get over it”. But Jesus never threatens to take back his love for us or consider us unworthy of it. He just hangs there, loving us, through all that.

Anyone who has ever loved, know the pain and trials that accompanies it. Yet, despite all the suffering that we have endured in the name of love, we often toss the word around so casually like it never had a price. When we love someone deeply, we become vulnerable to be hurt by them more than others. People we don’t love or care about cannot hurt us, but the more we love someone, the more vulnerable we are to be hurt by them. Therefore, with love comes an obligation to forgive, over and over, on a daily basis. Because those who hurt us the most are those we love the most. That is why it is redeeming to be loved despite our weaknesses, by those who are willing be hurt because of their love for us, perhaps only hoping that we will not take their love for granted. I am not suggesting that that we are redeemed by our own love or actions. Of course we are redeemed through god’s unfailing love for us and the endurance of our relationship with God. What the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross signifies to me, is god’s commitment to that relationship - and the endurence of that love even though we often take it for granted.

So we are redeemed not only by Christ’s death, but it is also a symbol of God's enduring love which is our salvation. But also living out Christ’s example and teachings in our lives brings with it a tangible redemption from the evil that we face in our in our daily lives. With that thought, I will leave you to ponder the message of Christ from your own perspective and experience – while inviting you all to seek your own answers to the question - ‘how am I redeemed’?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

It's about Justice, stupid!

Earth, Water, Woman, Cloud & Sky, originally uploaded by halwis.

My faith is not threatened by others whose beliefs are different from my own. Neither my identity nor my culture is under threat of being engulfed by another. Perhaps because I have been a migrant and a traveller long enough - that my land is no longer confined by any arbitrarily drawn state or national border. I am a custodian of the whole Earth and a brother to all of humanity. Yet, as I sit to pen these thoughts, 8335 km away from where I grew up and where my most persistent memories of friendship and love have taken root, I realise how difficult it is to draw conclusions about how widespread the religious intolerance in Sri Lanka is and whether it is as pronounced in society as it is in social media. I do not have a feel for whether it is growing or subsiding and by how much. What I am certain though, is that no priest or politician, not even beloved relative or dear friend can usurp my right and obligation to speak for myself.

I also know - you tend to learn these things tangibly, when you travel across different cultures and beliefs, various shades of skin colour and strange words - that hatred and intolerance, fear and insecurity are not malignancies that are unique to Sri Lanka. I have found it verifiably true, that for every bigot who seeks to incite hatred, there are many patriots we can rally together with - who will unite us. For every coward who seeks to make us fearful of pluralism, we can choose to embrace the diversity around us and be enriched by it. For every political opportunist who seeks to turn us against our own, we can reach out to discover ourselves in others and them in us.

Those of purer intentions and unprejudiced judgement have painstakingly pointed out the real dangers that lurk behind the cacophony of hate speech and intolerance, that could plunge our tiny nation back into the hellfire of war. Some strategists have even gone to the extent of warning that any unfair treatment of Muslims could attract radicalised groups from all over the world, as has happened in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last decade at a time when those wars are drawing to a close. Such arguments have merit.

However, history, as well as life experience demonstrate that what we need to resolve in post-war Sri Lanka today, are not merely questions of racial or religious tolerance - if not equality. Nor are they exclusively problems about sustaining the hard won peace or avoiding another debilitating war. It matters even less to me personally, what one radicalised group or another does or fails to do to antagonise a community of fellow citizens.

If we were to distill all the problems and challenges facing our nation and the rest of the world (and indeed much of civilisation itself) the issue to be resolved is primarily a question about justice. It is a question that has persisted through history - both locally and internationally. The undisputed heroes of history have been those who served the interests of justice - from Elara’s judgements, to Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi's activism as well as Nelson Mandela’s resistance. Justice is not synonymous with equality or the rule of law - but people who respect each other and treat others as equals living in a society that is governed by good laws are those that serve the interests of justice.

The memory of our country being stripped of its dignity by colonial powers and denied justice for centuries is still very much alive in our social conscience. It must be a cause of greater shame then; that instead of sharing in that liberty, we have been persecuting each other just the same since gaining independence. It may have been the Tamils who have suffered most conspicuously in recent history, Muslims every now and then for at least a century since the riots of 1915, Christian churches have been burned down every once in awhile... and Buddhists too; when religion is not an excuse, we withhold justice from each other based on caste differences; when race is not an excuse, then we denigrate each other by place of birth, ancestry or lineage. If nothing else, by political affiliation, social status, proximity to power and even by which school we studied at.

Therefore, what we must collectively resist are the actions and beliefs that come into conflict against the interests of justice. We either live in a just society or we don't. There is nothing in between. A country that does not afford justice to one individual, is structurally incapable of affording justice to any other individual or a group. But we live in a flawed world and therefore the pursuit of justice will always remain a struggle. That is why, an unjust society is not merely one where an individual or group is vulnerable to marginalisation and persecution - regardless of whether they are Buddhists, Muslims, Chief Justices or hapless Samurdhi officials who fail to attend meetings - but one where the rest of society is complicit in their silence and inaction in the face of prevailing injustices.

That is why neither those who speak for justice or those who stand in its way can speak for me. It is therefore imperative that I must take a stand on whichever side i choose. Because to remain silent is not only a betrayal of the interests of justice or a letdown of all victims of injustice - but it allows others to usurp the space left vacant and to occupy my place in history that I - in my silence - have left empty and unfulfilled.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Mystic City

Devine Art, originally uploaded by halwis.
Nothing ever happened in Kandy that was a random coincidence. No free willed dreamer was ever born there and any who visited either embraced their destiny or left. No raindrop fell on a forehead that had not been forever determined to do so, and every grain of rice that was eaten and every mote of dust that was trampled, had the name of their heir engraved on them.