Two Or Three Things I Know About My Country


Prof. Pradeep Jeganathan


We’ve never really had a father. We like to think we did, of course, be it D.S. Senanayake, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike or S.J.V. Chelvanayagam. But they never had a vision for Lanka that made sense, in the end. Unlike a Mahathir, Nehru or a Mandela, their vision was partisan, and the results plain to see. Senanayake’s great contribution was to disenfranchise the up country Tamils, and ignore the vernacular language question. Bandaranaike and Chelvanayagam were his children, fighting for the house that he never finished building.

We’ve gone along since, fatherless children that we are. So many have been killed, and so many have killed. Maimed. Seen the essence of inhumanity, lived with it, so it has become ordinary. Many of us like to think Rajapakse is our father, since it is said he rescued us from all this, took us over the mountains to the valley of peace. Certainly, he’s proclaimed himself father and king, and his sons princes. And he’s had his moments.

But Rajapaksa fell short by a long way; one example is enough for me. Right at the edge of the water, in the northern most tip of our country lies a stone plaque. It was placed there well after May 2009, and marks the spot as Dambakola Patuna, the place where Ven. Sanghamitta landed with a sapling of the sacred Bo tree. And yet, this beautiful place is desecrated by a Rajapaksa plaque, which, here of all places, calls him "Tri-Sinhaladesvara." Perhaps he never had it, perhaps he lost it on the way, but this is no way to mark our common patrimony.

This brings me to the second thing I know about my country; I’ve learned it firsthand, like all of us, the hard, bitter, sad way. With separatism, like with the tango, it takes two. If this is a Sinhala country, then the Tamils will want one too. If you are going to get all the kids together for cricket, and then say, ‘it’s my bat, so you only get fielding,’ someone else will get a bat. If you want to play dolls, give everyone a room in the doll’s house. Otherwise, cut our house in two, and be done with it, and fight hard forever more, at the jagged edges that will never heal.

Sirisena isn’t our father, but he’d done a lot more that I thought he would; I dare say than most of us thought he could. I get the sense that he isn’t all good or all bad, all authentic or all sincere, but he is one of us, and grew up, and I mean came to age among us, in times of great trouble. He resolved, in his moment in the glare of the headlights, not to panic, not to be arrogant, but rather, to be astute and careful. And so far, he’s walked a tight rope like no other, ever, stumbling yet not falling, playing his small hand with draconian authority. Yet, at the same time, being so very circumspect about when he plays that hand and letting freedom reign, far more than ever before. Yet, we have not like he, grown up all that very well, and he, like us, does not have a full fledged ethos of ethics. But with daring audacity he has allowed us to see, if we look with clear eyes, the glimmering fingers of dawn that must surely follow the darkest hour of the night.

We’ve always had our mother. She is Lanka. That is the third thing I know about my country, and when I say, our mother is Lanka, or Ilankai or Eelam (for that too is a name for Lanka), I do not mean it in the sense of an inanimate goddess that is to be adored, appropriated and used as a cover for racism, violence and inequality. No, I mean it in the sense of Lanka’s lament, in the great songstress’ lyric, "Deddahas Pansiya Vasarak. (For 2,500 years)." In this beautiful song, Nanda Malini sings Lanka’s lament, her almost helpless sadness and deep grief, at the robbers and killers she has given birth to, who have then become big men and women, clinging to power by selling her name.

We’ve never had a father, and we never will. Our mother is old, and her breasts are dry. She is sad and grieving. It is time to grow up and come to terms with ourselves as orphans. And on this election day, resolve to keep doing the little ethical things that will make our country a little better, and perhaps one of us will one day be the child that our mother always wanted, and never had.

Published in the Colombo Telegraph website on August 17, 2015.

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