The doctor we desperately needed we lost to Covid-19…

The doctor we desperately needed we lost to Covid-19…

A young doctor who still had so much to give to Sri Lanka, succumbed to COVID-19 today.

Dr Gayan Danthanarayana goes into history not just as the first doctor claimed by the virus in Sri Lanka.

He goes down in history as a doctor who was much needed – we lost him at a time when we needed him most.

We needed him because he didn’t think twice about serving the poor in the often tough rural areas with low facilities.

Where hospitals are ill equipped to deal with the stress and strain of taking care of the sick – yet those of the calibre of Dr Gayan always had just enough inspiration to go on serving.

In a community that often sees the bad before it sees the good, young doctors like Gayan give all of us hope – that the medical professional is as noble as we could imagine it to be.

That for every doctor who disappoints us, there are hundreds of silent yet dedicated medical professionals who make their calling still the most respected in the world.

Today, as the nation mourns the untimely death of a young doctor, social media is awash with heartfelt tributes to a young man whose life’s calling seemed to have been a passion beyond a mere job.

One post recalled Dr Gayan’s stint at the Ampara Hospital.

Often, an ambulance – not really an ambulance but a makeshift van with a bed, traveling across roads with more pot holes than the van could negotiate, would carry a sick child from a hospital without facilities in a rural area to the bigger hospital at Ampara.

Every time the van hits a pot hole, the tube on the breathing apparatus would come off and the attending staff would have to stop, light a torch and put the tube back in to ensure that the child would be able to breathe and make it to the hospital safe.

The nightmare trip taken through some of the most difficult terrain of the deep rural Sri Lanka, would end at the Ampara hospital where Dr Gayan waited with more than just medical help at hand.

He would reach out to the doctors and the staff who took the challenging task of bringing a very sick child through a perilous journey – once the child was taken care of, he never forgot to treat the accompanying doctor and nurses to a cup of tea.

The writer, a doctor himself, also noted that most of the children who were thus resuscitated and made well, would come back to see them with grateful hearts. They owed their very life to the commitment displayed by doctors the calibre of Dr Gayan.

Dr Gayan served in hospitals considered difficult, often attending to the needs of the rural poor, helpless villagers whose only refuge is in a hospital a million miles away from what we in the city perceive hospitals to be.

It breaks my heart and the hearts of every Sri Lankan to comprehend that a doctor of his calibre had to leave so soon.

It breaks my heart that a doctor who ministered selflessly to the poor had to be rushed from Ragama, close to Colombo and then to IDH before finally being sent to Karapitiya Hospital in Galle which is said to have the sole life support system for critically ill patients.

Maybe there is enough reason for us to come together to do something about it. That would be the best we could give in Dr Gayan’s memory.

Dr Gayan was also an accomplished musician who played his guitar – a smiling young man whose cheerful demeanor seemed to convey his zest for life, his dedication to his profession and to his music.

Let Dr. Gayan’s untimely death not be in vain.

Let it light a path of hope towards more ECMO units being installed in the island.

Let it open our eyes that if we come together as we did for the Cancer Hospital Project, we as a nation can raise the funds needed to put up another ECMO unit in a hospital easily accessible.

One young girl who united all Sri Lankans..and she wears a head scarf..

One young girl who united all Sri Lankans..and she wears a head scarf..

When Shukra Munawwar excelled in the Sri Lankan version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ on a local TV channel, the 17 year old schoolgirl from the South of Sri Lanka, brought all Sri Lankans together in one joyous celebration.

It was not just her sincerity, her candid and cheerful demeanor that captured the hearts across religious and ethnic divides.

It was her story, her talent, her skill and her determination.

Shukra, beautifully clad in a head scarf and exceptionally knowledgeable in her answers, was not just another Muslim girl – she was a Sri Lankan young woman, who epitomized the hopes and dreams of her generation.

In a nation that has been more than divided – deeply wounded in fact – following the brutal Easter Sunday massacre in churches and hotels that saw over 300 dead and countless wounded, many still in deep trauma and recovery, Shukra was the healing balm we all needed.

The recent controversy over the cremation of COVID-19 victims had only widened the level of tensions.

But none of it was visible, when post after post on social media, shared by jubilant people of all ethnicities and religions, celebrated Shukra and her exceptional skills and talent tested on the screen.

There are lessons for us all here.

The courageous young woman up on the stage, telling her story of how she came to take part in the ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” style contest on Sirasa TV, bubbled over with enthusiasm and hope.

She may have been from a less than affluent background but she was richer than many who boast of wealth, could be.

She was richer in her values, in her attitude and outlook in life and her unstoppable hope of a better tomorrow.

She came to take part in the show, she said, because she needed to buy a laptop computer to continue her studies online.

Her mother, who accompanied her to the show, couldn’t afford to buy one for her – her father was too sick to work and was bedridden. But she was determined to rise above it all.

In one single sentence, watched by thousands, this cheerful young woman was able to highlight the plight of hundreds of children who cannot afford the resources needed to pursue a holistic online study experience in Sri Lanka.

Her story was sad but she didn’t cry sharing it.

Instead, she chose to say what needed to be heard – that stories like hers should only serve to make one stronger, enabling one to reach heights of doing the impossible.

Never give up, she said. Until you have reached your goal.

I am here, she said, because I know the difficulties children doing online classes face in economically challenged families.

Respect your parents, she said, especially when they cannot afford to buy you what you want.

Give us all an equal stage to show our talents, she said, no matter where we come from.

At a time when average youngsters of her age spend the majority of their time either constantly engaged with a device or playing games, often choosing the solitary confinement of their rooms, Shukra gave us all hope that among them are young women and men like her, who still find the time and the ability to acquire knowledge that matters.

Someday, I want to be the CEO of a well known organization, said this cheerful young woman with the candor that the young could muster, her eyes sparkling.

Singlehandedly capturing a nation’s love and warmth.

Shukra has a powerful message for us all – she refused to curse the darkness – instead, she chose to light a candle and let the light cast its glow upon herself and the others.

May we meet more and more young people the calibre of Shukra.

They are my heroes..

They are my heroes..

As they say, not all heroes wear capes.

Some are ordinary people with no stars in their eyes – they do what they have been doing and don’t think big of their achievements.

Yet, those achievements have changed lives, transformed people and empowered others to go where no one has gone before.

They come from everyday ranks. They rise above the pettiness of race, religion and creed.

They are heroes because they are humble enough to acknowledge that they have made a difference – for all the right reasons.

Hiruni Nadeeshani is one such young woman who believed in a child with special needs. She was the teacher who together with his mother who never gave up on her son, turned him around – who had the conviction to teach a differently abled child to excel in an exam used to evaluate talented children across Sri Lanka.

A teacher at the school where the parents enrolled Ramal, a child with special needs in order to help him fit in with average children, Hiruni, along with other teachers, took him under her wing.

Together, they coached a child with speech and comprehension difficulties, giving him the confidence to sit for the Grade Five Scholarship exam and pass with flying colors.

In a Facebook post, Hiruni shared an emotion packed message – when she asked Ramal what he wanted as a present for passing the exam well, he told her in sign language that all he wants is a heart.

When she asked him what his position was in the exam, he smiled and said he was No 01 – in sign language.

If he could speak, he would have spoken volumes.

Words fail me as I write this.

This child and this teacher both came from an under-privileged school in need of many facilities, Karagampitiya Wijaya School.

Today, as her post about Ramal’s success went viral, the school and its star pupil and the teacher who never have up, have become a talking point, with many offering to help the school.

There are more heroes whose courage and commitment brought out the best in humanity during the same Grade Five Scholarship exam.

Umer Ahamath is a ten year old Muslim boy attending a school in Chilaw where he lives. He studies in the Sinhala medium. He scored 196 marks in the scholarship exam, bringing credit to his school and to the entire Chilaw district. Everyone in his town are proud of the little boy’s achievements.

There’s nothing remotely racial or religious about talent and skill. Umer has shown us that.

There are more heroes.

The Kaddupulam Govt Mixed School in Chankanai, Jaffna recorded a Year Five Scholarship success – after 35 years.

S.Thabishran of Kaddupulam passed the Grade 5 scholarship exam with 179 marks at a school without access to resources.

The smile on his face speaks volumes for the joy he and his family, his teachers and his school, feel in registering such a success.

He comes from a school that is functioning amidst numerous needs – for resources, for teachers and for facilities.

There are others heroes too.

The children who sit the scholarship exam often seek better schools, ones with more resources and opportunities.

The majority come from rural villages and are tremendously talented – their stories should inspire us everyday.

Their stories should empower the rest of us, the parents and the students from schools with plenty of resources and facilities, to appreciate and be thankful for what we have and often enough, take for granted.

From Ramal to Umer, Thabishran and the others who have gone on to score high in a competitive exam, it is the first taste of success in their pursuit to be given access to a better education.

They are the future of Sri Lanka. Their stories should drive us all to do something bigger and better than what we are doing now.

They never complained of what they didn’t have – instead, they made the best use of what they had to achieve results that make us all proud of them – and the future.

May their tribe increase.

Thank you for the books, Aunty Sybil..

Thank you for the books, Aunty Sybil..

The daughter of a writer, I was introduced to the magical formula of reading and writing at an early age, by my father.

My father Premil Ratnayake knew Sybil Wettasinghe well – they both shared a common work heritage at the Lake House, the home of legendary journalists.

I was five or six years old when he brought me Duwana Rawula (The Runaway Beard) which was the first Sybil Weerasinghe book I ever read.

More would follow. Many, actually.

As I started to discover the magical world of books, her mesmerizing stories of the simple village life became more than just books – they were escapades, a journey into an imaginary world of enchantment, one in which wonderful characters lived.

Her books were a staple for us as children of the Seventies.

We had no phones, no internet and not even TV back then.

But we had her books.

Listening to me, my thirteen year old daughter raises her eyebrows –

but what did you do then, Ammi?

We read. That’s what we did, I tell her. We read Enid Blyton, we read Charles Dickens, we read Nancy Drew.

And yes, we read Sybil Wettasinghe.

Fed on a diet of reading that nourished you from inside out, it would not have done justice to the words I read if I hadn’t turned to writing – which came as natural as reading was to me.

I would clank away at my father’s old typewriter, writing stories and articles for children’s newspapers.

All the while, reading Aunty Sybil, among others.

But the enchantment of dear Aunty Sybil didn’t end in childhood for me.

Years later, as I continued my reading and writing into adulthood, her book Vaniyan Kalu Vaniyan (The Child In Me) which chronicles the serene childhood spent in the charming village of Gintota, in Galle, never failed to inspire the child in me.

It was her gift to the next generations – her signature narrative about a way of life that no longer existed.

If she didn’t tell the stories, how would we understand?

How would we know the thrill of going to school across streams and greenery? The thrill of picking fruit that grew so abundantly in the village?

How would we know the love of a grandmother for her granddaughter as they foraged the forest together for ripe fruit?

The story teller in Sybil Wettasinghe takes us by the hand and together, we discover her village home, the idyllic setting of her aththamma’s (grandmother’s) house.

We meet the characters who bring her stories to life – Sedara Akka, Loku Amma, Babun Appu, Nandaseeli and many other village folk whose stories she so charmingly details.

The silvery waters of the stream in which little Sybil and her grandma bathed – or the silvery moon on that special night when her mother and the rest of the villagers would boil jackfruit and eat it as a midnight feast.

We are right there with her as the cook Carolyn churns out condiments on the traditional stone grinder, almost meditating.

Or ponder the plate sized hoppers little Sybil had for breakfast on her way to the primary school.

The stories are not just full of enchantment but they bring to life the vivid memories of a simple childhood, spent in the serenity of a village in which everyone knew everyone and life was a lot less complicated.

It was the old world charm of an era long vanished – yet still alive in the pages of her books, living on for the generations to come.

Her other books – from Runaway Beard to Children of the Clay House, often chronicled simple stories that left a deep impact on children. Her lucid style of story telling captivated audiences, whether young or old.

The stories were never complete without her magical drawings that accompanied the stories.

I will never forget how the old Seeya (grandfather) in the Runaway Beard found his beard growing as white as snow to fill an entire house – the childhood memory is still so alive that I could close my eyes and hear my father reading the book to me.

Thank you Aunty Sybil for your unforgettable art of story telling. The clarity, the lucid style that never failed to captivate hearts and minds as you took us on journeys into the heartland of the village.

The characters you helped us remember – the stories you told so beautifully.

It is indeed a privilege to pass on your legacy that lit a thousand lights in the fertile mind of the young – to my children.

They have enjoyed your books as much as I have.

May the turf lie gently over you – may the stories live on in our hearts.

Why 18 year old Shan inspires us all…

Why 18 year old Shan inspires us all…

Imagine a three year old left on his own, deserted by his mother in the aftermath of his father’s funeral.

Little Shan packed his school uniform, wore the other and set out in search of a shelter, leaving behind his coir mill home for good.

He was alone.

It had been no home – but it was the only one he knew and he didn’t mind the dust. But now it was no more because he was alone.

What happened as the three year old started his journey on his own, is history.

He remembers waking up in hospital soon afterwards and  being taken in by a kind bus conductor and his family. They took care of him until he sat for his O/Ls.

Shan had to cook his own food and do chores in the home they gave him but he didn’t mind.

He went on to get prizes for his talent in singing and other extra curricular activities.

Soon afterwards, his foster father dies from a cancer – knowing that he would become a burden to the the foster family, Shan sets out, determined to build a life on his own terms.

One goal is to get his birth certificate – he didn’t have one.

Because he did not have a birth certificate, the school had not allowed him to take part in any activities.

He didn’t mind – every time this young man was dealt a blow in life, he used it to become stronger.

He was able to get a birth certificate after much persistence, time spent and great efforts undertaken – but thanks to archaic laws that govern such documents, his birth certificate states that his parents are unknown.

Just like in Kenny Rogers’ song, where they called Jimmy the coward of the county, people called Shan the fatherless child in less flattering terms.

Shan didn’t mind – he had goals to attain.

Shan then gets a job with a restaurant – and a place to stay with a salary.

He learns cooking and all of its craft here – after working from dawn until evening, he believes he has finally found a place he can call home.

Things change when Shan is fired for not waking up on time one day – he has only one passion in life and that is music.

After work, he would stay up to watch the music sessions going on in a close by place.

And then one day, he oversleeps.

Out of a job and back on the street, Shan is no longer alone.

His friend, the pastry chef earning a salary of LKR 75,000 per month along side him in the restaurant, chooses to walk out with him.

He refuses to leave Shan to face the world on his own.

In a true test of sincere friendship, Shan and his friend set up a restaurant, along with another friend in the Kuliyapitiya town who gives up his ambition to join in the venture.

The three friends are soon joined by another – they work like a team and the result is a restaurant with a booming business in Muthukuda Plaza Kuliyapitiya Town.

Shan is more than an example to the young generation of today – and to all of us.

Just eighteen but wiser beyond years, Shan has formed his own line of defense in the face of insults, refusals and rebuts.

His strength is his quiet resilience – and a steely determination to fine tune his art and emerge not just a dynamic entrepreneur but also a musician.

The many certificates and awards he has recieved stand testimony to his tremendous talent in music.

Today, helped by his friends and well wishers, he has recorded an album of 05 songs in it.

How does a young man, rejected by his family, ostercized by society and left to fend for himself, manage to hold it all together, so courageously, so well?

At a time when all around him, young men with families, parents, much loved and nurtured, are making wrong decisions and wrong choices, Shan stands tall, a beacon of hope to us all.

Shan bears no ills, no grudges against those who called him names, those who sneered at him.

His eyes shining, his hopes high, he tells of his ambition to qualify in music and eventually, to save enough to buy a plot of land, build a house and invite his mother – if he can find her – to live with him.

Among restless young men who wear anger like some sort of a jewel to consolidate their position in society , Shan could have easily turned the rejection, the pain into a weapon he could have thrown back at those who opposed him.

Instead, he has perfected the best weapon to fight injustice – success.

Shan and his friends run their restaurant with perfect precision – and share the profits on an equal basis – a true band of brothers, if there one ever was.

So what does this courageous young man with his eyes sparkling with hope, his voice so rich with talent, tell us?

That every rejection can be turned into a powerful weapon of hope.

That being fatherless and motherless yet knowing the right path to trod on is richer than having all the family in the word and yet feel lost and hopeless.

That taking inspiration from what you possess instead of lamenting over what you don’t possess, is greater than mourning what you never had.

That when all is said and done, if there is courage, determination and talent, the only limit you have is the one you impose on yourself.

May Shan be truly blessed – may his band of brothers who gave up their comforts to stand by him, be blessed as they stay a beacon of light in a world of darkness.

 

 

Let the Sri Lankan in me rise up!

Let the Sri Lankan in me rise up!

One month ago, on Easter Sunday 2019, suicide bombers set themselves off in three churches in Sri Lanka and three hotels.

Amidst the mayhem, the confusion, they killed almost 300 innocents, injuring over 500.

Among the dead were mothers and fathers, children and teenagers.

Some lost all – the entire families perished. Others lost parents and parents lost children.

Many were the sole survivors of their once beautiful and much cherished families.

Before we looked for the perpetrators, we tried to find the answers.

I too had walked out of the Easter Sunday service – my family and I were looking forward to the traditional Easter meal.

The pork chops I had bought sat in the sink where I had left them in a dish to marinade before running off to the usually packed church service.

There were many others who too would have dashed off to service that day, hoping to come back to clear the dishes or the cups. They were from areas that traditionally celebrated Easter with festivity and pageantry. They were rejoicing in the Lord’s resurrection, following the 40 days of fasting since Ash Wednesday.

They never got the chance.

Somewhere in Katuwapitiya, the Negombo neighbourhood that had over 100 snatched from its community in the Katuwapitiya St. Sebastian Church blast, the closed up houses would remain closed up. Maybe empty tea cups still sat in the sink ;maybe the traditional Easter meal was to be cooked.

We would never know.

Why?

The question still reverberates in our hearts.

Our hearts continue to be broken as we seek answers – as the armed forces do their job, the questions remain. Why and how did such despicable acts become almost ordinary for the suicide bombers, not some desperados with nowhere to go, but educated young men from rich families, blinded by hatred, walking so calmly into the churches and the hotels, with their deadly backpacks?

Last night, I saw an image of a young father cradling his dead daughter’s body in his arms in the bombed Katuwapitiya church. His daughter and wife both perished in the attack. He lost his entire world.

That image broke my heart into a thousand pieces. As did the images of Anusha Kumari, who lost her husband and her two children. The two young girls who lost their doting father in the St. Anthony’s Church Kochchikade attack. The children whose skin burns and injuries sustained in the attack on the Zion Church in Batticaloa burn our hearts every time we them. The young mother who had to face life saving surgery on the spine last week – she lost her son and was blinded in the blast. The British man who lost his wife and the two children in the hotel blast. The list is long and every needless death, every injury, tears at our heart strings.

Sri Lanka had been through a 30 year war that was as merciless and vicious as it could be. Suicide bombers blew themselves up in trains and city centers. Until ten years ago, when the war was finally won, we lived with check points, identity checks and fear of another bomb going off. We were resilient – we knew we would overcome.

One month following the attacks, we are still numbed with pain. Not a day passes by when we don’t think of the victims, their lives so cruelly snatched, their memories let behind. The psychological scars are stronger than the physical ones ; some may never recover from the loss.

For us , resilience has become not just a choice but a key component in our ability to emerge from a dented national psyche. How do we come to terms with the new normal of searching bags and vehicles, check points and suspicious glances? Where do we find a common thread that binds all of us as Sri Lankans? Can we find it in us, who overcame a war of greater proportions ten years ago, the strength, the power, the will to learn the lessons and emerge stronger?

These are the questions that surround us as I write this one month on.

Of course there is a way out.

Firmly entrenched in our memories.

As a child growing up in the Seventies, I remember a Sri Lanka that was so unique in the way her different communities were connected yet each individually proud of its own distinctive mark. Christmas was everyone’s festive season – Vesak was the occasion to celebrate the lights, Ramadan meant a biriyani feast and the Hindu Vel festival brought everyone out on the streets to watch the parade.

The differences were celebrated – they were never meant to exclude but rather, include all.

The Muslims were embraced by the Christians and the Buddhists – the Hindus were too.

Some traditions were too hallowed not to continue into the 21st century.

The famous Majestic City Hotel Biriyani that continues its champion status to this day – thanks to Rifai’s commitment to maintaining the quality.

The Green Cabin cream buns – no matter how carb conscious you are , you cannot resist biting into the cream filled centre.

The Piccadilly Cafe ice cream and the Bake House milk shakes – the list of Seventies nostalgia is endless ; there is tremendous potential there to revive the Sri Lankan spirit.

Food of course brings communities together in more ways than one.

It can do the same again.

Somewhere down the line, the oneness gave way to walls going up around the community – suddenly, there was an us and a them.

From then to now, there had been nothing but erosion ; of the old old fashioned values that were held dear and common to all.

Let’s all rally around a common Sri Lankan identity – one etched in food. Good old Sri Lankan dishes we all loved and still do. That are waiting to be discovered by the young generation as well.

That road my friend is still wide open – we just have to discover it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cave rescue restores faith in mankind..

Cave rescue restores faith in mankind..

A few weeks ago, 12 boys went to explore a cave in Thailand along with their coach.

At the time, they never imagined that what would have been a boys’ day out would become a drama watched by an anxious world, saturated with prayers from all faiths.

But that’s exactly what it became.

As news stations around the world waited for news with bated breath and experts came together to look for ways to get the trapped boys and their coach to safety, it brought to light the heroism of Thai special forces and countless volunteers from specialised military operations such as SEALS from all over the world.

Amidst the anguish of mothers and families, only too familiar to mothers everywhere who wait anxiously for their children to return home from trips, excursions and the like, there was something else that struck me.

It was the power of humanity that assures me that yes, there is hope for mankind.

Love and compassion is not dead as the world or its media would like us to believe. For a moment frozen in time, it was love in action. The men leading the rescue were fathers themselves ; this mission was personal.

The cave rescue showed the world that despite the gloomy predictions, there is enough reason for our children to look forward to kindness and mercy in the world.

Not only because so many experts came together to put their lives on the line in wading into a treacherous cave to rescue boys they have never seen or known ; also because the story brought the world into a tight circle of caring – across social media platforms, reaching the furthest places and beyond.

From Elon Musk to the prayer warriors of your corner church, the world stood together, wanting nothing but the best for the trapped boys and their coach. It was a beautiful moment history would record for the next generations to see that humanity can be a beautiful thing, Still.

In an age when a singular preoccupation with the smartphone often means we miss tender moments that connect us together, the rescue meant something to all of us. It restored our faith in humanity – as a community, united through a thin but powerful line of technology that enabled each of us to connect with the heroes on the ground in Thailand, celebrated the rescue as never before.

It was not just the rescue effort but the commitment undertaken with an iron resolve to ensure that there would be no looking back. From the determined Thai SEALS one of whom sacrificed his life towards setting the children free, to the British and American SEALs and other cave diving specialists who gathered at the mouth of the cave to lend their shoulders to the effort.

Thailand was not alone. The world was with them, united by more than just a popular effort, one that touched every mother’s heart, one that resonated with people everywhere. From Facebook updates to prayers seeking divine intervention, people all over the world stood together in wishing nothing but the best outcome of a chaotic situation.

And there we find a cause for celebration – not only because as I write this, the boys have been rescued and the heroes quietly slipping away back into their lives. But also because for a moment frozen in time, humanity came together in one singular effort that cut across national, geographical, political, ethnic and religious borders.

Tonight my children can sleep tight in knowing that kindness is very much alive out there somewhere ; and when needed, it can flow right in.

 

 

 

 

 

divided we stand..

divided we stand..

 

My son’s good friend Hameed Zahran passed away tragically around this time last year.

His friends mourned him across religious and ethnic divides.

It never occurred to them – or to my son that this was a Moslem who died. He was their friend, the boy next door who strummed his guitar and sang out loud during breaks. The first one to volunteer for anything.

He will stay in their memories that way.

For years, I have sworn by my daughter’s Paeditrician  the trusted Dr Azyan Shafik, a student of late Dr Stella who was a legend and a stalwart in Sri Lankan paediatrics.

It has never occurred to me or to anyone of us that he is a Moslem.

Whenever we are in the mood for well prepared, tasty biriyani, we look no further than the trusty old Majestic Hotel. The owner is a Moslem,  but it has never ever occurred to me to question his faith before tucking into the delicious rice.

Often enough, we order sawaans from Moslem owned eateries – mostly because they are easy to serve and often suffice for big groups of guests.

No, we don’t wonder about the religious beliefs of the eatery owners.

A step further, when Thajudeen was mourned across the divide as a clear case of misconstrued justice for a human being, I don’t recall anyone mentioning his faith.

Why has it suddenly become a dangerous factor that is forcing us to pause and take stock if ethnicity or as in this case, a religious group, is something to be worried about.

Having recovered from years of blood shed and mayhem, if anything I want to teach my children as Sri Lankans, is to think Sri Lankan. Not to be limited to a time or a space that calls for narrow straight jacketed thinking that smacks of insecurity and bias.  To even think that someone in the orbit of tomorrow must consider a person’s religious or ethnicity before his or her qualities as a human being, should be worrisome to us all.

Hear me out here – yes, there are extremists on both sides.

As there always are. But the majority of Sri Lankans, whether Moslem, Sinhalese, Tamil or Burgher , are not and are only happy to lead their lives and mind their business.

If a nation can be governed through insecurity gnawing away inside about a particular ethnic or a religious group who could be positioned as a threat, then we have learnt nothing from our deeply scarring experiences with the 30 year old war. We have only burdened the next generation with prejudice, colouring their world view for good.

We are no longer in isolation today. We are a part of the vibrant international community, whose larger than life presence on social media can pick up vibes in seconds and form opinions without facts.

We have opted to forget that in such a interlinked world, no ethnic or a religious group can stick to their corner and cry wolf. It doesn’t work that way. If someone can play on your insecurity, then you have not evolved much.

When we shop or hunt for bargains, we don’t choose to dwell on the shop owner’s ethnicity.  When we choose a product or a service, the religious affiliations or the ethnicity of the owners, often does not come into play. We choose what we want. It really doesn’t matter.

Some of Sri Lanka’s biggest and best known companies which employ thousands of Sri Lankans of all ethnicity and religions, are owned by Moslems. There are Moslems working side by side with fellow Lankans in companies owned by Sinhalese.

Matters not to anyone to question the ethnicity or the religious affiliations of the owners when applying for a job.

Where would we go if we give in to extremists? Where would our children be able to come together as a nation to go past the mistakes and the mishaps we have come through as a nation, to celebrate unity in diversity?

My son schooled at the great school by the sea, S. Thomas College Mount Lavinia where he learnt the best lesson of all – getting along with all shades of fellow Lankans. Although a Christian school, STC was a great place that brought together Sri Lankans of all faiths and ethnicity. Even today, my son and his class mates do not see themselves through the coloured lens of ethnicity and religion – but as Sri Lankans of Generation Z.

That should be the goal of us all.

 

 

 

When the scars remind you of the battle ..pick up the pieces and move on..

When the scars remind you of the battle ..pick up the pieces and move on..

What do you do when you go to pieces?

What do you do when your world collapses – in one earth shattering moment?

Sometimes it is the last thing you had in mind. At other times, it is what you thought would never happen to you. All the same, when your sanity lies on the edge, mutilated and wounded, your sense of balance is gone and you just sit there wondering what happened, it is that moment that you come face to face with yourself.

Not the you who faced the flak. Not the you that went to pieces – but the you who overcame the odds and survived.

We are all survivors, one way or another.

For some of us, it has been a process – sometimes easy at other times tough yet a process all the same. Yet, there are others who never recover. Who may live for years with the emotional trauma of it all.

Recovery has to be self-willed. There’s no other way around it.

If you are waiting for someone to come and help you pinpoint the pain and somehow magically, take it all away, you are dreaming.

The will to do something about it starts and ends with you.

You choose to overcome. You choose to learn from what happened and move on.

In short, you choose to pick up the pieces and move on. Apply the lessons you learned. Forgive those who hurt you. Forget – if possible – what happened.

The scars that heal over time are there to remind you that you fought the battle.

That you survived  – not because that is what people do. But because that’s what you chose to do.

You chose to wear your scars as lessons. Lessons that teach you about the treachery, the betrayal, the sheer folly of living life. There will always be those who will be the bad guys. Yet the good guys have survived and always will.

Battle scarred doesn’t mean defeat. It means that you have become stronger, better because of those scars. Scars often help us overcome the odds – to remind ourselves that we fought the battle and yes, we were wounded but what matters is that we survived.

Change your perspective. Sometimes, the worldview we hold is often at the ground level – go higher. One step, yes but maybe two. A higher perspective often calls for a better view. You would see what you didn’t – couldn’t see at ground level. That somehow, it would all be okay.

All survivors have fought battles – sometimes within, sometimes outside. Often, they have had to fight the fifth column – the enemy within. But the important thing is that they have overcome.

Did you know that there is a winner living inside you – beneath all the heartache, the pain, the betrayal? That the winner can emerge just the same way that a caterpillar became a butterfly.

So, if you that survivor, move on. You can. You will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hameed Zahran – a requiem for another mother’s son..

Hameed Zahran – a requiem for another mother’s son..

I didn’t know there was space in my heart for another mother’s son but there was.

Hameed Zahran was my son’s batch mate from law school – I never saw him face to face but his zest for life, music and fellowship flowed through my son’s mentions many times. I learnt, between work, cooking and a hundred other things we do in a home, that he loved composing his own music, sang often, carried his guitar with him and loved to travel.

And that he was the soul and the sound of almost every singing competition. That he could sing in Sinhala and English too. That he sang with gusto and fervour, a young man whose talent was more than a measure of his capacity to give of himself to others.

When on Thursday the 02nd of March, one day after Lent started, my son suddenly burst in on me and told me that his friend had died, the shock of it just took my tiredness at the end of a long work day, away.

How? I wanted to know. What happened? How does a lively 22 year old die like that?

To cut a long story short, he just happened to be at the beach side, accompanying two other friends looking for cardboard boxes for an event, when along comes two policemen who choose to frisk him on the rail tracks. Hameed hands the policemen his wallet and the phone and the next nano second, a train comes along and hits him in the back.

He dies 24 hours later in hospital. After an operation in which doctors fought hard to save his life – but could not. His body was damaged too much by the train hitting him at that speed, at that distance.

I try to hold back tears. But they flow freely, as freely as they did when my father passed away almost four years ago.

A son from another mother. His memory stares back at me, his cheerful eyes lighting up the photo on his Facebook wall.

I can’t even bring myself to think of his grieving parents. I heard about the parents having to wash his body before burial as the Moslem custom requires them to. What struck me like a thunder was what his mother would have felt, washing him in death, as she did in life as a little boy.

I could feel the beat of her heart, being torn apart, muscle by muscle, vein by vein.

No mother would want to go through such pain. It was not just unbearable. It was unneccesary ; and in vain.

One more conversation, one more song from his carefree style of singing, his hair flowing, his eyes glowing , one more moment of living a vibrant life, one he was snatched so soon from.

His friends remember Hameed the patient listener, the wandering free spirit, the friend who always had a smile. And a song. And a word of comfort.

A gracious soul, vivacious in life.

Grief has no words. It does have a place, one that squeezes everything out of you.

As I write this, I try to hold back the tears. I never knew him – I only knew him through my son’s words. Yet his spirit reached out and touched me, a young man whose zest for life, for music and for friendship descended through it all.

Who was responsible for his death? Why did he have to go so early?

Those are the questions his friends, as would-be lawyers are asking. They will undoutbtedly  find their answers.

Until then, goodbye sweet prince – may the turf lie gently over you.

You live up there, in the clouds, where you would serenade Heaven with your music.

Down here,  your friends will always miss you.