No longer a nation of shackled and silenced sons..

No longer a nation of shackled and silenced sons..

There are songs that make you feel good and then there are those that hit you deep down and bring tears to your eyes, leaving a mark indelible.

In Sinhala, we call it බොක්කටම වැදුනා (stuck my gut).

The first time I listened to Visharada Nanda Malini’s legendary Yadhamin Bande sung by a young man strumming a guitar at the current protests going on against the President at the Galle Face Green, it struck a deep chord within. It went through to your heart like a knife and stayed there.

That song, defiant yet the determined call of a mother who questions why a nation that shackled her son for seeking a new world of equality and justice, needs the judiciary and the law, is a clarion call for us all.

Her song, as many of her other songs, sums up the current mood of the nation. In fact, when she came in person to the protest site and sang her iconic lyrics with a massive audience joining in, it was indeed a defining moment.

For all of us.

A vision in white, dignified and unhurried, she sings the dirge of a nation that’s been too long under the ruthless political clout of thugs and thieves. Nanda Malini has always been a legendary and defiant icon, pouring into song the struggles and pain of a nation in subjugation for so long that many thought it could not, did not have the will to rise up – some day.

That day came not too long ago.

It came when Sri Lankans felt the burden too much to bear. The fuel that never came, the gas that never was enough, the power that was cut for hours on end and the food that was increasingly becoming too expensive to eat ; the price of dhal skyrocketed beyond the reach of the average household.

It came first to Mirihana, my own neighbourhood. And no, the angry young men who marched towards the President’s house did not burn buses or attack the police. They were after work, angry at having to face power cuts and no fuel. Their cry was for justice. They wanted their lives back.

Their protest was however diluted with sinister elements introduced to the crowd to set fire to buses and cause mayhem. After all, explain to me why the armed police and STF watched while the man calmly set fire to the bus.

The drama that went on the entire night – our neighbourhood turned into a war zone while armed police and STF chased unarmed protestors, men and women, down lanes, firing tear gas and bludgeoning them as they ran to escape the tear gas.

It ended with over 50 young men being taken to a camp where the Special Task Force, once a respected elite unit of Police Commandos, assaulted and tortured them mercilessly before handing over to police. They were kept overnight with serious injuries in the police station at Mirihana. The lawyers who came early morning to see the young men were initially refused access ; there were plans to file charges against the young men under the Sri Lanka’s dreaded PTA. But all of it fizzled out, as most of their ill conceived strategies would do in the next few days.

In the end, as the young men, bloodied and injured but not broken, defiant against manufactured state terror, emerged at the courts to witness a true heroes’ welcome – hundreds of lawyers stood there on their behalf. For the first time in Sri Lankan history, a sea of black coated lawyers clapped and welcomed the heroes. Outside, normal everyday Sri Lankans welcomed them with open arms and relief.

They could have so easily been killed.

It was the kind of hero’s welcome no politician or a leader has ever received. It came from the heart of everyone present.

Nanda Malini’s song of defiance defined the first volley that was fired against a corrupt and a mismanaged Government – with the Mirihana protest.

The lyrics- power packed against the purile, empty and barbaric attempts of a state machinery operating under the curse of defiling a nation, touched me deep within.

Every time I listen to those lyrics, tears well up for the mothers who have lost their sons throughout our history.

යදමින් බැඳ විලංගුලා – මගේ පුතා රැගෙන යන්
ඉදිකටු ඇන ඇඟිලි තලා – දෙතිස්වදය පමුනුවන්
අළුත් ලොවක් ගැන සිතීම – දඩුවම් දෙන වරද නම්
කුමට එරට අධිකරනය – නීතිය සහ විනිසුරන්.

Take my son shackled and chained his fingers pierced with needles…tortured with 32 methods of torture

If thinking of a new world is a crime to be punished for, why do we need the judiciary, the law and the courts?

Those words had never rung more true or more apt for the people’s struggle that unfolded from that powerful moment of truth for us all.

Those words sank deep into my psyche – as the mother of a 24 year old son myself.

They stayed within me, turning into tears that poured for every son who dared to defy.

Her cry didn’t just embody the tortured young men at Mirihana who inspired a nation to come out against the corrupt Government – it also captivated the tears and cry of thousands of Tamil and Sinhala mothers who for years, have had to live with the ache in their hearts that come from losing a son – or a daughter.

The song ends with the mother saying that thousands more sons will come forward to take her son’s cause on to a bigger stage. And she, the mother , will be there to keep watch.

And those prophetic words have come true today – thousands of young men and women in search of a new Sri Lanka, one beyond the evil grip of one power hungry family, have come together to show the world that this indeed is the Sri Lanka we yearn for, now within our grasp.

Nanda Malini’s power packed lyrics have become a signature call for the people to rally to Galle Face, where they are determined to stay put – until they see change.

This is Sri Lanka’s finest moment. The best we can remember in a lifetime.

And the fact that she was there, the familiar figure in white, only added the lustre to the war cry.

යදමින් බැඳ විලංගුලා – මගේ පුතා රැගෙන යන්
ඉදිකටු ඇන ඇඟිලි තලා – දෙතිස්වදය පමුනුවන්
අළුත් ලොවක් ගැන සිතීම – දඩුවම් දෙන වරද නම්
කුමට එරට අධිකරනය – නීතිය සහ විනිසුරන්.

කකා බිබී නටන අතර – නරුම යහළු යෙළියන්
පන්දු කෙලින අතර ඉහල – පාසල් වල අමනයන්
රටගිනි ගෙන ඇති වග දුටු – මගේ එකම පුතනුවන්
එගිනි නිවන මඟ සෙවීම – වරදක් දැයි මට කියන්

ගිනිගන්නා රටක කෙලින – මී හරකුන් වැනි පුතුන්
කුමටද මට මහ විරුවෙකි – සිරගෙයි මල මගෙ පුතුන්
කෝටිගණන් බිහිවේවා – මගෙ පුතු වැනි තව පුතුන්
කිරි මව්ලස මම ඉන්නම් – එවන් පුතුන් ලඟ උතුම්

Sunil Perera – Thank you for the music

Sunil Perera – Thank you for the music

Growing up in Attidiya, Ratmalana, it was only natural that you become a fan of Sunil, Piyal and the Gypsies – they lived at Glukorasa, the iconic building by the Belek Kade Junction about which Sunil sang so merrily.

Glukorasa made jujubes and chewing gum back then – they were among the few choices we had as confectionaries at the time.

Belek Kade & its colourful Saima featured in his bailas ; Belek Kade was also where the weekly poll was held at Ratmalana – I remember going with my mother to buy vegetables to Belek Kade as a child. It was and is a heaving place of activity and has remained so in my mind.

I was in Grade Seven at Musaeus College at the time and we would take the school bus on Galle Road from Ratmalana. Many of us maintained song books and wrote to whatever artistes we could – I still remember writing to the Gypsies and receiving their memorabilia including a signed colour photo.

Precious to us back then. The legacy of Sunil’s music remains equally precious even now – some forty years later.

Sunil Perera was one of a kind musician. It wasn’t only his baritone voice – he once merrily announced at a concert that he tried singing soft romantic melodies that made the girls swoon like Milton Mallawaarachchi did but he couldn’t so he thought he will be content with his style of singing.

He sang about the issues we complained about – the politicians, the social issues, the utopia Sri Lankans seek but never seem to find – and so many other things in between.

He delivered the punches beautifully – and drove home his message that should have made us think once the party or the concert was over.

Satire was his game – he perfected it in song, singing about the so called musical maestros who criticised baila as an unacceptable art form but would be found on the dance floor after one or two drinks, swaying to the unacceptable yet perfectly rhythmic baila Sunil sang.

He was right about the itch to get on the dance floor when he took over the stage. No one could stay away from it when Sunil Aiya was in his element.

Even now, listening to him, it is impossible not to dance – even though the last physical dance we went to seems like a century ago. In fact, a good baila swirl around the kitchen floor to a good old baila hit by the Maestro himself is a part of my weekly wellness schedule – during the lockdowns.

His catchy tunes were the vehicle to deliver powerful lyrics that often conveyed a message of social importance. The music was his gift to us – creating a unique heritage that cuts deep, to a Sri Lankan psyche ; one that rises above the pettiness of political, ethnic and religious divide that keeps us occupied unnecessarily.

The music of Sunil Perera was not just the legacy of my generation.

It is also the legacy of my children’s generation -Gen Z raised on internet and smartphones- for them too, Sunil Perera and the Gypsies remained a common source of joy. They never complained or switched on their headphones when we played Sunil’s hits in the car. I still remember how Sunil’s Sumihiripane became an instant hit with my daughter’s class at one school event not too long ago. They who normally dismissed our Seventies & Eighties music, never dismissed Sunil Perera’s music but loved it.

His music was also a powerful social equaliser.

Where politics and dialogue may fail in rallying rural communities with the urban societies, Sunil’s music did that effortlessly. You could be in the hipster Colombo night clubs with fancy DJs, or counting fireflies at night in far flung villages – Sunil Perera’s music was equally celebrated by them all, uniting everyone as only music could.

It was the bridge that connected communities, families, friends and colleagues – a canvas so uniquely Sri Lankan that it represented us to us all.

Those who had left our shores to settle down in other countries, couldn’t bear not seeing Sunil & the boys in action – he was often entertaining Sri Lankans living overseas, in his own unique way as only he could.

Sunil Perera wasn’t only just a singer or a star – he was the whole package when it came to ticking off all the boxes in entertainment. He sang, he entertained, he kept you enthralled, gave you a moment frozen in time.

He also made you think about everyday issues that impacted you.

He was Numero Uno when it came to holdings his audiences enthralled. You never forgot a concert by Sunil & the Gypsies.

It stayed in your memories – for always.

Sunil ventured into sociopolitical dynamics that opened a path of citizen involvement in politics and burning social issues. It was a knife that cut both ways but Sunil remained sincere in his efforts to point out the stench underneath some of the issues that plagues the Lankan society.

He recently visited the tax authorities and insisted on paying taxes that he believed he owed – setting an example in his own way. he felt it was the right thing to do.

Sri Lankan today mourns a son who chose a different path – yet the love expressed and the tears shed by millions across this little island stands as a powerful testimony to the lives he touched with his music.

Goodbye Sunil Aiya – Heaven’s gained its baila maestro.

The pandemic can’t stop the good news…

The pandemic can’t stop the good news…

In the midst of a pandemic that’s stealing more lives than ever before, sanity needs prevailing…the kind of sanity that would help us overcome this and go back to the lives we had once taken for granted.

There’s nothing we need right now more than good news.

The kind of news that help us understand and celebrate being who we are – in the midst of the overfilled crematoriums, hapless patients struggling for oxygen and the healthcare workers overworked to the bone.

News that would be uplifting as over a million self employed people struggle to make ends meet – as many have no choice but to resort to eating one meal a day during the lockdown because they cannot go to work.

Last week, Yohani showed us that good news can come in many forms.

Her staggering over 40 million views mammoth achievement with one YouTube video not only captured the world but also captured all of us.

She has gone where no Sri Lankan singer/performer has gone before.

But not before teaching us many lessons that are comforting and inspiring – even in the midst of the darkness of the pandemic.

She showed us how it can be done – without fanfare, without criticism and without naysaying which seems to be a national pastime.

She just did what she did. Kept on singing and performing until that moment in time when her talent and her commitment just cut through the noise and made it to the Twitter page of a Bollywood legend – the rest is history.

This week, as Paralympic Games took off in Tokyo, Dinesh Priyantha Herath of the Sri Lanka Army who lost an arm in the war, took Gold in Men’s Javelin Throw, setting not only a new World Record but also showing his countrymen and women how you strike a win.

You don’t strike a win by punching the keys to criticise, spill hate or troll something or someone. Sure it helps to vent out but what beyond that?

It may give you a temporary high but minutes later, you are back at what you do best when you choose that road – living a miserable existence that goes nowhere. Everything can and will go wrong – would you still have the courage to stand up and say no, it cannot get me down?

Yohani and Dinesh have shown us that even in the midst of adversity, life needs – and can be celebrated.

It’s moments like what they have given us – by taking Sri Lanka to great heights globally – that can help us heal and come together as a nation.

If we don’t and we choose to wallow in our self-pity of broken systems that need fixing, we are taking the road that will never end but drive us even further into despair.

Maybe it’s the impact of the pandemic – of losing loved ones – the numbers have become names now – of the fear of the unknown, the fear of being infected and the sheer impact of losing livelihoods and income.

Maybe it’s not knowing where this pandemic will take us and not being able to truly comprehend what’s going on.

Maybe it brings out the worst in normally good people on social media or in person, losing it at vaccination centres and grumbling daily at what could be better.

Yes we have many broken systems that need fixing – everyday, all the time.

But we don’t have to be a part of it – we don’t need to allow ourselves to break down.

The human spirit is capable of rising above the situation, above the circumstances and achieving greater heights right in the middle of despair.

Others have shown us before – there have been many stories.

From Connie Ten Boom who survived Nazi atrocities to reach out to those hurting at the end of the World War Two to the mother of the Egyptian Christian Martyr who was beheaded by the ISIS.

They chose not to stay deep in hate and wallow in self-pity. They rose above what happened and went on to make the world a better place.

We can do that too.

Yohani and Dinesh have shown us it can be done.

It is never too late, never too far gone that you cannot reach out and touch someone’s life and make it better.

Maybe not much – a phone call, a hot meal or even a mild query.

A little kindness goes a long way – and helps us understand that no matter how bleak things might become, there’s still hope.

There always is.

” I cried for a pair of shoes until I met a man without feet.”


When survival is the toughest call..

When survival is the toughest call..

Dedicated to all martyrs who gave their lives in the Easter Sunday bomb blast on 21st April 2019 – the victims in the hotels and the surviving family members…

He is a father who still misses the warmth, the presence and the love of his three children and wife – he lost them in the bomb attack on their church at Katuwapitiya on Easter Sunday two years ago.

On days when it rains with thunder flashing, he goes to the grave of his daughter and sits there – she used to be frightened of thunder. So he tries to keep her company. Even now.

Then there is the mother who lost her two lovely daughters and her husband in the same church. The memories are what keeps her going – the photos of her two beautiful girls smiling along with their father, echo the deep ache in her heart.

There were others who were on suicide watch in the aftermath of the attacks – they had lost almost everyone in the family and saw no reason to stay on.

Across Katuwapitiya, every family has tales of loved ones dead or incapacitated.

Two years on, the pain is still there, raw yet somehow, contained and comforted by the Master’s touch – healed as only He can, restored somewhat as only He can. It is indeed a process.

From St. Sebastian Church Katuwapitiya to St. Anthony’s in Colombo, Zion Church in Batticaloa, the hotels Shangri-La Colombo, The Kingsbury and The Cinnamon Grand – the death and destruction came unexpected on a day sacred to Christians, almost unbelievable that such a tragedy could happen.

From crowded pews resplendent with worshippers dressed in their Easter finery, to blood soaked body parts in a matter of seconds.

Today, as we remember them, we also remember that this nation grieved and reached out to those who suffered.

From the Buddhist monks who came and cleaned the church premises to the Moslem maulavis who offered their mosques to conduct services to Christians, the true heart of Sri Lanka bled as one.

The first responders, the ambulance crews, the doctors and nurses, medical personnel, armed forces and police officers gave their very best.

Once the dust settled on the burials and the funerals, it was a survivor’s nightmare to resume normal life.

That’s where we all fail – when it comes to doing the everyday little things without the loved ones.

The mother who had to accept that the school shoes her daughters wore, now lying on the rack, were never going to be worn again.

Or the young son who went straight to the graveyard where his father is buried, with his exam results – he kneeled and told his father the results with tears streaming down his face.

The children who must recover at home, shielded and kept from noises and light because parts of their injured brain have been stored in the hospital cell bank so that the cells could grow and be re-grafted later on – their trauma is real, their pain acute.

The bright child who got 99 out of 100 for maths every term and now has to deal with his arm and leg not working properly – his father tearfully says that his son thought the bomber with his heavy pack of bombs, was actually bringing milk rice for Easter celebrations.

It doesn’t stop there.

In some cases, entire families were ushered into the presence of God – their tea mugs, half drunk, still in the sinks that no one was going to wash.

Two years on, the pain is real but so is the knowledge that someday, we shall see them on that beautiful shore.

Hope is the only thing a Christian has.

Hope is the one thing that can keep us going.

Hope helps us to keep doing what we do against all odds.

As we move on, we have one singular focus as a nation, no matter whether the politicalrhetoric may sound hollow – we owe it to the victims and each other that it will not happen again.

That’s the best gift we can give those who are grieving and those who gave their lives.

That’s the best gift we can give the next generation.

May God bless and comfort everyone who suffered in the Easter Sunday attacks on 21st April 2019.

” I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me , though he may die, shall live.”

  • John 11:25 – The Holy Bible

You will always remember where you were the day we won the World Cup…

You will always remember where you were the day we won the World Cup…

I have not been particularly fond of cricket – until the Sri Lankan team kept gaining the advantage over competition and eventually brought home the World Cup in a jubilant display of camaraderie and exceptional sportsmanship in 1996.

Watching Arjuna and his boys deliver what to us Lankans was a dream come true, I became a fan – overnight.

Who can forget the image of him receiving the Cup from the late Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto – his eyes shining with the spirit of victory, drenched with tears of joy shed by every Sri Lankan watching?

Who will forget the moment?

You will always remember where you were when Sri Lanka won the Cricket World Cup in 1996.

I was at home, watching the incredible final when Sri Lanka won and the entire country burst into celebrations.

It is etched into our collective Sri Lankan psyche – it will continue to inspire the future.

At the time, we had no social media – internet was just coming as this novelty on your computer.

Yet we took to the streets as celebrations poured over and ecstatic Sri Lankans found ways to tell the world it mattered to the very heart and soul of the country that we won cricket’s most coveted trophy.

That year, as Sri Lanka went on to hold sway over international cricket, we savored each victory as it united us across various divides.

Twenty five years later, the ring of its sweetness still echoes through the country’s villages, towns and communities.

We have not forgotten that there was a day when this nation could rise above party politics, communal divides, religious differences and other factors that sometimes can divide an island and its people.

That day, we came together as one – there was something powerful about the way Arjuna and his team went out there and won a cup which many would have doubted they ever could.

It still validates everything Sri Lanka stands for.

Above all, it sends out a powerful message to the young generation who were either not born or were babes in arms back in 1996.

It takes work to build a world class team – it takes work to build a common thread of identity and togetherness that can rise above pettiness – of communal, religious, political and class divides.

That day, the entire cricket playing world were Sri Lankan.

We had come to defy the odds, turn the Englishman’s game on its heels and give the world a taste of exceptional cricketing talent.

The Sri Lankan team tasted success because at the time, they had what it took to be one – one team, not individuals. Together, each member did what he could do best. And naturally, everyone thrived in such an environment of brotherhood.

As a result, what was delivered was a once-in-a-lifetime gesture of bringing home the most coveted award in cricketing history.

Will we see such a moment again?

It is no secret that cricket became a highly competitive sport following the Word Cup victory – which is a good thing.

Every cricket loving young boy dreamed of becoming the next Kalu or Sanath.

More importantly, the talented young men from the rural areas found the doors of stardom opened wide for them.

It changed the landscape and it changed us.

Trouble with victory is that it raises the bar so high that anything lower would be seen as a devastating disappointment.

And that’s what we have come to expect from our cricketers every time.

While there have been times when they delivered, there have been moments of despair, disappointment and downright anguish.

And so the conversations have flowed, tears shed and fists shaken in fury as cricketers have faced acid tests again and again.

But one thing emerges out of the victory a young team of an island nation registered twenty five years ago.

Victory is never about complaining or individual ambition. It is never about secret agendas and ulterior motives.

Victory comes to those who put the needs of others above theirs, who can think as one and work towards reaching goals of common good.

On that day, in the sweltering heat, a young Arjuna Ranatunga showed every Sri Lankan since then that victory on the world stage is only possible when a team can work together as one.

We can only hope that twenty five years later, we could find it in every one of us to send out a team that can think and work like one with one goal in mind.

May we be able to do that – that I’m sure is the prayer of every Sri Lankan.

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.