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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robbed on Champs de Elysees & listening to a policeman sing..only in Paris..

Robbed on Champs de Elysees & listening to a policeman sing..only in Paris..

I had so looked forward to my first trip to Paris, the city of lights.

I pictured myself sitting at a cafe on Champs de Elysees, watching life go by…shop at the world’s biggest LV store on the fashionable street and saunter around the city.

We finally board the Eurostar and get ready for the Channel Tunnel ride, setting out from St Pancras International in London.

Two hours later, the Eurostar rolls smoothly into Gard du Nord. I can’t wait to experience the City of Lights. Yet as we step out of Eurostar, the platforms of Gard du Nord, the main railway station in Paris, is nothing like the St Pancras we left behind in London – busy but clean-  it hits me soon that Gard du Nord is dirty and not very tourist friendly. Many immigrants parade here with boards written in bad English asking for financial help. They literally walk into you, bold and unafraid. My husband, our two kids and I try to walk out of the station as fast as we can.

Outside, on the taxi line, we hail our first cab in Paris and are promptly charged 45 Euro to get us to our Air bnb apartment. Our host Didier is mortified to learn the amount – robbery, he says and quite rightly so. It seems the usual fare is only about 15 Euros. Our cab driver was an Arab looking immigrant and we didn’t ask any questions.

Having settled in, my husband and I take a walk – the street we are on is lovely, very Parisian – plenty of cafes where people sit and sip coffee, delicatessens where we buy delightfully French pates to go with fresh bread from the near by patisserie..so far, so good.

The next day, we go to Champs Elysees. Triumph de Arc looms over us majestically at one end – we walk leisurely along the tree lined road known famously throughout the world. We reach the world’s biggest Louis Vuitton store soon enough and I am feeling enthralled by the sights and the sounds.

Inside LV, shop assistants clad in chic black LV outfits present LV bags with gloved hands to eager customers, staring in awe at the world’s most coveted hand bag. It is a moment most cherish – one in which you can lose your bearings and for a moment frozen in time, forget all the warnings about the pickpockets and the street hustlers of Paris.

No one inside LV’s shiny store, knows that outside the luxury goods store, pickpockets wait, clad in finery themselves. And that they can swiftly, surely, unknowingly open your hand bag and flick your wallet in no time.

The unfamiliar lump in my throat grows by the minute when I discover, to my horror, that my wallet, with money and credit cards, is missing. We had just sat down for our dose of a Parisian cafe on the great street itself. It  was such a powerless moment that is etched, almost  frozen in my mind. Even now, I can close my eyes and feel the panic.

Push becomes a shove when my iPhone starts receiving texts of purchases amounting to over 1000 Euros on my stolen cards. I clam up and for a spilt second, cannot comprehend anything. My husband takes over and urges me to call the banks – I do and the cards are blocked. But not before one purchase goes through -albeit for a small amount – on a debit card. Increasingly, the thieves bring down the amounts they are trying to charge on the cards.

Finally, after what seemed like eons, the attempted charges stop.

I walk on, fazed. Being robbed on the world’s most elegant boulevard brings me back to earth with a thud.

I have seen the French police fully armed and ready to confront any would-be terrorist, patrol the streets of Paris. They’ll get the pickpockets, I tell myself.

At the police station on Champs de Elysees, I sit down and try to explain my predicament to the policewoman on duty. She is not impressed – I’m but one of the many tourists crowding the police with complaints of being pick pocketed. One Korean lay sits down, tears in her eyes ; they robbed her money and her passport.

The Parisian police is so laid back you want to do something but you just sit there and pretend you are ok when you are not. Suddenly, the police we grumble about back home seems very efficient to me. This is Pink Panther true to form; departing and arriving policemen and women kiss each other on the cheek in true Parisian fashion, armed to the teeth. This is Paris ; get used to it, I tell myself.

Finally, a policeman is ready to take my complaint. I explain what I lost and in halting English, he nods his head as he types on the keyboard. The French keyboard can be challenging to English speakers.

But wait – the best part in the whole drama is when he pulls out a speaker from a drawer and starts playing classical music. Right there, as he takes my complaint down. He hums and sounds like he is enjoying it all.

I will always remember the singing policeman in Paris. I had never, ever heard a policeman in full uniform, taking down the complaint of someone in distress sing as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

He hands me the complaint in French – and I leave.

Outside, the City of Lights was still the same.

Afterwards, we are hesitant to finish the rest of our touristy visits but no, I tell myself, we came for this, we’ve got to do the rest of it.

Even though Paris was hot and the crowds were pressing – we visit The Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. And Notre Dame.

Later, the Frenchmen and Frenchwomen I meet in the local butchery, the patisserie and the pharmacie apologise profusely for the shame of being pick-pocketed- even the cab driver. He shakes his head and says ‘ That’s Paris of today”.

The French are not bad to tourists at all – those who live in Paris have much to do deal with. Roma gangs bother tourists at places where people gather such as Champs Elysees and Notra Dame. The pickpockets, the refugees who hustle for money and the belly of the ugly Paris still exists.

We go for a last night dessert to Avec Ma Blonde, a quaint Parisian cafe on Montemartre Damremont, 18th Arra, our neighbourhood. The cafe is run by Benjamin and his friend.

Benjamin turns out gourmet desserts as only a Frenchman can  ; as the sun goes down on a hot summer’s day, the cafe fills up and people eat, drink vine and have great conversations. It’s all very French. And very elegant too. No one wolfs down food – everyone eats slowly, digesting it well, while having the conversations with the ease that only the French can. Laughter and the sweet aroma of Benjamin’s desserts fill the room.

Taking the Eurostar back to London, I miss my cream coloured wallet. And my ID. And my driving licence. And whatever else that was in my wallet, a lot of things that people usually put in their wallets and forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Respice Finem – TCK, you rock.

Respice Finem – TCK, you rock.

When the whole drama of the little boy without a school ( forbidden word – HIV –  he is not infected , it is confirmed ) unfolded, what broke my heart was the way in which the little tyke sat, alone and downcast, his face turned away from prying cameras. The little blue shorts and the crisp white shirt reminded me of my son’s first day at the school by the sea. Seeing adults trying to outdo each other in shouting out against his admission to the school of their children, made it worse. This was Sri Lanka. In the 21st century.

As the little guy waited with vacant eyes, there was the silence, loud and clear. Folk on social media argued , appalled by the agitating parents and the school authorities. It was a moment when Sri Lanka would showcase her heritage, her pride and joy, her cultural upbringing, her deep sense of hospitality and her hope for her future generations.

It took a school with a strong and deep Christian heritage from the hills of Kandy, to break the deadlock. And to stand up and tell the world despite the protests, the concerns, there were people whose ethics would not permit them to sit still and do nothing when the call was for sanity and for acceptance. To the end. Respice Finem. In the hallowed traditions of the Trinity College Kandy, the values imbibed within its precincts by men the calibre of Rev. Senior who loved Ceylon and composed the beautiful hymn for Sri Lanka, the tune of which is adapted for Danno Budunge, which caused a storm in a tea cup recently when the well known soprano Kishani Jayasinghe sang it.

And so Trinity it was. It was heartening to see the Principal of TCK sign a MOU with the Minister of Education Akila Viraj Kariyawasam in the presence of Bishop Dhilo, Bishop of Colombo. It was a brilliant move, Trinity – one that showed Sri Lanka and the world that as a Christian school built on values of humility, love and empathy, what it takes to make a difference is action not words. As empty words were exchanged between all parties, verbal swords were crossed and opinions aired, Trinity College moved in with deed, sealing the end of a poignant tale with agape love, as embodied in Christ’s mission to the world.

With a son who just left S. Thomas College, Mount Lavinia, I deeply appreciate the wonderful cultural mix of Christian schools,not just as a Christian but also a Sri Lankan. At STC or at TCK, and also at Ladies College where my nine year old daughter schools and all other Christian schools, the children have the opportunity to mix and blend wonderfully – Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Moslems work and eat together, laugh together and learn together. To me, it is a truly beautiful representation of the multi cultural country Sri Lanka is. This little boy will get to experience a culture at TCK that is rich with diversity, that represents the true heart of Sri Lanka. Prejudice along racial and religious lines will be far from his orbit.

Thank Heaven for that.

He will have the opportunity to be a man of courage and conviction, a true Sri Lankan who someday, will give back to society what TCK taught him.

When the story broke, I looked around for any links that I may find in my immediate environment to TCK. And found some  that made me glad to claim a distant yet a link nevertheless, to this great school – my uncles from my mother’s side , the Devendra clan, taught there. My husband’s clan, Dodanduwa Weerasooriyas have had and continue to have Trinitians among its members. Its most illustrious Weerasooriya was Arnolis Weerasooriya who left the college in early 20th century to serve God ; Arnolis is credited with the arrival of Salvation Army in Sri Lanka. The next illustrious member of the Weerasooriya clan to have graced the halls of TCK was David Paynter, whose mother was Anagi Weerasooriya, wife of Rev. Paynter. David Paynter’s beautiful legacy of murals are etched in the chapels of STC and TCK – brilliant creations glorifying Christ, from the hands of a true master. The chapel at Trinity College is featured on a stamp as well and is recogniszed widely for its uniquely Sri Lankan architecture. My father-in-law Maurice Weerasooriya was also a Trinitian, one of the many Christian boys from Galle who went there.

So Trinity, you made us proud. We salute you because you showed everyone that you could make a difference. Stand up and be counted.

” For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in” – Matthew 25:35

 

Of Danno Budunge, Hymn for Sri Lanka & Opera

Of Danno Budunge, Hymn for Sri Lanka & Opera

The perfect delivery of the much loved Danno Budunge in operatic style was done with both aplomb and finesse by Kishani Jayasinghe, a soprano whom we should all be proud to call a fellow Sri Lankan.

The story that goes even further, despite the ire of many social media users, is that the original melody of the Danno Budunge was the beloved Hymn for Sri Lanka, penned by Rev. W.S Senior back in the early part of the 20th century. The hymn is still sung in churches throughout Sri Lanka. Rev Senior was an educator in the style of pioneer men and women from Europe and USA who went out to the world – he was the Vice Principal of Trinity College Kandy and contributed immensely to that school.

This, really, is not about Rev Senior, the Hymn for Sri Lanka, Danno Budunge or the stellar reputation Kishani has as a soprano whose voice and talent has put Sri Lanka on the map. It is more about who we are as a nation, where we are and where we are going. About what values we are passing on to our children and in which ways we can connect to the rest of the world.

For some of us, anything western is anathema – but migration to a western country is not. It’s perfectly ok to have children here at home in Sri Lanka or elsewhere in the world who cannot pronounce Sinhala properly but it is not ok to sing a Sinhala song in any other style but the one it is sung in.

It’s ok to drink frizzy drinks and eat fast food – pay no heed to the mantra to return to healthier food and drinks of our forefathers. It’s perfectly acceptable to throw garbage and ruin the fragility of the scenic environment in Sri Lanka – or invite the dengue mosquitoes to breed with unclean drains and polluted environs.

But it is not acceptable for a Sinhala song to be sung in a different yet perfectly acceptable style loved by half or more of the world out there.

The list goes on – and the list is full of hypocrisy and phobias. After some 2,500 years we are supposed to be proud of – I recently came back from a visit to Polonnaruwa during which I took my 9 year old daughter around the ruins and we both fell swelled in our chests about the feats of our ancestors – we are more inward looking and insecure than we were during the days of kings.

The world runs on innovation. That’s the buzz word for economic, business, social and personal success. Granted we must be proud of our heritage and who we are – but we also must emerge as capable and relevant in the world of today. The ostrich mentality will only serve to sink us further – like some truck stuck in the sands of time unable to get its wheels out of the mire.

The world of today is not limited by race, creed, caste or religion. It combines it all, making a perfectly stirred pot of all nationalities that strengthens and reinforces the hope of humanity. The lyrics of the Hymn for Sri Lanka are penned by a clergyman who loved this land like his own and is buried here, and is set to lilting music by Deva Surya Sena, who pioneered the style of local and traditional singing of Sinhala hymns. The same melody is then transformed into the beauty of Danno Budunge and has enthralled generations with its simple yet profoundly sweet melody.

In a nutshell, this melody connects the nation at many different levels. To me,it embodies the spirit of Sri Lanka as we are – Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem. The true spirit of a nation in which we all share the common space to grow, to work, to gather together to worship our God or gods.

When Kishani Jayasinghe sang Danno Budunge on 68th Independence Day, it was not the first time. She sang it last year, at a concert titled Kishani Sings With Friends – her rendition of Amazing Grace and Danno Budunge were applauded with gusto. But it took a post of her singing going viral to generate the kind of contempt that can only come from a deep sense of insecurity ingrained with a false sense of pride which is contrastingly different from the real love one feels for one’s heritage and identity.

For the generation of today who connect seamlessly via social media and the internet, the world is their oyster. They can relate to all kinds of music, which for them transcends all barriers.

Let us learn a lesson here from the young ones. And they surely have plenty to teach us.

 

 

 

 

Zuckerberg style paternity leave..is it relevant?

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Reading about one of the world’s busiest men running the Facebook empire wanting to take paternity leave got me thinking. Does this mean that Silicon Valley is officially recognizing paternity leave as an important step in encouraging and empowering men to share the responsibilities that come from a new born in the family? If so, it certainly sounded good.

Tech companies have always encouraged maternity/paternity leave in the hope of retaining talent. Yet most have not made much use  of the facility, it seems, for fears of missing out on the pace of work. Even in the case of Marisa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, who chose to take minimum time out with both of her pregnancies, worked throughout.

Comparisons aside, Zuckerberg’s statement is a powerful one and highlights the importance of giving family due time. In tech driven businesses, this can be a tough call. Not that it is easier elsewhere. Careers have been put on hold for those wanting to go all the way in caring for children. In the case of Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, it is even more poignant because the couple miscarried earlier. The significance of wanting to spend time with the new born and be around the new mother in a role that both empowers and assists her,must mean considerably to the Facebook founder.

So, does this mean that paternity leave is important for all men whose wives are due to give birth? Or is it just more of the politically correct statements and standpoints to show the world that gender is a key issue in Silicon Valley?

Paternity leave, I’m certain, does help. I remember the aftermath of having my daughter, recovering from a bleeding fibroid and facing the post natal depression blues. Having my husband around helped. It was not just sharing the work – it was also being able to share the fears, the uncertainties, the complications and being able to be comforted and soothed by the person closest to you and the family. Sometimes, what matters is the fact that your husband is around – not even doing anything but just being there so that you can be assured everything is alright. New mothers need an extra hand in reassurance, as we all know.

Undoubtedly, Zuckerberg has set a new standard for all the young, tech driven fathers out there. As a parent who is also a millennial, his decision speaks much for the restoration of faith in families, in fathers wanting to spend time with children and in giving family priority over work. It tells the young generation that work could never replace family, which in itself is a strong delivery. It puts the concept of getting married, having children, raising a family in a new light – for the better.

Now that the founder of the social media giant Facebook confirms paternity leave is ok, we should see the concept gaining momentum at places of work. Argued, evaluated, thought over, mulled over – call it what you may. Every new mother would benefit from an extra pair of hands – especially from the one  who is closest to her.