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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

What does it feel to hit 50 – finally?

What does it feel to hit 50 – finally?

Ever since finally becoming half a century old this month, the question I get asked often is how it feels to finally hit the big five o. And my answer is always the same – age is but a number. It doesn’t feel any different being 50 years old – you are the same old you but yes, there are things you can work on.

When you reach 50, you begin to understand what really matters in life and what doesn’t. It’s a great point in time to choose what is important in life and what can wait. Or forgotten. You understand the fragility of time and the importance of spending time doing things you want to do. Somethings that were on the back burner can be brought up front. Spending time with your spouse and the children are important –  at 50, realization comes that time can be fleeting and the opportunities to make the best use of relationships can be gone before you can grasp them. Finding time for your aging parents is also paramount here ; they don’t have much time left and it would be good to make an effort to spend some time with them.

At 50, you don’t want to hold grudges and be enslaved by them. It’s a great opportunity to forgive and forget. And to let the slights pass. Especially from younger, over confident folk who think they’ve seen it all – you can laugh it off and shake it out of your system. Retorts and rebuttals are not worth the while, considering the bad blood it pumps into your system.

At 50, you are comfortable – or at least you should ideally be – with who you are. You don’t have time to keep analyzing the portrayal of you by others. Fat or thin, easy to please or hard to get, you are who you are – and you can only improve upon what you are. You can set goals to achieve once you understand and realize that the buck ends with you. You can still bring on change even at 50 – but first, you need to know where and what to change without having to reconsider it later on.

Hitting 50 , in my book, gives you a few privileges. Chief among which is not to have the time or the desire to put up with anything you don’t want to. Having lived for half a century, you somehow come to the conclusion that you don’t really have the time to keep on playing games. If someone doesn’t want to be your friend, that’s fine. Not that you would ignore that person for the rest of your life but you understand the dynamics of relationships. They don’t always stay the same and that’s fine too. You don’t have the time to spend mentally reversing situations and regretting the flash backs.

At 50, feel entitled to some opinions – even though they don’t seem to matter to anyone else but you. You have earned them ; they are yours to keep. You may not always be right but you have time on your side. You have been there, done that and when someone not touching this side of 40 thinks you ought to know better, you have earned the right to shrug it off.

Being 50 is also a great time to finally comprehend that you will never have that hour glass figure or be able to squeeze into that bandage dress hanging for ions in your wardrobe. Give it to charity – instead, focus on eating and exercising right. Not because it is fashionable but because it can keep you fit and healthy and add productive years to your life.

In the final analysis, being 50 isn’t bad at all. In fact, it is good because it is that point in your life when you know for certain what remains and what is fleeting.  appreciate more – you can look out of the window and experience the sunset instead of worrying if another day just ended on an uncertain note.