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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Of hotel apartheid and back-to-Raj syndrome

Of hotel apartheid and back-to-Raj syndrome

Reading about some hotels in Mirissa refusing to serve Sri Lankan guests brought back memories of an era gone by.

It also brought back memories back when the civil war was in full swing and the only guests keeping the Sri Lankan hotels going were the Sri Lankans themselves. Even today, as much as I cherish every foreign visitor to Sri Lanka, whether backpackers who are plentiful or otherwise, I cannot help but be mindful of the fact that Sri Lankans still keep most of those hotels filled and the rooms occupied – just check whether you can get a hotel room in a luxury 4 star upwards hotel for the Independence Day weekend coming up.

Talking of discrimination, the actual reach of the whole thing goes much deeper than merely barring Sri Lankan visitors to a handful of hotels. One individual defending the gesture opined that he believed only unruly guests were unwelcome – in which case, the board must say so without mentioning “Only foreigners allowed’.

Are we in 2016 or back in the Seventies?

I can understand the part about unruly Sri Lankans – but what about hundreds of decent, law abiding, well mannered Sri Lankans who book into some of the most luxurious hotels not just in Sri Lanka but elsewhere in the world? Who has the right to make sweeping statements about all Sri Lankans when some of us can afford to stay at The Four Seasons and The Claridge without batting an eyelid?

In the West, as I write, a politically correct attitude in bending over backwards to deal with mass migration of a people from a totally different culture and background, has resulted in utter chaos.  It seems impossible to get the two to integrate while still sticking to freedoms the developed world takes for granted.

Yet, out here, in this part of the world, we see some ‘expatriates’ who , it seems, are unable to shake off an out of place colonial mindset when they come out here into the tropics get used to a different lifestyle, a zillion miles away from everyday life back home. Of course not all of them – there are wonderful expats from all over the world who have fallen in love with Sri Lanka and find living here such a wonderful experience. They add colour, refreshing change and perspective to a lot of going ons here.

My focus is the others , ones who acquire some kind of an sahib avatar when they are out here. Maybe its the way some of our own people, stuck in a time warp that stretches back to Raj days, treat the expats – with some sort of an outdated reverence. I knew one lady from Europe who mastered the art of lording it over policemen, bank clerks, security officers and other locals down the line. She liked wielding the stick at them.

Some have become snobbish enough to develop a total Raj mentality, complete with a penchant for cucumber sandwiches and all. Can’t blame them when they get spoilt when they land out here – the wide appeal of Sri Lanka to the world is still somewhat stuck in period movies, with occasional delightfully antiquated glimpses of a past rich with colonial heritage. I love it too – but it all becomes too much when the sahibs and the sahibas start behaving like the characters in the period movies.

In a world in which an Indian from Chennai heads Google, one of the world’s most powerful companies and a Chinese founded one of the world’s biggest e commerce companies, colour and ethnic background no longer holds water in any area. Whether it is about serving Sri Lankans in hotels or otherwise, the world today by and large, is colour blind.

Yet, in a country such as ours,  with some of us are still finding our way out of a colonial time warp, someone with shallow roots can easily get carried away into assuming that expats have some sort of a privileged position here. It can be an initial impression that is deceptive yet difficult to shake off when you go along with the perks of having help, someone to drive you, someone to do your grocery shopping and take care of the children. Harder when back home, you do all these things yourself.

Just walk around some sections of The Galle Fort – you will know what I mean. It’s difficult not to catch the drift there. Or hob knob with them at one of their favourite watering holes in the city and you will see the picture emerging. Not that I mind – I for one love the wonderful heritage the British left behind. There’s so much of colour and identity in the unique cultural mix we have had from the time when the Portuguese came on board and the Dutch followed. Yet, when it threatens to spill over to the common space we all call home here on this little island and emerges in a hundred little ways that send me warning signs of lurking discrimination, I get concerned.

I guess I have reason to be.

I am a citizen of the world – not just Sri Lanka. I understand and can relate to common issues we face and deal with everyday, no matter where you are from. I am sure you are too.

So the next time you feel the expat syndrome coming on, just take it easy and leave it at the door.

 

 

 

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.

When angels fall…

When angels fall…

I am the mother of an eight year old girl who still likes to play with her Barbies. She doesn’t like to sleep alone. Like many other little girls, she likes to dabble with my make up and dress to impress.

I joined millions of other Sri Lankan mothers, sharing a grief that was theirs and mine,  when I saw the crumpled body of little Seya on prime TV. I felt violated when TV stations chose to show such macabre scenery ; not done in  civilized country. Come to think of it, there should be a ban on showing shocking images of bodies on media but we still haven’t gone there, it seems, despite all the talk about being civilized above all else.  Seya’s hour or two in the devil’s grip still evades me – I don’t want to even think about it. I’m sure no one does. Two little girls killed within a spate of a week – one along with her parents in Minuwangoda and the other, taken from her bed and sexually assaulted, her little body thrown in a ditch.

Now before we let ourselves loose on the emotional wagon hitched to demanding better laws, we need to address ourselves as mothers and fathers. Are we doing enough to make sure our children are safe – not in strange places but in our own homes and in our own personal spaces? Seya was taken from her bed – I wish her mother bothered enough to check the first time her father noticed the little girl was not on the bed, instead of assuming that she had gone to the grandmother’s room. We are mothers in charge of children whose very fate depends a lot on us – we cannot assume things. We need to always double check, always make sure the children are safe because one never knows when human beings can turn evil. And usually, the purveyors of such evil are among those closest to us.

Mothers and fathers need to be vigilant – parenting is a full time 24/7 job. It doesn’t stop when the kids grow up either. You need to be in the know, on the ball, connected to the daily rhythm of your children and generally be the eyes and ears all around. If you cannot, then you are not cut out for parenting in the 21st century. You need to get it into your system by default.

Sure, we need better laws. More importantly, we need better execution of existing laws – we need to upgrade the severity of punishment for crimes against children and women speedily, brought to a level of action, not just talk. We have heard a lot of talk but we need to be able to get things done – I certainly hope the new Minister in charge of Women’s & Children’s Affairs, Mrs Chandani Bandara will get started down that road.

We need to remember Seya – not now, but tomorrow and the next year. We know we forget a lot of things however sad, however appalling, when the story winds down. But we need to keep remembering so that somewhere in Sri Lanka, a little girl or a little boy will not face the same fate as her. We need to remember to lock our doors, check out strangers and pay more attention to what is happening around us.

When the perpetrator is found – I pray to God he will be – we need to make sure that as a society, we deal with such evil in a way that will deter others. We also need to have in place measures that will work towards minimizing sexual crimes ; a key step in this direction would be clamp down or restrict access to on porn sites ; Google recently bestowed upon us the infamous title of the country seeking the biggest slice of sex related material on line. We hope that the Good Governance Government will take the right steps in that direction.

We have too many lessons in the death of an angel to forget – it is my prayer and I know it is your prayer too ; may this be the last such tragedy we will hear about. RIP Seya – Sri Lanka weeps with your family..