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

 

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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.

 

 

 

For the love of birthday parties…

For the love of birthday parties…

It happens to every mom.

It starts with their first birthday. And goes on for a while. Under five years, the fuss of selecting a theme, the colours, the cake, the oohs and the aahs are strictly the mother’s purgative.

Post five years, your bundle of joy knows exactly what she wants. Maybe Dora, maybe Elsa or the entire Frozen cast..or maybe even Spiderman. But the theme is theirs and their choice. You just need to put together the colours, the napkins, the cake, the favours..oh you know what moms do when they organize birthday parties.

Then comes along nine and ten years and suddenly, the big birthday party is replaced with a smaller yet more meaningful affair. Only the family – maybe cousins. A themed cake still yes but less drama and certainly no costumes.

Over the years, we moms become experts in birthday parties. Right, girls?

The other day, a friend of mine who had a long awaited baby and was waiting to celebrate the first , the second and now the fourth birthday party was gushing about the horse themed party her little girl wanted. She had to hire two white horses and find carrots to feed them. She was running in circles – quite happily of course – in her pursuit to find horse themed napkins and invites.

My soon-to-be nine year old said very matter-of-fact that she didn’t want a mega party this time. As long as she had a surprise gift, cake on the table and a few close friends and cousins around to celebrate, she was fine with it. It was a relief – unless you have practiced it through the years, organizing a birthday party can pack a punch.

Which reminds me that post-twelve years, my son didn’t even want to bother us with the hassle of a party. Just dinner or lunch with a few close friends and a meal with the family. No thanks, don’t need the cake – and certainly not cup cakes for school.

There used to be a time when my daughter was so pre-occupied with birthday parties that she would actually cry when Happy Birthday was being sung for anyone – she thought it was always her birthday.

So, while on the topic, how do we organize a great birthday party efficiently. Maybe a few pointers thrown in would help.

  • Plan in advance.
  • Find the theme and get the themed stuff done well in advance – this helps you cut out stress as the party gets closer.
  • Plan the menu and the placements and of course the agenda.
  • Do your ordering early – the catering, the extras, the magic show, the clown.
  • Remember it’s a children’s party – some parents forget this and become totally stressed out.
  • Get ready to have fun along with the kids – they will love you for it.
  • Understand that your house will be messed up – it’s a kids party and there’s no telling where the kids might go even though you do have a specified area for the party.
  • If it’s outdoors, it’s better – more room for them to  play and easier for you to clean.

So, in the end, we tuck  in the memories of birthday parties, of love and laughter shared and treasured times when our children were just that, children..before they grow up and soon enough, birthdays become a card, a wish or just a sweet memory…

Cherish the memories…

 

 

The Eagle that landed..

The Eagle that landed..

Growing up in the Seventies was a lot of things to a lot of people. AM Radio, bellbottoms, tight shirts and afro hair dos – and of course, great music. Music that has left its own indelible mark in the hall of fame, sealing its status forever. Seventies music. Sweet to the soul.

Music in the Seventies was also about many bands – but one stood out. The Eagles.

I still remember listening for the first time, to Hotel California and the New Kid in Town. The lyrics, some forty five years later, are still crystal clear in my head. The tunes stayed there too. For always.I would come home after school and still in my school uniform, take out my song book (we actually had song books then) and belt it out.

The legendary Eagle was Glenn Frey upfront – the man with the guitar. Of course, the others were there including Don Henley whose duet with Patti Smyth “Sometimes Love Ain’t Enough” was in itself a great hit but Frey stood out for his incredible talent and skill. The world is unlikely, in the opinion of a Sixties born woman who grew up during the Seventies, to see such talent again.

The Eagles marked a historic entry into music for me and my generation. Hotel California and the New Kid in Town were more than songs for us – they symbolized an era, they were anthems we sang in the shower and at home and believed in. We wore denim bell bottoms, rocked our hair, chewed gum and drank Coca Cola, moving with the rhythm. Those were the days without internet, smart phones and YouTube. The only music was heard on the Radio or on the vinyl or the cassettes. But we didn’t mind – the music was too great to complain about anything else.

When hell froze over and The Eagles returned to stage once again in their much celebrated reunion concert during the Nineties, it was a long Oh-my-Gosh-I-can’t-believe-it’s-real moment for the likes of me. They were back and they were The Band as far as it went. I would always watch re-runs of the CD, now hacked, of the line up playing Hotel California – Glenn and Don leading. What a moment it was.

They were and are strictly Seventies men. They didn’t do metrosexual appeal – they had plenty of talent to compensate for. And we loved them for it. The power of Glenn Frey’s voice, the strum of his guitar would forever be etched in our minds as the icons of an era during which the world heard some of the best music created ever.

Today, a generation later, my soon-to-be eighteen year old son, a product of the internet generation with all of the world’s music at his feet, chooses to play Hotel California with his friends. Will always carry The Eagles on his whatever- he- loads- his- music- on- to – the smart phone , the computer or the iPod.Frey on guitar. Nothing else would do because nothing else can even come closer.

It thrills me to know that my son’s generation can still appreciate and understand good music – despite all the noise that passes for music today. That when choosing tracks to play, they would still get drawn by the hauntingly beautiful melodies that rocked the world – from Hotel California to Take It Easy, Tequila Sunrise, Lyin’ Eyes, One of These Nights and many others. Oh, what music and what talent.

I remember the Glenn Frey track of “The Heat is On” from the Beverly Hills Cop during the Eighties. I remember picking up the vinyl from a record store in Bonn, where I was living at the time. Eighties were still great for music but it took a maestro like Frey to bring out a cutting edge hit – in a music scene dominated at the time by the likes of Madonna, Cindy Lauper and Spandau Ballet.

So, Glenn, what an inning it has been – for a talented young man from the Motor City whose life changed in 1970 – and in turn, he changed the flavour of music as we have known it, not just for one generation but many that followed.

Tonight, as the world mourns the landing of an Eagle, rest in peace, Glenn. May the turf lie gently over you as your legacy survives into many generations to come.

 

 

 

The power of forgiveness ..

The power of forgiveness ..

When missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were burned alive by Hindu extremists back in 1999, his widow Gladys had two choices – either to leave India and go back home to Australia or stay on and let the power of forgiveness and love become the two most powerful traits in her life.

Gladys chose to stay and continue their ministry to lepers in India. In a true Christian show of love and forgiveness, she continued in her mission to a section of people no one wanted to have anything to do with.

Recently, Gladys was announced as the 2015 recipient of the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice by the Harmony Foundation, a Mumbai-based charity whose awards are endorsed by Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s Order.

Gladys thanked God for His help in empowering her to carry on with her mission – especially after her husband and two sons were killed. At the time of her husband’s death, the couple had been in Ministry for 15 years, looking after lepers.

Hers is an incredible journey of love and forgiveness – one that inspires us in the dark days we are living in. It inspires not only because of her commitment to serving God but also because she chose to forgive and move on. She chose hope over bitterness, peace over hatred.

She also chose to believe that not everyone in India endorsed the hate crime . She understood that in service, you always watch out for the needs of others. In face of incomparable personal tragedy that would have left anyone devastated, she was able to show the radiance of God’s love .

Gladys did not – would not allow her grief to overshadow her – and her late husband’s life’s work with the lepers of India. She stayed on, trusting the path God was taking her on. The people whom she was looking after, the lepers, were also grieving with her ; they shared a common bond of loss and connection.

She and her husband had been working for the Evangelical Missionary Society in Mayurbhanj (EMSM),  founded by an Australian missionary a century ago.  ESMS has also engaged in missions of supporting local churches and vulnerable communities.

Gladys returned to Australia in 2004 ; in 2005, she was awarded the Padma Shri for Social Service, India’s fourth-highest award for civilians. Gladys used the money to upgrade the home for lepers into a hospital.

A lot still remains to be done on behalf of persecuted Christians in India. Yet, Gladys’ story remains one of hope and true Christian love in a land that is predominantly Hindu.

Gladys Staines is best known as the most famous Christian after Mother Teresa in India. Her powerful testimony bears more witness to the mission  she and her husband engaged in, than anything else. Her story is not just a story of one family ; it is also a wonderful gift that is fragrant with the power of forgiveness, love and selfless giving.

She chose to give of herself when she could have taken herself away – in many ways, her story echoes with that of Corrie ten Boom, the historic and courageous Christian Dutchwoman whose powerful story of forgiving the Nazi tormentors who killed her family, transformed her ministry and has impacted millions.

For in true forgiveness, lies hope and comfort. In choosing to share love when hate is all you can think of, bypassing the soul to let your spirit connect with God’s, is where the deepest longing of the human heart is met.

Stoning a woman to death…

Stoning a woman to death…

When Jesus Christ was brought a woman caught in adultery, He had only one sentence for those wanting to stone her ; He who casts the first stone must be without sin. They were powerful words and they brought results.

As we await further news of a Sri Lankan woman condemned to be stoned to death for adultery, it isn’t only the Christians who recall the powerful words of Our Lord. On social media, many non-Christians have been sharing the gentle but firm, power packed words of Jesus Christ in the face of a human being condemned.

It’s a hurting world. There is enough abuse we read about every day. There is so much to hang our heads in shame. A little forgiveness can go a long way. A little pardoning can mean the world to someone. Which would we choose today – choose to forgive or to carry the stone?

It is the 21st century. On one hand, ISIS is bent on a killing spree of crucification, selling children as sex slaves and deploying crude and barbaric methods of executing people. On the other, Saudi Arabia is enforcing stone age punishment methods. Where is the progress we have made as a modern civilization? Those who reject the justice and fair play that Judeo-Christian civilization fostered upon some of the world’s most advanced civilizations, in pursuit of free-for-all politically correct but hopelessly imbalanced agendas, where are your voices? Simply put, there’s nothing the modern world can offer to counter the barbaric methods deployed by these modern day sadists.

For all the talk of equality between the sexes, between the haves and the have nots,  we have not come full circle, or so it seems. Not when those in the Middle East have deliberately chosen to turn the wheel back.  Where are the voices that rose against the Lord’s Prayer being displayed as an advertisement in theatres? Where are the free and the liberal whose life’s goal is to ensure equality for all?

I will not even touch on Paris and California attacks – that is another subject altogether. But those who have taken up the rallying call of the atheists, the LGBT community and gender issues, need to also make sure their voices are heard over and above the din of ISIS and stones being cast to kill a human being in Saudi Arabia.

 

We live in a dangerous world. A world in which one civilization has the liberty to consider a sex change for a child as young as six while the other does not even have the liberty to drive a car without being accompanied by a male relative. Two extremes, both dangerous but where and how do we draw the line?

For the West, this is a moment of truth – one that powerfully suggests that the politically correct era is ending, sorry about that, but consider going back to the values, the traditions, the thinking that powered their civilization to great heights. And until and unless that happens, the West as we know it, with its foundation based on the Judeo-Christian values, may no longer be viable.

Whether ISIS or the stone throwing Saudis, the world must unite to declare that we have established parameters that have been enforced for a greater part of history.