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.

Advertisements

Cherish the moment…

Cherish the moment…

So many tragedies, so many tears – from the shooting in Oregon to the flooding in South Carolina grabbing headlines the same week…ISIS is still wreaking havoc in the Middle East and at home, we still haven’t established who killed little Seya..it’s a dark world and it is easy to drown in all in sorrow, in one big heap..

But we are a people of hope…I speak as a Christian who believe that my Redeemer lives..I also speak as a mother and a wife and I believe that we must be able to cultivate our moments that empower us to overcome the sadness, the bitter world around us. It is so easy to go along with the flow and feel the negative vibes but we must swim upstream.

Many of us get through the day absorbed in what we do – often, our work. We connect to the world on our computers and smart phones and it becomes so easy to be wrapped up in our own little worlds. Can we step aside and connect with those around us? Can we spend a moment to cherish with our children, aging parents, a lonely co-worker, a neighbour who recently lost a loved one? Could we reach out to other people and maybe take some of the loneliness, the anger, the frustrations away?

It is the moments spent in the company of others that enrich our souls – that make us who we are.Too many of us hide behind our phones or our lap tops as we connect and entertain ourselves ; it is important to switch off the devices and switch on what makes us who we are – the human connections that enrich us.

Dinner table conversation is a good place to start. Teach the children to connect to one another – they are increasingly connected to devices too and sometimes, we are guilty of using the very devices as babysitters. Two year olds are entertained by iPads and by five, they don’t need company, they’ve got it all together, entertaining themselves.

Cherish the moment. Get off the computer and take your daughter or son to a walk in the park. Let not the darkness around us get in. We can light a candle in our own lives – it can and must come from us.

Just last week, we visited some of my husband’s relatives in the country – the beautiful surroundings of Dodanduwa, Hikkaduwa. The old house had been beautifully restored and the sprawling garden and a cool well was a treat to behold. Just sitting in the old verandah, doing nothing but listening to the sounds of nature, laughing and catching up with a few, many such a difference in our lives that day. It gave me a memory to cherish. I can still close my eyes and see in my mind’s eyes the fireflies gathering as the night fell, the sunset slowly coming over the greenery of many hues.

Let us not let a troubled world trouble us too. We can and must take refuge in what we do everyday -find the time to cherish moments spentwith each other.

Casting the first stone…

Casting the first stone…

In the aftermath of one of the most despicable crimes against humanity committed against little Seya, we have entered the next phase and justifiably so. We must find the perpetrator and if possible, hang him. Some want to give him over to a mob while others want ISIS style execution. Given the heinous  nature of the crime, by all means yes. But if only we have the right man.

It was more a case of venting out our outrage, our righteous anger that burns against a man whose deprived mind was capable of doing things that a normal human being would not even consider.  And rightly so too ; every mother, every father, every one else wanted a part of seeking justice for Seya.

Unfortunately, the law enforcement officers still haven’t been able to find the man. The father was first considered a suspect and then the grandfather was a likely candidate too. As social media forums flowed with hate, the focus then shifted to a 17 year old who was said to be in possession of porn on his computer. But, as I write this, no proper culprit is found. Yet, in our pursuit for justice we as a nation have already judged and passed sentence on people who have not had anything to do with the crime.

As absurd as it may sound to some, one wrong doesn’t make another right. Every man present that night in Seya’s neighbourhood is not, must not be a suspect. The job of the law enforcement is to seek out the real killer ; speculation can only ruin life for by standers such as the girl’s father, grandfather or the 17 year old boy whose future, by now, probably looks quite bleak just by the virtue of his arrest on suspicion.

Hunting killers is a painstaking business – some police officers have taken years to follow in the trail of perpetrators before pouncing on them. Nazis who killed women, men and children in cold blood are still being hunted down and persecuted despite the fact that many of them are now in their nineties.

Sometimes, striving for swift justice to ease our own pain is not enough. Neither is assuring ourselves that someone, anyone must be caught and brought before justice. We must be able to wait upon justice, seeking the actual killer and not someone who may have done it or who could have done it. It will then become a mere courtroom drama and lose steam down the line, causing many to lose faith in a system of justice we want to believe still works, despite all the flaws.

Seya and the many other little girls and boys being abused, groped and violated, want us to deliver the kind of justice that doesn’t make sensational news on media just so that we can rejoice for the wrong reasons. They, I’m sure, if they could speak, would want us to act with wisdom , they would want us to outsmart the killer and the Paedophile and call their bluff.

They would want us to develop a system that would not just bring one killer to book but also plug the holes where more would-be perpetrators can score. They would want us to come together as a society to build a safe environment for children as much as we can. They would ask us what lessons we learnt from their stories so that other children can be spared the misery.

We owe them that much. Not just to cry out for anyone’s blood but to make sure, with our heads as well with our hearts, to ensure that we can find the killer using right evidence and not heresy.  That we are capable of rising above emotion and deal with it as a responsible, civilized society that can unlearn wrong perceptions and learn the lessons the little angels are teaching from up there.

In the meantime, let’s do what we can do – become better , more vigilant mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters so that in our own way, we can prevent another child from being abused.

We owe it to us and our children- and to Seya.

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..

“I remember distinctly meeting this little girl who was very young, probably about seven or eight, and she was rocking backwards and forwards staring at the wall, and tears streaming down her face because she had been brutally raped multiple times, you couldn’t talk to her, you couldn’t touch her. I felt absolutely helpless, I didn’t know what to do for her.”-
Those stark words were spoken by the Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie,appearing before the British parliament on the horrendous use of rape by ISIS in conflict as a weapon. I have heard of the atrocities and seen the pictures but Jolie’s words sank in deep – I had just sent off my eight year old little girl to school. I couldn’t even bring myself to read the words in total – how low could a human being sink in order to desire the rape of a child..while it is unthinkable to many of us, to the ISIS, it is merely one of the tactics they use to shock the world and pursue their agenda.

Robbing a child of his or her childhood by whatever means, in my book, amounts to a crime as worse as taking a life. The little girl Jolie saw, violated in mind and body, rocking back and forth, staring at a wall, tears streaming down her face has suffered more trauma than we can possibly imagine. For some of them, the worse memories are watching their friends and sisters bargained over and sold as sex slaves.

These children would never know the blissful childhood routines most children take for granted. Traumatized and disoriented for the rest of their lives, they will not be able to experience life in totality. As much as they need help in relocating and rebuilding, the psychological damage unleashed on them would require professional support and guidance.

As at April this year, TIME reported that over 3,000 girls, mostly from Christian minority and Yezidi community, were being held as sex slaves , a practice defended by the ISIS despite worldwide condemnation. A girl who escaped told of the brutality of rape, with girls as young as 8 being raped repeatedly by ISIS gangs who would not hesitate to hit them violently. Many girls die and others survive scarred for life. Where their destiny lies, no one can tell.

In the meantime, are we doing enough to at least shock the world into realising that these are someone’s daughters and sisters that are being violated without any regard for them? Are we doing enough in spreading the word? Can condemnation of the manner in which ISIS is using their faith to justify the horrendous sexual violence come from within the Moslem community?

We live in a world no longer shocked by what it hears and sees – we have become numb to pain and suffering of others. As these girls continue to suffer more psychological damage than even physical, can we do our little bit and share the word? Can we in our own little ways replicate what Angelina Jolie is doing.

Let’s join hands on social media – let’s create awareness of the fate of girls just like our daughters, girls who should be smiling and laughing, going to school and singing the Frozen theme song.

“Societies have a peculiar way of relating, or more accurately non-relating, to rape maybe because it is so vicious, they choose to live in denial about it.”

Aysha Taryam

RIP little one – may yours be the last such death that will haunt our world.

RIP little one – may yours be the last such death that will haunt our world.

The picture of the little Kurdish boy’s lifeless body, washed up on the beach in Turkey, should have been enough to register the hopelessness, the futility of the migrant crisis going on as I write this, in Europe. It was a symbol in many ways – the parent in us mourned the boy’s sad fate and hearts were touched. He was too young to be thus swept away in a torrent of tragedy. Yet, powerful as his picture is, the tragedy underlying the refugee influx is neither fully grasped nor serious enough to warrant the attention of a world occupied with everything trending on line.

His little feet would have lost their grip on a boat jammed with people – he and his brother were not wearing life vests. They didn’t have a chance of surviving out at sea ; they escaped from a nightmare on land only to be swallowed up by the waters. As tragic as it is, how can we try to make sense of it all?

Thousands of migrants are jamming the entry points into Europe ; the despair written on their faces may not tell the whole story. As much as the world wants to identify with it, as much as the world is dismayed by it, there are other things to consider, saner counsel that must prevail. As the ISIS seeks to throttle any civilization left in the ancient heartlands of the Middle East, how is the world reacting? When you want to stop the flow of water, you plug the leak. Then only will you choose to deal with the overflow. Are we plugging the leak that has led to millions of people leaving Syria on a treacherous journey in search of a better life? Is the world doing enough to make sure those people can be kept in their own shores and taken care of?

There are more questions here than answers. Is the desperation written on their faces one that stems from losing their homes or from wanting to simply migrate to a better life? How would we know and how can we identify the true and genuine asylum seeker from the economic migrants? How would we know who is an ISIS sympathizer and who isn’t, in that maddening influx of young men, boys and adolescents cramming railways and walking on rail tracks in countries choked up with a refugee influx, from Greece to Hungary?

We in Sri Lanka have dealt with such issues before – you might say we have hindsight into such problems. When civil war broke out in Sri Lanka with the terror group that held the record of being the world’s deadliest before ISIS came along, the LTTE which perfected the art of suicide bombings , there were asylum seekers from war torn areas who went in search of a better life to Europe, the US and Australia ; as time went by, during the thirty years the war lasted, the refugees gradually became economic ones although their stories may have been believable in many ways. Then the war ended in 2009 and the world woke up to the reality that they could indeed go home. A few in reality, did.

The human smuggling rings are smarter than the world’s law enforcement authorities, a fact that many are not able to grasp. Until a year ago, the well organized gangs kept a lucrative business of smuggling people to Australia from the shores of Sri Lanka. The Australian Government was swift in dealing with this outflow ; today, a few would dare to try the boat journey through the dark seas into Australian waters.

Until and unless the world and its police forces choose to deal with the satanic rings of human smugglers, whose profits lie in exploiting other people’s misery, we would continue to see the horrors of children dying and families daring to cross through some of the world’s dangerous routes.

As sad as it all seems, as hopeless as it all seems, it can and must be dealt with. Not because we feel guilty about our safety nets that are not available to those unfortunate families but because we need to stand up to the evil of humans being treated and transported like goods. All in the name of better lives.

I am choosing not to feel guilty although the picture of that child moves me to tears – I am choosing to argue that the world and the powers of US, Europe, Middle East, Asia and the UN must step in to deal with the well organized criminals.

Until then, RIP little one. Just being shocked and saddened at your death nor sharing your picture on social media, will help you and others like you. We as the world must take action.

May yours be the last such death that will haunt our world.

Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee’s book on race tells us many things…

Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee’s book on race tells us many things…

To Kill a Mockingbird was a childhood treasure – the book was in my father’s library ever since I could remember and was one of his favourites. Among his treasure trove of Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde and Cornelius Ryan, among others, Harper Lee’s classic took pride of place. The movie captured my imagination no less – my father was a great fan of Gregory Peck, who played Atticus Finch to perfection. Growing up in the midst of books – his gift to me was his love of reading and writing, he did both until his death in 2013 profusely – reading came as naturally as breathing. Even today, especially today, when less and less people read, the lure of a good book beats the glamour of the internet any day.

When I read about Harper Lee’s long lost and finally found book Go Set a Watchman, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out to be. The reviews were hesitant, given the content ; I found the book on a recent visit to Singapore – there was a banded offer on sale that combined both the books. With a retro cover that shows a train heading deep into the rural American South, the book felt a lot like going back in time. On all fronts, it seems.

Harper Lee is clearly a writer’s writer. The usage of words, the language is so vivid, you savour every sentence that is so beautifully crafted. I could live with the references to race in the book – it comes from a different era, a different time. It does not have to be politically correct but it has a story to tell, which, under the circumstances, made sense for the people of the time. A story that may seem stark and darker than we would like it to be, but there it is narrating and presenting a picture as it was during those days, in the deep rural South of the US.

Harper Lee’s writings cascade, much like the mighty Mississippi, in an ebb and a flow, making the writer in me want to re-read passages that are so beautifully captured. In your mind’s eye, you can see Jean Louise drive into town, play with her brother Jem and friend Hank under the chinaberry tree and the drinks on the patio on a hot summer’s day ; it was a world without iPods and Internet and you are held with awe with the way in which kids kept themselves occupied. You can understand her dismay at the courthouse as she watches her father take part in that dreaded meeting – and her reaction.

Yet for all its old world rhetoric, Harper Lee’s frank and no nonsense narrative asks a lot of today’s society that is governed by the principles of justice and equality. It also makes a sort of an inward looking plea, that makes you want to pause and think. Jean Louise might be a rebel and shocked at the Southern way of doing things well into the 20th century but there are many moments when you desperately want to see her deal with it and move on.

From another perspective,  there are other sides to the woman that Harper Lee so intricately presents, ones that you want to capture. One that struck me was her inability to accept another point of view, whether right or wrong. Sometimes we are like that too. We are too busy being right that we forget right or wrong, others may have various view points that at least should be listened to. There was a lot of that in the two elections we in Sri Lanka just concluded – so much of one sided arguments, whether right or wrong, cannot prevail. There should be room in an ideal world, for all sides.

But then, we don’t read fiction for lessons in race or race relations or to learn about the importance of being politically correct. There’s an earful of that everyday on media , especially in relation to shootings and protests. We read fiction to enjoy a good book and to remind ourselves that nothing is more enjoyable than a well written good book. Any day.