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.

 

 

 

Zuckerberg style paternity leave..is it relevant?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

“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

What the General Election meant for us as a nation…

What the General Election meant for us as a nation…

It is The Day After.

It’s the day after the General Election. Just a few months ago, I remember waking up on the morning of the 09th January, with a feeling that would always stay etched in my mind. I was free, my family was free, my country was free. From dictatorship and a mad man’s grip. But the nightmare wasn’t really over , bits and pieces kept wanting to take Sri Lanka back by force, if necessary, to those stifling times.

All of which finally ended yesterday. At the ballot box. When millions of Sri Lankans chose to go the polls to elect the best among them, the most deserving, not in terms of adoration and popularity but in terms of making Sri Lanka the kind of place we want to live and thrive in ; one in which our children can live well and be content. I think the word is content – if you are content with your life, you have little to grumble about. Oh, yes, we had a lot to grumble about – not the beautifully paved roads and the gleaming shopping malls where most were window shoppers but the quagmire underneath those facades – one that was rotting with nepotism, vulgarity, mass murder and big time financial misconduct.

So what did it all mean, the election, in which the rogues went on parade once again, seeking votes from the poor and the vulnerable and surprisingly, even from the so called learned who could sadly be labelled the ‘educated but unlearned’. The few good men, if they could be thus called, found the manape pore a tough one but they persisted. I can honestly be glad that I voted for three honest men who contested. In the end, as they say, it is between you and God – you must be honest to your own self not only because you can then sleep well at night but also because it feels right to do so.

This election was unique because it involved the people. From a high octane social media overdrive that saw some of us virtually engaged round the clock, to one to one election campaigning, the people relished the role they played. As never before, Sri Lankans engaged the politicians with questions, queries and lagging doubts. Admittedly, as in the Presidential Election, social media played a key role in giving us voters that platform. Some of the contestants forgot that the ship of voter amnesia had sailed. In the era of smart phones and internet, every word uttered and every promise given, every insult to public intelligence, has been captured and could be plastered all over the web in a matter of minutes. Those who understood the power of voter capacity, did well to play it wise.

So where are we now? We are facing the prospects of a new Sri Lanka not just on economic terms. We face a new Sri Lanka on new terms of engagement. The government will be watched by a populace who are no longer afraid nor incapable of questioning those who are not doing their job. The rogues will be noted and called out. For the first time perhaps in the history of Sri Lankan politics, we have accountability as a key factor present in the new parliament. They will need to keep their promises because we will be monitoring them as the people who voted them in.

We need to stay connected the way we have done during the election – keep playing the role of the engaged active citizen..the citizen journalist…the vigilant..because we are dealing after all, with professional politicians to whom cat and mouse games are easy…our task as citizens is not done..will not be done until this country becomes the kind of place all of us can thrive in..

It is an exciting time to live in – these are indeed life changing times. Someday, we can tell our children and grand children, we remember the great change. The change that heralded in the new Sri Lanka…

The grand old ladies who tell grand stories…

The grand old ladies who tell grand stories…

I always love seeing the well put together, grand old ladies going to church on Sunday morning.

There’s something so beautiful, so enriching about them. They usually dress in their Sunday best and are almost impeccable as they come to worship God on the Sabbath. As they sit dignified in the pews and kneel, there are hundred no a million stories about what rich lives they might have lived and served God in their own unique faithful ways.

They grew up during the days when no one dressed in sloth , not just to come to church but for almost every occasion. There was an unspoken dress code. No one did skinny jeans and t shirts and certainly not in church. You took the time to dress, you found the time to match accessories and make sure you were presentable. They didn’t and still don’t walk in with unkempt hair ; they are as well groomed as their age and station in life allows them to.

They are well versed in the art of inter-personal relationships – otherwise known as social skills. They do not look sullen and occupied with cellphones and social media. They know how to greet and make small talk, feats by today’s standards. They are concerned for others and would usually ask after the sick and the absent.

They take their obligations seriously. They are almost always on time and do not make mockery of coming late. Despite old age and aching bones, they can be found well in time in their slots. They belong to a generation that learnt keeping time without cellphones. They probably still own old style alarm clocks that have faithfully served them over the years.

They respect other people and take pride in their knowledge – although some may dismiss it as gossip of sorts. They are not preoccupied with selfies and social media status updates. They go for funerals and remember birthdays and not because Facebook prompts. They are likely to carry little diaries with birthdays and anniversaries faithfully jotted down. Like my mother does, they read obituaries in the newspapers and know if someone’s loved one has passed away.

The grand old ladies (I won’t call them little old ladies because most of them are not little but truly grand, having lived enriching lives) have so much to share with us. I admire the fact that almost all of them can still find the time to wear sari to church, when most of us have trouble finding anything other than jeans and a t shirt. They come from a time when you wore your best to be in God’s house every Sunday. They have always dressed well for whatever the occasion – and they still do.

In their own unique way, they share with us their legacy – a sort of a remembrance of a time when life was lived on different terms. When commitments mattered and one kept one’s word in many different ways. When asking after another was the thing to do – when obligations and values were prized over self-importance and selfishness. When frugality was preferred over wasteful abundance. When children had to learn life’s lessons the hard way.

So the next time you see a grand old lady in church or anywhere else, remember to go up and give her a hug – and ask yourself what you can learn from her. You will cherish the occasion.