Sunil Perera – Thank you for the music

Sunil Perera – Thank you for the music

Growing up in Attidiya, Ratmalana, it was only natural that you become a fan of Sunil, Piyal and the Gypsies – they lived at Glukorasa, the iconic building by the Belek Kade Junction about which Sunil sang so merrily.

Glukorasa made jujubes and chewing gum back then – they were among the few choices we had as confectionaries at the time.

Belek Kade & its colourful Saima featured in his bailas ; Belek Kade was also where the weekly poll was held at Ratmalana – I remember going with my mother to buy vegetables to Belek Kade as a child. It was and is a heaving place of activity and has remained so in my mind.

I was in Grade Seven at Musaeus College at the time and we would take the school bus on Galle Road from Ratmalana. Many of us maintained song books and wrote to whatever artistes we could – I still remember writing to the Gypsies and receiving their memorabilia including a signed colour photo.

Precious to us back then. The legacy of Sunil’s music remains equally precious even now – some forty years later.

Sunil Perera was one of a kind musician. It wasn’t only his baritone voice – he once merrily announced at a concert that he tried singing soft romantic melodies that made the girls swoon like Milton Mallawaarachchi did but he couldn’t so he thought he will be content with his style of singing.

He sang about the issues we complained about – the politicians, the social issues, the utopia Sri Lankans seek but never seem to find – and so many other things in between.

He delivered the punches beautifully – and drove home his message that should have made us think once the party or the concert was over.

Satire was his game – he perfected it in song, singing about the so called musical maestros who criticised baila as an unacceptable art form but would be found on the dance floor after one or two drinks, swaying to the unacceptable yet perfectly rhythmic baila Sunil sang.

He was right about the itch to get on the dance floor when he took over the stage. No one could stay away from it when Sunil Aiya was in his element.

Even now, listening to him, it is impossible not to dance – even though the last physical dance we went to seems like a century ago. In fact, a good baila swirl around the kitchen floor to a good old baila hit by the Maestro himself is a part of my weekly wellness schedule – during the lockdowns.

His catchy tunes were the vehicle to deliver powerful lyrics that often conveyed a message of social importance. The music was his gift to us – creating a unique heritage that cuts deep, to a Sri Lankan psyche ; one that rises above the pettiness of political, ethnic and religious divide that keeps us occupied unnecessarily.

The music of Sunil Perera was not just the legacy of my generation.

It is also the legacy of my children’s generation -Gen Z raised on internet and smartphones- for them too, Sunil Perera and the Gypsies remained a common source of joy. They never complained or switched on their headphones when we played Sunil’s hits in the car. I still remember how Sunil’s Sumihiripane became an instant hit with my daughter’s class at one school event not too long ago. They who normally dismissed our Seventies & Eighties music, never dismissed Sunil Perera’s music but loved it.

His music was also a powerful social equaliser.

Where politics and dialogue may fail in rallying rural communities with the urban societies, Sunil’s music did that effortlessly. You could be in the hipster Colombo night clubs with fancy DJs, or counting fireflies at night in far flung villages – Sunil Perera’s music was equally celebrated by them all, uniting everyone as only music could.

It was the bridge that connected communities, families, friends and colleagues – a canvas so uniquely Sri Lankan that it represented us to us all.

Those who had left our shores to settle down in other countries, couldn’t bear not seeing Sunil & the boys in action – he was often entertaining Sri Lankans living overseas, in his own unique way as only he could.

Sunil Perera wasn’t only just a singer or a star – he was the whole package when it came to ticking off all the boxes in entertainment. He sang, he entertained, he kept you enthralled, gave you a moment frozen in time.

He also made you think about everyday issues that impacted you.

He was Numero Uno when it came to holdings his audiences enthralled. You never forgot a concert by Sunil & the Gypsies.

It stayed in your memories – for always.

Sunil ventured into sociopolitical dynamics that opened a path of citizen involvement in politics and burning social issues. It was a knife that cut both ways but Sunil remained sincere in his efforts to point out the stench underneath some of the issues that plagues the Lankan society.

He recently visited the tax authorities and insisted on paying taxes that he believed he owed – setting an example in his own way. he felt it was the right thing to do.

Sri Lankan today mourns a son who chose a different path – yet the love expressed and the tears shed by millions across this little island stands as a powerful testimony to the lives he touched with his music.

Goodbye Sunil Aiya – Heaven’s gained its baila maestro.

The pandemic can’t stop the good news…

The pandemic can’t stop the good news…

In the midst of a pandemic that’s stealing more lives than ever before, sanity needs prevailing…the kind of sanity that would help us overcome this and go back to the lives we had once taken for granted.

There’s nothing we need right now more than good news.

The kind of news that help us understand and celebrate being who we are – in the midst of the overfilled crematoriums, hapless patients struggling for oxygen and the healthcare workers overworked to the bone.

News that would be uplifting as over a million self employed people struggle to make ends meet – as many have no choice but to resort to eating one meal a day during the lockdown because they cannot go to work.

Last week, Yohani showed us that good news can come in many forms.

Her staggering over 40 million views mammoth achievement with one YouTube video not only captured the world but also captured all of us.

She has gone where no Sri Lankan singer/performer has gone before.

But not before teaching us many lessons that are comforting and inspiring – even in the midst of the darkness of the pandemic.

She showed us how it can be done – without fanfare, without criticism and without naysaying which seems to be a national pastime.

She just did what she did. Kept on singing and performing until that moment in time when her talent and her commitment just cut through the noise and made it to the Twitter page of a Bollywood legend – the rest is history.

This week, as Paralympic Games took off in Tokyo, Dinesh Priyantha Herath of the Sri Lanka Army who lost an arm in the war, took Gold in Men’s Javelin Throw, setting not only a new World Record but also showing his countrymen and women how you strike a win.

You don’t strike a win by punching the keys to criticise, spill hate or troll something or someone. Sure it helps to vent out but what beyond that?

It may give you a temporary high but minutes later, you are back at what you do best when you choose that road – living a miserable existence that goes nowhere. Everything can and will go wrong – would you still have the courage to stand up and say no, it cannot get me down?

Yohani and Dinesh have shown us that even in the midst of adversity, life needs – and can be celebrated.

It’s moments like what they have given us – by taking Sri Lanka to great heights globally – that can help us heal and come together as a nation.

If we don’t and we choose to wallow in our self-pity of broken systems that need fixing, we are taking the road that will never end but drive us even further into despair.

Maybe it’s the impact of the pandemic – of losing loved ones – the numbers have become names now – of the fear of the unknown, the fear of being infected and the sheer impact of losing livelihoods and income.

Maybe it’s not knowing where this pandemic will take us and not being able to truly comprehend what’s going on.

Maybe it brings out the worst in normally good people on social media or in person, losing it at vaccination centres and grumbling daily at what could be better.

Yes we have many broken systems that need fixing – everyday, all the time.

But we don’t have to be a part of it – we don’t need to allow ourselves to break down.

The human spirit is capable of rising above the situation, above the circumstances and achieving greater heights right in the middle of despair.

Others have shown us before – there have been many stories.

From Connie Ten Boom who survived Nazi atrocities to reach out to those hurting at the end of the World War Two to the mother of the Egyptian Christian Martyr who was beheaded by the ISIS.

They chose not to stay deep in hate and wallow in self-pity. They rose above what happened and went on to make the world a better place.

We can do that too.

Yohani and Dinesh have shown us it can be done.

It is never too late, never too far gone that you cannot reach out and touch someone’s life and make it better.

Maybe not much – a phone call, a hot meal or even a mild query.

A little kindness goes a long way – and helps us understand that no matter how bleak things might become, there’s still hope.

There always is.

” I cried for a pair of shoes until I met a man without feet.”

Annoymous

When survival is the toughest call..

When survival is the toughest call..

Dedicated to all martyrs who gave their lives in the Easter Sunday bomb blast on 21st April 2019 – the victims in the hotels and the surviving family members…

He is a father who still misses the warmth, the presence and the love of his three children and wife – he lost them in the bomb attack on their church at Katuwapitiya on Easter Sunday two years ago.

On days when it rains with thunder flashing, he goes to the grave of his daughter and sits there – she used to be frightened of thunder. So he tries to keep her company. Even now.

Then there is the mother who lost her two lovely daughters and her husband in the same church. The memories are what keeps her going – the photos of her two beautiful girls smiling along with their father, echo the deep ache in her heart.

There were others who were on suicide watch in the aftermath of the attacks – they had lost almost everyone in the family and saw no reason to stay on.

Across Katuwapitiya, every family has tales of loved ones dead or incapacitated.

Two years on, the pain is still there, raw yet somehow, contained and comforted by the Master’s touch – healed as only He can, restored somewhat as only He can. It is indeed a process.

From St. Sebastian Church Katuwapitiya to St. Anthony’s in Colombo, Zion Church in Batticaloa, the hotels Shangri-La Colombo, The Kingsbury and The Cinnamon Grand – the death and destruction came unexpected on a day sacred to Christians, almost unbelievable that such a tragedy could happen.

From crowded pews resplendent with worshippers dressed in their Easter finery, to blood soaked body parts in a matter of seconds.

Today, as we remember them, we also remember that this nation grieved and reached out to those who suffered.

From the Buddhist monks who came and cleaned the church premises to the Moslem maulavis who offered their mosques to conduct services to Christians, the true heart of Sri Lanka bled as one.

The first responders, the ambulance crews, the doctors and nurses, medical personnel, armed forces and police officers gave their very best.

Once the dust settled on the burials and the funerals, it was a survivor’s nightmare to resume normal life.

That’s where we all fail – when it comes to doing the everyday little things without the loved ones.

The mother who had to accept that the school shoes her daughters wore, now lying on the rack, were never going to be worn again.

Or the young son who went straight to the graveyard where his father is buried, with his exam results – he kneeled and told his father the results with tears streaming down his face.

The children who must recover at home, shielded and kept from noises and light because parts of their injured brain have been stored in the hospital cell bank so that the cells could grow and be re-grafted later on – their trauma is real, their pain acute.

The bright child who got 99 out of 100 for maths every term and now has to deal with his arm and leg not working properly – his father tearfully says that his son thought the bomber with his heavy pack of bombs, was actually bringing milk rice for Easter celebrations.

It doesn’t stop there.

In some cases, entire families were ushered into the presence of God – their tea mugs, half drunk, still in the sinks that no one was going to wash.

Two years on, the pain is real but so is the knowledge that someday, we shall see them on that beautiful shore.

Hope is the only thing a Christian has.

Hope is the one thing that can keep us going.

Hope helps us to keep doing what we do against all odds.

As we move on, we have one singular focus as a nation, no matter whether the politicalrhetoric may sound hollow – we owe it to the victims and each other that it will not happen again.

That’s the best gift we can give those who are grieving and those who gave their lives.

That’s the best gift we can give the next generation.

May God bless and comfort everyone who suffered in the Easter Sunday attacks on 21st April 2019.

” I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me , though he may die, shall live.”

  • John 11:25 – The Holy Bible

You will always remember where you were the day we won the World Cup…

You will always remember where you were the day we won the World Cup…

I have not been particularly fond of cricket – until the Sri Lankan team kept gaining the advantage over competition and eventually brought home the World Cup in a jubilant display of camaraderie and exceptional sportsmanship in 1996.

Watching Arjuna and his boys deliver what to us Lankans was a dream come true, I became a fan – overnight.

Who can forget the image of him receiving the Cup from the late Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto – his eyes shining with the spirit of victory, drenched with tears of joy shed by every Sri Lankan watching?

Who will forget the moment?

You will always remember where you were when Sri Lanka won the Cricket World Cup in 1996.

I was at home, watching the incredible final when Sri Lanka won and the entire country burst into celebrations.

It is etched into our collective Sri Lankan psyche – it will continue to inspire the future.

At the time, we had no social media – internet was just coming as this novelty on your computer.

Yet we took to the streets as celebrations poured over and ecstatic Sri Lankans found ways to tell the world it mattered to the very heart and soul of the country that we won cricket’s most coveted trophy.

That year, as Sri Lanka went on to hold sway over international cricket, we savored each victory as it united us across various divides.

Twenty five years later, the ring of its sweetness still echoes through the country’s villages, towns and communities.

We have not forgotten that there was a day when this nation could rise above party politics, communal divides, religious differences and other factors that sometimes can divide an island and its people.

That day, we came together as one – there was something powerful about the way Arjuna and his team went out there and won a cup which many would have doubted they ever could.

It still validates everything Sri Lanka stands for.

Above all, it sends out a powerful message to the young generation who were either not born or were babes in arms back in 1996.

It takes work to build a world class team – it takes work to build a common thread of identity and togetherness that can rise above pettiness – of communal, religious, political and class divides.

That day, the entire cricket playing world were Sri Lankan.

We had come to defy the odds, turn the Englishman’s game on its heels and give the world a taste of exceptional cricketing talent.

The Sri Lankan team tasted success because at the time, they had what it took to be one – one team, not individuals. Together, each member did what he could do best. And naturally, everyone thrived in such an environment of brotherhood.

As a result, what was delivered was a once-in-a-lifetime gesture of bringing home the most coveted award in cricketing history.

Will we see such a moment again?

It is no secret that cricket became a highly competitive sport following the Word Cup victory – which is a good thing.

Every cricket loving young boy dreamed of becoming the next Kalu or Sanath.

More importantly, the talented young men from the rural areas found the doors of stardom opened wide for them.

It changed the landscape and it changed us.

Trouble with victory is that it raises the bar so high that anything lower would be seen as a devastating disappointment.

And that’s what we have come to expect from our cricketers every time.

While there have been times when they delivered, there have been moments of despair, disappointment and downright anguish.

And so the conversations have flowed, tears shed and fists shaken in fury as cricketers have faced acid tests again and again.

But one thing emerges out of the victory a young team of an island nation registered twenty five years ago.

Victory is never about complaining or individual ambition. It is never about secret agendas and ulterior motives.

Victory comes to those who put the needs of others above theirs, who can think as one and work towards reaching goals of common good.

On that day, in the sweltering heat, a young Arjuna Ranatunga showed every Sri Lankan since then that victory on the world stage is only possible when a team can work together as one.

We can only hope that twenty five years later, we could find it in every one of us to send out a team that can think and work like one with one goal in mind.

May we be able to do that – that I’m sure is the prayer of every Sri Lankan.

The doctor we desperately needed we lost to Covid-19…

The doctor we desperately needed we lost to Covid-19…

A young doctor who still had so much to give to Sri Lanka, succumbed to COVID-19 today.

Dr Gayan Danthanarayana goes into history not just as the first doctor claimed by the virus in Sri Lanka.

He goes down in history as a doctor who was much needed – we lost him at a time when we needed him most.

We needed him because he didn’t think twice about serving the poor in the often tough rural areas with low facilities.

Where hospitals are ill equipped to deal with the stress and strain of taking care of the sick – yet those of the calibre of Dr Gayan always had just enough inspiration to go on serving.

In a community that often sees the bad before it sees the good, young doctors like Gayan give all of us hope – that the medical professional is as noble as we could imagine it to be.

That for every doctor who disappoints us, there are hundreds of silent yet dedicated medical professionals who make their calling still the most respected in the world.

Today, as the nation mourns the untimely death of a young doctor, social media is awash with heartfelt tributes to a young man whose life’s calling seemed to have been a passion beyond a mere job.

One post recalled Dr Gayan’s stint at the Ampara Hospital.

Often, an ambulance – not really an ambulance but a makeshift van with a bed, traveling across roads with more pot holes than the van could negotiate, would carry a sick child from a hospital without facilities in a rural area to the bigger hospital at Ampara.

Every time the van hits a pot hole, the tube on the breathing apparatus would come off and the attending staff would have to stop, light a torch and put the tube back in to ensure that the child would be able to breathe and make it to the hospital safe.

The nightmare trip taken through some of the most difficult terrain of the deep rural Sri Lanka, would end at the Ampara hospital where Dr Gayan waited with more than just medical help at hand.

He would reach out to the doctors and the staff who took the challenging task of bringing a very sick child through a perilous journey – once the child was taken care of, he never forgot to treat the accompanying doctor and nurses to a cup of tea.

The writer, a doctor himself, also noted that most of the children who were thus resuscitated and made well, would come back to see them with grateful hearts. They owed their very life to the commitment displayed by doctors the calibre of Dr Gayan.

Dr Gayan served in hospitals considered difficult, often attending to the needs of the rural poor, helpless villagers whose only refuge is in a hospital a million miles away from what we in the city perceive hospitals to be.

It breaks my heart and the hearts of every Sri Lankan to comprehend that a doctor of his calibre had to leave so soon.

It breaks my heart that a doctor who ministered selflessly to the poor had to be rushed from Ragama, close to Colombo and then to IDH before finally being sent to Karapitiya Hospital in Galle which is said to have the sole life support system for critically ill patients.

Maybe there is enough reason for us to come together to do something about it. That would be the best we could give in Dr Gayan’s memory.

Dr Gayan was also an accomplished musician who played his guitar – a smiling young man whose cheerful demeanor seemed to convey his zest for life, his dedication to his profession and to his music.

Let Dr. Gayan’s untimely death not be in vain.

Let it light a path of hope towards more ECMO units being installed in the island.

Let it open our eyes that if we come together as we did for the Cancer Hospital Project, we as a nation can raise the funds needed to put up another ECMO unit in a hospital easily accessible.

One young girl who united all Sri Lankans..and she wears a head scarf..

One young girl who united all Sri Lankans..and she wears a head scarf..

When Shukra Munawwar excelled in the Sri Lankan version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ on a local TV channel, the 17 year old schoolgirl from the South of Sri Lanka, brought all Sri Lankans together in one joyous celebration.

It was not just her sincerity, her candid and cheerful demeanor that captured the hearts across religious and ethnic divides.

It was her story, her talent, her skill and her determination.

Shukra, beautifully clad in a head scarf and exceptionally knowledgeable in her answers, was not just another Muslim girl – she was a Sri Lankan young woman, who epitomized the hopes and dreams of her generation.

In a nation that has been more than divided – deeply wounded in fact – following the brutal Easter Sunday massacre in churches and hotels that saw over 300 dead and countless wounded, many still in deep trauma and recovery, Shukra was the healing balm we all needed.

The recent controversy over the cremation of COVID-19 victims had only widened the level of tensions.

But none of it was visible, when post after post on social media, shared by jubilant people of all ethnicities and religions, celebrated Shukra and her exceptional skills and talent tested on the screen.

There are lessons for us all here.

The courageous young woman up on the stage, telling her story of how she came to take part in the ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” style contest on Sirasa TV, bubbled over with enthusiasm and hope.

She may have been from a less than affluent background but she was richer than many who boast of wealth, could be.

She was richer in her values, in her attitude and outlook in life and her unstoppable hope of a better tomorrow.

She came to take part in the show, she said, because she needed to buy a laptop computer to continue her studies online.

Her mother, who accompanied her to the show, couldn’t afford to buy one for her – her father was too sick to work and was bedridden. But she was determined to rise above it all.

In one single sentence, watched by thousands, this cheerful young woman was able to highlight the plight of hundreds of children who cannot afford the resources needed to pursue a holistic online study experience in Sri Lanka.

Her story was sad but she didn’t cry sharing it.

Instead, she chose to say what needed to be heard – that stories like hers should only serve to make one stronger, enabling one to reach heights of doing the impossible.

Never give up, she said. Until you have reached your goal.

I am here, she said, because I know the difficulties children doing online classes face in economically challenged families.

Respect your parents, she said, especially when they cannot afford to buy you what you want.

Give us all an equal stage to show our talents, she said, no matter where we come from.

At a time when average youngsters of her age spend the majority of their time either constantly engaged with a device or playing games, often choosing the solitary confinement of their rooms, Shukra gave us all hope that among them are young women and men like her, who still find the time and the ability to acquire knowledge that matters.

Someday, I want to be the CEO of a well known organization, said this cheerful young woman with the candor that the young could muster, her eyes sparkling.

Singlehandedly capturing a nation’s love and warmth.

Shukra has a powerful message for us all – she refused to curse the darkness – instead, she chose to light a candle and let the light cast its glow upon herself and the others.

May we meet more and more young people the calibre of Shukra.

Thank you for the books, Aunty Sybil..

Thank you for the books, Aunty Sybil..

The daughter of a writer, I was introduced to the magical formula of reading and writing at an early age, by my father.

My father Premil Ratnayake knew Sybil Wettasinghe well – they both shared a common work heritage at the Lake House, the home of legendary journalists.

I was five or six years old when he brought me Duwana Rawula (The Runaway Beard) which was the first Sybil Weerasinghe book I ever read.

More would follow. Many, actually.

As I started to discover the magical world of books, her mesmerizing stories of the simple village life became more than just books – they were escapades, a journey into an imaginary world of enchantment, one in which wonderful characters lived.

Her books were a staple for us as children of the Seventies.

We had no phones, no internet and not even TV back then.

But we had her books.

Listening to me, my thirteen year old daughter raises her eyebrows –

but what did you do then, Ammi?

We read. That’s what we did, I tell her. We read Enid Blyton, we read Charles Dickens, we read Nancy Drew.

And yes, we read Sybil Wettasinghe.

Fed on a diet of reading that nourished you from inside out, it would not have done justice to the words I read if I hadn’t turned to writing – which came as natural as reading was to me.

I would clank away at my father’s old typewriter, writing stories and articles for children’s newspapers.

All the while, reading Aunty Sybil, among others.

But the enchantment of dear Aunty Sybil didn’t end in childhood for me.

Years later, as I continued my reading and writing into adulthood, her book Vaniyan Kalu Vaniyan (The Child In Me) which chronicles the serene childhood spent in the charming village of Gintota, in Galle, never failed to inspire the child in me.

It was her gift to the next generations – her signature narrative about a way of life that no longer existed.

If she didn’t tell the stories, how would we understand?

How would we know the thrill of going to school across streams and greenery? The thrill of picking fruit that grew so abundantly in the village?

How would we know the love of a grandmother for her granddaughter as they foraged the forest together for ripe fruit?

The story teller in Sybil Wettasinghe takes us by the hand and together, we discover her village home, the idyllic setting of her aththamma’s (grandmother’s) house.

We meet the characters who bring her stories to life – Sedara Akka, Loku Amma, Babun Appu, Nandaseeli and many other village folk whose stories she so charmingly details.

The silvery waters of the stream in which little Sybil and her grandma bathed – or the silvery moon on that special night when her mother and the rest of the villagers would boil jackfruit and eat it as a midnight feast.

We are right there with her as the cook Carolyn churns out condiments on the traditional stone grinder, almost meditating.

Or ponder the plate sized hoppers little Sybil had for breakfast on her way to the primary school.

The stories are not just full of enchantment but they bring to life the vivid memories of a simple childhood, spent in the serenity of a village in which everyone knew everyone and life was a lot less complicated.

It was the old world charm of an era long vanished – yet still alive in the pages of her books, living on for the generations to come.

Her other books – from Runaway Beard to Children of the Clay House, often chronicled simple stories that left a deep impact on children. Her lucid style of story telling captivated audiences, whether young or old.

The stories were never complete without her magical drawings that accompanied the stories.

I will never forget how the old Seeya (grandfather) in the Runaway Beard found his beard growing as white as snow to fill an entire house – the childhood memory is still so alive that I could close my eyes and hear my father reading the book to me.

Thank you Aunty Sybil for your unforgettable art of story telling. The clarity, the lucid style that never failed to captivate hearts and minds as you took us on journeys into the heartland of the village.

The characters you helped us remember – the stories you told so beautifully.

It is indeed a privilege to pass on your legacy that lit a thousand lights in the fertile mind of the young – to my children.

They have enjoyed your books as much as I have.

May the turf lie gently over you – may the stories live on in our hearts.

Why 18 year old Shan inspires us all…

Why 18 year old Shan inspires us all…

Imagine a three year old left on his own, deserted by his mother in the aftermath of his father’s funeral.

Little Shan packed his school uniform, wore the other and set out in search of a shelter, leaving behind his coir mill home for good.

He was alone.

It had been no home – but it was the only one he knew and he didn’t mind the dust. But now it was no more because he was alone.

What happened as the three year old started his journey on his own, is history.

He remembers waking up in hospital soon afterwards and  being taken in by a kind bus conductor and his family. They took care of him until he sat for his O/Ls.

Shan had to cook his own food and do chores in the home they gave him but he didn’t mind.

He went on to get prizes for his talent in singing and other extra curricular activities.

Soon afterwards, his foster father dies from a cancer – knowing that he would become a burden to the the foster family, Shan sets out, determined to build a life on his own terms.

One goal is to get his birth certificate – he didn’t have one.

Because he did not have a birth certificate, the school had not allowed him to take part in any activities.

He didn’t mind – every time this young man was dealt a blow in life, he used it to become stronger.

He was able to get a birth certificate after much persistence, time spent and great efforts undertaken – but thanks to archaic laws that govern such documents, his birth certificate states that his parents are unknown.

Just like in Kenny Rogers’ song, where they called Jimmy the coward of the county, people called Shan the fatherless child in less flattering terms.

Shan didn’t mind – he had goals to attain.

Shan then gets a job with a restaurant – and a place to stay with a salary.

He learns cooking and all of its craft here – after working from dawn until evening, he believes he has finally found a place he can call home.

Things change when Shan is fired for not waking up on time one day – he has only one passion in life and that is music.

After work, he would stay up to watch the music sessions going on in a close by place.

And then one day, he oversleeps.

Out of a job and back on the street, Shan is no longer alone.

His friend, the pastry chef earning a salary of LKR 75,000 per month along side him in the restaurant, chooses to walk out with him.

He refuses to leave Shan to face the world on his own.

In a true test of sincere friendship, Shan and his friend set up a restaurant, along with another friend in the Kuliyapitiya town who gives up his ambition to join in the venture.

The three friends are soon joined by another – they work like a team and the result is a restaurant with a booming business in Muthukuda Plaza Kuliyapitiya Town.

Shan is more than an example to the young generation of today – and to all of us.

Just eighteen but wiser beyond years, Shan has formed his own line of defense in the face of insults, refusals and rebuts.

His strength is his quiet resilience – and a steely determination to fine tune his art and emerge not just a dynamic entrepreneur but also a musician.

The many certificates and awards he has recieved stand testimony to his tremendous talent in music.

Today, helped by his friends and well wishers, he has recorded an album of 05 songs in it.

How does a young man, rejected by his family, ostercized by society and left to fend for himself, manage to hold it all together, so courageously, so well?

At a time when all around him, young men with families, parents, much loved and nurtured, are making wrong decisions and wrong choices, Shan stands tall, a beacon of hope to us all.

Shan bears no ills, no grudges against those who called him names, those who sneered at him.

His eyes shining, his hopes high, he tells of his ambition to qualify in music and eventually, to save enough to buy a plot of land, build a house and invite his mother – if he can find her – to live with him.

Among restless young men who wear anger like some sort of a jewel to consolidate their position in society , Shan could have easily turned the rejection, the pain into a weapon he could have thrown back at those who opposed him.

Instead, he has perfected the best weapon to fight injustice – success.

Shan and his friends run their restaurant with perfect precision – and share the profits on an equal basis – a true band of brothers, if there one ever was.

So what does this courageous young man with his eyes sparkling with hope, his voice so rich with talent, tell us?

That every rejection can be turned into a powerful weapon of hope.

That being fatherless and motherless yet knowing the right path to trod on is richer than having all the family in the word and yet feel lost and hopeless.

That taking inspiration from what you possess instead of lamenting over what you don’t possess, is greater than mourning what you never had.

That when all is said and done, if there is courage, determination and talent, the only limit you have is the one you impose on yourself.

May Shan be truly blessed – may his band of brothers who gave up their comforts to stand by him, be blessed as they stay a beacon of light in a world of darkness.

 

 

Let the Sri Lankan in me rise up!

Let the Sri Lankan in me rise up!

One month ago, on Easter Sunday 2019, suicide bombers set themselves off in three churches in Sri Lanka and three hotels.

Amidst the mayhem, the confusion, they killed almost 300 innocents, injuring over 500.

Among the dead were mothers and fathers, children and teenagers.

Some lost all – the entire families perished. Others lost parents and parents lost children.

Many were the sole survivors of their once beautiful and much cherished families.

Before we looked for the perpetrators, we tried to find the answers.

I too had walked out of the Easter Sunday service – my family and I were looking forward to the traditional Easter meal.

The pork chops I had bought sat in the sink where I had left them in a dish to marinade before running off to the usually packed church service.

There were many others who too would have dashed off to service that day, hoping to come back to clear the dishes or the cups. They were from areas that traditionally celebrated Easter with festivity and pageantry. They were rejoicing in the Lord’s resurrection, following the 40 days of fasting since Ash Wednesday.

They never got the chance.

Somewhere in Katuwapitiya, the Negombo neighbourhood that had over 100 snatched from its community in the Katuwapitiya St. Sebastian Church blast, the closed up houses would remain closed up. Maybe empty tea cups still sat in the sink ;maybe the traditional Easter meal was to be cooked.

We would never know.

Why?

The question still reverberates in our hearts.

Our hearts continue to be broken as we seek answers – as the armed forces do their job, the questions remain. Why and how did such despicable acts become almost ordinary for the suicide bombers, not some desperados with nowhere to go, but educated young men from rich families, blinded by hatred, walking so calmly into the churches and the hotels, with their deadly backpacks?

Last night, I saw an image of a young father cradling his dead daughter’s body in his arms in the bombed Katuwapitiya church. His daughter and wife both perished in the attack. He lost his entire world.

That image broke my heart into a thousand pieces. As did the images of Anusha Kumari, who lost her husband and her two children. The two young girls who lost their doting father in the St. Anthony’s Church Kochchikade attack. The children whose skin burns and injuries sustained in the attack on the Zion Church in Batticaloa burn our hearts every time we them. The young mother who had to face life saving surgery on the spine last week – she lost her son and was blinded in the blast. The British man who lost his wife and the two children in the hotel blast. The list is long and every needless death, every injury, tears at our heart strings.

Sri Lanka had been through a 30 year war that was as merciless and vicious as it could be. Suicide bombers blew themselves up in trains and city centers. Until ten years ago, when the war was finally won, we lived with check points, identity checks and fear of another bomb going off. We were resilient – we knew we would overcome.

One month following the attacks, we are still numbed with pain. Not a day passes by when we don’t think of the victims, their lives so cruelly snatched, their memories let behind. The psychological scars are stronger than the physical ones ; some may never recover from the loss.

For us , resilience has become not just a choice but a key component in our ability to emerge from a dented national psyche. How do we come to terms with the new normal of searching bags and vehicles, check points and suspicious glances? Where do we find a common thread that binds all of us as Sri Lankans? Can we find it in us, who overcame a war of greater proportions ten years ago, the strength, the power, the will to learn the lessons and emerge stronger?

These are the questions that surround us as I write this one month on.

Of course there is a way out.

Firmly entrenched in our memories.

As a child growing up in the Seventies, I remember a Sri Lanka that was so unique in the way her different communities were connected yet each individually proud of its own distinctive mark. Christmas was everyone’s festive season – Vesak was the occasion to celebrate the lights, Ramadan meant a biriyani feast and the Hindu Vel festival brought everyone out on the streets to watch the parade.

The differences were celebrated – they were never meant to exclude but rather, include all.

The Muslims were embraced by the Christians and the Buddhists – the Hindus were too.

Some traditions were too hallowed not to continue into the 21st century.

The famous Majestic City Hotel Biriyani that continues its champion status to this day – thanks to Rifai’s commitment to maintaining the quality.

The Green Cabin cream buns – no matter how carb conscious you are , you cannot resist biting into the cream filled centre.

The Piccadilly Cafe ice cream and the Bake House milk shakes – the list of Seventies nostalgia is endless ; there is tremendous potential there to revive the Sri Lankan spirit.

Food of course brings communities together in more ways than one.

It can do the same again.

Somewhere down the line, the oneness gave way to walls going up around the community – suddenly, there was an us and a them.

From then to now, there had been nothing but erosion ; of the old old fashioned values that were held dear and common to all.

Let’s all rally around a common Sri Lankan identity – one etched in food. Good old Sri Lankan dishes we all loved and still do. That are waiting to be discovered by the young generation as well.

That road my friend is still wide open – we just have to discover it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

divided we stand..

divided we stand..

 

My son’s good friend Hameed Zahran passed away tragically around this time last year.

His friends mourned him across religious and ethnic divides.

It never occurred to them – or to my son that this was a Moslem who died. He was their friend, the boy next door who strummed his guitar and sang out loud during breaks. The first one to volunteer for anything.

He will stay in their memories that way.

For years, I have sworn by my daughter’s Paeditrician  the trusted Dr Azyan Shafik, a student of late Dr Stella who was a legend and a stalwart in Sri Lankan paediatrics.

It has never occurred to me or to anyone of us that he is a Moslem.

Whenever we are in the mood for well prepared, tasty biriyani, we look no further than the trusty old Majestic Hotel. The owner is a Moslem,  but it has never ever occurred to me to question his faith before tucking into the delicious rice.

Often enough, we order sawaans from Moslem owned eateries – mostly because they are easy to serve and often suffice for big groups of guests.

No, we don’t wonder about the religious beliefs of the eatery owners.

A step further, when Thajudeen was mourned across the divide as a clear case of misconstrued justice for a human being, I don’t recall anyone mentioning his faith.

Why has it suddenly become a dangerous factor that is forcing us to pause and take stock if ethnicity or as in this case, a religious group, is something to be worried about.

Having recovered from years of blood shed and mayhem, if anything I want to teach my children as Sri Lankans, is to think Sri Lankan. Not to be limited to a time or a space that calls for narrow straight jacketed thinking that smacks of insecurity and bias.  To even think that someone in the orbit of tomorrow must consider a person’s religious or ethnicity before his or her qualities as a human being, should be worrisome to us all.

Hear me out here – yes, there are extremists on both sides.

As there always are. But the majority of Sri Lankans, whether Moslem, Sinhalese, Tamil or Burgher , are not and are only happy to lead their lives and mind their business.

If a nation can be governed through insecurity gnawing away inside about a particular ethnic or a religious group who could be positioned as a threat, then we have learnt nothing from our deeply scarring experiences with the 30 year old war. We have only burdened the next generation with prejudice, colouring their world view for good.

We are no longer in isolation today. We are a part of the vibrant international community, whose larger than life presence on social media can pick up vibes in seconds and form opinions without facts.

We have opted to forget that in such a interlinked world, no ethnic or a religious group can stick to their corner and cry wolf. It doesn’t work that way. If someone can play on your insecurity, then you have not evolved much.

When we shop or hunt for bargains, we don’t choose to dwell on the shop owner’s ethnicity.  When we choose a product or a service, the religious affiliations or the ethnicity of the owners, often does not come into play. We choose what we want. It really doesn’t matter.

Some of Sri Lanka’s biggest and best known companies which employ thousands of Sri Lankans of all ethnicity and religions, are owned by Moslems. There are Moslems working side by side with fellow Lankans in companies owned by Sinhalese.

Matters not to anyone to question the ethnicity or the religious affiliations of the owners when applying for a job.

Where would we go if we give in to extremists? Where would our children be able to come together as a nation to go past the mistakes and the mishaps we have come through as a nation, to celebrate unity in diversity?

My son schooled at the great school by the sea, S. Thomas College Mount Lavinia where he learnt the best lesson of all – getting along with all shades of fellow Lankans. Although a Christian school, STC was a great place that brought together Sri Lankans of all faiths and ethnicity. Even today, my son and his class mates do not see themselves through the coloured lens of ethnicity and religion – but as Sri Lankans of Generation Z.

That should be the goal of us all.