Ven. Sobitha Thero – the visionary who chose to stand in the gap…

Ven. Sobitha Thero – the visionary who chose to stand in the gap…

He didn’t belong only to the Buddhists but to all Sri Lankans…

For Christians, Old Testament history is full of those who chose to stand in the gap on behalf of their people and their nation – especially significantly during some of the darkest and the bleakest times. There were others ; Queen Esther was raised for ‘ a time such as this’ – (Esther 4 :14). But each of them was courageous, committed and chose to come forward at a time when others were too afraid, too timid or too indifferent to care.

When Sri Lanka’s time came to stand up and be counted, it fell upon a valiant Buddhist monk, Ven. Sobitha Thero, to do so. His calling was for a time such as this. Ven. Sobitha chose to stand in the gap, to make his voice heard on behalf of all Sri Lankans, against the powers of a dark and a vile dynasty of corruption and nepotism. He fired the first words and set about on getting civil society activated – and with it, awakened the nation into the possibility that there could be change – after all. He single handedly lit a flicker of hope in all of us that later became a light strong enough to cover the whole nation – whether we were Buddhists, Christians, Tamils, Moslems mattered not. What he inspired us to dream was that a concept of Good Governance was indeed a possibility for Sri Lanka. Good Governance may not have delivered on all fronts yet and there maybe issues as there always are – but what made the difference was that we defeated an impregnable monolith of a dictatorship because he dared to make it possible.

As social media posts reflect, all Sri Lankans – irrespective of religious and ethnic affiliations, chose to mourn this giant of a human being. He didn’t belong only to the Buddhists – he belonged to all Sri Lankans.

I still remember the day, under the Rajapakse regime, when they tried to gag Ven. Sobitha – this was fresh on the heels of his coming out strongly with the good governance movement. I remember seeing intimidating vehicles and troops outside the Naga Vihara Temple in our neighbourhood, one night. My husband Asoka and I wondered out loud – if the shove came to a push and the state chose to surround the temple and force the courageous monk inside to keep his mouth shut, would we the people, show our strength and challenge them?

That was not to be. Social media carried posts of the brave Buddhist priest being threatened by the then regime but nothing could – nothing would hold him back. He gave his all to bring the historic regime change in the country. He showed that it could be done. It was our Nelson Mandela moment – our Martin Luther King moment. It was his moment to step into the gap. He rose gallantly above all religious leaders of the country – and stood tall over the shifting of a nation’s perception that a perverted state could not be overcome. If anyone, history would credit him with that.

I remember the time when our shepherd, the Bishop of Colombo Dhilo Canagasabey called for the Christian community to take part in a Day of Lament to protest the impeachment of the Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake back in 2013. We made the effort but the baton had to be carried further than that – into the hearts and minds of people everywhere in Sri Lanka and it had to fall upon a leader of courage who were up for the challenge.

That leader stepped forward to be in a class of his own – in 2014. He sounded the clarion call. He stepped into the gap when the very words, good governance, sounded hollow enough to dampen the spirit of a nation subdued and crushed beyond repair.

True to his calling, Ven. Sobitha wasn’t happy with the results of the Good Governance in governing – he believed as many did, that more had to be done. And that is true. Yet, the significant step was that we had passed on from darkness to light, under his watch.

We owe him, as a nation, to ensure that the change he believed in was possible for Sri Lanka, will come. And that it will show our children the way forward.

May he attain Nibbana – I’m sure thousands of fellow Christians and those of other faiths join me in the sincerity of their hearts in wishing him farewell.

Kumar Sangakkara’s legacy …

Kumar Sangakkara’s legacy …

I am not exactly a cricket fan although Sri Lanka rising like we did on Indian Independence Day, breaking through the impossible to the possible, does get me interested. But watching Kumar Sangakkara, ever the gentleman, ever a true Trinitian who personifies everything about that great school in the hills, make a very poignant farewell speech, was one of those moments which will for certain stay etched in our memories, for all of us as Sri Lankans.

Many of us, if not all of us, will always remember where we were when we heard his words – my husband and I listened to his speech on Facebook, sitting in the quietness of our Holiday Inn City Centre room in Singapore. Everything stopped for a brief moment as we took in his words – and I am not ashamed to say we both found ourselves teary eyed.

His last speech on the turf took me back to one of the most famous speeches that truly defined Kumar Sangakkara the cricketer. We all know what that speech is and what features it raffled among the idiots who simply could neither decipher the true meaning of his words nor be in possession of the capacity to do so.

For my generation and happily for my son’s, Kumar will always be the finest Sri Lankan who rose above the pettiness that has become a sad habit of this country and its people. He rose above the insecurity, the jealousy, the small mindedness, the prejudice and above all, the tendency to condemn that seem to plague many of us. He stood tall with his fellow Lankans and fellow cricketers all together, all as one. In rising higher, not just on the cricket pitch but outside it as well, he became the icon of hope that we lacked.

He flickered and lit a thousand lights in the minds of my son’s generation of Lankans. His command of the Queen’s language , his ability to articulate and his capacity to stand shoulder to shoulder with the world’s finest cricketers, truly lifted him up to great heights, higher than any Lankan cricketer before him. And needless to say, it makes us proud ; not in a snobbish kind of way but in a way that assures the rest of the civilized world that no matter how tarnished our name as a nation may have been once upon a time, we are still one of the finest civilizations on earth. Kumar Sangakkara’s behaviour has been impeccable both on and off the field – he, one could truly say, reflected the 2,000 year old heritage the un-civilised politicos love to throw around to fool voters. He personified the Lankan spirit, the Lankan talent, the Lankanness of open homes, smiles of welcome and gratitude.

Kumar brought home the importance of values to the young generation as he gave his farewell speech.  He was grateful to his parents, his school, his coaches, his family and everyone else who contributed towards his success. He humbly acknowledged  their contribution and was thankful for it. In doing so, he sent a powerful signal to the wired generation of today. If he could be thankful , so could they.

Kumar Sangakkara, to my mind, has never been seen or heard to shout it out, engage in brazen acts some sportsmen seem to specialise in – neither does he give attitude, a favourite past time of the famous and the brat pack. He is a credit to his parents who raised him and a symbol of finesse to all. Gossip media has not been able to go after him – there’s been no need to. He has always been a class, clean act to follow.

Thank you Kumar for all that you did for Sri Lanka – you are a Sri Lankan icon the world recognises and admires…if we lost credibility on the world stage for one reason or another, if we are dejected when our passports are scrutinized at international airports, if we feel ashamed when the Australian government had to sponsor advertisements on local TV advising us not to come there in boats, if we felt violated to watch absolute mutts masquerade as diplomats on the world stage, we could always point you to them. There is the one true Sri Lankan who can stand up there – this country nurtured him and despite the negatives, it does and will nurture a thousand other Sangakkaras.