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.

Hameed Zahran – a requiem for another mother’s son..

Hameed Zahran – a requiem for another mother’s son..

I didn’t know there was space in my heart for another mother’s son but there was.

Hameed Zahran was my son’s batch mate from law school – I never saw him face to face but his zest for life, music and fellowship flowed through my son’s mentions many times. I learnt, between work, cooking and a hundred other things we do in a home, that he loved composing his own music, sang often, carried his guitar with him and loved to travel.

And that he was the soul and the sound of almost every singing competition. That he could sing in Sinhala and English too. That he sang with gusto and fervour, a young man whose talent was more than a measure of his capacity to give of himself to others.

When on Thursday the 02nd of March, one day after Lent started, my son suddenly burst in on me and told me that his friend had died, the shock of it just took my tiredness at the end of a long work day, away.

How? I wanted to know. What happened? How does a lively 22 year old die like that?

To cut a long story short, he just happened to be at the beach side, accompanying two other friends looking for cardboard boxes for an event, when along comes two policemen who choose to frisk him on the rail tracks. Hameed hands the policemen his wallet and the phone and the next nano second, a train comes along and hits him in the back.

He dies 24 hours later in hospital. After an operation in which doctors fought hard to save his life – but could not. His body was damaged too much by the train hitting him at that speed, at that distance.

I try to hold back tears. But they flow freely, as freely as they did when my father passed away almost four years ago.

A son from another mother. His memory stares back at me, his cheerful eyes lighting up the photo on his Facebook wall.

I can’t even bring myself to think of his grieving parents. I heard about the parents having to wash his body before burial as the Moslem custom requires them to. What struck me like a thunder was what his mother would have felt, washing him in death, as she did in life as a little boy.

I could feel the beat of her heart, being torn apart, muscle by muscle, vein by vein.

No mother would want to go through such pain. It was not just unbearable. It was unneccesary ; and in vain.

One more conversation, one more song from his carefree style of singing, his hair flowing, his eyes glowing , one more moment of living a vibrant life, one he was snatched so soon from.

His friends remember Hameed the patient listener, the wandering free spirit, the friend who always had a smile. And a song. And a word of comfort.

A gracious soul, vivacious in life.

Grief has no words. It does have a place, one that squeezes everything out of you.

As I write this, I try to hold back the tears. I never knew him – I only knew him through my son’s words. Yet his spirit reached out and touched me, a young man whose zest for life, for music and for friendship descended through it all.

Who was responsible for his death? Why did he have to go so early?

Those are the questions his friends, as would-be lawyers are asking. They will undoutbtedly  find their answers.

Until then, goodbye sweet prince – may the turf lie gently over you.

You live up there, in the clouds, where you would serenade Heaven with your music.

Down here,  your friends will always miss you.