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Sri Lanka: A Paradise Misplaced

75 Years of Independence – What have they done?

7 mins read
Sri Lanka: a line-broken kite [Photo Credit: Allec Gomes/ Unsplash]

Our island was called Lanka in pre-King Vijaya times. Valmiki’s immortal Ramayanaya had King Ravana ruling the land from the city of Lankapura. That was almost four thousand years ago. The Arab traders termed it Jaziratul-Yaqut, island of rubies. Some called it Serendib, some Ceilan, from which the Portuguese picked Ceilao and the European mapmakers coined Ceylon. Many were the names from the many that came. Bar none, everyone agreed and noted in their chronicles that this Island was indeed the complete Paradise.

We never created it. Let’s be honest about that part. We simply inherited. The gods from their celestial dome, in their infinite kindness, gifted this Paradise to us, the beautiful island of Lanka, to the people of Sri Lanka.

The privilege of being born to such a serendipitous place can only be  expressed if one could take away the corruption that has besieged us all since independence. We need to look through the veils of racial and religious disharmony that obscure the overwhelming beauty that lies beyond. The purity of the land still remains, vastly unspoiled. The occupants of Paradise, still smile, despite the battering they had received from the time they were reborn after the colonials left. Mother Lanka dawdles, whilst her sons and daughters drowse in ignorance, an ominous prelude to the torrential disasters that loom in the near horizon.

Times are sad and the question is paramount in any mind that carries an iota of sanity. “75 years, WHAT HAVE THEY DONE?” The sum total of the misfortunes that the majority of the proletariat suffer is directly related to the bad governance of the country. It is not the vegetable seller that is responsible nor the fisherman or the cobbler. It is neither the schoolteacher nor the clerical battalion.  None of these Lilliputian shareholders of Paradise are responsible for the doom that is staring at us in gloom.  Who is directly responsible for this megalomaniacal catastrophe? It must be the gods, not the ones from Mount Olympus but the ones from Diyawanna Oya. Everyone who sits in those 225 thrones, whether they were proposers or opposers or the ones who raised their hands in agreement or those who sinned in silence abstaining from their sworn duty. They are all responsible for raping this land. 

The ‘misplacing of Paradise’ is directly related to Diyawanna Oya. It is from there the fountains of corruption gush out from every orifice to drown the trampled denizens of Paradise.

And now they want to celebrate 75 years of independent ruination?

Galle Face gave birth to the Aragalaya. It was not born to racial or religious parents, not to political surrogate fathers or international stepmothers. Hired ‘andabera karayo’ (announcing tom tom beaters) and unethical scribes may attempt to blacken the purity of the protest that raised its head when living in Paradise became unbearable. But such camouflage will not eradicate the deep-felt anger that has soaked the ordinary man, woman and child who walked to Galle Face to give life to the Aragalaya.

Their participation in the protest had nothing to do with politics. There may have been a thief or two in the jury, but the majority came because they could not breathe any more. The suffocation of the common man and woman who were down to their knees is what made them gather at the Galle Face Green.

The mighty may assume the Aragalaya has fizzled out. Many were arrested and some were jailed. The political pack was re-shuffled and puppeteers looking for those willing to dance were gifted high pedestals. Nothing changed at Diyawanna Oya. It is still the same stage, only some actors are different. Mother Lanka weeps at the perpetual tragedy.The once bubbling Aragalaya breathes softly like a slow-burning fuse. It is the idea that remains, and ideas do not die, nor can they be eradicated.

When the sun goes down and the pavements become bedchambers for the super poor who pray for the rains to hold till morning.

Little children hear the music of the ‘Choon Paan’ tuk tuk and wonder when they can afford a ‘kimbula bunis’ again. Schools re-open, book lists are out but where is the money to buy? Hospitals have no drugs; power cuts are a daily torment, and they talk about extending the dark hours.

Tourists trickle in while Srilankans of all races and religions are queuing in hoards to jump ship and vanish to wherever they can.

These are no fairy tales of my redundant imagination. They are the stories of Paradise. The day-to-day events play sad and silent along with the cacophony of achievements and flash-pan plans to celebrate 75 years of independence. Don’t tell me the suffering is isolated, oh no, not by a long shot. They are the unheard, the ignored and the expendables of the displaced congregation of Paradise. The ‘boast of heraldry’ is loud and clear, so is the ‘pomp of power’ announcing to the world and beyond the inflated paths of progress. The air is filled with milk and honey stories and rainbow visions for the morrow. But isn’t there a big question mark? Isn’t there some serious filtering needed to seek and give room to the truth?

I am not talking of March provincial elections or who is joining hands with whom to ruin the country more. Politics do not interest me. I’m like the kids that run after the ‘Choon Paan’ tuk tuk with empty pockets. Hope is there but with hardly any reality. Just totally confused between right and wrong and where lies the light or is it only a long dark tunnel? I’m writing of the core expectation, the very basics that humans search for. We need peace and honest governance, the pursuit of happiness to which we are all entitled, like the simple ‘Kimbula Bunis’ the kids crave for. This is what Paradise should be made of, which unfortunately is missing. Yes, our Paradise is mired in a total political mess at present devoid of any reasonable and practical answers.

Everyone is trying to go abroad. Why do all these people leave Mother Lanka? Something must have gone wrong in the system. The exodus only began after we were reborn as an independent nation. Ludowyke and Van Sanden left in the sixties, Somasundaram and Gunesekara in the eighties the entire ‘jimband’ started migrating at the turn of the century. Hence, the blame is not with the colonials and their international shackles. It is ours and ours alone, lying firmly in the Pontius hands of the custodians who were chosen to charter our future. Isn’t it crystal clear today that the political leadership we voted for and sent to Diyawanna Oya has failed miserably in their delivery? 

Let’s get back to the theme of the hour, the forthcoming independence celebration.  I wonder what we are celebrating after 75 years of ruling by the sons and daughters of mother paradise. Is it the egg that is 75 rupees or the half kilo of dhal selling at 300 or the loaf of bread at 180? Maybe the 170 for the Sunlight soap has to be celebrated and the red onions at 720 a kilo. The coconut is over 100 rupees and a mere 400 gram packet of Rathi milk powder is 1,200 rupees.

No wonder the children are almost starving, and the parents roll onto a reed-mat after a hard day’s work on empty stomachs.   

Yet we are celebrating independence to tell the world how great our Paradise is. Never mind the begging bowl we carry internationally; on 4th morning the marching multitudes and the rolling armour must be on display. The cost of the aerial circus will be astounding. There will be at least 4 sets of different aeroplanes flying in formation over the heads of gods and demigods sitting under VVIP shade at the Galle Face green which is the scene of celebration.

You have to practice flying these air-displays. From a week before the 4th you will hear their engines roar from Kalutara to Katunayake.The jets shrieking, training for the fly-pass, will shatter the clear blue skies and disturb every student writing the ‘A’ level exams in that area. The F-7 fighter-jets in this aero-ballet burn 40 liters of fuel a minute at low levels. And we the minions of Paradise loiter in snaking ques down below with our QR codes to get 20 liters of fuel for one week. If I call it a mockery, that will be gross flattery.  Need to mint a new word to describe this folly.

Do I have to say any more? We the majority may be struggling for the crumbs that fall off the table, but the show must go on. After all it is independence, and it must be celebrated.

There are some solid silver lines too in our 75-year-old dark cloud. The free education is a wonderful achievement and so is the free health care scheme. Yes, at present the hospitals may struggle with the lack of drugs, but the system is there to help and heal any patient. The credit goes to the powers that were in a bygone era. There are other consolations too, one cannot be totally paranoid. Factory jobs are there for those without a trade. Stitching for Marks and Spencer and their likes help thousands to keep their home fires burning.

Some no-skills Paradisians pawn their souls to go abroad as domestics and for minor employment. They are the local Dick Whittingtons charging into the unknown, exploited at every toll gate. They slave in alien third-class status to send pitifully earned dollars to their loved ones to survive in Paradise. Wasn’t it their brothers and fathers who fought and died in the 30-year war to save their motherland?

Seventy-five years have gone by from the day of independence. The blameless blame, the nameless suffer and the shameless go on, rough-shodding their way to erode and annihilate Paradise. No need to further elaborate, the reasons are obvious. Some things are best left unsaid. Let me be the coward and let discretion become the better part of my limited attempts at journalism.

Call me a fool if it pleases you and I will accept it. But let me trickle some sanity to your thoughts. Just to kindle an interest. Totally non-political. I cannot and do not separate the villain from the venerated. The line is too thin, and the facts are wildly scattered. The truth certainly is in masquerade.

The Lankan Paradise is not lost, at least, not yet. It is certainly misplaced. That much can be clearly seen, lest one be blind. What happens in the end to things that are misplaced? They never get found and as time goes by, they will go permanently missing.

Ours is a Paradise misplaced. Let us all valiantly search for answers, it is not too late. Let us collectively find ourselves and our land, before it vanishes beyond the limits and becomes a Paradise Lost.

Elmo Jayawardena

Captain Elmo Jayawardena was born and educated in Sri Lanka. He is a pilot and the founder–president of AFLAC International, a humanitarian organization working to alleviate poverty. Whilst flying 747s and running a humanitarian organization, Elmo has carved out time to write two award winning novels. Sam’s Story won the Gratiaen Prize for the best book in Sri Lanka in 2001 and The Last Kingdom of Sinhalay won the State Literary Award for the best book in Sri Lanka in 2005. His most recent book is Rainbows in Braille which was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize. All proceeds from the sale of his books are channelled to the poor. In 1999 Forbes Global featured Elmo for his humanitarian work, and Reader’s Digest honoured him as an ‘Everyday Hero’ in 2001.

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