“What I Heard” is the recently released book authored by Nilantha Ilangamuwa, based on a series of conversations. “The first duty of love is to listen,” declares one of this book’s mottos, a quote by Christian existentialist Paul Tillich.
Throughout his work, Nilantha indeed employs love – or rather maitrī, the Buddhist spirit of loving-kindness. In a distinctly Asian manner, he is inclined to listen and understand his interlocutors rather than confront and challenge them. He genuinely seeks their wisdom and insight, engaging with his interviewees not only as subjects but as humans with unique perspectives. This empathy allows him to gently guide conversations while leaving space for the other party to speak out.
Nilantha Ilangamuwa is interested in every aspect of the modern world, and the scope of his work is impressively broad. The interviewees are politicians, diplomats, academics, intellectuals, civil servants and activists. Nilantha seeks out diverse voices, approaching each conversation with openness and curiosity.
He inquiries about democracy, world governance, capitalism and consumerism, international relations, economy and religion; makes his interlocutors examine issues like the threat of global terrorism and fundamentalism; talks about separatism and reconciliation in Sri Lanka and the ongoing war in Ukraine. He also extracts their thoughts on emancipation of the Global South and the demons of imperialism and colonialism.
Even if the author adopts the point of view of his interviewees too easily, too quickly and perhaps too often, this hardly diminishes the value of his work. “What I Heard” will certainly inspire me as a journalist dealing with Asia. Though some readers familiar with the topics may find unaddressed questions, this collection deserves the attention of media professionals, academics, Asian discourse analysts, and anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the Global South. There are marvels to be found in this book.