For schooldesk friends!

Elton John and Kikidee are singing  ‘don’t go breaking my heart’ on BBC Radio Two. I remember sun-filled Saturday mornings with Bevil Palihawadana (bless him) and kikidee’s dungarees and shiny bob – another world protected from the war, protected from political shit and reality, in an old homestead nestling by the coast.

It’s my close friend’s bday today. Her desk and mine were together for many years. I could tell her – and do tell her – anything. We are born just one week apart. Then on facebook I see a post about the loss of someone’s deskfriend. This someone lost another friend to the war possibly and others gunned down senselessly. My friend is alive, God bless her!  I didn’t lose as many as he did. I only lost one unforgettable ‘aiya’ from our village. His father literally went out of his mind.

We are more or less sane but not completely insensitive or divorced from the strange vibes thrown up by the people of the island nation and the other life. We were and are in parallel universes and in our mind will never be just one person ever.

– Despatches from London on a grey overcast morning in late October.

 

Where does the world begin

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-12-37-37-pmAnd where does it end?

Fragments of a rainy season,

Or big wheel turning,

Earth moving on its axis…

One man struggling while another relaxes.

 

Does our history breathe in sentiment

Rather than statement?

Sing dirges than waste time

Composing rhymes with reason.

 

In Now-days ‘Trail’ brings out the freedom cry

And the heartbeat of a

Damaged, yet still human,

Still awesome,

Still weeping,

Still abandoned by political leaders,

Still hopeful,

Still can-do vibe

Of a nation

That breathes in sentiment

And sings in dirges

to us so far away.

A vibe and wavelength here and now.

Inexplicable.

Unrivalled.

Stimulating.

Tethers that can never be torn or rent away.

– Gaya

 

Image credits: Rajiva Wijesinha

 

Soap Opera – Brahmanawatte

I wouldn’t dare introduce Renu. She is a poet who doesn’t give a damn whether you read her poetry or not, a creator of food fusion that follows mood and emotion as one who is in a continuous sensual dance of life, which you may only sense by her writings, not imitate or follow. That is, until she decided to host a blog: Fenugreek from which, if I am good, posts could be shared on iSrilankan, which will touch a chord with many Sri Lankans living on this planet; most of all, with those who live away from where it all began.
 
RENUKA MENDIS
 
“My father is dead. For a few years now his body parts have been educating someone in some medical faculty somewhere.

From time to time when I go to the Tamil shop I buy a certain soap. Not that I make a list and go looking for it. I just see it and my hand reaches out and it follows me home…Read more

Rani soap

“இனிய புத்தாண்டு நல்வாழ்த்துக்கள் & ශුභ අළුත් අවුරුද්දක් වේවා”

It’s Avurudu time. We live in Italy where there is no koha, alas. Other avurudus were sad and void of hope; in short, pretty hopeless. There was no end in sight. Kohas sounded hollow and Avurudu only meant that Southern Colombo people could leave the city for a long weekend confining themselves to safe cities outside the war zone.

kokisWe managed pretty well though, as we did all our lives, to make Avurudu a time of celebration with friends and to eat some kavum and aasmi type stuff with ripe bananas. The more traditional of us would have a ‘gama’ to go to and at this time would return to the walawwa or some relative who stayed behind. A friend, Dileepa, once said to me in Sinhala ‘ Avuruddata yanna gamak nethi kenaa duppath manussayek’ ‘those who do not have a village to return to in the time of Avurudu are truly poor’.

I am in the global village and so I went to Pali kade to wish Pali and family from Matara a happy Avurudu. He had not got kavum this year cos his mother had just passed away and there were no celebrations…

I called my mother’s carer who is living in the old house and looking after her and she said she had made kiribath for my mother that morning…

Times have changed and are changing. It takes a lot of imagination and creativity to bring Avurudu in its truest meaning alive. But I think it is not impossible. Maybe we should focus less on the Kavum and external manifestations of the traditions and focus on the values themselves.

Yesterday I read this super post by a friend of mine whose family goes back to Moratuwa, where mine is. Udan Fernando returned from the Netherlands to Sri Lanka and lives there now. He writes about Diversity being a Blessing as he finds a Muslim eatery that is still open at Avurudu, but there is a subtle plea in that post if one detects it.

Avurudu_SwingHere is another beautiful thought at avurudu and strangely, this too is from someone who happened to live his childhood at some point in Moratuwa. Thereafter he lived in other countries and is a rather unique human being if you read his blogs and literary interests. Sereno Barr-K as I call him in my mind, went to school with a brother of mine. I hope I meet him personally at some point in this life. Here is his writing  and remembering what it was like to have three swings made by his Thamil father in the garden and how traditions are dying out: Best wishes for a Sri Lankan New Year ! Yes, Sri Lankan.

It’s not the swing, or the semantics in the end, it is what and who we would like to be and how we would like to evolve, what we keep and what we improve on that will make the Sinhala, Thamil and Sri Lankan including Muslim avurudu values truly worth celebrating both in Sri Lanka and in the Global Gama-Village  where, Seeni Sambol and Katta Sambol doesn’t always come in MD bottles and red rice and Maggi coconut milk can make a nice kiribath!

“இனிய புத்தாண்டு நல்வாழ்த்துக்கள் & ශුභ අළුත් අවුරුද්දක් වේවා”

Diversity is a blessing: Udan at the Muslim ‘eatery’ !

Gaya’s intro: The irony of this post below is that one year ago, when the BBS were attempting to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment, here was the iSrilankan Avurudu post 2013 echoing a campaign by non-Muslims to turn the current around: Buy Muslim without fail this Avurudu!

UDAN FERNANDO

Colombo and outskirts are having their usual ghost town character during the Avurudu (New Year) season. No vehicles on the road. Very few people are around. All shops are closed except a random Muslim eatery where I had my brunch with a few interesting people who could not make to New Year celebrations with their respective families.

One’s a security guard of Burgher King. He could not get leave to visit his family in Embilipitiya.

The other is a manager of a small shop who’s also entrusted with looking after the premises while the owner is away.

They looked a bit sad but when I chatted with them, the common Sri Lankan expression came up: monawa karanna da (what-to-do).

There were two budget-tourists who were relieved that there’s at least one place for them to have cheap food. Thanks to our neighborhood Muslim ‘kade’ (way-side eatery) a few of us could have food. Thought it’s a blessing that the New Year is celebrated only by Sinhala and Tamil ethnic groups! And diversity, I felt, is not just a normative consideration but also a very pragmatic one!

muslim1 muslim 2 muslim3

Photos: Udan Fernando

Halal controversy : The Plain Tea approach may save trouble !!

f1724687It’s Monday and we cannot digest long theoretical writings on things that we have lived with for ages. Sayys’s 365 coughed up a real good simple plain tea kathawa on the Halal controversy, which is a “stirred not organic” controversy as far as the eye can see and good sense can reach.

SAYY’s 365 on Halal Controversy

Today when we were travelling we had an interesting discussion about the present halal controversy. Ranjan explained the controversy by saying it appears that the main issue that’s being sold to people is that non Muslims are being unfairly made to pay for the cost of halal certification.

My opinion was pretty simple. I said when you want to feed a kid during the day time you would use a crow as the distraction and in the night since the crow is not to be found, we find an alternative in the form of moon. Same is happening here. The masses need to be kept entertained!

Then when the issue of price came up again, my reply was let it be a free market and let market forces decide whether products need to have halal on it or not. Who ever who is offended by halal can probably look for non halal stuff and buy. If there is such a big demand for non halal items. Market will respond and open up another market segment. But then free market? Do we know what that means?

tea

When the discussion turned on to explore the option of having different production lines. Kalhara quipped in with the following story from ‘api nodanna live’ a famous Sinhala comedy show. Waiter goes to the table and asks what do you want, two people say plain tea with less sugar, next one says plain tea with more sugar, others say normal plain tea. Waiter goes back to the tea master and say, 5 plain tea. Then returns to the table and distributes by asking, who asked for less sugar, more sugar etc and distributes them. If this controversy continues plain tea theory might become the most sort after business strategy! Patent?

Read more of Sayy’s 365 with your cuppa of normal plain with less (sugar).

The Ides of March

BIRD OF PASSAGE

As March dawns again, conspiracies abound in the island where every prospect pleases but only man is… It appears that the circus is once again coming to Geneva town.

From the Sri Lankan government side there are the worthy diplomats who apparently are “in charge” this time to lie for their country, although an erstwhile Minister who was supposed to be kept away from Geneva has been given marching orders at the eleventh hour to turn up, despite messing up big time last year.

The neo-LTTE remnants have been busy loading the human rights cum media bandwagon with a spate of new stories of child murders and custodial rapes, just weeks before this year’s UNHRC session, as if nobody knew that these atrocities were taking place throughout the war. The opposition, busily engaging in a “non-violent guerilla operation” to lure people “with opposing views” to the UNP before the next election, has nothing much to offer in the way of Geneva, although the TNA has sent a delegation to put pressure on the government to deliver on its promises.

The US government is once again wagging fingers at Sri Lanka with a new “resolution” while its occupation forces continue their drone induced killing spree in Afghan villages and dismiss criminal charges against troops burning Korans. Indian media reports affirm that India will support the US resolution while the suave Janata leader (intriguingly enough of Tamil origin) assures the Sri Lanka government of a “positive outcome” in Geneva, despite the pressure exerted by extremist Tamil Nadu politicians. India’s unblemished human rights record apparently includes some 500 perpetrators of abuse and torture, ranging from soldiers to generals, who have been decorated and promoted for their appalling deeds in Kashmir.

In the absence of China, Russia and Cuba to rely on for their valuable votes in the UNHRC, the Sri Lankan government is making untiring efforts to buy the US and India away from the resolution – by scheduling the country’s biggest ever auction of oil and gas concessions just around the March meeting. Perhaps it is counting on Exxon or Reliance to influence foreign policy decisions in their respective countries, when all other attempts appear to have failed. The two Asian economic giants, China (no longer a voting member) and Japan, meanwhile have assured Sri Lanka of their support in Geneva, no doubt increasing exponentially their chances of winning the oil bids, while Korea (which is a voting member) recently democratically elected the daughter of their previous dictator as president, with a reputation for her tough stand on security and terrorism.

So is the stage set in Geneva once again for a ritual show of solidarity by Asian member states (sans India) plus the Brazil-Venezuela-Ecuador bloc, taking offense at the hypocritical rantings of US, Canada, the European states and their third world minions? What has Geneva ever accomplished in providing those human beings, who have been oppressed and dispossessed, lives of security, dignity and respect, not only in Sri Lanka but anywhere in the world? All it demands is yet another investigation and report to be written by UNHRC consultants, each of who earns in one day at least half of a house that can be built in the Northeast for one dispossessed family. That is if the regime allows the consultants to come in. And if they let them talk to people independently. And if the consultants are objective and hear all sides dispassionately. And if the report is not rejected by the regime, merely creating a media sensation for a few days, otherwise to be buried in the dustbins of history. Or accepted by the regime with promises of compliance and thrown anyway into the dustbins of history. Meanwhile, those who were violated, will continue to suffer.

Sri-Lanka-seen-from-space

Much has been said about building peace and reconciliation. In Sri Lanka, the regime, its supporters and opponents continue to be locked in the “us” and “them” syndrome. The conflict that resulted in ethnic fratricide in the island is between groups that have co-existed, whose histories and genealogies have been interlinked for centuries.

Is the Ides of March the right forum to bring about this peace and reconciliation or is it merely a confrontational space for one-upmanship? What is torn aside by fratricide needs to be healed by reconstructing brotherhood and sisterhood. Acknowledging, accounting and atoning for violence is an important step, as is the ability to live with different perceptions of what happened to individuals, communities and ethnic groups during 30 years of war. A UNHRC investigation and report will not establish the “truth” as some of its proponents hope and its opponents fear.

Perhaps it’s time to learn some ancient wisdom from the Japanese concept of takakuteki or multiplicity as an approach to conflict resolution – the need to engage multi-dimensionally or multilaterally, rather than as “us” vs. “them”. Cardinal principles are that there is no absolute need to be consistent across all contexts and there is no need to engage directly when this will only result in further conflict. The principle of multiplicity accepts that it is not possible every time to eliminate the contradictions in conflicting perceptions, values and principles. These differences can be allowed to exist in the same space, without harming one another, until such time that antagonism cools down and rapprochement is possible.

The raison d’être of the UNHRC is to be yet another playground of global geo-politics. The Ides of March and its logic is most likely to continue to hurtle Sri Lanka into its familiar galaxy of violence and destruction – as is the objective of some of its proponents. Trouble is good for local politicians to keep constituencies pacified and for global players to occupy banana republics. However, while the current Ides of March is a lot about posturing, what is uncertain is whether caesars still need beware, lest their last words be “Et tu, Brutus?”.

For all the Sugathapalas out there …

Despite a life that got derailed, being a victim of a lay-off and other hardship, Sugathapala has improvised a way of ‘coping’ that puts a smile on your face and keeps the smile on his. These colourful characters you meet always have a story of survival and this is his. For all the Sugathapalas out there !
When you next go past Monis, stop and show him this vid if possible from the youtube link. And stop for a tea before heading on.

 

My fave independence day message

My fave independence day message is from a young 27 year-old Thamil Sri Lankan living far from his island home.

Screen shot 2013-02-04 at 1.30.17 PMI belong to a beautiful island called Sri Lanka 🙂 This island has the most amazing people and I am sure more than 99% of them are educated. I recently heard the one country in the world which has 100% of educational ratio is Srilanka.. well rather than education it owns a natural beauty which no one can resist. British Airways and Magic FM claim 2013’s best holiday destiny in the world is Sri Lanka.

Well it has its bigger dark side as well.

30 years of internal civil war and brutal killings that amounted to almost a massacre of a people belonging to a race of the little island has to be yet justified. We have lost hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in this 30 years’ war and specially more than 40,000 civilians in the last two weeks of war of mid April, 2009.

Especially many of my childhood friends and I who were born and lived our teens among the gunfire and deaths, we have lost much personally that will never be recovered. Although many of us had the chance to get the guns and fight against the Srilankan Army, we never forgot to love our beautiful country.

Just because we all were sure of something:  On 4th of February 1948 Our Lankan Grannies and Grandpas surely enjoyed the freedom to live as proud Srilankans .. Every Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim or others wud have dreamed about a beautiful Ceylon by that time..

Time has ruined all..!!!

We Ceylonese let the politicians play with our lives.. And now we are Nowhere….!!!
(SIGH)

May Lord Shiva, Budhdha, Jesus and Allah bless all of us for peace and ‘UNITY’..

HAPPY 65th INDEPENDENCE DAY folks !!

Much Love ♥

Divi Neguma: Don’t you want to uplift your life?

BIRD OF PASSAGE

 

We all want to uplift our lives – that’s obvious, right?  I mean, who would launch a programme called Divi Vetuma or Divi Nesuma?  Nobody wants to fall into the abyss of poverty or into the claws of death.  So the present government has this bill called Divi Neguma – uplifting lives. They are intent on getting it passed – through hook or by crook. They seem to have a little bit of trouble convincing some people that their lives need uplifting. Now who would object to uplifting their lives?

Just like this year’s release from Hollywood, there are Three Stooges leading Sri Lanka’s government, bumbling around on wide screen – messing with things like human rights, the 13th amendment and the chief justice of the Supreme Court. These Three Stooges have a grand scheme for uplifting lives. Already around 40% plus of the country’s budget is in their control – that’s called uplifting lives through microfinance. And then of course, there are all those orchards they have invested in California – that’s uplifting lives through agricultural development. They have first hand experience and expertise in all the different avenues of uplifting lives.

Divi Neguma, as you might have heard, is a novel programme to uplift lives. First they are going to set up community–based Uplifting Lives societies in the villages. Except already there are an infinite number of community-based societies in villages. There are Samurdhi societies, farmer societies, funeral assistant societies, Cooperative Rural Bank societies, SANASA societies, Sarvodaya societies and so on. Ever wondered what they are all doing?

Then they are going to organize these societies into regional, district and provincial Uplifting Lives federations. There are, of course, institutions called Divisional Secretariats and District Secretariats, with government officers already being paid to work on uplifting lives. And there are Pradeshiya Sabhas and Provincial Councils with budget allocations to uplift lives. Ever wondered what they have been doing all these years?

 Of course, to uplift lives one needs cash. The Three Stooges are planning to get their hands on lots of it – 80 billion rupees to be exact going into an Uplifting Lives Development Fund and an Uplifting Lives Revolving Fund. The Uplifting Lives Revolving Fund will go into Uplifting Lives community-based banking societies and Uplifting Lives community-based banks. God only knows where and when this fund will revolve into some black hole in the universe. Or perhaps into more orchards in California. We are talking a lot of money here just to win friends and influence people. Already, the villages in our country have plenty of community-based banking societies and banks – for example, Samurdhi, Cooperative Rural Banks, SANASA, and Sarvodya. In fact, 80% of Grama Niladhari divisions in the country have access to at least three of these institutions, according to a study done by the government’s leading policy institute. So how will the Uplifting Lives banks and banking societies add value? By uplifting the lives of the Three Stooges a little bit more?

 What’s more, this new Uplifting Lives Department comes with a top secrecy clause on information – gee, it’s almost like the CID, I mean, uplifting people’s lives in villages might actually threaten national security, right? We don’t want to take any chances. In this cloak and dagger world, one of the Three Stooges, known by the alias of Liza had a conversation with one of his advisors, known by the alias of Peter. According to the grapevine, this is how the conversation went.

Fetch me some water, dear Peter, dear Peter, fetch me the bucket of uplifting lives. There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, uplifting lives is the mandate of the Provincial Councils, dear Liza. Well fix it with straw, dear Peter, dear Peter, get their approval, dear Peter. But there’s no Northern Provincial Council to approve it, dear Liza, dear Liza. Then ask the Northern Province Governor to approve it, dear Peter, dear Peter. The Governor is not elected, dear Liza, dear Liza, it has to be approved by an elected Northern Provincial Council, dear Liza. Well get rid of the Provincial Councils, dear Peter, dear Peter. There’s the 13th amendment, dear Liza, dear Liza, we can’t get rid of Provincial Councils under the 13th Amendment, dear Liza.  Then get rid of the 13th Amendment, dear Peter, dear Peter. There’s the Supreme Court ruling, dear Liza, dear Liza, that upholds the 13th Amendment, dear Liza.  Then get rid of the Chief Justice, dear Peter, dear Peter. The Judiciary needs to be independent and impartial, dear Liza, dear Liza, the UN Human Rights Council might black list us, dear Liza. Tell them how we are going to uplift lives, dear Peter, dear Peter. The Supreme Court has ruled that uplifting lives need to be approved by a 2/3rd majority in parliament, dear Liza, dear Liza, and a popular referendum, dear Liza.  Well, amend the unconstitutional clauses of the bill, dear Peter, dear Peter, and start uplifting lives, for god’s sake, dear Peter.

As you can see, uplifting lives is an exhausting business. There might be more holes in the bucket for all you know. Apparently the Three Stooges are bumbling around hither and thither to the shrines of Lord Ganesh, asking the Lord to remove the pernicious obstacles in their path, in the island where every prospect pleases but only man is vile.

Bird of Passage corresponds every other week exclusively with iSrilankans.

An iSrilankan Exclusive: Bird of Passage on the quirks of being Srilankan


 

Diaspora and the perks of marginal identities

 

All beginnings are not easy and it took some time for me to succumb to the persistent charms (and nudging) of Gaya and get down to writing. I live in an Asian metropolis for a good part of the year, am Ceylonese by birth and Sri Lankan by citizenship – at least according to my passport. I am not one of those lucky sods who have two or more passports and can navigate international borders with ease – it is not as if the opportunity were not there but for a myriad reasons I let it pass by.

 

I spent a near idyllic childhood in pre-war Sri Lanka, shattered to some extent by the JVP in 1971. This brought some excitement to our humdrum existence from the perspective of a child, but since I remain a firm advocate of non-violence, I am not particularly grateful that the JVP brought an end to an era of relative peace that seems so distant and elusive now.
 

Pseudonym

 
I am choosing to write this column using a pseudonym – first, because I wish to be unencumbered of some baggage I carry with me. This is the baggage we call gender, race, ethnicity, religion, kinship and so on. The moment I write down my name, the Sinhalese will say oh, but that’s a Tamil and the Tamils oh, but that’s a Sinhalese, and the Muslims oh, but that’s a Burgher and the Burgher’s oh, but that’s a Muslim. And the men will say oh, but that’s a woman, and the women, oh, but that’s a man. You get the picture.

Then there are also those people whose preoccupation in life is researching family genealogies. They will say I know her/his great grandfather was a scoundrel and his/her great grandmother was a slut. Sri Lanka is such a small place and people always seem to care more about whom you are related to, rather than whether you might have anything worthwhile to say. Second, there might be occasions where I express things that might potentially land me inside a white van and I don’t want to unwittingly deprive my offspring of a loving parent. Finally, it’s liberating to have an alter-ego – yet another marginal identity.
 

Sinhalese? Tamil? Muslim ? Burgher ???!!

 
To elaborate on the issue of identity, I went back to Colombo after college in North America many moons ago and was looking for an annex to rent when I started my second real job. One sunny weekend armed with the classifieds section of the Sunday Observer, I checked out almost every single available annex. The prospective landlord or landlady looked me over from head to foot, and I was bemused to discover that the Sinhalese thought that I was Tamil, Tamils that I was Muslim, Muslims that I was Sinhalese and Burghers, bless them, “mistook” me for one of themselves.

The Burghers, of course, got it right because everyone in Sri Lanka is essentially a Burgher (which after all means “citizen” in Dutch) – or better a delightful achcharu (a word we share with Malayalee speakers and a root achar we share with Hindi, Bengali, Urdu and Assamese speakers). If any Sri Lankan traces his/her ancestry far enough he or she will find out that s/he is a wonderful mix of North and South Indian, Arab (via South India), Malay (via Indonesia), aboriginal Veddah and European descent (a smattering of Portuguese, Dutch or British for good measure). I am delighted by this achcharu of my heritage. It is too bad that many Sri Lankans are not and insist on fiercely guarding their permeable ethnic turfs. Good fences make good neighbours?

Suffice to say that I have lived and continue to spend a good part of my life in Sri Lanka and I love the land “where every prospect pleases and only man is vile”. Reverend Heber seems to have exempted the women of Sri Lanka from his observation, so let’s assume that there is some hope for the human beings that inhabit the little island, which some of us consider the centre of the universe. I accepted Gaya’s invitation to write this column on the musings of a Sri Lankan with one foot on the island and the other in the diaspora, in my capacity as an “independent thinker”. So it matters not, who I am. What I have to say hopefully matters more.
 

Nothing is simple

 
I share with you the thoughts of a bird of passage – in my view, a rather privileged vantage point. Birds as you know move easily across land, water, forests, farms, gardens, villages, cities, countries, continents. Of course, they do get disoriented, cold, hot, hurt, shot, killed, lose their habitats. All of this is the universe of my ponderings.

If you are like me, we can leave our Sinhaleseness, Tamilness, Muslimness and so on behind but it’s difficult to leave the Sri Lankaness (or the Ceyloneseness) even when things get pretty bad. Those few diasporans (is that a word?) who have responded to the call of returning to and rebuilding the motherland have often found, much to their chagrin, that people with knowledge and exposure to other (and sometimes better) ways of doing things, frogs who have made it out of the proverbial well, are not necessarily welcome back. The frogs deeply entrenched in the mire of the well are deeply threatened and jump around discomfiting and/or chasing away these hapless returnees. And never mind the returnees. In Sri Lanka even the competent frogs, who have never left the well, barely have a croak of a chance.
 

Things that will add up

 
So is the situation hopeless? I tend to see glasses as half full. Two recent events both posted on this site offer a glimmer of light leading out of the darkness. The first is the conference of youth leaders held recently in Jaffna by Sri Lanka Unites. To get 500 young people, representing all of the districts, as well as parts of the diaspora, to sit down and discuss their common life experiences (some of which have been very painful) and their aspirations and visions for a different future is no mean feat. They lead by example where a myopic adult leadership has consistently failed. The personal journey made by Tanya Ekanayake to Jaffna to engage in understanding and healing through music is a similarly worthy and inspiring endeavour.

So I am convinced that there are things that we can all do or support. Little things, perhaps, in the larger scheme of things. In the long run that is what will add up. Not what politicians will do or not do for us.

Bird of Passage corresponds every other week exclusively with iSrilankans.