This post was published five years ago on Independence Day 4th Feb, 2016. It was a historic moment when the national anthem was sung in Thamil for the first time. I recorded below the contributions of those in and outside Sri Lanka and in some ways nothing changes, the maskeliya views, the people’s desires and the sentiment, no not even the bad stuff that muddies up the picture changes. Reviving this space, I bring you the first then and now snapshot!
So we got our land back from the British and before that the Dutch and Portuguese. It’s one hell of a land with mind-blowing pics of each strand of sea n foam, pasture and plain, paddyfield and rubber estate, coconut palms to the south and palmyrah to the north, sunrise on white sands in Nilaveli, the gorgeous Arugam Bay and Passekudah, and sunset on Galle Face and golden sands of Mount Lavinia to Bentota.
And we have the blue whales and dolphins and what-not. We’ve got what looks like a rainforest in the middle of a dry zone— if I’ve got it right—by visiting Ritigala, A glimpse of Adam’s Peak which is paradise in the morning mist and the majestic elephants, crocodiles and yes, the birdlife of Kumana.
Nope, that’s not all. We’ve got opportunistic politicians and bloody history and chauvinism and a threat from extremist militant Buddhist monks calling themselves the BBS and yes, enough people who forget how amazing life can be in Sri Lanka.
We’ve got more diversity on this little 68 410 sq. m. (that’s my memory from parisaraya days and Wiki says 65, 610 (snort)) teardrop isle than you can imagine. We’ve got (very broadly speaking) four faiths and four ethnicities and on a single road a church, a mosque, a temple—at times side by side. Diversity is no easy game and preservation is going to need a higher sensibility than displayed by many politicians in the past.
Geography and a divine indulgence gave us this diversity, and deities not unlike the Greek Gods, it appeared, cruel and playful with human life, were determining the fates of humans on this island. But as a non-believer I do not blame the Gods or the British. I blame ourselves, our politically opportunistic, immature, violent and chauvinistic leaders and those who took the cue from them. Simple really.
But today the national anthem was sung in Thamil. Perhaps one of the first steps of national reconciliation along a road well trodden already at the popular level by (extra)ordinary people who are putting the past behind them and moving on with the business of multiethnic coexistence. Why is it important? Because reconciliation is only of credible value when it is sanctioned by the State.
All the good intentions of the Sinhalese and Tamils and Muslims are of nought if the State does not lead in national measures and a national process of addressing the past and dealing with memory, trauma and the conflict. A book by that very name was published on the Irish Troubles by Graham Dawson. I think we can do better than Ireland if we demanded this from our Government. Because we have homegrown diversity and this would lend an energy and new interpretation to a new land and a transformation of conflict rather than forget an issue that continues to grow between just two factions.
As Sayed Kashua, an Arab in Israel, author of Second Person Singular and whose uniqueness is writing in Hebrew puts it (quoting from memory)
I am living in a country where I will not be part of the narrative, where the narrative does not have me in it, I have no hope for the Palestinian problem and for my people. I have hope even for Egypt, for Syria, they are making their futures and will make something of their countries in the future even if right now, what they are making of it looks bad. But for us, I have no hope, no hope at all. And this is a great sadness. I wish my country were like others, a normal country, well, what is normal? It’s a country where everyone hates the government and each lives according to his bank account. I wish we were like that. Normal.
I think we, unlike Sayed Kashua can now wish for many things; we have dreams, hopes and desires. We have a government we can afford to criticize and less said of the bank account the better ;). But we were once Sayed Kashua. Let us not forget so easily how much we nearly lost forever. I never thought I would have this wish come true in my lifetime. It has.
Let’s determine to preserve our land, our flora and fauna, our diverse peoples and their diverse aspirations to be treated as equally as others. We have destroyed so much, let us take pride in the Thamil version of the national anthem if it means that it is a step towards preservation of this Diversity.
Yes, that is a wish for independent, diverse Sri Lanka!
I was happy to hear the national anthem sung in Tamil at the end of the official ceremony. I happened to be watching the live telecast on Rupavahini today. When they opened with just the Sinhala rendition, I thought here we go again. But was pleasantly surprised at the end. Though I wish in future there is less display of military might (MBRLs, really?) and more cultural events.
Vasee, Australia (now holidaying in Sri Lanka)
“Honestly, with singing the national anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil, I feel like my wishes for the day has come true. For the year to come, I hope for more of this, more reaching out, more “eka mavakage dharu kela bavina, yamu yamu vee nopamaa”.
Happy independence day Sri Lanka! You have more that unites you than divides you. The children of your land have no real, telling differences: nothing that says you are Sinhalese or Tamil, Moors, Malays, Memons, Bohras, Burghers or Eurasian. Each one just as sun-kissed and unruly-haired as the child next to him/her. The squeals of delight, those eyes that twinkle with mischief- they choose no race nor religion to divide. You have more that unites you than divides you
Iman Hameed, Singapore
Happy Independence Day, Sri Lanka! We’ve had a rough ride. I spend half my life fending off Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism and Tamil aspirational separatism. Alas, I love you like the nationalist fool that I am. We all need a place to call our own. You are mine. Forever and always. xx
I’m going to quote..(nearly)… Roosevelt. He said it all… “Here is our country. Cherish these natural wonders. Cherish the natural resources. Cherish the history and romance and the ugly truths as a sacred heritage… for our children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish or greedy interests skin our country of its beauty, its riches or peace.”
Was glad with the Anthem sung in Tamil. I wish the majority would give the mandate to the government for proper reconciliation, even at times if they feel they are sacrificing a bit. For example, if they think, singing the National Anthem in Tamil may be a dignity issue for Sinhalese, they can forgo this, just as a compromise, which actually doesn’t cost them anything, but contributes to a national and genuine reconciliation. The anthem sung in Tamil is not what I mean, the bigger picture needs a lot more understanding, and I hope we all strive for that.
Danny Subramaniam, Jaffna
“Let us look forward to goodness that will prevail over bias for a better tomorrow”
Fazli Sameer, Saudhi Arabia