02 September 2011

Cpl H.R. Ratnayake won the war for us

He is known.  To family, friends and comrades-at-arms. And fellow inmates at Ranaviru Sevana.  Corporal H.R. Ratnayake hails from Dambemeda, a village located between Ratnapura and Embilipitiya.  He joined the Army on the 17th of May, 1995.  He put his life on line for country and fellow citizen. 

I don’t know his battle-field story.I don’t know what he left behind when he joined the Army.  I don’t know what he acquired in addition to salary.  I don’t know of the rigors of training.  I know nothing of the thoughts that crossed his mind, his hopes or his fears, the bruises and the bleeding, the trials that make up battle-field experience, the heroics and his grief of losing friend and comrade. 

All I know is that his entire world went black three years later.  He was rendered totally blind by a blast on the Pranthan-Mullaitivu Road at approximately 1.00 am on the 29th of November, 1998.  I know that a few days ago, Cpl Ratnayake won the National Chess Championship for the Visually Handicapped. 

He was introduced to the game by the ‘Anda Jana Seva Mandalaya’, the authority dedicated to serving the visually handicapped, through the good offices of the Ranaviru Sevana.  This was in the year 2000.  His teacher was Mr. Sumanapala, who was a civilian blind from birth. 

Now there are those who play blindfold chess.  They are not visually challenged in any way.  They’ve played long enough, studied thousands upon thousands of position and are therefore able to visualize the 64 squares and the potential for magic therein without any difficulty.  It is different when your first encounter with the game is through touch.  In fact, thinking about it, I feel it is impossible for someone who ‘sees’ to understand how easy or difficult it is for someone who does not. 

Cpl Ratnayake picked up the game.  It captured his imagination.  He spent hours playing and learning.  He became reasonably good at chess.  He even went to India in 2003 to participate in a 16-nation tournament, winning 4 out of the 7 games he played. 

I didn’t know of Cpl Ratnayake until a few months ago.  I didn’t know that there were many blind servicemen who played chess.  Not until a close friend of mine took me to Ranaviru Sevana to show me the amazing lives led by those who have given so much and incapacitated themselves just so we can all live limbed, seeing, hearing, fear-free lives.  It was humbling and empowering to learn about how they overcame injury, trauma and the shattering of life-dreams.  Each serviceman at the facility has an epic story.  Each story would evoke admiration, each inspire the nation to be more determined in efforts to validate, again and again, the sacrifices made by the particular individual and of course those of the thousands who have gone forever from this land and from collective memory. 

A few days before the tournament, Cpl. Ratnayake called me to clarify something.  A few days later, my friend called me.  She was excited and said that two young men from the Ranaviru Sevana, Ratnayake and Upul Indrajit had made it to the Semi-Finals.  She wanted me to talk to them.  I didn’t have much to say except a simple elaboration of ‘All the best’.  That evening, Cpl Ratnayake called me to share with me the joy of having won the event.  Indrajit finished 4th, courtesy a mis-application of rules pertaining to time controls.  Major Dushyantha Yapa, a live wire at the Ranaviru Sevana who had helped whip up enthusiasm for the game, had lost at an earlier stage of the tournament. I am sure they shared Ratnayake’s joy. 

Cpl Ratnayake, by the way, is a 3 time National Draughts Champion (among the visually handicapped).  Speaking strictly for me, I just cannot imagine the effort and commitment that this young man must have expended to learn these games, practice, develop techniques and play well enough to emerge as champion.  I can only assume that it is this same commitment that helped this nation prevail over the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit and that this is exactly what will help stop those who harbour insidious designs on our resources, labour, cultural preferences etc. 

The nation knows the leaders, appreciates the sacrifice, sweat and blood shed and so on.  The political leadership too.  It is easy to celebrate the collective and necessary too.   We are, nevertheless, indebted to each and every man and woman who laboured one way or another to bring us the peace and create the fear-free environment we enjoy today.  Cpl Ratnayake is one among many, yes, but let’s raise a cheer to this remarkable young man, who exemplifies those qualities that saw us through our darkest days and will save us in the future too, as they saved our ancestors and a civilization from all kinds of marauders in all kinds of disguises. 

You’ve made your wife Surangani and your 6 year old child proud of you.  All the rest of us are too. And so, Cpl Ratnayake, Sir, take a bow.  And may the 64 squares conjure more magic than meets the naked eye of us lesser mortals.   

[Courtesy, Daily News, September 2, 2011]


Rumal Jayamuni said...

Thanks a lot, Malinda!

Please keep on writing about these lower ranked servicemen who are the unsung heroes of this noble victory of mother nation. We, citizens notorious to forget them easily, so please keep us awaken!

May I share this in my FB.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

'my' words never belonged to me before I strung them together and cease to be 'mine' the moment someone reads them. yours to do what you will with them! :)