15 June 2014

The heartbeat of our country has a name

[This is a love note unlike any other I've ever written.  For Rukshan Abeywansha I would have happily given all the words I had and remained silent forever, if it would mean that he walks again.  It's all over now though. He's gone.  'The Nation' lost its eyes.  Beautiful eyes.  Go well, Rukshan to landscapes more privileged than those you've left behind]

Some years ago a friend working in an International NGO asked me if I knew of a poem that described Sri Lanka.  It would have to be in English or Sinhala or Tamil poem that was translated into English.  Apparently, the organization had wanted employees from all over the world to share a ‘country poem’ with one another for purposes of greater familiarization. 

I remembered ‘Call of Lanka’ by Rev Walter Senior but couldn’t find it. In the end I wrote something and told her, ‘this is the best I can do’.  The following lines come to me now:

I have heard the heartbeat of my country
In the tolling of the bell on Samanala Kanda,
The healing drone of pirith weaving its way
Through tree and conversation,
In the call for prayer,
‘Allah O Akbar’
The church choir and hymn
And the chanting of the Poosari.

Why should I wrote about anything when Rukshan could say it all this way?

It was not, of course, one of those ‘mention all and pretend we are one’ kind of poem, but a simple acknowledgment of self and neighbor, individual and community, distinction and coexistence. 

It all came to me and came together a few days ago. 

One week ago, ‘The Nation’ had its darkest hour.  Something happened that stopped the clock, stopped heartbeat and kept everything on hold through that particular hour and the hours and days that followed.  An accident.  Two young boys, Kavinda Vimarshana and Rukshan Abeywansha, the former suffering multiple fractures and the other…fractured in ways that broke each and every one of us at ‘The Nation’ and many in the ‘Rivira’ family, past and present, in unhealable ways.

He loves his work, his family, his friends

Rukshan is currently in the ICU at Central Hospital. Structural damage to his spine has been effectively repaired by Dr Sunil Perera who claims he’s no magician but who is widely regarded as a miracle worker.  It is early days of recovery for Rukshan but he does not know and we do not know how long, if ever, it would take for him to regain sensation below his neck.  We hope.

There were tears for Kavinda, a roly-poly boy who is, at 21, the baby of our team and adored to death by all for his cheerful ways.  Tears for Rukshan too, father of two children yet to go to school, because he never lost his smile through all his many trials.  Life bludgeoned him frequently but he absorbed the blows and never shared his woes.  He captured life, this point-click man, in amazing ways. 

He suspected he had suffered paralysis but wasn’t sure if it was that or that he had lost his legs.  So he asked someone.  Right up to the point where he was taken to the operating theater, Rukshan was more concerned about the problems of others.  ‘Is your father better now?’ he asked.  ‘Do you have a picture for the cover of JEANS?’ he asked.  That’s him. 

There were tears and there are still tears, but through all the blurring of event and sorrow there was clarity too. 

The Nation came together. Those in our sister papers did not just commiserate, they also took the loss personally, inquired, called doctors and hospital administration, found out what was happening and what needed to be done and did it.   That’s mainly because Rukshan didn’t belong to The Nation.  He belongs to the larger Rivira family and more so to the family of rare human beings who go about their work and lives without a single dark thought.

We are best as human beings when we come together, we are best even in our solitary reflections and prayers when they have something to do with the collective. 
Apart from the must-do of practical response, there were prayers; each according to his or her faith, and all together regardless of faith-preference in seeking succor from each other’s temples. 

There were bodhi poojas at the Ode Pansala close by.  There were prayers offered at St Anthony’s Church Kochchikade.  U.L. Ranjith, a Rivira driver made a vow at the Pillewa Temple.  Some went to the Kovil.  The Quran was recited, Dua was solicited and Zakat was given.  Merit was sought to be transferred. Divine intervention was sought. 

The heartbeat of our country was evident in all these things but mostly in these heartbeats collapsing into a singular wish, that it all adds to that which it takes to keep Rukshan’s heart beating and beating in a body that moves, a body with eyes that saw and saw through the world and continues to see thus, a fingers that touched this world and made it come alive in ways few could imagine. 

The heartbeat of our country, right now, at this moment and at this sad but hopeful place we reside in, has a name.  Rukshan Abeywansha.  



Randima Attygalle said...

Rukshan, having visited you at the ICU last Friday, I waded through my Nation cuttings. Seeing the pic by line ‘Pix by Rukshan Abeywansha’ made me shed copious tears. I recall my last assignment for the Nation and once again it was you who added magic to my words. You stood through it all. Be it human suffering that we saw together, subtle human expressions or the finer things in life, you did it with such finesse, such commitment. For you each click was a labor of love. ..
When accolades came our way, it was you who froze the smiles, the euphoria. We could count on you always. And that unmistakable, sincere smile which sprang from the heart, how could we ever forget?
Sincerity is your hallmark that touched so many hearts. You were not just our photo journalist who was our shadow when we went on assignments, you were part of our families. I recall the pride in the new father that you were, when we visited your home to see your first born. The sea of friends who still frequent the hospital hold testimony to the warm and loving human being that you are.
The human suffering, the injustice you gave life to on the broadsheet cannot be yours. The temple, the kovil, the church and the mosque have come together to heal a sincere man who has touched our lives. Dearest Rukshan, we will stand by you just as you stood by us in so many ways.

Anusha Niranjali Wijeratne said...

Please can somebody find me a way to contact Dr. Sunil Perera ASAP?

Malinda Seneviratne said...

he consults at Asiri Central Hospital, Norris Canal Road.