11 October 2014

The world’s being painted afresh as I write

There are moments when I feel I’ve lived through these times before.  I have heard others say the same thing.  Life is replay, it seems at times. 

Yesterday I got an email from someone who reads my articles regularly and offers comments now and then.  He related a story.  He had on a whim wanted to find out how Chinthana Vidanage was faring at the Commonwealth Games.  It was a re-telecast and focused on some other event.  He had started flipping channels and chanced on a television interview of yours truly.  He doesn’t enjoy political discussions much, but claimed that he agreed with everything I said.  There was a commercial break.  Back to the Commonwealth Games and there he was, my friend said, Chinthana doing his thing. 

‘When he won the silver medal, our village boy, I almost cried, could not control my emotions.’

He had another story.  It was about another medal winner. Susanthika.  He said that when she was going through a difficult time he had prayed to god to help her, to grant her some important achievement and make her happy. He had wanted her to win a medal and she did.  It happened on his birthday.

‘It was the best ever birthday present.  I couldn’t control my emotions. I cried.  While I was praying for her I very well can remember that tears were rolling down. But prayer was answered to the fullest.’

This is not the time to discuss the notion of spuriousness so I shall let it pass.  The story (well ‘stories’) touched me.  I did not watch Chinthana.  I remember watching Susanthika win the Silver at the World Championships in Athens, 1997.  It was late night.  My niece, Duranya, then less than a year old, was sleeping.  My father and I watched the race.  There were tears when she won the medal.  My father brought his hands down on the dining table. Hard. Loud. ‘Yes’. 

‘You’ll wake the baby up!’ I chided him (I was annoyed with him for some other reason).  ‘That’s ok. She will be happy’.  ‘She doesn’t know what this is all about!’ I countered. ‘She will, someday,’ he said. 

I know that the books and articles written about nation and nationalism would make up a massive library.  Identity, sense of belonging, citizenship and related issues have been discussed in ideological terms, sociologically and with reference to paradigms of political science.  And it is not just academic treatise we are talking about. There’s been so much literature on subjects such as these.  I can only speak for myself. 

Something stirs within when the most beautiful image I can think of, the map of my country, finds representation one way or another. When Sugath Thilakaratne bested Michael Johnson in the Olympics (yes, in a heat, so what!) a lump materialized in my throat. So too when Rosy Senanayake became Mrs. Woman of the World, even though I think beauty pageants are ridiculous things.  Way back in 1973, I was too young to ‘choke’, but when I read that Lafir had won the World Billiard title, I ran out, bat in hand, into a world that seemed to have been painted in fresh colours the minute before.

There are stories that made the news. And a million stories that did not.  Reading what my friend had written, I felt, as I said, that I’ve lived through these times before.  I realize now the true secret of this feeling is that there are enough reasons to celebrate.  Not every act of courage, determination and skill gets rewarded with medal or even media-mention of course, but that doesn’t take away anything from act or personality. 

I remember, like it was yesterday, watching my first child struggle to keep her balance and walk a couple of steps. I was there to catch her as she faltered.  This morning, I had to explain to my younger child Dayadi, now 7, that I will not be able to make it to her swimming meet because I was scheduled to judge a drama competition in a school at the same time.  I explained that nothing would give me more joy than to see her splash around in the pool but that there are other children who need me at the same time.

As I explained I realized that I was ‘picking’ some other children over mine.  I backtracked and in the process got quite incoherent.  She reached out, touched my arm and said ‘eka honda deyak appachchi’ (‘it is a good thing’).  She was no Chinthana Vidanage, but what a weight-lifter she was at that moment.  Left me in tears; which too she wiped. 

We are not short of heroes.  This world has enough to celebrate. Enough reason to hope that tomorrow will be even more beautiful.  I am looking out of the window right now.  Yes, it is 1973 all over again. The world has been painted afresh. 

PS:  My sister, Ru Freeman, domiciled in the USA, upon reading this, sent me the following email. Her daughter, Duranya, was 14 years old then and was quite an athlete (she later captained her high school athletics and crosscountry teams) 

"Someone sent me a photograph of Susanthika with the flag draped around her when she won the bronze. It made me cry. I still have it on my computer at home. I used to tell Duranya that if she were ever good enough to make the national team, she should relocate and run for Sri Lanka. Why? she asked. I said because that is where it matters. Where running for your country would mean something to people. Not here where athletes are bought from all over the world to run for America and they win forty gold medals......

"I don't know if she'll ever be that good, but if she were, I hope she will go home. 

"Give Dayadi a hug from me. I asked Appatchi to come to a film with us. He didn't want to. I told him this is what life is, going to silly children's movies going to their performances and practices, that is what it is. He was never there when we were young. The three of us learned how to be parents from Ammi. It is her in you that makes you cry. And you in Dayadi that makes her forgive." 

*This was first published in the 'Daily News' in October 2010.