10 November 2014

Becoming ‘a country that was’

‘There was a country’ is Chinua Achabe’s personal history of Biafra.  It is a personal story of a collective history, of a violent past that rolled into a political present.  It is a memoir.  Historical account.  Literature.  It is not an uncommon story. 

The world is full of violence.  There’s war.  There is insurrection.  And the ‘collateral’.  That’s how it is and how it has been for centuries upon centuries, which of course is no reason not to recoil in horror, not to object and not to seek ways of creating a better world, a better country, better communities and less violent lifestyles.

We all have countries we’ve lived in, or countries that were, let us say.  Some of those ‘past tense places’ are remembered with nostalgia and some recollected with a grudging gratitude for the present-countries we inhabit. We are never ecstatic about where we are, what we do and who we are, even though we are not given to lamenting these things 24/7.   

So there are countries we love to inhabit and countries which we are dying to leave.  One thing is certain, though.  A country without people is not a country but a colored piece in a map.  Named or unnamed, it is not a country, not a nation.  And if a large number of people find push more compelling than pull, then the countries they inhabit are in danger of becoming pieces of land not deserving the tag ‘nation’, unworthy of name. 

A recent survey of youth conducted by an experienced Sociologist has revealed that 50% of the young men and women in Sri Lanka want to leave the country, for one reason or another.  This is not unnatural.  The young want to see the world.  It’s a youthful urge that is not country-specific.  The young want to explore; they are endowed with a thing called curiosity.  And in these internet days where you can access sights and sounds in the most faraway of places, it is natural to want to find places that draw you and visit them to obtain better flavor. 

The more disturbing statistic is that 30% of the youth want to leave and not come back.  That number is valid across all identity categories.  In other words, it cannot be explained by referring to some ethnic or religious angst.  There could be common economic factors that make people want to leave, but Sri Lanka is a middle income country and even though fraught with disparities it is certainly not a land without opportunity.  It is, moreover, a country in a post-conflict situation that has done far better than most countries emerging from wars that dragged for decades. 

‘Yearning for greener pastures’, then, does not explain this urge, for there have always been and there always been pastures that are greened in richer hue, not to mention that if Sri Lanka was green-less for a quarter of a century, it is comparatively a veritable ‘nilla pirunu ratak’ today, lush in many ways, give or take a few drought-ridden weeks or a few too-much-blue days of rain.  

Something is not right.  Only those who don’t have a strong enough hold on that thing called ‘belonging’ can say ‘want to go, don’t want to come back’.  The don’t-want-to-return thinking implies a pull-push product that outweighs the tugs to home, family, parents and land.  That’s a kind of alienation in aggregates that make ‘nation’ untenable, for although not everyone will leave, those who remain are essentially not at peace with where they are, what they do and most crucially, who they are. 

There’s something seriously wrong here.  Economic factors are only part of the story.  There must be, deep down, some cultural unease at work.  It is also likely that there is widespread sense of displacement, internal displacement, from nation, economy, political structures, family and home, and of course self.  It is a question of belonging and meaningful citizenship.  It requires investigation. 

Or else, someday, the Achabes of Sri Lanka will write their own country-story.  In the past tense.



Anonymous said...

We are lacking just one thing. Hope.

sajic said...

'Hope', and the rapidly deteriorating 'rule of law'. Never have the laws of this land been so openly flouted by those in power and their associates.

Anonymous said...

Many of those who want to leave the country believe the Western world (to which they want to leave) have streets paved with gold. They don't know that you have to work hard as a wage slave, and if you start your own business, you have all kinds of rules and regulations that keep you from becoming a millionaire overnight or even in ten, twenty years. Many of the young people who have come to Australia, even those with double degrees have not been able to find jobs in their line of work and are working as cleaners.
So those who yearn to leave and not come back should leave Sri Lanka with their eyes open and understand that the grass on the other side is always greener.