26 December 2017

Elders of the world relax, the kids are fine

"I am opposed to anyone who destroys the beauty of my motherland"
Elders fret over the state of the world and where it is heading.  The young are optimistic.  They will, they, own the world one day and are convinced that they will do things better.  Elders glance at the young and often think ‘the world is doomed’.  The more circumspect would say ‘hmmm…’ when encountering a young person with a pointed finger or a clenched fist accompanied by a loud voice.  

‘Never in our days,’ is an easy dismissal picked up by people in their late twenties and nurtured thereafter.  The young, for their part, can always point to the state of affairs and say ‘hey, this is a mess you created.’  

Elders talk of declining values, jumbled priorities and in these days a unholy fascination with electronic devices.  The young might say that elders just don’t get it.  Maybe they are right.  Maybe no one is ‘wrong’.  One thing is certain.  Young people know a lot more than their elders did when they (the elders) were their age.

It’s all there in a pop ballad written by Bob Thiele and David Weiss in 1968.  Bob was then 46 and David was 47.   It was recorded by Louis Armstrong who was at the time 66 years old.  ‘What a wonderful world’ yielded numerous covers and was featured in dozens of films and television productions.  What’s pertinent here are the following lines:

I hear babies cry...... I watch them grow
They'll learn much more..... Than I'll never know
And I think to myself..... What a wonderful world 

Elders may concede the ‘know much more’ in relation to technical things but might be less generous about ‘life lessons,’ arguing that there are things that one can only know after living a certain number of years and have had a certain quantum of experiences.  

Let’s leave all that aside.

Just the other day there was a protest about the destruction in and around Wilpattu.  Crowd estimates range from 2000 to 5000.  Compare this with the barely 100 persons attending rallies between 2006 and 2009.  These were rallies organized not by political parties nor with their blessings.  They were demonstrations from both sides of the ideological divide; i.e. those who wanted all military action stopped and those who were convinced that the LTTE needed to be militarily defeated.  

What was striking about this demonstration is that despite the fact that the issue were marked by the communal, the organizers were adamant that identity is not the question.  In fact they insisted that Wilpattu, like all natural forests, was about trees. They insisted that trees and especially forest cover belongs to every citizen and those yet unborn.  Relevant destruction, then, was an affront to the broader notion of citizenship, they said.  They expressly stated that there was no room there for any religious bigots or communalist thugs. 

And there were none present either.  Instead, there were multiple organizations involved in this demonstration. There were people from all ethnic communities, all religious faiths, all social classes and probably affiliated to or supporting all political parties.  There were the very old and the very young, but it was a predominantly youth-led and youth-participating event.  

Let’s go ultra conservative.  Let’s say there were just 1000 people present.   That’s massive, and not just because of the comparison above.  We live in a world, after all, where ‘involvement’ is easy, objection is a matter of point-n-click, where a ‘like’ here and a ‘share’ there and a pithy status update or a profile-pic change can confer ‘participation’.  We live in a world where we can say ‘Damn it, I wish I could be there, but hey I will be with you guys in spirit,’ just like people said not too long ago ‘හදවතින් අප යුද බිමේ, තනි කලේ නැත ඔබ කිසි දිනේ’ (we never abandoned you; our hearts are with you there in the battlefield).  Not too long ago, for example, there was a call for a ‘Colombo Sprint’ (on the lines of Arab Spring).  People were asked to converge on Independence Square.  There was a lot of noise on Facebook.  Independence Square, on the particular day, was conspicuously silent. No one came.

Maybe it’s all about the issue at hand.  Trees make for less ideological disagreement than do governments.  Nevertheless, the young people who took the lead made their presence felt.  The media, obsessed over political intrigue surrounding the forthcoming local government elections by and large ignored these young people, but who knows, maybe it will come to a point where the media will have to take notice simply because the readership will start asking ‘how can you not be concerned?’  

I am not a crystal gazer.  There was a lot of romance in and around Vihara Maha Devi Park.  There was a momentary throw back to a time that was very different where full-hearted protests could barely draw 100 people.  

We can’t be happy about ‘Wilpattu,’ and what the name has come to mean.  We can be happy that those who will own this earth (if they don’t already) care about our planet enough to take a stand. 

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer.  malindasenevi@gmail.com.