04 June 2023

Republicanism and its discontents


There are words that seem to be very popular among politicians and political groups when it comes to naming a new part or coalition. ‘Jathika’ or ‘National’ would top the list. We have the Eksath JATHIKA Pakshaya (United NATIONAL Party). Whenever this party led coalitions, ‘pakshaya’ was replaced with ‘peramuna’ or ‘front,’ but ‘jathika’ was left intact.

There are others. There are 86 parties registered with the Elections Commission at present. Four (4) of that have the word ‘jathika’ in their names, thirteen (13) have ‘national,’ one has it as ‘thesiya’ (again, ‘national’),  nine (9) have ‘Sri Lanka,’ five (5) have ‘Lanka,’ one (1) has ‘Hela, ’one (1) has ‘Ilankai,’ one (1) has it as ‘Illankai,’ one (1) has ‘desha,’ one has ‘Maubima’ or ‘Motherland,’ and three (3) have ‘Ceylon.’

Some parties/coalition seem to have been fixated on shoving in all the nice words into the name they register: national, people, front, democratic, united, alliance, democratic and of course the name of the country or some reference to it such as Sri Lanka, Lanka, Ilankai and Ceylon. People (or ‘Janatha’ in Sinhala and ‘Makkal’ in Tamil) is also popular.  In some cases the preferred word is the truncated form ’jana’ or the elaboration ‘podujana.’

One has ‘Republican,’ and although it contains ‘people’ (the word being derived from Latin, rēs (“thing”) + pūblica (“public”) and hence literally ‘the public thing’) it has more ideological undertones, much like ‘socialist’ (6 parties have it in their names) and ‘democratic’ (18).

What’s interesting is that the claims embedded in the names are not reflected in the practices. We don’t need to get into that. Parties that have ‘national’ in their names have betrayed the nation. Those who don’t aren’t necessarily traitors. The same goes for democratic and socialist. Names. Just names.

The United Republican Front was officially launched just ten days ago (May 22, 2023). Its potential has to be assessed in terms of the track records of its leaders. It provides, however, an opportunity to talk of republicanism.

The idea of a republic emerged in a context of a political need to abolish monarchical rule. The primacy of citizen and citizenship underpin republicanism. Republics are of many kinds, as history has shown, but in the Sri Lankan context the word obtained relevance from the need to unshackle the country from the British Empire. This is why it is more sensible to have May 22, 1972 as ‘Independence Day’ and not February 4, 1948. We became a republic in 1972. In 1948 we were still subjects of King George VI and therefore beholden to the British Crown.

Of course, we reverted to February 4 after the United National (sic) Party came to power in 1977. Ironically, even as we adopted a new constitution in 1978 and called it the Second Republican Constitution, we not only disavowed the significance of May 22, 1972 but were turned into a citizenry ruled by a president with close to monarchical powers.

And, partly but not wholly attributed to the 1978 constitution, we’ve had to live in a country with a reduced value for citizenship. The feudalism that marked the early decades of independence survived. Citizens, even in reduced circumstances, played their part in the persistence of this state of affairs. Governments were associated with personalities and families, not ideology or meritocracy: the Senanayakes and Wijewardenas of the UNP and the Bandaranaikes and Rajapaksas of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.  Of these, the Rajapaksas were the most conspicuously monarchical, which is of course not to say that the other major political families did not and does not have similar sway. The Rajapaksas were more in-your-face.

Republicanism was not touted in name but the ideas certainly were. The word ‘republic’ didn’t make it to the public discourse, but the relevant attributes were written into demands, scripted into speeches and pencilled into manifestoes, the last of which have not persuaded anyone to take notice, considering that parties and coalitions voted into power have all treated them as irrelevant the moment they were declared winners.

So ‘republican’ is not necessarily a bad choice for inclusion in a party name. In the very least it is an umbrella term that can accommodate the long wish-list frequently articulated by those who consider themselves liberals and radicals (but, let us not forget, frequently align themselves openly with political parties and leaders who have monarchical aspirations).

Ok, let’s see we establish the republican ideal in the sense of formal representative democracy and rules that affirm the principle of meritocracy. All done? No more issues?

It’s still a system of governance that formally recognises citizens and citizenship. That’s political. How about the economic issues? How about the political economic issues? How about the system of legally extracting value, legally exploiting? What do republicans have to say about the neoliberal economic theories that make for subjugation, enslavement, impoverishment and, not least of all, are part of a development paradigm that seriously compromise the health of the planet? Are they ‘separate issues’ or are they annoying issues best left unmentioned?

Of course monarchies can be affirmed even in a republic. We have the Kennedys, Bushes and Clintons in the USA, don’t forget. And even if we didn’t have such dynasties can it not be argued that stripped of egalitarian rhetoric democracy in practice is nothing but serial feudalistic regimes? And how about class, by the way?

Reducing it all to an assessment of relative merits comparing republics and monarchies is a side-stepping of important issues. The problem is that republicans will not say ‘republicanism is necessary but not sufficient.’ They talk and act as though republicanism is an end in and of itself or, as some argue, it is The End. Period.

The truth is republicanism is as stinking a dead cat as is any nationalism that ignores the very same things that republicans do not want to touch.

Republic. Nice term, but in essence a distraction. Republics are not islands. Sri Lanka as a true republic would still have to exist in a unipolar world where nations suffer varying levels of subservience. It’s a ‘public thing’ where people are counted occasionally but are for the most part counted out. And those who don’t want to unpack republicanism are either slothful or are invested in preserving elements of the status quo that matter to them: the sustained development of operations that allow profit, entail slavery of one kind or another and ensure planetary degradation (and the ability to activate coercive mechanisms if this status quo comes under threat).

There are republicans to die for, but the ones proposed by republicans are more likely republicans one continues to run the risk of being run over by the powerful, the demented, the closet monarchs and their apologists. 

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri!


Sulang Kurullo (Windbirds)’ is possibly the most popular song by Harun Lanthra and Angeline Goonetileka. The melody has always appealed to me, but not being quite the connoisseur of music of any kind, I had never listened to the song with any degree of attention. A few years ago I did. And I told my wife it is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard.

‘The lyrics are exquisite,’ I said.

‘Really? I like the melody.’ That was her response.

Some people are attracted to the music, some to the words. This however is common to both types: you know the name of the singer, but not necessarily that of the lyricist or the compose. In this case Dharmasiri Gamage and Premasiri Khemadasa respectively.

And this is why I came to know of Ratna Sri Wijesinghe so much longer after I had heard the songs he had written.  That, and the fact that I had barely been a student of literature. It was in the early nineties that I encountered his collection of poems titled ‘Vassane.’ And it was around the same time that I found a copy of ‘Sudu Neluma.’ Indeed it was the blurb on the back cover of the latter that gave me insights into the mind and heart of this exceptionally gifted poet/lyricist, according to some, the most accomplished in his generation. 

On the back cover was a backstory of sorts about the song ‘Sudu Neluma.’ It was about a little girl who had drowned in the Sorabora Wewa. Apparently she would go there to pick sudu nelum which she would later sell to devotees who visited the Mahiyangana Chaityaya. I can’t remember who wrote that blurb but the following observation is etched in my heart:

‘Having suffered all manner of sorrows throughout their lives, her parents did not have tears to shed at her funeral, and yet when Pundit Amaradeva sang the song for the first time at the Elphinstone Theatre there wasn’t even one eye in that audience that was not washed in tears.’

So we know songs and singers. We know less about lyricists and even less about how they see the world.

A few days ago, I attended an event at the Sri Lanka Foundation, organised to celebrate the poet on the occasion of his 70th birthday, marked among other things by Kalpana Ambrose’s translations of some of Ratna Sri’s poems, ‘May the thorns bloom.’ Actually, I was detained by other matters and by the time I arrived, it was over. It was chit-chat time with friends over a cup fo plain tea. Consolation enough for me.  Kalpana promised to gift me a copy, so I bought two other books, Ratna Sri’s first collection of poems, ‘Biya novan ayyandi (Fear not, older brother)’ and ‘Ath Pasura,' a collection of essays Ratna Sri had written for the Silumina in 2005/2006 and first published in 2008.
 
The title essay itself is a revelation. Ratna Sri takes a simple word or rather term and in a few pages sheds light on vast swathes of literary history. He takes us to Sarachchandra’s Maname, Mahagama Sekera’s Kundala Keshi, and long before them Wettewe Thero’s Guttila Kavya, Kalidasa’s Raghuwamas and the Panchatantra. ‘Ath Pasura,’ in short, made me regret that I had not studied literature.

This Ratna Sri, i.e., the student of literature, is often seen at the launch of poetry collections. Few in this country can review poetry the way he does. It is like watching a documentary on a literary tradition. 

 

He dissects and puts together in ways that are tender and pleasing, even when he is critical of the work he’s assessing. Sunanda Karunaratne and Liyanage Amarakeerthi are two other poets/critics who share this ability.

What ‘Ath Pasura’ once again confirmed to me is the fact that Ratna Sri is one of the keenest living observers of the human condition. He could write Sudu Neluma because he has the eyes to see, the mind to reflect, the discipline to be patient and let the nuances of context speak to him and of course the mastery over the language. I didn’t read that column in the ‘Silumina,’ but the collection is eminently re-readable for he lends us his eyes and invites us to see and see again, now from this angle and now from that, not just on what he’s discussing but in general on all things around us over which our eyes carelessly pass.  

Coincidentally, I came across an Ernest Hemingway quote that seems to describe what Ratna Sri has done and does.

‘When people talk, listen completely. Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe. You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling.’

He listens. He sees. He shares. That which birthed feelings in him he records truthfully and offers comments with the full weight of his long engagement with literature and the as lengthy consideration of life.

Sulang Kurullo has the following lines:

සිහින පොතේ පිටුවක් පෙරළී අද
මොනවද එහි ලියැවී ඇත්තේ
ආදරේ ආදරේ හ්ම් ආදරේ
ආදරේ ආදරේ ආදරේ

A page has turned in the book of dreams
what is it that has been written?
Love, love, love
Love, love, love.’


Ratna Sri offers us reality, the space for dreams and the inhibiting structures as well. All love. All love. Love, love, love and love.

Long life, sir!   

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

All those we've loved before

Reflections on waves and markings

A chorus of National Anthems

Saying what and how

'Say when'

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra

The loves of our lives

The right time, the right person

The silent equivalent of a thousand words

Crazy cousins are besties for life

Unities, free and endearing

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!"

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis

The revolution is the song

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins

The day I won a Pulitzer

Ko?

Ella Deloria's silences

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable 

Thursday!

Deveni: a priceless one-word koan

Enlightening geometries

Let's meet at 'The Commons'

It all begins with a dot

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone

On sweeping close to one's feet

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts...

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday 

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves

'Sentinelity'

The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart
  

 

All those we’ve loved before


Kahlil Gibran once urged someone, presumably someone he loved, to ‘feed the lamp with oil and let it not dim.’ He explained, ‘so I can read with tears what your life with me has written upon your face.’ This is a verse from the poem ‘The life of love,’ in his collection, ‘A tear and a smile.’

The poem has been a companion of sorts. Lamp, flame, light and face are metaphors. They can also be taken literally. We can peer into faces, not just of those we love, and see what we’ve written on them and, if we have not, reflect on what life and others have.

In the case of total strangers it would be speculation, nothing more. Some may say it’s a waste of time but others might very well delight in imagining what or who carved worry lines or etched a line or two at the corner of the mouth. That’s just the traces on the countenance. Life marks tone of voice, the movement of eyes and so much more.

It is different with those who are familiar, but with those who have loved or have been loved, the traceability is less contaminated by speculation. We can retrace steps less erroneously.

But why? That’s a legitimate question. The simple and perhaps simplistic answer is that human beings are curious creatures. We wonder. We imagine. And we travel on magic carpets to alternative universes with exotic names such as What-If and If-Only.

We are also rational. We hike into the hills of nostalgia, allow the winds of recollection to play with heart-hair  and after sampling the many flavours of those other planetary configurations, which by the way could take hours or a few seconds, we return to the here and now. We put aside what might have been and think about what has been and perhaps what will be.

And so there’s a lamp ready to be lit and it can be brought close to the face of the beloved. It is a magic lamp; one that illuminated pathways to the long ago, and indeed the longest ago if you will, to the point of first encounter. And there we find the beloved in the infancy of companionship or wanting.

There are two directions we can take. We can start from the love of the first moment and move to the loves that came thereafter, for both individuals grow and in growing their love is transformed, in any number of directions. We can meet each and every beloved of each and every moment, exhilarating and painful, until we come to the beloved of the parting. We can trace beloved and loving backwards too, from ultimate departure to all the arrivals and departures that came before until that first unforgettable encounter.

This is perhaps the beauty of love, the multiplicity of beloveds, all having the same name, same body, roughly the same features and wavelengths. They are not cast in stone, though. Their lives are carved upon and they carve themselves on other lives. Just as the recipients of their love or those who adore them beyond belief.

We don’t do this all the time, but then there comes a day or a moment when lyrics you’ve never heard before make their way through conversations and concerns: ‘Can you wait a little longer until I come?’

So we wait, even if the beloved never arrives. Arrival makes a difference of course, but nether presence or absence could stop someone who has decided he will walk through walls, cross streets without sparing one fraction of a second to consider the traffic and enter the gardens of magical oblivion and assertion, where nothing that does not carry the name of the beloved can exist.

And all the loves that etched a song, all the tears of all the moments, they come alive, they light all the lamps of the heart, one by one, until there’s nothing left to do but fall on one’s knees and murmur the immemorial prayer of love: stay blessed beloved, always, wherever you are and with whoever you may be with. 

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

Reflections on waves and markings

A chorus of National Anthems

Saying what and how

'Say when'

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra

The loves of our lives

The right time, the right person

The silent equivalent of a thousand words

Crazy cousins are besties for life

Unities, free and endearing

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!"

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis

The revolution is the song

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins

The day I won a Pulitzer

Ko?

Ella Deloria's silences

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable 

Thursday!

Deveni: a priceless one-word koan

Enlightening geometries

Let's meet at 'The Commons'

It all begins with a dot

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone

On sweeping close to one's feet

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts...

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday 

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves

'Sentinelity'

The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart
  

Reflections on waves and markings

There are trends and they are referred to as raeli in Sinhala. A back translation would give us ‘frill’ interestingly, like the frills of a kite, sarungale raeli. When I think of waves, it’s always in relation to water.

And when I think of waves, I think of the marks they leave on the sand. Ocean waves do that. Waves rush in towards the shore. Waves recede. And a line is left behind, marking the end point of the particular wave. And this line, so distinct in separating the wet from the dry, relatively, is made for erasure. The next wave obliterates and replaces. New wave, new line. Another wave and this is gone too.

Fascinating.

Looking back I feel the poem ‘Dover Beach’ by Matthew Arnold lodged something in my mind that persuaded me to consider waves and lines. He wrote ‘of pebbles which the waves draw back and fling upon the high strand at their return.’ This reminded him of Sophocles hearing the very same roar on the Aegean and which brought to his mind ‘the turbid ebb and flow of human misery.’  

Misery is not what comes to mind when I watch waves and notice the marks they leave on the sand. Rather, it is the vicissitudes of life. The highs and lows. Profit and loss. Moment of glory and moment of vilification. Joys and sorrows. Praise and blame. The waves: they rise and fall. They roar as they crash in but there’s not even a whimper as they recede. The lines they leave say ‘present’ but they are quickly ‘absented.’

How frail these lines are although so powerful are their makers! What marks then do the movers and shakers leave, what signatures of arrival and departure? Not everyone who rides a wave is a professional surfer. When waves collapse and perish upon inevitable shores they are left upon the sand, much like driftwood.

We are human and humanly frail. Being subject to the vicissitudes of the human condition we get excited at times by waves, especially those that are high and arrive with a roar. We are human and therefore remember. We can think back on all the waves we’ve ridden and ask ourselves where they are now, which oceans they move around in, upon which shores they break or, indeed, if they even exist in a way that we can identify them and say with conviction, ‘yes, THIS is THAT wave.’

We are human so we can take note of the lines left by receding waves. We might remember believing fervently that these lines were indelibly etched on a process or a social, economic and political geography, that they would surely bear upon futures. We might recall that things didn't exactly turn out that way. And then we can rush into the water in search of yet another wave that we think will change our fortunes for the better. And we do this often enough.

There are lines that can be drawn and which will take a lot of effort to erase. Such lines are not drawn on water, such marks are not left on sand. There are lines which appear and we know they should not be crossed. There are marks that arise and we know they cannot be ignored. There are moments that make us decide, ‘this, now, is what should be done.’ And then, most importantly, there are indelible truths as expounded by Siddhartha Gauthama the Buddha.

But we walk through unhappy streets, hoodwinked by a streetlamp and a thief, misled by profiteers who come wearing the garb of prophets, we laugh with comedians not realising that we are being laughed at, we sheer politicians who are really jeering at us.

We embrace lines in the sand and let wisdom slip through our fingers. Things are conditional and conditional things are impermanent. It is not advisable to read conditional as indelible and erasable as permanent. Perhaps this is something to think about on this Poson Poya day, which is when you would be reading this: there are waves and the marks they leave and we, upon the shore would do well to observe their respective movements.

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

A chorus of National Anthems

Saying what and how

'Say when'

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra

The loves of our lives

The right time, the right person

The silent equivalent of a thousand words

Crazy cousins are besties for life

Unities, free and endearing

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!"

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis

The revolution is the song

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins

The day I won a Pulitzer

Ko?

Ella Deloria's silences

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable 

Thursday!

Deveni: a priceless one-word koan

Enlightening geometries

Let's meet at 'The Commons'

It all begins with a dot

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone

On sweeping close to one's feet

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts...

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday 

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves

'Sentinelity'

The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart
  

 

A chorus of national anthems


A few years ago when people were debating the merits and demerits of two official versions of the national anthem, i.e. in Sinhala and Tamil, I argued against a ‘Sinhala Only’ version. The notion of an official national anthem did not exist one hundred years ago, I argued. I have also argued that ‘nation’ is not contained or containable in an anthem, a flag or an identity card.

One of the articles written along these lines was titled ‘The Tamil version of the National Anthem is beautiful.’ Not too long after writing that piece, quite by chance, I did get an opportunity to listen to some school children singing the Tamil version of the National Anthem.

It was just before school was closed for the day, probably around 1.30 pm. The children of Shannon Tamil Maha Vidyalam were singing. The Tamil version. And a little Tamil girl, still too small to attend school, next door to the house I was visiting, sang along. In Sinhala. And I remember being amused by all the hot air spouted in the name of the nation in circles far removed from Hatton.

Last night I returned to the national anthem or rather the idea of a national anthem. A few friends had gathered to reminisce about times long gone. They had gathered to sing. So they spoke of singers and lyricists, doing their best to honour the greats who had been part of their journey from childhood to manhood and now old age. At one point, one of them, my brother Arjuna said, ‘jaathika geeya kiyamu (let’s sing the National Anthem).’

It was late. The thought crossed my mind that he wanted to wrap things up and go home. Then he started strumming his guitar. And the words, slow, were breathed out softly: ‘ratna deepa janma bhoomi…’

The others joined. With gusto laced with tenderness. As in any song celebrating ‘nation,’ there’s a heavy layering of history and heritage. There will of course be those who object to the word ‘jathiya’ and of course to ‘Sinhale,’ both of which have got sullied by both abuse and vilification, but I would invite anyone who is clueless about the song to just listen to the melody. It is as national as it can get, as far as I know. No less national than anything associated with the word. For me, as for the others who sang it last night, THE national anthem, my brother is right.

We did not fall upon this island from the sky. We were born in a territory upon which history made identifiable marks. Not unblemished and yet not without heroes and heroism. Not untouched by tyranny and yet a land where the selfless sacrificed lives for the benefit of fellow creatures.

The blood shed in the name of a collective did not congeal into precious stones, not in a literal sense, but if this land, this culture, these people are resilient, selfless and honourable ever, they do owe something to those courageous people who came before, who fought, who fell and who in falling made sure others would not have to kneel forever.

The life-breath they yielded as final gift did not and does not waft across reservoirs majestic and humble, perfume flowers and grain, and fill hearts with joy. No, not in a literal sense. And yet, they did flavour history, they did moisturise heritage, they did leave a mark, whether or not it is recognized.  

That’s for me. That’s for a few of us last night who sang this song and then paid homage in remembrance to Mahagama Sekara and W D Amaradeva. Someone else, other collectives, might not be moved. Their national anthem equivalent might have very different lyrics, but for many, I’m sure, there’s a song (and it could be more than one song too) that captures what they understand as ‘nation,’ better than any other melody. A poet who is not named Mahagama Sekara would have written it. A singer who is not W D Amaradeva would have sung it.

I asked my friend Jude Jayaprekash. He mentioned one. Vidai Kodu Engal Nadai (Bidding farewell to my country). A song from Mani Ratnam's movie ‘Kannathil Muthamittal (A kiss on the cheek)’ with A R Rahman composing the music. There are probably other ‘national anthems.’

The more there are the better, I feel, because anything that reconnects someone to land, history, heritage and one another. It could be a perspective that is not shared by all. On the other hand, the fact of assigning privilege would be common to all. It can therefore be understood, appreciated and even celebrated. A chorus of national anthems. Not a bad idea, I think.     

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

Saying what and how

'Say when'

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra

The loves of our lives

The right time, the right person

The silent equivalent of a thousand words

Crazy cousins are besties for life

Unities, free and endearing

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!"

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis

The revolution is the song

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins

The day I won a Pulitzer

Ko?

Ella Deloria's silences

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable 

Thursday!

Deveni: a priceless one-word koan

Enlightening geometries

Let's meet at 'The Commons'

It all begins with a dot

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone

On sweeping close to one's feet

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts...

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday 

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves

'Sentinelity'

The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart