18 April 2013

A vasa-visa-less Avurudda

It is customary to wish each other a happy and prosperous new year, typically, in Sinhala, ‘an Aluth Avurudda overflowering in kiri and peni’.  Overflowing abundance is a perennially valid wish, however harsh the circumstances. 

Years ago, the Chief (and sole) Incumbent of the Muhudu Maha Viharaya, Ven. Katharagama Sirirathana Thero, resisting encroachment by Muslim residents and neglected so thoroughly by a nation and a community, said with a wry smile On April 14th, a day when kiribath is cooked in all corners of the country, I could only eat bread.’   The Venerable Thero, speaking on the LTTE, showed the wisdom, foresight and compassion of the doctrine he subscribed to: ‘They are not tigers, they are kittens’.  This was in 2006. Three years later, the difference between mewl and roar was determined in no uncertain terms. 
We do not know what the Venerable Thero would partake this morning of the Aluth Avurudda, especially given the uncertainties, fears, apprehensions and such produced by self-appointed spokespersons for various religious communities, but given his tenacity we can be assured that he would seek refuge, again and again, in the Buddha Vacana. 

Today there is no LTTE, not as kitten and not as tiger.  Today there are other threats, some external and some local, some from the top and some from the bottom.  Today there is poison (vasa-visa) of a different kind.  Religious intolerance, for example.  Then there are less metaphoric poisons, like pesticides.  There are structures and laws that exist but are not referenced enough, protective mechanisms that are not implemented, collusion between poisoner and authorities mandated to scrutinize and protect.  Even as we wish for the proverbial kiriyen-peniyen-sapiri  we spray these poisons or consume them, knowingly or unknowingly.  Greater vigilance, greater resolve and greater sensitivity to the world around us might help if not right now, then later, if not for ourselves then our children.  
Not every household celebrates and not every household celebrates in the same way.  Still, there is no other time in the year when the overwhelming majority of people strike a match, perform rites as per conviction, partake of food etc., all at moments specified previously.  That’s solidarity. That’s togetherness that transcends all differences.  No community is left out here, for Avurudu is not the preserve of the Sinhalese or Buddhists, Tamils or Hindus, it is a moment of common celebration if not in affirmation of custom then in the receiving of neighborly goodness and giving. 

These are not the best of times, but surely these are not the worst of times either.   Not exactly times of abundance but still times when many small mercies can be remembered and celebrated, across the length and breadth of the land.  In the most humble of kitchens there will be a Tamil mother, lighting a lamp, in the humblest breakfast table a Sinhala father would feed his children and they would all, hearts endowed with the fullness of giving offer sweetmeats and plantains to their Muslim, Christian and Burgher neighbors. 
Renewal, then, is not about starting with a clean slate after erasing old enmities among family members, but reaffirming solidarities that are ancient, enduring and resistant to the ruptures sought by the intolerant and extreme.  It is about the extirpation of poison, from mind and body, community and culture, the water we drink and the earth we rarely walk with the respect it deserves for holding us in all our infirmities and all our vile, human ways.

[The Nation Editorial, April 14, 2013] 


Gilbert Abeygoonaratne said...

Thank you Malinda,Reading these words of wisdom I wish I could look upon this New Year as I would in to a kaleidoscope knowing the images I see will be only images of beauty. But then reality is otherwise,and that what I see are only mirages!
I pray and wish with all my heart that this New Year will bring us Peace and Love, Harmony and Respect, then the images of the kaleidoscope will be a reality !A very Happy New Year to Everyone !