27 March 2023

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

‘How are things in Sri Lanka?’ The question was put to me by a former political associate with whom I was arrested more than thirty years ago. He now lives in Chicago, USA and keeps himself abreast of political developments in Sri Lanka.

Things. What things? What of things? We take things light, Nandana and I. I think we both believe that time is long, too long to be overly thrilled by good news or broken by setbacks.

Ata lo dahama hamuve kampaa novee innava (unperturbed by the vicissitudes of life),’ I answered, but noted, ‘especially the negative four,’ i.e. sorrow, loss, insults and disgrace. We bat on as though things are ok or things will surely become better. We adjust to reduced circumstances. We rant and rave, but revert to equanimity quickly enough. Some may say that’s not good, others may contend it is the most prudent course of action.  

Of course, such ways of thinking, believing (if you will) and being are ridiculed and dismissed. Lay it all on god or something that’s intangible, less understood or considered to be unsubstantiated, and you can argue that it’s a coward’s resort, an argument for inaction or submission.

If there’s just one thing that is in favour of equanimity, it is that it confers at least a modicum of mental stability. That which angers, prompts action, that which confers grief also fuels determination, that which insults demands redress. All these emotions give wings, but it is sobriety that can give direction, understand and contend with true dimensions and help restore righteousness.

‘God’s will’ comforts. ‘This is karma’ is consolation. Both absolve culpability, both justify submission. And yet, both give space and distance to measure the challenges, both offer peace of mind so necessary to contemplate, visualise, strategise, innovate and execute.

The aggrieved human being does not spend the rest of his or her life weeping copious tears. The defeated human being lives, keeps life alive, clears ground, ploughs fallow land, fertilises as is possible, plants seeds, tends crops. Harvests there will be and harvests will be reaped.

It is god’s will to accept and surrender. The laws of karma demand that it is understood that vicissitudes there will be. Neither forbid a retirement of sense. Neither demand nor can impose numbness.

Ancient lessons, although people don’t acknowledge and will even disavow, get ingrained in human DNA. They surface when needed. In the heat of battle, though, and especially in wars that are commissioned by anger and hatred, human beings march, fight and reap the harvest of all that with eyes wide shut, as they say, or in partial or full myopia. Not all wars are fought like that. Not all resistance carries the strains of bitterness. Not all life thereafter is marked by revenge-need. And, if there are such wars and resistance where anger, bitterness and hatred are dampened or absent, that is because the engagement is founded on all positive energies combining with the kind of wisdom only qualities such as equanimity can create and nurture into full fruition.  

How are things in Sri Lanka? Interesting question. It makes me ask, how were things in Sri Lanka. It makes me ask, how would things be in Sri Lanka. The past, present and future. Nandana would remember how engagement was understood when we worked together decades ago and which is how it has been understood from time immemorial, at least in the case of struggled that yielded substance and were not simply cosmetic changes that in fact strengthened the ugly underside of political economy: eeya matha padanamva heta venuven ada karana aragalaya (a struggle for a tomorrow founded on yesterday and conducted today).

Anger, hatred, disgruntlement, desperation and such are powerful movers that prod people to leave comfort zones, forge collectives or allow mobilisation of masses for objectives that are pernicious which those who rant and rave may not be aware of. People don’t always look to the end or rather they agree to ‘an end’ that accomplishes nothing. And then they return home and say ‘god’s will’ or ‘karmic inevitability.’ And that’s not a bad thing for it brings them to Square One. Once again. Only, this time, endowed with greater sobriety.

How are things in Sri Lanka? ‘Ata lo dahama hamuve kampaa novee innava,’ sums it up, I feel. It does not mean resignation. Not at all.

['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:

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


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