18 May 2023

‘Sorry, Earth!'

The late Lanil Kalubowila once offered some interesting reflections on language and politics. The last time I met him, along with our mutual friend Kanishka Goonewardena, he informed us that he had restricted reading to the perusal of encyclopaedias. They were, he observed, to the point. No frills, no editorialising, no propaganda, he said. True, for the most part.

He also said he had a problem with a television show called ‘Good morning Sri Lanka.’

‘Why only Sri Lanka?’

Good question. Sri Lanka is not a planet in and of itself, although some may think so. One says ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ to an individual, but you are, whether you like it or not, saying ‘good morning’ to more than those in Sri Lanka when you say this on some mass communication platform. What if aliens are listening in, for example. We don’t know about aliens, but we know that Sri Lanka is an island in a planet, a country in a world of nations, an economy that does not allow us to remain an island in the strictest sense. What we do impacts the world. What a country does and indeed what an individual does has an effect on the entire planet.

He said that he had considered an alternative: ‘Good morning, earth’ in the spirit of International solidarity or rather in recognition of interconnectedness.  And then he said, ‘We don’t have the moral right to say “good morning” to the earth. We should rather say “Sorry, Earth.”’

We don’t say ‘sorry’ enough, do we? The human species is marked by love, kindness, compassion etc., but our footprint on this planet also contains indelible streaks of cruelty, arrogance and selfishness. As individuals and as small collectives, we can and are generous, compassionate and sensitive to the world around us and the denizens therein. As a collective?

‘Sorry’ just doesn’t seem adequate, but ‘Good morning, Earth’ without reflection or remorse would sound that much more out of order.

Tammana Begum in an article titled ‘Humans are causing life on Earth to vanish’ published in the National History Museum website, shares some interesting and worrisome facts.

Only 3% of land on Earth still qualifies as ‘ecologically intact,’ studies show. There was never a 100% ‘intact’ planet. Not even before the first humans appeared. That said, what we’ve done is simply atrocious. We have directly altered at least 70% of the Earth’s lands. Deforestation, land degradation, depletion of biodiversity, pollution are some of the more visible crimes. We have land, freshwater ecosystems and the oceans.

‘Live coral cover on reefs has nearly halved in the past 150 years and is predicted to disappear completely within the next 80 years. Coral reefs are home to some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet,’ Begum claims, citing multiple studies.   

The biennial ‘Living Planet Report 2020’ published by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London, states ‘on average, global populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles plunged by 68% between 1970 and 2016.

The data, collected by 134 experts from around the world covering 20,800 populations of 4,392 vertebrate species including high-profile threatened animals such as pandas and polar bears as well as lesser known amphibians and fish, clearly indicates that nature is being exploited and destroyed by humans on a scale never previously recorded.

Greed, selfishness and ignorance have played their hands well.  

It is good to say ‘good morning’ to the Earth for all that we have been given. It is good to say ‘sorry’ too for all the harm that we, as individuals and collectives, have caused. It is good to say ‘thank you’ or ‘bohoma pin’ to those who knew very well that living leaves an imprint and there made it a practice to live consciously of possible wrongs and include in the life practices conscious, compensatory, actions.

We ‘intervene,’ for example, when we build a reservoir, even a ‘village tank,’ but what we also do is harvest rainwater, raise water tables, make things green, provide for other creatures etc. That’s a ‘thank you.’ That’s an indication of true remorse. True ‘sorry.’

There are ‘village tanks’ we can build in the city. There are many ‘village tanks’ we can build in our gardens, in our households, as we walk, as we greet one another.

‘Sorry, Earth,’ then, is a good way to start the day. And for this I am eternally grateful to my late friend, Lanil Kalubowila.

['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 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


Ella Deloria's silences

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable 


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


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