04 June 2023

The right time, the right person

Rasika Jayakody, one of the more informed and articulate political activists of his generation with whom I don't always see eye-to-eye, having read with great interest Lakshman Piyasena’s biography of D B Jayatilaka (බාරොන්: මඟඇරුණු මඟ or ‘Baron: the pathway missed’) comes to an interesting conclusion: ‘When looking back the political history of Sri Lanka, I think that D.B. Jayatilleka is a right man who arrived at the wrong time.’

The right time, according to Rasika, would have been the moment of independence in 1948. The ‘man’ who did arrive was D.S. Senanayake. D.B. would have been the better ‘man.’ Rasika feels that the establishment of meritocracy would not have been shelved had it been D.B. and not D.S. That and many other things, I would add. This is not about all that.

It is about the right time and the right person. It is about ‘when’ and it is about ‘who.’  How can we ever determine ‘right time’ and can we ever figure out the ‘right person’? In hindsight, of course, but how could we ever know in the here and now ?

People often talk about events, leaders and moments as though it’s the one and only chance for redemption or glory. ‘When comes such another?’ That’s something we hear all the time.

We really don’t know enough, ever. That’s the problem. A recent example would be the massive protests that took place from March to July 2022. That was seen as ‘THE moment’ for radical transformation.

Notwithstanding agent provocateurs (of whom there were many, including agents of the notorious National Endowment for Democracy, the outfit to which the CIA’s overseas regime change/protection operations were transferred to and which even today offer training programs for self-labeled radicals/revolutionaries!), a sizeable number of citizens did in fact believe that the hour had come.

The man/woman was missing though. Taken as a metaphor, man/woman could mean some kind of potent collective endowed with vision and integrity. Didn’t really emerge from the circus it all turned out to be. Wasn’t even there in the first place, some might argue.

Was that a moment, though? Yes, some would say. A missed opportunity or as Lakshman would say, a මඟඇරුණු මඟක්. But how can we tell? How can we immunise ourselves from the romanticism that is often so much a part of speculation?

There’s nothing wrong in reflecting on things that happened, the moments that passed. Nothing wrong in assessing the true dimensions of ‘moment,’ i.e. moment stripped of rhetoric and other frills that are made for inflation. This is important because there will be other struggles, other moments which could very well be ‘The Moment’ and their arrivals may coincide with ‘THE person(s)/collective,’ making the right moment along with the right person as per Rasika’s formulation above.

We could work towards that moment. We could work towards creating the person/collective that shares the transformational signature of the moment.

That’s one way. There’s another. Hafiz of Shiraz, the 14th Century Persian Sufi poet, alluded to it in ‘The place where you are right now’:

This place where you are right now
God circled on a map for you.

An atheist who nevertheless loves the poetry of the Sufi mystics, I choose to focus on the ‘location’ indicated in these lines. This is where I am. This is THE moment, And, in all humility and intimately conscious of fallibility, ignorance and that rogue arrogance who slips surreptitiously into mind and heart, I say, ‘I AM the person with the moment’s signature.’

It’s easy to extrapolate. The time is now, and that’s the title of another poem by Hafiz, by the way. I am you and therefore we are one (that’s Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, the Sufi Mystic from Eastern Persia). We are DB, we are DS, we are both and neither. And there’s nothing to stop us from seizing this moment and forging from its many transformational metals a compassionate, egalitarian and just tomorrow that will resist all manner of bludgeoning.

Let us not waste time waiting for DB. Let us not waste time trying to be DB. There’s however a 23rd Century DB, if you want to put it that way, in all of us. There’s a 1948 that will emerge from the wings or rise from the immemorial poetry of revolution. Put another way, that 1948 is actually 2023 and if you want to be even more precise, it's the 23rd of May, 2023. Moment and time: they can meet upon an earth-stage that could be a ballot box, a barricade or systematic unlearning of heavily sugar-coated untruths about our lived reality and the futures that make sense to us.

I think I will meet Rasika Jayakody somewhere, sometime on that exhilarating platform. 

['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 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


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