25 July 2023

The responsible will not be broken

A couple of years ago when the country, like the rest of the world, was battling the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw a surge of volunteerism that is not uncommon in times of trouble. No one died of hunger during this time. People got together to make sure that those who were most needy in the neighbourhood had basic needs met.

During this time, many groups mobilised resources, especially money, to support the efforts of the health authorities. Money was found for medicines, medical equipment and even to expand facilities in hospitals.

A group of men and women who had entered university together more than 40 years before and were connected through WhatsApp decided to ‘do something.’ Someone had posted the requirements of a hospital, I believe a children’s ward to be more specific. Other suggestions were posted. The amount needed was calculated. Arrangements were made to purchase various items. Eventually, whatever was collected was delivered.

Of course there was discussion. People debated the merits of each proposal. Options were weighed. Thus did they go about figuring out how the best value for money could be obtained. Old and not so old personal issues, not atypically, did intrude. In one instance, the proposer rather than the proposed being disliked, the proposal was criticised.

Things got heated. Things got out of hand. Out of the blue came the assertion, ‘all this stuff is what the state should do!’ No one really argued that the state should navel-gaze and twiddle thumbs, but this was a crisis, a pandemic, an unprecedented situation and as such the general consensus was, ‘let’s just do what we can simply because it could mean the difference between life and death.’

It’s an age-old issue. The state and the citizen. The collective and the individual. Rights and responsibilities. The social contract in laws, values and norms.

The laws, as Ru Freeman points out, ‘should be the last resort in our interactions, to be summoned when all conversation is spent, when all negotiation is done — in other words, when we are broke.

This side of all that, it always comes down  to a personal choice. She nutshells it in a collection of essays titled ‘Bon Courage.’ The essay concerned was called ‘Many rights, few responsibilities.’

‘As a Sri Lankan, I grew up understanding that what is given freely must still be earned. A free education must be earned by upholding respect for education and rigorous intellectual pursuits. Free health care must still be earned by the purchase and consumption and, if possible, the cultivation of native vegetables, fruits and herbs. The freely given affections of parents and grandparents and extended family must be earned by a willingness to tend to the elderly, a consideration for the dying, and the transmission of those values to a younger generation.’

Education is not free. Health is not free. The people of this country pay for these things, directly or indirectly. Ask students in any university who pays for his or her education and the vast majority would mention parents, an older sibling or a close relative. Ask them thereafter, ‘who pays the person who cleans the washrooms, cuts the grass, fixes technical problems, teaches, counsels, maintains the gymnasium etc?’ There will be silence. Some might venture an answer.

The reluctance or ignorance can be put down to a flaw in the education system that simply does not inform students about resources, who provides them and in what ways. That’s not part of civic education, sadly, but that’s not something that parents cannot teach their children.

Politicians are frequently and not unjustly berated for wasting public funds. They are irresponsible and that’s a generous word to use on them. It begs the question, ‘am I responsible?’

Responsibility and being responsible are not dead in our country. There are those who do honest work, those who go beyond the call of duty, those who do what they can to cure the country’s ills to the extent of this ability, those who note the warts but are not blinded by blemish to see the incredible beauty of this land, those whose minds and hearts are not warped by wrongs suffered whether real or perceived, those whose success, wealth and power have not translated into arrogance and condescension and those who resist everything that says ‘don’t smile, just frown.’

Such people are not weighed down by ‘rights.’ They make everyone fly on the wings of responsibility. This, I feel, is why we as a nation though downed again and again just cannot be counted out.   

['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: 

Home worlds

Ownership and tenuriality of the Wissahickon

Did you notice the 'tiny, tiny wayside flowers'?

Gifts, gifting and their rubbishing

History is new(s)

Journalism inadvertently learned

Reflections on the young poetic heart

Wordaholic, trynasty and other portmanteaus

The 'Loku Aiya' of all 'Paththara Mallis'

Subverting the indecency of the mind

Character theft and the perennial question 'who am I?'


A degree in people

Faces dripping with time

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

Revolutionary unburdening

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Alex Carey and the (small) matter of legacy

The Edelweiss of Mirissa 

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga 

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down) 

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred 

Manufacturing passivity and obedience 

Precept and practice 

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited 

In praise of courage, determination and insanity 

The relative values of life and death 

Feet that walk 

Sarinda's eyes 

Poetry and poets will not be buried 

Sunny Dayananda 

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990) 

What makes Oxygen breathable?  

Sorrowing and delighting the world 

The greatest fallacy  

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi 

Beyond praise and blame 

Letters that cut and heal the heart 

Vanished and vanishing trails 


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya 

The soft rain of neighbourliness  

The Gold Medals of being 

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri 

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 


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
The allegory of the slow road