Saturday, April 14, 2018

Reflections on Pre Avuduru of 2018


Listening to stories from Kandy, how buildings, homes, and livelihoods of innocent people were looted and set on fire by “mobs” was awful. Suddenly we were all reduced to the racial categories on the birth certificate as fear and uncertainty took over. There was CCTV camera footage of homes and alleyways with burning objects hurled at them and screenshots of horrific social media comments. Videos showed army tanks rolling down the streets in the city of the Temple of the Tooth. Then, there were stories of the dead, used as accusations and justifications for the civil unrest. Al Jazeera aired a news clip of an elderly man as he stood in front of the smouldering flames and debris of what used to be his shop; he told the reporter Sri Lanka was still a beautiful country.

I cried in disbelief with my agonised friend on the phone worried about her parents as I heard myself utter desperate, powerless words, “don’t worry, you have us.” At that moment, I felt the price we were paying for tolerating years of paranoid conspiracy theories and the perpetuation of ridiculously harmful and outright racist words. These phrases and racist ideologies, left politely unchallenged, now surfaced in the form of mobs. Every instance of my silence, I felt, had been fodder to these racial flames. It seemed that most of Colombo remained oblivious.

Why do we need to take responsibility? After all, the mobs are not you and I. The mobs are the crazies, the thugs, uneducated, opportunistic looters, racist BBS loving scum who don’t know any better. No one we know took to the streets or threw stones or torched homes. No one we know actually promotes violence; after all, most people would spend a considerable amount of time trying to save the life of a drowning insect. But, that is the beauty of it — we do not have to advocate for violence, our silence is enough. Hannah Arendt[1] spoke of the banality of evil; of seemingly good people allowed horrible events to unfold.

The ridiculous conspiracy theories I had heard before, laughed off and thought mere ignorant hypocrisy, allows the mindset of hateful groups in various guises to thrive with impunity, such as the Bodu Bala Sena, Sinha Le campaign, and online hate speech on social media, including those reoccurring conspiracies; snowballing in to instant cocktails of flammable racial hatred and prejudice.

What we fail to recognize are the patterns and the cycles that lie below the surface. These cycles no longer allow us the luxury of finding scapegoats so we can simply point fingers at successive governments, fault only the incompetent politicians or western plots to destabilize our country while ignoring our own silence. I can no longer ignore my complicity in contributing to these larger, systemic, intangible issues that all generations are inadvertently born in to. For example, think of normalized, derogatory speech patterns that refer to minorities as “Thambi” or “Demala” or our need to clarify a person’s religion or race, especially when referring to the owner of a restaurant or business. Where do these stereotypes come from and why do we need to clarify when the person we are referring to is not a Sinhala Buddhist?

We desperately need to ask ourselves what we, as individual people, can do to change this harmful speech patterns against minorities and challenge the narratives that perpetuate this Us vs. Them mentality?

The feel-good rhetoric of real Buddhists coming to the rescue of our Muslim brethren, as we have hoped they did in the past, during the darker periods of the 70’s and 80’s is insufficient to heal these fresh wounds. These narratives cannot by themselves stop the next wave of mob attacks, and make no mistake, they will keep happening. We must warn ourselves of falling prey to the naïve hope that sanity will somehow, magically, prevail if we do nothing. While we perpetuate this feel-good myth of the majority good vs. faceless mobs, we fail to notice that a portion of our citizenry, those identified as racial minorities, are forced back into their day-to-day lives, as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. They must continue to live silently in eternal fear of these sudden mob attacks. That is no way to live, and we must not demand their silence nor should we allow our neighbors and friends to live in fear.

We have to form an inclusive Sri Lankan identity and form a multicultural patriotism that can absorb all of our people removed from any religious affiliations.  These religious texts were written thousands of years ago and they cannot dictate morality to a multi-ethnic nation in the 21st century consisting of multi-religious groups. We must teach our children to consider faith a personal and private matter and continue to celebrate each other's diversity. Until we can eradicate one group’s entitlement mentality of the nation over another, we cannot progress beyond tribalism and petty judgment. Each of us can no longer sustainably live with an imagined superiority over other groups. After all, the rights of citizenship allow all of us the same freedoms to identify as patriotic Sri Lankans.

All of us collectively share different experiences of a three-decade-old war. The dark shadows of whispers of a bygone era of people burning in tires on the streets have always loomed over us. A particularly gruesome image is the fact that mobs forced people to recite Buddhist chants to identify the non-Singhalese. To even question what conditions resulted in creating a violent separatist guerrilla group in Sri Lanka is considered unpatriotic. Why did we not learn this history in our textbooks? If we are ashamed of our past, then let us also be anxious and terrified of a future that fails to acknowledge these reoccurring events.

Mostly, our response has been to scramble to the defense of all religions. Interpretation of faith, after all, is dangerously subjective. We only need to look back at the past few thousand years to see the consequences of religious violence upon the “non-believers.” Until we can remove our national identity from a religious identity, this silent war, like an active volcano will rage on for generations to come. The Beruwala and Aluthgama unrest in 2017, and Ampara and Teldeniya attacks in 2018 are merely the tip of an ugly iceberg fuelled by opportunistic politicians, economically disadvantaged and underprivileged people on all sides. These gaps in education are happily filled by religious dogma and archaic notions of morality dictated in revered holy textbooks.

I keep going back to Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil. I have been told, that to compare the rhetoric of Islamaphobia against the rhetoric of the Jews is an extreme analogy. I believe it is only extreme when we consider the resulting deaths of millions of people. We have learned nothing from these horrific historical events if we fail to see patterns used to dehumanize groups of people long before events such as what we now call the holocaust occurred. These conditions have, time and time again, created opportunities for governments to manipulate its citizens; mistrust and hatred of groups still exist in places where refugees flee in many parts of the world today. We must not forget Sri Lanka produced many refugees in the past few decades and it must never happen again.

Let us all take a deep breath and listen to the realities of people who have had different experiences. We must reserve our judgment and listen to their stories, listen to what it feels like to huddle inside your own home, fearing violent mobs. Listen to understand, not to speak. Remember, every conversation does not require a response. No matter how much we wish for it, no deity or politician will be able to save us unless we stand up to protect our neighbors and save ourselves.






[1] Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York, N.Y., U.S.A: Penguin Books, 1994. Print.

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Moment at Ipsut Creek




The stones and rocks on this dead riverbed are all white, grey, and reddish toned. They all have the same rounded soft edges formed over years of water flow. The relatively smaller river that is before me is joined by other branches of random streams; the water itself is a turquoise blue tinged grayish color. It is chilly, probably a little below 50F.

The water gushes down, drowning out everything else around; a steady chugging, an endless gushing,
as millions of tiny water particles merrily trip and fall over thousands of rocks underneat; dancing along the way. I imagine this water must be melting glaciers from Mount Rainier. P and I just cooked our freeze-dried chicken fried rice sachet, washed down with some red wine, sitting right here.

Right in front of me, I look up to see the colours of the sun setting behind a giant mountain. I suppose we are in the valley, we did hike down an elevation of 2700 feet today. Our camping site is right here, on the banks of this river, which happens to be an enchanted forest. I can see why the trail is called Wonderland Trail. We are at Ipsut Camp. This water stream is a mere 1/10th of its original size, leaving the river bed rocks and a slightly dampish sand that is a dark maroonish purple-tinged brown.

I sit here and watch the magical dance of the sunset fall on the rocks and trees, right above me. It is at first, a strip of the golden glow of rays falling along the mountain. It continues to stretch in length as it also slowly disappears as the shadows move in sync with the setting sun. Then the glow turns into a hazy yellow and dulls. For the last few minutes, the sky and everything the light touches retains a glorious purple above the clouds. The gushing water, unaware of this glory, glows a bright whitish grey, as it continues hurriedly along its path to who knows where, some unknown creek, forming waterfalls and feeding the earth and river banks until it eventually meets whatever destined sea.

The purple peachy glow has now resided. A light, blue greyish hue takes over the sky. The valley is still bright, highlighting the last few seconds of light as it fights to keep the day alive for a split second longer.

I send my sister silent birthday wishes for the 23rd of September, hoping this 30th birthday of hers is as magical as this moment. I feel at peace, at a comfortable equilibrium with the universe. In this moment, work, politics, money, none of it matters, all insignificant. All so trivial.

The river is now a cement-like bright dull blue white and the foam of each little wave of current forms for a second and disappears in a flash.

This is life. Is this also not death? It all seems so intertwined. We are here for a moment as the clouds turn a dark shade of grey and the shadows of the pine trees form, ever ready for the night.

The many fallen white tree trunks rest on the empty river bed, decaying slowly, yet, retaining its former glory.

I am humbled to be a tiny speck in the universe. I want to sit here quietly, as my heart rejoices and gives thanks. Everyone before me, and after me, silently shares this space as every silent atom in my body breathes this fresh air, hears this rush of melting glaciers.

I am here, and you travel with me, wherever you are.



Tuesday, September 6, 2016

On the Darkside

The feeling of numbness that echoes through each bone of our bodies. A low rumble of a shudder, a cry, a piercing of the heart in a loop of despair.
Suffering.
Questions, hopes, and fears played over and over in the brain. An unbearable longing for a loved one that brings you to your knees.
Musings on loss, of the mundane everyday afterwards. Of the absolute nothingness and horror of sudden goodbyes that are filled with words unsaid.
Hugs ungiven, and memories not quite cherished until you realize they were all.
Silent tears threatening to spill at random moments of the day. 
Trickling down on to an already damp pillow... 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tricks & Treat

Trick = One day, we disappear.
People everywhere. Loved ones, family and friends, acquaintances, neighbours, strangers.
Treat = Happiness. Love. Contentment. 
Laughter, community, traditions and simple rituals. Insider jokes, memories. Secrets.
The treat, easily becoming a simple trick. Might as well be a dream, lost in the yesteryears at the cornerstones of our brains.
And life continues the trick or treating of one another.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Scrambled Eggs on Toast

Some butter on a warm slice of toast, mixed with a generous slap of marmite. 
Perfect start to a lazy weekend, more than anyone can ask for. 
Scrambled eggs, on wheat bread. 
Dreams of future tomorrows, baking extravagant goodies, pastries, bread and cake. I can almost smell it. 
A quick mental break from the darkness, behind the thin veil of reality.
At the back of my mind, always, we are reminded that death is lurking. A stark reminder of everything we hold true in this world to be so fragile.
A beautiful lie.
So, I make the most out of my scrambled eggs on toast with marmite, a comfortable familiarity of the every day before me and yesteryears, preparing for the inevitable tomorrows.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sermon Of The Crows

The soothing cacophony of crows can be a rare insight in to something deep. I'm not sure exactly what that is right this moment. But I know it is.
I find the thought to be soothing.
Crows conjure up memories of garbage cans and left over food. It also reminds me of YouTube videos on the "Secret life of crows." Google it. You'll see.
Crows share food. They call upon each other when they spot anything to eat. They also pass down memory and secrets to their offspring. So, generations of crows can learn from their elders. Knowledge for posterity. Very human like.
Misunderstood creatures of darkness, these peculiar creatures, they have so much character.

Most humans misunderstand, our nature is to fear all things black. Crows. Cats. Darkness. It's a pity, because I am in awe of these wild feathery, shiny beaded creatures that are so adaptable to their environmental conditions. Such clever beings.
Next time, listen to their sermons. Who knows what you'll learn. 
Don't be wary of crows, because they are signs of life.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Eyelash

At times, it hurts.
As tears pour down your cheek
Stubbornly irritating the eye
scratching the eyeball an angry red

Sometimes, it is a wish
Gently laid on a wrist
Blown away
with whispers of hope

At times, it is beauty.
Loning for shiny black curls
At times, peace and calm
As you pray to the universe

At times, signs of aging.
Turning grey, then silvery
As the years become numbered
And they have been a witness

They are the glue.
Holding the eyes tightly shut
The eternal rest
When they close one last time

A million memories turn to dust
Having softened the tears
Over the years
As they fell