By Vishwamithra –
“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” ~ Aristotle
The rain stopped a little while ago. The rumbling of thunder was eerie and the surroundings were lit up for a nano-second by occasional lightening in the far away land. Darkening of the skies is telling another story; a forlorn moon is guiding the villagers, sauntering back to their shanty-dwellings. The dry zone is flat and looks barren to the naked eye. The sun that burnt the bare-bodied men and shabbily dressed women is no longer troubling the hapless collection of humans whose entertainment has been constrained by cruelest lifestyles. The sun is finally dipping below an unseen horizon, beneath the hillock that adds to a solitary uniqueness of this parched, flush land.
Nishantha with his two kids, one he was carrying on his shoulders and the other holding the hand of the mother, his wife, was already showing signs of fatigue. No three-wheelers were available for their nightly ride; they too seemed to have retired for the night under the gloomy canopy of hidden clouds. His wife, Shanthi, was alive with what she heard at the political rally organized at the Kada Panaha (fifty boutiques) borough by the National People’s Power (NPP). Anuradhapura, the first capitol city and the major metropolis of ancient Ceylon was reverberating with the oratorical roar of Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the NPP leader, and the pouring rains were an apt epilogue to that magnificent oration. The echo of the arguments and electricity of delivery is irresistible for an ordinary mind to cast-off without thinking more deeply.
The corruption of the Rajapaksas, invalidity of president Wickremesinghe and lethargy and irrelevance of Sajith Premadasa were spelt out lucidly by all speakers at the meeting. Nishantha and his family were never attracted to politics. But the circumstances have changed for Nishantha and his family as they did for the rest of the country. Taking things lying down is no more an option. It was time at least for rudimentary yet meaningful action.
Nishantha has a more-than-decent job. As manager of a call center cum internet café, he has put his IT education into employable use. His pay is somewhat dependent on the monthly business turn-out. His wife, being a trained graduate teacher in the adjoining township that has come about thanks to the Mahaweli-related township development scheme, also has never engaged in politics. For her the world revolved around her family, her husband and the two children for whose education both parents were ready and willing to sacrifice whatever that was necessary to be sacrificed. And they would happily do that parental deed, without question and without a second’s hesitation.
Nishantha knows the value of education. His parents hailed from a decent background; a typical reflection of the rural life in Sri Lanka, the middleclass upbringing that both Nishantha and Shanthi received paid its dividends in the long run. Ambitious but within reasonably reachable limits, Nishantha and Shanthi endeavored to bring up their two children in the traditional and normal way. Their walk is short; situated about three miles from the Anuradhapura city, in the middle of an interior hamlet they had built their house. In comparative terms, the villages called it the Maaligawa (palace). The white lotuses have already bloomed in the middle of the lake they were passing by. The very sight of the white blossoms bring enthralling memories to Nishantha. When both Nishantha and Shanthi were in the University they used to come to the edge of the waters of this lake; seated together and enwrapped in each other’s arms, Nishantha hummed the mesmerizing songs of Amaradeva and Sunil Shantha, appealing to Shanthi and draping her in an enchanting trance. Such subliminal togetherness, both Nishantha and Shanthi agreed, is divine and beyond the profound lyrics of Mahagama Sekara and Madawala Ratnayake. The emotions of fear and pain gave way as Leonard Wolfe wrote, to desire and joy. But that was then, about a dozen years ago.
Nishantha’s quiet trudge was disturbed by a flock of bats flying away from a branch of a Maara tree sited by the gravel road. Nishantha’s disturbed mind came back to the present. The television pundits say that the economy of the country is about to get much worse before showing any signs of becoming better. Those politicians who are alleged to have committed unforgivable financial crimes, those who allegedly ransacked the country’s national coffers are still in place; they continue to plunder and bleed the current generation to death. The Change that every man, woman and child clamored for and expected to arrive yesterday seems to be receding into oblivion once again, as they did during the last seventy five years.
Chanakya or more widely known as Kautilya, the ancient sage who advised Emperor Chandragupta (Emperor Ashok’s grandfather) said that “Never settle for anything less than what you deserve. It’s not pride, it’s self-respect.” Nishantha, being a voracious reader, has read most of the books written about Chanakya. Chanakya known to the western world as ‘Indian Machiavelli’, wrote Arthashastra, the first book in history on social science and economic administration; his wisdom, application of wisdom and authoring of one of the greatest books in human history is still echoing in the present world; it’s like a judicious wind that claims its victims and beneficiaries alike. One who does not bother to learn from his unmatched wisdom might as well not be born.
Sri Lanka cannot brag about such gems of wisdom and erudition, especially as ones close to the throne; none in ancient Ceylon and none now. That is our national tragedy. But we cannot rot in that self-pity. As a nation throttled by unparalleled economic crisis and wasting away from a cancerous sociopolitical malady, we still need to rise up as one people and one country. Nishantha’s determination was bordering on, not hesitancy, but his immediate family. His wife Shanthi and the two kids were his world. Nishantha looked at the current crisis as another challenge that he overcame throughout his life. Yet it dawned upon him that a great majority of his country faced the same challenge.
Not the super-rich classes who spent in one day more than he could earn in one month. Such painful realities are thrashing him on all exposed parts of his body and mind. He learnt from his teacher-wife that some of her pupils have already got addicted to a drug that has been introduced as another ‘high’ in the ‘cartel’s’ language. Drug addiction is claiming lives every day. Those who become addicted are the ones whose parents can afford to give their kids more pocket-money than most. Nishantha is reminded of another quotation of Chanakya: “As a single withered tree, if set aflame, causes a whole forest to burn, so does a rascal son destroy a whole family.” Nishantha’s focus has to be on his children and wife. But the call at the time is, he pondered, nobler and more immediate. He has to tell his neighbors, friends and relatives.
Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the NPP have not been tested in power yet. AKD’s oratorical skills have captivated the country, the young as well as the old. Every other politician has been tested and all of them have failed wretchedly. As a result, a miserable people have been searching for a ‘real’ alternative, an alternative that has the aroma of the new and stability of the old.
Fragrance of a fresh flower may not last the whole day, yet once the whispering wind spreads it across a boring and lifeless landscape, new shoots of new plants may emerge. That wholly new phenomenon should be the other whisper today. When that whisper gathers many a willing voice, it shall become a whole new roar, a roar that captures the entire nation by surprise and thunder. Political organization and its modern machinations will oil the cogs and wheels and when the turning of the whole machine begins, those whose ambitions are purely limited to self-enrichment and corrupting the community that surrounds them shall be uprooted, making the ground more conducive to new plants and new seeds.
Nishantha’s dream is such an optimistic one. Just because Nishantha has the ability to dream like an adolescent who was dreaming before he took Shanthi’s hand in love, compassion and kindness cannot be ignored anymore.
Nishantha heard the other day at his workplace that chances of a NPP-victory are slim to none; only a political miracle would pave the way for such an incredible occurrence. Nishantha decided to keep dreaming and put all his efforts to make that dream a reality.
Even on this eventful evening, while treading the gravel road leading to his home, Nishantha did not stop to think about the various options he had. The moving silhouettes of his villagers gave him strength; the chirping crickets and a distant peacock added to the orchestra that provided the milieu; enveloped in the twilight of the evening, yet ambitious to wake up the next day with fresh ideas and newer ideals, Nishantha decided to brief his wife of his intentions. If men like him cannot render leadership to apathetic and helpless fellow inhabitants, his life is not worthy of living.
75 years is a long time. 75 years of suffering, tears, sweat and blood must be put to an end. The only way open is a System Change that could be achieved through the ballot at the polling booth.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org