11 August, 2020

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Atta Hi Attano Nato!

By Malinda Seneviratne –

Malinda Seneviratne

Satyajit Ray in his film ‘Ghare Baire’ (Home and the World) based on the novel by Rabindranath Tagore, offers a comment not just on women’s lives and roles but a thoughtful observation on nationalism.  Set in early 20th century India, the story is framed by the movement to boycott foreign goods, a position articulated by the ‘radical’ nationalist Sandip.  The Bengali boble, Nikhil, who is not given to noise-making and chest-beating patriotism offers the view that boycotting is not enough, there has to be local production too.

In a world where nations depend on one another, there are some who can dictate terms and some who have to submit.  It’s all based on interdependencies and dependencies underlined by relative economic strength and to a lesser degree the dignity of peoples and political strength of relevant governments.  Flag-waving, anthem-singing and chest-beating nationalism without on-the-ground activity that can insulate a nation and a people from dictates originating outside the country and moreover made to further interests of others.

There is no point in burning the US flag, for instance, if we are all ‘Americans (of the USA)’ in spirit, culture, outlook and philosophy of being’.  It’s odd to salute ‘Americanism’ by way of living ‘Americanism’ while decrying the USA for its many crimes against humanity and machinations against Sri Lanka.  That ‘Americanism’, let us not forget, can be (and is to a large extent) embedded in economic policy which affirms and further entrenches dependency.  Patricia Butenis has gone on record, for example, observing that for all the China-friendly rhetoric we hear Sri Lanka’s exports are essentially tied to European and North American markets.

It is in this context that efforts such as entrepreneur Ariyaseela Wickramanayake’s foray into the dairy industry make a point and show a way out of what appears to be endemic dependency.  Sri Lanka spends Rs 43,000 million every year on importing milk products.  Wickramanayake believes that Sri Lanka has the capacity to save this entire amount and boost per capita income to US $ 5000. Australia and New Zealand have banned milk imports while India levies a stupendous 167% import tax, all to protect the respective local industry.

One of the biggest myths around is equating ‘foreign’ with ‘good’ and ‘local’ with ‘inferior’.  What is ‘good’ about most things foreign is packaging and advertising. Not so much ‘good’, actually, as ‘effective’.   There’s a lot in the small print and a lot that doesn’t even come in small print.  As Ranjith Page of Cargills once said, most ice creams in the market are made of powdered milk which is not necessarily made of ‘fresh milk’ and therefore are referred to as ‘frozen deserts’ and not ‘ice cream’ in other countries.  Stories about contamination and ingredients don’t make the news or are played down or obliterated by aggressive ad campaigns.

Now it would be folly indeed to claim that we can become some kind of idyllic, self-sustaining and self-sufficient island paradise.  Our ancestors were not averse to international trade.  What is important is to be intelligent about policy and smart about what we take and what we say ‘no’ to.  The war against terrorism was not exactly won without any help from outsiders.  What is important to understand, however, is that the design and execution of strategy was home-grown.  The same principle can be applied to other areas of activity, especially the economic sphere.

We are not in a position to demand, but neither should we assume that we will never get out of this dependency rut.  Getting out of the rut requires vision, energy, determination, courage and a strong sense of national dignity.  We cannot turn things around overnight, but we can take little steps on all fronts that expand the range of options.

‘Api wenuwen api’ was and is an excellent slogan but one that need not be limited to the welfare of those who rid the country of the terrorist menace.  Our enemies are many and are multi coloured as well as ready to operate on multiple fronts. It is good to identify and condemn them, but that’s doing the ‘necessary’ but not the ‘sufficient’.  ‘Sufficient’ includes the kind of thinking and operationalizing of thought in the way Wickramanayake has done.  If the government helps with policy it is certainly a boost, but it is up to the individual or collective to do what is necessary even if state support by way of policy adjustment is lacking.

In this, the words of the Buddha offer an excellent thinking frame: ‘atta hi attano nato. Kohi nato paro sia’ (one’s solace lies in oneself; what other master could there be?); what is true for the individual in struggles of emancipation is also applicable to the collective in struggles to win true independence. (courtesy the nation Editor’s blog)

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    the Otherwise commedable article falls in abysmal nationalism when the author writes
    “Our enemies are many and are multi coloured as well as ready to operate on multiple fronts. It is good to identify and condemn them, but that’s doing the ‘necessary’ but not the ‘sufficient’. ‘Sufficient’ includes the kind of thinking and operationalizing of thought in the way Wickramanayake has done.”

    same ontological insecurity imagined -manufactured- and well distributed thorough the history. From the page of Mahāvaṃsa to the gates of Mahāmulana Walawva. We will chain ourselves to the past, without any future with this continued historicization.

    Not fear, but a vision for the future, based on political realities of present, will take us out of this depth

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