By Kusal Perera –
Getting bashed as a “Traitor” is just normal for me, here in the South. Getting verbally mauled by Sinhala Buddhists is also common place for me. A comment to a recent article written by me, read, “Kusal is a shrewd observer of the Sinhala scene…..” The word “shrewd” could mean anything but complimentary. Another said, I would only feel happy with a “Catholic” leader. “Catholic”, not meant in any respectable context. Interestingly, all comments to my article were read, while on my return from the annual Madu festival that concluded, Wednesday 15 August.
In Madu, seated in the VIP tent next to the much venerated church of Maradamadu “Maeniyo” (‘Virgin Mary’ in traditional Vanni perception) by accident, I looked around to see if there were other Sinhala Buddhists too, apart from me that would not make my presence there look too much of an accident, but just normal. Fortunately in the row before me was a very special and a small entourage of “Southern patriots”, with due approval from the Rajapaksa family itself. They were taken care of by a few special security men in civvies and none would therefore call them names, I would be honored with. ‘Obvious’, I thought. Within the Rajapaksa clan, there can not be “a traitor and a stooge of Catholic Action” like me, though we sat under the same VIP roof, for the same Madu church festival.
And we all sat through the 400 year old Madu Church festival, that interacted with the people of this soil from coast to coast, in their own languages. Tamil and Sinhala. People from many corners of the land, converging in their thousands to Madu the previous few days, to pitch tents in convenient places. Whole families, with infants and feeble old grand parents huddled in small tents in every open space available. In fading evening light, the look of it immediately brought me dull and drooping memories of the early months in Chettikulum, Menik farm, a few kms away. The feel of it was humanly different though and warm, under the emerging half moon, over canopies of huge, wild trees.
They were queuing for water, for public toilets in a hurry, getting ready for the late evening service to make their confessions thereafter. The elderly were chatting in the slow moving queues with a feeling of unrestricted freedom, the young giggling with their own stories. A liberated feeling of a sort, for all. A grand milieu of Tamil and Sinhala languages, wafting in the same dry, dusty Mannar air, given no special drift.
Hired buses parked close to the Madu precincts, indicated they came from places as far as Batticaloa, Jaffna, Badulla, Galle, Maggona, spread across most provinces. A larger turn out was from the coastal belt that stretched from Wattala to Chilaw. Different sizes and shapes of lorries and vans, old and brand new cars, two wheeled tractors with trailers, defined the cosmopolitan nature of the people, gathered around the Madu church. Madu had put them together in a humanly spiritual bond, erasing the differences to a bare minimum.
My politically warped mind was searching for “categories” that could make me see this whole live phenomenon in political terms. “Classless”, “Pluralistic”, “Inclusive”, “Peace”, or, “Reconciliation” ? Or, all of it ? I settled on the term, “COUNTER CULTURE” !
Yes ! It was a “counter culture” to the culture of divisions, differences and disintegrations in present day Sri Lanka. It was a “counter culture” that kept humans as humans to treat other humans as humans and to share what’s available as humans, amongst humans. The final and the main service the next morning, while we sat, stood and watched the devout kneel in pious obedience, crowned this “counter culture” in absolute terms.
Bishop of Mannar, Dr. Rayappu Joseph heading the service was assisted by many who added much to the day’s service in both Tamil and Sinhala, in perfect harmony. The list of names of Bishops in attendance, spanned from Trincomalee to Kurunegala, to Kandy to Galle and the Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo, least reminding the flock there is a Cardinal heading the Catholic church today, in Sri Lanka. Thousands around us came together in their own vernacular, singing and praying together.
After Bishop of Mannar, Dr. Rayappu Joseph’s sermon in Tamil that I understood not, Bishop of Galle, Dr. Raymond Kingsley Wickramasinghe in his perfectly articulated, creatively crafted sermon in Sinhala, nailed the politicians on a cross, for all that had not been achieved in this post war Sri Lanka.
His, was a rarely heard plea from the South. Its not that we in the South did not see you being left in difficulty, he explained. Its not that we did not feel for you, he said. ” Yet IF” he said, “you in the land of the troubled, feel, we from South Sri Lanka (‘Dakunu Laka’, as he said) were not there to share your grief, we were not there to be part of the pain you suffered, were not there to share your life, once again trying to stand up, I beg, you pardon us.” For we have not been with them enough, as sons and daughters of God, he said. “Today” he said, “with all the construction that spreads across the country as development from North to South, the agony of people can not be wiped away, what would all this mean to them ?” he asked. Leaders in society, political and religious leader are there to lead the people for their good life in society and those who can not, will not be accepted in the Kingdom of God, he said.
I looked around to see what expressions there were in people, who stood with their palms clasped, in silence. Most may have taken time to feel through his hour long sermon. Some would have repented having had to hear, what they did not do as sons or daughters of God. I left with a silent rhapsody, rarely felt in this Sinhala South. “Thank you, Bishop Wickramasinghe” I told myself……in silence. “Thank you to you too, Bishop Rayappu Joseph”, for giving space for a “counter culture” that allows inclusivity and different perceptions.