By Madawala Hemananda –
It is not an exaggeration that Sri-Lanka is reputed throughout the world, to be the repository of the earliest Buddhist scriptures and where the majority are practising Buddhists. Buddhism as far as I am aware, is the only religion, where there are no commandments and rules to obey and not even a dress-code, unless one is an ordained Buddhist Monk. The Buddha invited people to ‘come and see’ his philosophy, which was based on freedom of the individual, honesty and openness, as there was nothing to hide. Although openness, both in enquiry and investigation is a key feature of Buddhism, it appears that Srilankans have totally abandoned this noble tradition and are hiding themselves behind high front boundary walls and solid gates. One wonders whether they are hiding from an enemy or from their own neighbours, friends and relatives. Why are we continuing to behave like this, now that the civil war, which was often quoted as the lame excuse, is now well and truly over?
Even houses built in the remote parts of the Island, where everyone knows everyone else, owners have adopted the practice of hiding themselves, behind high front boundary walls. There are no visible signs of this practice easing or disappearing and in fact the opposite is happening, with high walls around houses becoming the norm, rather than the exception, as even before laying the foundation for a new house, a high wall is built, as if required by law. These front boundary walls while costing large sums of money, allow only roofs of these houses to be seen and to get access to them would be difficult, if not for the popularity of mobile phones, with which, one could alert the occupier having arrived in front of the house, so that the heavily fortified and opaque gate could be opened, often using brute force. Is this practice of hiding behind walls, not highly unbecoming of a great Buddhist nation that extols the virtues of a rich Buddhist cultural heritage?
In England it was back in 1947 that the Town and Country Planning Act made it illegal to build a boundary wall of a house fronting a highway, in excess of 3 feet in height (now 1 metre) and it is still the law, in this predominantly Christian country. If, as of necessity, e.g. a Nursing Home, a wall of special height were required it will only be allowed subject to planning permission. The overriding considerations for this legislation restricting the freedom of the individual, to build high walls in front of houses were, aesthetics, pleasurable built environment and opportunity for the public to enjoy and admire wonderful creations of brilliant Architects. How on earth can we enjoy an Architect’s beautiful creation when desirable residences in Sri-Lanka are kept covered and hidden behind a huge front walls and solid gates?
Restricted heights of front boundary walls have encouraged residents to develop their own arrangements to create safer neighbourhoods and schemes such as ‘neighbourhood watch’ are very popular in London, where neighbours look after each others’ properties and if need be by ringing the Police if they happen to see anything unusual in a neighbour’s property.
Travelling on ‘expressways’ we can now see this beautiful Island of Sri-Lanka in all its glory and outstanding natural beauty. But in this lush green resplendent land what we now see in its urban environment are walls and yet more walls, some of which, due to lack of care and maintenance, stand discoloured by large scale build up of mildew, moss and liberal coatings of slime, which have turned white walls, black. This means that instead of looking at greenery, pleasing to the eye, we are looking at slime coated black walls which by anyone’s standards are really disgusting and revolting. Why do we have to turn this wonderful Island into land of black and unsightly walls?
There is one other menacing development of recent origin, which makes me really sad and at times angry, seeing the way foreigners, who have chosen to live in Sri-Lanka, treating the citizens of their adopted country and their neighbours with contempt. Every residence occupied by a foreigner that I have seen was completely surrounded by very high walls and solid gates. They are literally fortresses on the one hand and virtual prisons on the other. No one knows what is going on inside them, what the occupants are up to, with hardly any contact with neighbours. Why are we allowing foreigners to behave in this manner? If they have come to live in our country they must abide by the cherished culture and traditions of the country, which I assume should be that they must not hide themselves behind high walls and solid gates.
Perhaps it may be that we have learnt to imitate the foreigners and happy to live in virtual prisons ourselves rather than encouraging foreigners to adopt our ways of living. Most of the hotels in Sri-Lanka are also completely covered with tall boundary walls and they are no go areas for the people of the country. Is this the way we want our country to be, littered with little fortresses everywhere? We must find a solution to this wonton destruction of our environment and concerted action is now becoming increasingly urgent.
It is high time for an ambitious politician, a political party or even a religious leader to take this responsibility to rid the country of this growing menace. This could even be a manifesto commitment of a powerful political party. People are fed up with the contempt with which they are being treated not only by the foreigners but also by our own rich and the powerful hiding themselves behind huge walls and solid gates. Time is also ripe to bring new legislation to protect the outstanding natural beauty of the Island by prohibiting new developments which are detrimental to the scenic beauty in general and the built environment in particular.