By Minal Wickrematunge –
I’ve begun reflecting on the last decade of my life. Maybe it’s because the crux of it all is closing in on me slowly and surely. To speak of my life in the past decade, is to compare it to the what came before it. The sheltered bubble I grew up in, I assumed at the time (quite incorrectly) as an absolute safe space. My childhood days were carefree, albeit because I was unaware of the threat my whole family existed in. My mother and father did everything possible to keep us at ease. We were never let out of the house without a chauffeur, something I’ve come to realize was not because of any false heirs and graces but again, added security to scat if ever necessary. However looking back on these days I realize the intense pressure my father must have existed in, and in hindsight I do not think we ever thanked him for keeping us safe.
The crux of my life, was when that metaphorical bubble burst. I was in college in Singapore and I still remember falling to the floor when I heard about my uncle being shot. I never thought it would come to this, but this moment became something I would return to over and over again. This moment is when my whole life was completely toppled over and everything I’d previously taken for granted slowly started falling apart. I’m still angry at myself for not asserting my need to come back to see my uncle off. I was told to stay back in Singapore, as it had now spiraled into a circus back at home. The thing is, I strongly believe I would have been able to reach closure (if ever) faster if I was back at home with the rest of my family. Instead I stayed back in Singapore, trying to fend for myself with a few dear friends virtually dragging me out of a deep depression.
It took so much courage to step into my first job interview, not knowing where my life was headed. For the longest time my father had his eye on me to help him out with managing the newspaper with my sister being trained by baapi to become a journalist just like him. I was so sure that I could not return back to the office I had spent so many summer internships in. I could not face the bloodied suit my baapi had worn, now framed and hung outside my fathers office. I could not face that pain and the overwhelming amount of grief plastered all over my families faces. So instead I sent in my CV to John Keells where I got my first job as a travel executive. These days were filled with denial. I figured the further I could run from the problems the easier life would get. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how everyone else in my family decided to handle things as well. You see when you grow up in a family of journalists, I believe we become a bit desensitized to horrific stories. It’s so commonplace that it is often looked at from a routine point of view. However this one hit home and really turned our lives into a living nightmare.
Death takes its toll on a family unit. My family for one unfortunately could not remain a close knit unit,as we all retreated to our own bubbles, estranged from each other and barely communicating with one another. Maybe it was too painful to be together as it was a daily reminder of what had happened. I for one was an emotional wreck. I was so angry at everyone, including myself and it took years to get over this. Something I still have to work on if pushed. I have encountered so many instances that trigger these emotions. There have been countless times I have been within close vicinity to my uncles assassins, or at least those that made the commands. Sometimes it’s simply encountering someone who is related to these assassins that trigger so many convoluted emotions. I only wish they could see the amount of pain they’ve caused.
I am fully aware that we are some of the lucky few. Who have been granted at least a semblance of information on what transpired and who did it. However I am under no delusion that something will come of it. I’m fully aware that a journalist is a mere pawn for any politician. About how these various ‘break throughs’ with his case always conveniently coincide with a looming election date. Of the games being played and the grapple of power within the top to the spineless so called ‘friends’ of baapis. I have encountered them all, and to me they are all but the same – opportunists. I am equally aware that baapi was no saint and I don’t totally agree with all the tactics he might have used for his stories, but I realise that he was talented at what he did and he did have his ardent fans, some who still talk about his editorials even today.
Among the many lessons I’ve learnt over the past decade, its that I’m am much stronger than I give myself credit for. That emotion is not a sign of weakness and that no matter what, my family has my back. Many things have changed since the end of the war. One thing my father constantly tells me is the shift in priorities here in Sri Lanka. Gone are the days that respect was earned by strength of character, instead we worship anyone with money. Money trumps all else and this is something I want no part of. My uncle taught me so many lessons both during his life and following his murder, but the most important one is the importance of independent thought. I do not subscribe to ideas and notions simply because my family does. No, instead I will land at my own opinion based on the facts I am presented. I will question everything, there is no such thing as the wrong question.
I am always asked why I decided not to follow in the foot steps of my family, like my sister who is a journalist today. Let me tell you that I admire her for being able to exist in this profession. It takes a lot of guts, especially with the last name she carries and the many obstacles and expectations she’s had to face in order to prove herself. Some would consider me a cop-out. Scared into pursuing a career in design instead of what my family is known for. However its with the very same lesson Bāppi taught me – independent thought, that has me pursuing my career in design. Not because I am running away, but because I’m claiming my passion, undeterred by the past. Its with the very same fighting spirit I wake up every morning and begin my hustle in an ever changing world. Its the same lesson that thought me I am not giving up, but running after my dreams and I suppose the only thing left after ten years since Baapi’s death, is to let go of my grief. I cannot be weighed down by it any longer. Instead I will rise!