By Vishwamithra –
The landscape of the heavens is overcast tonight. The deep black canopy of a roof over a thirsty earth is threatening to overpower the gasping land below. For many moons ago, the villagers greeted a spotty rain with elaborate fanfare. The rural setting of the village was no strange spectacle for this kind of weather, now or at all times. Sited in the western province, bordering on a coastal town whose majority of families were sustained by a fishing industry for centuries, Baddegiriya (the rock in the jungle) is on the verge of receiving another bout of torrential downpour.
The stars seem to have receded behind the clouds, entered the enchanted precinct of deep slumber, taking a respite from the usual spectacle of dance and poetic movements such rural settings are used to witnessing. Surangani, a village damsel in her early twenties, is getting ready to help her mother prepare the evening meal for the family. It’s the weekend and she is back home from her campus where she is studying for her first degree in Political Science. Her father is the Principal in the village school from which she was the first ever to gain admission to the University of Ruhuna, located in the Deep South in the country. Her mother too is a school teacher but in a different school, about half hour’s bus ride from where they live.
Surangani and her family hail from a respectable family tree, so to speak. Being categorized as of a typical middle-class ancestry, their day-to-day needs are well provided for, firstly by the combined income of both parents’ monthly salaries and secondly buttressed by her father’s properties scattered in the village, some coconut and others rubber and pineapple. Surangani, even though could claim pride and superiority to the average village dwellers at the time, scarcely displayed any such arrogance or insensitivity. The values and traditions so imparted into her by her parents and the faith they followed with utmost fidelity for generations have shaped the character and defined the behavioral patterns of the family as a living example for generations yet unborn.
But such radiant traits are a rare commodity in today’s context of competitive market-dynamics where short-term ends and means are not only considered fundamental but also incredibly attractive to a gullible voter population whose hand-to-mouth existence is hardly something to brag about. Surangani’s family, over a major part of two decades, in fact since her birth, cannot remember her parents becoming involved in the unsavory pastime of politics. Albeit the fact that both her parents, being children of the ’56 Revolution with the emergence of the common man’s era, had never been foolish to indulge in narrow political extravagancies. Her parents have been insisting on her that politics would take the fragrance away from life’s sweet ups and downs. A dogged stoicism coupled with level-headed hard decision-making is the only answer to life’s problems as against resorting to shortsighted ‘solutions’. Emphasis so placed on hard decision-making instead of seeking unreachable solutions has etched an indelible impression on Surangani’s youthful mind.
Yet Surangani, every now and then, is prone to asthma, an ailment that has been perturbing her as well as her loving father and mother since she was a toddler. Whenever she gets affected by the illness, it’s certainly more than an occasional irritant; the entire household becomes somewhat like a hospital ward and since both the parents are still working, although in the evening of their careers, stay at home attending on Surangani, rendering the loving care any parent would render under the circumstances.
But with all her intelligence and talents to foresee an approach of a twisty situation, Surangani at times can be extremely gullible and naïve. Her social intercourse is restricted to a very limited array of relations and campus-friends. Steeped in tradition and parental guidance, she has no time for flirtations with boys of her age. But to her credit, her awareness of growing political trends and its undue influence on the daily lives of the average commoner is acute and sharp. But she is in conflict with these developing socio-economic dynamics and her efforts to reconcile herself with the palpable contradictions and glaringly unjust interventions by politicians, she has concluded, have borne no fruit.
Being well versed in the modern day thoughts on politics and keen on developing her own theories and hypotheses to suit a fast developing human community, Surangani has defined for herself the role that she needs to play in the drama of human life without any melodramatic gradations. Armed with her education, notwithstanding based on the art subjects, she has adopted to address each and every episode in life, however trivial or colossal and consequential in substance and effect may be, with a scientific mind which is an envy to some of her university contemporaries who have chosen to pursue the science stream.
A mundane living of the ordinary did not hold much hope for Surangani; her life-philosophy did not accommodate raw black and white traverses into complicated situations that demanded more nuanced approaches. Her parents, on the contrary, held on to more practical way of living. Their very status in life, as parents first and secondly as unofficial leaders in the village, commanded a direct tactical pursuit of immediate answers while Surangani chose to delve into the subtleties of socio-economic variances of a nation. This strategic journey, even though very thoughtful, was an inevitable digression from her first love- studies.
In other words, the vagaries of a typical life of a village girl who succumbs to tasteless meanderings and unethical social conduct eluded the more intellectual mindset of a budding rebel. In Surangani’s mind, the torture that the Rajapaksas are subjecting the nation to is unpardonable. Yet she does not know what to do. A fundamental lack of inspiring leadership, a total absence of exemplary intellectual advance in the country’s socioeconomic journey and a corresponding guarantee from her own generation towards a progressively developing mixture between political commitment and a feasible social agenda have conspired to produce a stalemate that is more dangerous to any social growth. A destructive revolution or any armed revolution is not the path, Surangani concluded.
This is the conundrum that today’s youth confronts each day. With or without parental guidance, this generation, the barometer of change and progress, is stagnating beyond all measures. That stagnation is in turn causing the varied and contradictory responses which we are so unfortunate to witness today. The gloomy legacy that awaits the next generation is far from promising and in a real sense, could be extremely debilitating.
The story of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and its leader Rohana Wijeweera have literally gone down in flames. Fidelity to a failed philosophy of socioeconomic and political ideology would not bring back the lives lost and time wasted. In the moving drama of societal progress, when one gets stagnated in anachronistic political theories and impractical social pursuits, those who succeed are the vagrants of religious and super-mundane superstitions. Examples of that variety were much in display during the Covid crisis.
French philosopher, playwright and novelist Jean-Paul Sartre wrote thus: “Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.” Surangani has learnt the weight of those words.
She partook of dinner with her parents. While her father ate in total silence, Surangani’s mother made some cursory inquiries about Surangani’s studies; Surangani’s responses were warm but well-guarded. After the meal, the parents settled down before the television screen to watch their weekly soap opera. Surangani has no time for such mundane pastimes. The ember that is still burning underneath the ashes demands more and more attention. She began her own routine. She walked out to the verandah. The enveloping darkness did not frighten her a bit. A moonless night is no strange sight to her. While on campus she has trekked many a night along those desolate gravel pathways to reach her dormitory.
Whatever her phobias were, being alone in the dark was not amongst them. A haunting melody by a famous singer was on the air; its soothing voice and mesmerizing music brought quietude to Surangani’s’ ravaging inner self; she did not need it but still was content when such moving melodies reached her youthful ears.
Surangani is the epitome of today’s youth; her ambitions and aspirations cannot be disregarded any longer; her yearning for social justice and elimination of corruption and nepotism needs to be understood and taken serious note of by every political leader in the country. When Surangani holds the mirror in front of her face to do the finishing touches to an almost flawless complexion, she sees the nation’s travails. Born to a middleclass family and mild luxuries of village comforts such as electricity and running water, Surangani still manages to empathize with those who do not have any of those superfluities.
Surangani indeed is the hope of the nation; she bears the responsibility to master her own status along with that of her family, community and nation at large. Let’s not kill that hope.
*The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org