By Vishwamithra –
“A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” ~Arthur Miller
I look out the window. The sun, already below the horizon, having left its day’s legacy of tireless yet unkind assault on mother earth, with the darkening western sky, is behaving in her usual splendor, creating a riot of colors; a magnificent departure of the day is being greeted by the ascending tapestry of millions of stars; another day of the nation in twilight pacing her way into the waiting millions of villagers and city dwellers. It’s raining in the distance. A hazy drape of heavenly waters has fallen across the Indian Ocean. Yet the sea, as it always does, rolls and roars its mighty way, blissfully tolerant of the wetness on itself with candor and gratitude. This glorious play of coming dusk is totally oblivious to the color of skin of the folks who populate our island; it’s apathy towards the language one spoke is in a way a rare blessing while those who labored to rule by division between the colors of skin and lingo they spoke have now fallen by the wayside.
A nation whose history books are abundant in the glories of military conquests to go with some of the most stupendous architectural creations and awesome sculpture and paintings, is attempting to grapple with herself. A culture that was founded on the serene teachings of Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha- who claimed to be a common man although born to royalty- is being defaced and debased. That culture was not perfect. No culture is perfect. But when founded on positive, firm and utterly realistic analysis of life and living, when such a set of teachings, as a religion or a philosophy, is as the unseen driving force behind a people whose recorded beginnings as a nation or as a cohesive community of human beings are centered on betrayal of one community and importing a new bride from South India to create a brand new nation as ‘Sinhala’ or ‘Hela’, whichever name one calls it. Leave it to social scientists and historians to argue the case for or against such a radical view. But one simply cannot take one piece of our chronicle and discard another. The chronicle is the great Mahawansa. Whoever wrote the first few chapters of Mahawansa, especially the ones that deal with Price Vijaya and Kuweni and the very establishment of our nation, had been quite stringent in the description of the great betrayal of Kuweni by Vijaya while at the same time very matter-of-fact about the importation of a South Indian woman. That act alone is a very crucial part that tells a whole lot about the mindset of the one who founded a nation that was later named as the custodian-nation of Buddhism, a philosophy that is founded on very radical and liberal set of values and scientific explanation of the universe and life itself.
Another remarkable oxymoron is the rejection of Prince Saliya by his father-King Dutugemunu for marrying a woman from a so-called low caste. Buddha, on the contrary decried the very existence of caste concept which was and still is a destructive social malady. Then what part of Buddhism did King Dutugemunu accept and what part did he discard. Yet he built Ruwanveliseya, a monumental architectural tribute to his faith in the religion. Mahawansa is replete with many contradictions. Such contradictions are not limited to our Great Chronicle. Every nation’s history books abound in exaggerations, half-truths and in some cases, plain fabrications. A certain amount of writer’s license might be tolerable. But to portray a King as a spearhead of the forefront of custodians of a religion that is later admittedly the governing force of a nation is self-deceiving and self-destructive.
All throughout our storied history, a remarkable culture of tolerance, religious obedience, values beyond question and of great resilience in times of crisis has been a dynamic force, not only in driving that nation to great heights of achievement but also to sublime plateaus of meditation. A great religious luminary such as Venerable Balangoda Ananda Maithri Thero is one such rare example. The same nation produced on the other side of the religious coin, Reverend Marceline Jayakody of the contemporary times led a marvelously simple life while contributing to Sinhalese literature in his magical lyrical renditions. That culture seemed to have nurtured a nation, yet sustained a monarchical rule of governance until she was invaded, first by the Portuguese then succeeded by the Dutch and the British.
The colonial era spanning nearly half a millennium may have had the most unkind effects a suppressed people go through. But that culture, which was independent of the oppressive rule of a colonial power, did not die. It was strong and sturdy enough to withstand the mighty guns and sharp daggers of the oppressors.
People at large always look to their political leaders to be their role-models. They also have the lazy habit of depending on their political leaders for their salvage. Overdependence on government is a unique characteristic of the Indian subcontinent. Both India and Sri Lanka belong in that lot. There resides a dangerous and malefic symptom of a more malignant ailment. The more one depends of government, the more the powerful government becomes. The more powerful it becomes, all avenues are open for corruption and unreasonable exercise of power. What happened during the last regime of the Rajapaksas is only one Act of the whole Play. Every government before the Rajapaksas, including the ones that preceded gaining of Independence, had its own share of corruption; it’s only the degree that changed. That corruption reached its zenith during the Rajapaksas’ time.
That culture which embraced all communities in Sri Lanka, Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim and Burger alike, has engineered a marvelous product. It produced and embraced what is good in the people and also paved the way for its own self-destructive process. Plato in The Republic observed thus: “The soul takes nothing with her to the next world but her education and her culture. At the beginning of the journey to the next world, one’s education and culture can either provide the greatest assistance, or else act as the greatest burden, to the person who has just died.” The twin character of culture is amply portrayed in this simple quotation. The burden of culture weighs quite heavy on the shoulders of the weak. The weak will eventually waver and buckle down. The strong will carry the burden with pride and walk on. The culture that nourished him and rendered intellectual security and inner discipline is unequal and enormous in value. Whether it’s in its last stages of the decline process is one great question. We might not find an answer to that in our lifetime.
From D S Senanayake to Maithripala Sirisena, our political leaders have tried to grapple with our problems, mainly in the sphere of the economy. Unless the masses are fed, clothed and housed properly, any cultural input is totally irrelevant and could be even burdensome. In that rush to get things done on the economy of the country, many corners were cut and many a toe was trampled. That is the burden of a leader. But what is visibly apparent today is not only the corruption of politicos, it is also being proven each passing day that those who were considered above board, civil servants whose function it is to implement the decisions taken by the Executive, in today’s context, the Cabinet of Ministers, are more corrupt than the politicians. That corruption, like water, has found its own level.
Parents who religiously follow the daily routine of bathing their children early morning, clothing them and feeding a meager breakfast and trekking a dusty gravel road to the school of three hundred students and one teacher, themselves are clothed in that garb of ancient culture. They may have their own battles to fight, just to put food on the table. Yet they will resist any desecration of that culture by unqualified politicians. The rustic ripeness of our villagers is far too valuable to be taken for granted. Daily chores of the rural mother might have made her stoop in physical stature, stoop she would not at the feet of a politician who attempts to rape her adolescent daughter; stoop she would not to beg at the doorstep of an avaricious landlord who tries to bleed her white with excessive interests for a borrowed sum of cash; their pride and faith in their inner values are too great to sacrifice.
Yet the painting is bleak; its corner lines are too abstract and the canvass is too wide and long. In this land of ours the setting of sun is not for the weary and tired eyes of a working mother; it’s glamour and brilliance is beyond one’s horizon. The rain has stopped but darkness surrounds my apartment. It’s time to light a lamp and finish my column. Penning one’s own thoughts could be easy when one wants to. Thank goodness for our newspapers.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org