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An Appeal to our Diaspora: Please be Part of the Solution
I don’t know all of you personally. Yet, somehow, I think I know you. How you think; what you believe in; what you would do when cornered on issues that concern your Motherland; and most of all, the deep-seated love of most and the equally deep-seated animosity some of you have towards her and/or the leadership; past and present, no matter who you are, or where you are.
You left our shores and chose to make another country your home. Some out of choice, while for others, it was a necessity. There were many reasons for that to happen. Some of you were forced out, by being hapless victims of circumstances. The communal riots, discrimination and a feeling of being let down; all contributed for you to flee your homeland. Some among you sought refuge, by fair-means and others by means not so fair. Yet, others among you chose to seek better lives; your own personal advancement, your children’s education, an opportunity made good, won an immigration lottery or paid a handsome sum of money to specialists to ensure you got the migrant visas.
I was one of you for over a decade. With a permanent resident tag of another nation, I had the option of staying on. It was at the beginning of the decade, when I had a call from home, to come and assist. The situation was very bad out here back then. Yet, the yearning to be back was greater. First, it was to give it a try; to see if it will work. For giving up some material benefits and ties was tough at the time. It was not all that rosy out here, most of the time. But, I stayed on, for the pull to want to give all of me, was greater than wanting to leave.
The free education she gave me. That’s what primarily helped me get to, where I am today. Her immense beauty, bountiful resources, the smiles; in spite of that pain we were going through as a nation, the feeling of home and being wanted as against being another migrant seeking riches, all these helped make the decision. I have no regrets for it’s my Motherland and our common future that called. I knew that every little drop counted. I was happy there were many others who had stayed on, to share that passion. We all had our moments; some awful, some not so. Sometimes the frustrations got the better of some I knew. They chose to leave and others came into fill the vacuum. These were times of ups and downs. We had moments of glory and elation as well, though they were rare.
See it grey
Some of you are in the second or third generation, only heard about the land of your parents’ birth; of its good, the bad and the ugly. Your young heads are full of either that or this. Some of you see it all bright and nice, while others see it all dark and gloomy. Some rational minds see it grey; like anywhere else on Planet Earth.
I have two daughters who are one with you, as members of the Diaspora. My call to them is also to seek the alternative. I chose to build a house for one. She and her family can make it home whenever they desire. I shall do whatever I can, to make the attraction of their Motherland magnetic and desirable for them and others like them to come back to. For I believe, that their future is here, with Mother Sri Lanka.
You do care
No matter what the reasons or circumstances were, I know that a wide majority of you miss your land of birth. Otherwise you would not be discussing her ‘wellbeing’, at every opportunity you get, when you meet others like you, be it at a formal or secretive meeting, at a religious congregation, a weekend’s evening of Sri Lankan curry and sing-song session, visits to friends, a friendly cricket match or a protest for or against what is happening back ‘home’.
Your discussions of her ‘wellbeing’ take different tones, colour and direction. That I know for sure, depends on who you are, what you believe in, your circumstances, what others tell you or have told you, what you read or have read. What you wish for her in the form of her ‘wellbeing’ will differ and range from wanting her to be peaceful, caring, united, smiling and getting to be the wonder of Asia to being divided, cursed and made to pay back for the pain caused to you, your families and others you know, like you.
Glory and misery
Like I said earlier of the very young among us, the more rational and well-informed among you, will realise that like many other places on this earth, your Motherland is also one that can not be painted, defined with ‘black’ or ‘white’ brush-strokes. She, in written history dating back to the sixth Century BC, has had her glory days as well as ones of misery. Together with your ancestors, you in your own way, were part of that glory and misery.
The easy way out is to blame others; the leaders, political and civil society of the past and present. Solve all the problems we have out here, discussing them at your gatherings out there; placing the blame on us, who are out here. It will be grossly unfair of me, if I did not recognize the many among you who act affirmatively; to do good, help-out, not bad-mouth your Motherland for you know that, there are no simple solutions to complex issues.
My call out to you out there, among the Diaspora, is to begin to look rationally at the challenges and the opportunities we have here in Sri Lanka. True, there are problems and all is not well. Things are not at all rosy. But there is certain hope. There is opportunity to make good. There is opportunity to unite and make lasting peace. It will not be easy, but I believe it can be done.
To do that, you out there, must choose to be part of the solution and not just be part of the problem. It would be presumptuous of me to suggest what you should be doing. But I know that a good first step is to believe; believe that you are proud of being a son or a daughter of your Motherland, with all her misgivings and her achievements and believe that there is so much you can do to make her the best, there can be.
Lessons down Memory Lane
My Facebook friend Susil Ratnayke (that’s how his last name is spelt) lives in Sydney, Australia. Susil, a Sri Lankan born Australian, posts a lovely FB page on Sri Lanka featuring her natural beauty, heritage and culture; as he sees it
I am impressed with the deep love this man has for his land of birth and we have been engaging each other for sometime now on Facebook. We are yet to meet face to face and I know there are many thousands more like him, both in real and virtual domains feeling homesick, sharing their caring feelings.
Yet, there are others who dwell on looking at all that is bad out here in Sri Lanka and refuse to even acknowledge that there is hope for us as a nation to make a better future. Some have legitimate reason for being cross. They are deeply hurt or betrayed and refuse to forgive or forget. They refuse to believe that we can work together to focus on achieving the possible. Others are part of a movement, bent on discrediting the Motherland and do as they are expected to or are told. Since actions speak louder than words, it will be left for all Sri Lankans now, to prove them wrong. Our politicians on all sides of the fence, by not letting us down and us citizens making sure that they are not allowed to let us down.
Just last week Susil posted a reference to a song found on ‘You Tube’ and had this to say – ‘Desmond Kelly – My Island Home Hi, it’s time for every one living abroad and visitors from other countries around the world to visit this beautiful and lovely country of ours to enjoy what it has to offer’. Much more powerful than our own promotional slogans, I would say, for it comes from deep within his heart, without any coating with fancy words. It is believable.
It was like a tour of the past and here was my comment on Susil’s page posting ‘Would you believe it, when I was a student, a Desmond Kelly lived down the same lane as I; Waidya Avenue, Dehiwela. He must be in his 70s now in the least. That is if this is the same Desmond Kelly who was a singer and Mrs Georgez’s son-in-law’. He confirmed that it could be him and that he was in his seventy fifth year.
In the early 60’s, as a schoolboy I recollect standing many a day by Mrs. Georgez’s gate on my way from school, listening to Des Kelly strumming his guitar to a song he had composed. Some days he sang songs of others. We then had Bill Forbes, Cliff Foenander, Dougles Meerwald, Harold Seneviratne, Adrian Ferdinandes and the like adorning our Radio Ceylon’s English service. These were the days of 78 rpm (rounds per minute) records, needles and hefty player amplifiers.
Mentors and gurus
These were also days after the ground breaking film Rekawa was a hit with us and the haunting songs composed by our mentor at St. Peter’s College late Fr Marceline Jayakody were lingering in our minds. Sudu Sanda Eliye, Wesak Kakulu, Olu Nelum and Anurapura Pollonnaruwa were top of the charts in the Sinhala service of the Radio Ceylon. We were so proud that the creator of Rekawa Lester James Peries, was also a past student of our school.
Equally proud were we that our school was home to many students from the Burgher community at the time.
The De Nieses, Patternots, Beckmeyers, Hynes, Duckworths and Lovels were there in clans; brothers, cousins and all. They excelled in sports and were a vibrant lot. We were all one big happy family, the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers. The only conflicts we had were limited to mundane issues such as events we were competing in, girl friends or an occasional tough guy showing off his prowess. Never were they about race, cast or creed.
My mother out of fear of her Buddhist son studying in a Catholic school, insisted that I study my Buddhism three days a week, under the supervision of the late Dickwelle Dhammalankara Hamuduruwo at the Karagampitiya temple. At school, it did not matter if we were Buddhist, Catholic, Anglican, Hindu or of Islamic faith. We were all one family cheering for St. Peters College on the cricket, rugby fields or at the basketball court.
If I recalled right, Desmond Kelly was attached to the then Ceylon Navy. I remember him in his blue white uniform returning after a spell at sea, and went on to strumming again. We lived three houses below on this gravel pathway and could hear his music quite distinctly. My mother who only spoke Sinhala and was very national in her ways enjoyed Kelly’s music just the same. On Susil’s posting another of his friends had commented ‘Very beautiful song. I feel so homesick when a foreigner loves my home country as his home. He sees the beauty that we take for granted’, she said. I am not sure if she lives in Sri Lanka.
I took the opportunity to respond to her and said ‘Please…… I want to let you know that this Desmond Kelly I knew was no foreigner. He was a full-blooded Sri Lankan Burgher. They loved Sri Lanka then, perhaps they still miss their land of birth. Unfortunately we had not learnt to love them enough and all our other racial groups, that made Sri Lanka so vibrant and beautiful and they had no option but to migrate’.
That was then. Now with that huge burden of terrorism done with, let us reflect on the lessons we need to learn from our past. On how we treated our other Sri Lankan brothers and sisters and the pettiness with which we looked at issues and their solution. I know that some of you will agree and others may not.
Let’s sing along
The truth is we have wronged. Now that we are focusing once again on English education our style and are providing ease of access on the digital pathways to communicate, we could make new beginnings. Those must pave ways for us to learn to appreciate each other, to love each other and care for each other regardless of race, caste or creed. In a world where there is so much of a cultural divide, we have many lessons to learn both from within and without. Let us join the likes of Desmond Kelly and Susil Ratnayke to sing along the song My Island Home.