“What Ails Sri Lanka?” — Daya de Silva’s Scathing Analysis

Jayadeva Hettiarachchi, in Sunday Times, 17 February 2018, where the title is “Genuine desire to find the truth about what ails our country.” .…. a review of Daya de Silva:  Pearl to a Tear Drop”

There couldn’t have been a more opportune time for me to read and review this book written by Daya de Silva: namely, that moment when Sri Lankan parliamentarians were vying for power, pushing and shoving, throwing chairs, chili powder and even attempting to stab their opponents.


ISBN Number 978-955-30-8985-4

We humans have a deep association with our motherland even when we live in other parts of the world. A person born and bred in a given country can be separated from that country, but that country cannot be completely eradicated from that person’s mind as clearly seen in the sentiments expressed by the author of this book about her life in Sri Lanka.  As is always the case, foreigners/expatriates do perceive things quickly and more comprehensively than those who live in a country. Of course, the interest, passion and a genuine desire to find the truth beneath what appears on the surface has prompted Daya de Silva to write this book as I see it.

Daya de Silva’s previous publication in 2006 ‘Ceylon To Sri Lanka Troubled Paradise’ expressed similar sentiments in chapters on “Diminished Prestige: The Public Service” and “Education For What?”

Considering that Sri Lankan emigrants and expatriates of Sri Lanka, and their descendants that reside in foreign countries are estimated to be around 3 million going by the 2011-2016 statistics, the data presented by Daya de Silva provide very useful information about the country. These expatriates continue to call Sri Lanka their home and have deep cultural ties with Sri Lanka despite their different ethnic affiliations to Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim or other mixed ethnicities. Culturally speaking, we all love the time we spent growing up in our families, community, and cultures. Most people continue to use their native languages, belief systems, and cultural affiliations even after emigrating to another country.

Considering that the Sri Lankan educational system, economy and society have been based on the western systems being under western rule from 1505–1948,the inhabitants of Sri Lanka apparently continue to contend with critical issues stemming from a long history of over 1500 years of rule by kings and a feudal system that has been supplanted by western education, administration and economic system as clearly seen in the narratives of this book. Under normal circumstances, a system cannot evaluate itself, only those outside of a system perceive a system clearly. I give credit to Daya de Silva for being a rule breaker in her attempt in this book to shed light by gathering data from all available sources. Daya de Silva has been able to think outside of the box and presented the material she gathered most candidly in this book. Though at times most unpalatable, the material will be very useful for both  expatriates and citizens as well as for those educators interested in researching Sri Lankan political history after 30 years of civil war.

The book opens to the reader as a collection of journals kept during her recent visit and travels “In Beautiful Sri Lanka”, covering the most important centres of attraction of Sri Lanka reminiscing the past glory of those places and the vast changes that have taken place within the past half a century. The author’s observations together with the input from local residents shed ample light on the environmental changes that had taken place and the possible contributing factors that led to those changes.

The following two chapters “Preserving the Environment” and “Teaching the Young” lay the foundation for the latter half of the book that concludes with “Corruption in their Blood,” which forms the basic running thread of the book.

The second half of the book, “the Style of Governance”, “Trying to Live Together”, “Looking for Prosperity”, and “Corruption in their Blood”, describes in great detail and specifics including the details involved in the scenarios and personalities responsible for mismanagement of the country, economic decline in all sectors of production including SriLankan Airlines, and foreign relations detrimental to Sri Lanka. These detailed descriptions clearly show the helplessness of Sri Lankan inhabitants to prevent systematic corruption of Sri Lanka’s resources by its own rulers. The steady declining value of the Sri Lanka rupee within the past few years is a good indicator of this decline.

At the end of the chapter on Looking for Prosperity, Daya de Silva asks, If Singapore could do it why is it that Sri Lanka of the ’60s that was looked up to by Asian countries as a model for prosperity with little corruption failed? What led to the change?” The reviewer’s view is that most Sri Lankans have not had the opportunity to see the prosperity of Singapore let alone how the rest of the world’s population lives. Most Sri Lankans are destined to live and die in Sri Lanka thinking that it is a mighty country and its current rulers are the mightiest leaders in the whole world.

It is the reviewer’s hope that the contents of this book will be accessible to Sri Lankan citizens in the Sinhala language as well.

The reviewer is Professor Emeritus, Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Michigan.

About the Book

This is a follow-up to the author’s Ceylon to Sri Lanka: Troubled Paradise (Ratmalana: Sarvodaya, 2006) which provided perspectives on Sri Lanka’s story since Independence (1948). Gathering information by travelling across the country, interviews with Sri Lankans from all walks of life and media reports, Daya de Silva provides an intriguing account of Sri Lanka in the second decade of the twenty first century. How are Sri Lankans dealing with inequality? How can trust be fostered within a society with different belief systems? In what ways have corruption infiltrated politics? What role can education play in resolving or worsening problems? While being critical of politicians, the author points to the resourcefulness of Sri Lankans and the natural beauty of the resplendent island

About the Author

Daya de Silva is a graduate of the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya and was trained as a bibliographer in London.  Her best known work is The Portuguese in Asia 1498-1800 (Zug: IDC, 1987). She is the author of many books including a fictionalized autobiography, Fading Traditions: Memories of Rural Sri Lanka (Ratmalana: Sarvodaya, 1997) and two works of fiction, Shattered Hopes (New Delhi: Prestige, 2001) and The Days We Wished Would Never End (Ratmalana: Sarvodaya, 2002). She lives with her husband in Barboursville, Virginia.



Book facts
Sri Lanka – A Pearl To A Tear Drop-by Daya de Silva
Godage & Bros (Pvt) Ltd, 2018
Reviewed by Jayadeva Hettiarachchy


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Filed under accountability, British colonialism, communal relations, cultural transmission, disparagement, economic processes, education policy, electoral structures, historical interpretation, island economy, language policies, Left politics, modernity & modernization, parliamentary elections, politIcal discourse, power politics, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, the imaginary and the real, travelogue, welfare & philanthophy

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