A Despairing Appraisal of Sri Lanka from a Patriot Expat from Rome

Alex Van Arkadie … from http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2019/08/04/opinion/observations-lankan-visit-june-july-2019-sri-lanka-again-asia%E2%80%99s-teardrop

Seemingly, following the church massacres last April 2019, there are a growing number of Christians as well as sympathizers who seem to understand better the miracle following repetitive Christian martyrdom of the 21st Century – (although it also sounds rational when critics say that the Lankan Catholic Hierarchy should exercise a cautious degree of restraint in public announcement, pronouncement or proclamation).

Fortunately after the Easter Sunday killings, religious convictions have helped bind many of the devout of all faiths and doctrines though underlined by either a sense of resignation to the powers of ‘karma’, or in acceptance of the Will of the Lord as when hopefully invoking in fraternal brotherhood, ‘Insha Allah’…

Poor Sri Lanka is once again Asia’s Teardrop – not the resplendent Pearl of the Orient.

It is indeed pathetic, but primarily rooted in the on-going political struggle for greed and power. Hopelessness is voiced or sensed everywhere – except from among the fab-glittering-rich or those unashamedly imitating them. Hard-earned or easily gained foreign cash is so ignorantly disposed of in trying to be like the Jones’s next door !

Most of the TV advertisements cater to the happily rich. Are they the majority of whom Lanka could remain proud and complacent of. Young couples struggling to survive and their aspiring families are brainwashed, mesmerized or artfully held spellbound in front of digital TVs. Sometimes for umpteen hours, watching puppy-love soap operas in Sinhala, if not imported from TV serials where-ever. What proportion of them are in accord with Lankan culture, tradition, religious and moral values, language and simple life-styles akin to daily living or focused on how the Nation’s majority are trying to survive with some degree of self-respect. Yet, Artificiality, outdoor glamour and copy-catting have become the catchy- style. Eating out with family or friends within glass houses reflecting the twinkling glow from overhead neon-signs has become fashionable even in distant urban towns.

TV channels hardly emphasize on prime time for educational or informative transmission, but overload popular presentations with unlimited advertisement spots. Hardly any time is afforded for interviews, discussions or documentaries on success stories from peoples’ participation in technical, agricultural, horticultural, responsible fishery, water harnessing conservation and wastage, use of wind and solar power, livestock care and production, conscious disposal of human refuse and plastic products of all types, recycling for energy resources, community development projects for small-scale income generation among rural poor to motivate and stimulate our student category in directing their attention on national wealth linked to national development. What about long-term investment in our industries and the plantation sector including inland paddy cultivation and incentives to harness and support manpower resources? What consideration is been given to streamline and steer up government educational policies and programs with incentives to encourage and promote high school students, undergraduates and university lecturers engaged in the allied fields of art, electronics, engineering, law, medicine, science,… so that their accumulated expertise could eventually contribute toward peaceful co-habitation, communal betterment and progress of the Nation ?

On our travel to the Southern coastal belt of the Island, we managed to spot and identify a bare handful of tourists around Hikkaduwa but hardly any in or around the Capital City. In fact most hotels are closed. Some show signs of abandonment and pitiful neglect from disuse. Job loss therefrom remains high and families of the unemployed are in distress. Regardless whether Sinhala, Moslem, Tamil or Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist or Christian, the naked truth is starkly evident. I assured some that, hopefully, the non-reactionary calmness that prevailed almost throughout the Nation following the April explosion will set the pace for visitors to arrive … primarily because there was no backlash or negative repercussions thereafter. World media and tour organizers now await a peaceful end also to our presidential election.

Care to hop-in and chat with your auto-driver, say a polite hello to a stranger at the market place, or pause at a bus-stop, the chorus repeats as though from a national dirge. Unknowns will instantly spot you from the crowd and politely address you as a visitor from abroad.

At a supermarket in Maharagama, an aged gent told my spouse and me, “You must be on a visit. Don’t settle down here. Our country is in a mess. No hope – they are all liars”. I smiled but remained dumbstruck lacking words to attempt any reply. One point worth mentioning: our Lankan security staff are amply disciplined, cautious, respectful and dutifully polite, where-ever assigned to duty at day or night. I mentioned it and even thanked them for their courtesy to which they smiled back in acknowledgment.

Colombo, the capital city, the Kelani Temple as well as the Kochchikade roundabout are heavily fortified zones. Reconstruction [of the blown-up Kochchikade Church] is nearly complete but teams of navy personnel are busily engaged with the finishing touches under burning heat in their vadu-maduvas adjacent the church. Visitors say that the sacred sanctuary now looks more like a museum-show-piece rather than the hallowed sanctity that used to prevail within before explosion. My grandparents and my parents used to accompany me there from Dematagoda, for prayer to the Saint of the Poor “to obtain work and bread for all in want”, from when I was about five or six years and when dad’s Naval HQ was just next door on the waterfront itself.

A human redeemer

One Sunday morning walking out of St. Anthony’s, Nittambuwa, my sister’s senior parishioners bluntly enquired from me in near despair: “Would our country continue to remain like this?”. Even if the burning issue has reached its climax, they very well know that neither the poor Nation nor its People can find a human redeemer. Rampant corruption, greed, nepotism, favouritism and ugly struggles for political domination reign supreme.  Blatant accusations among party chiefs gain maximum press coverage and generate repetitive TV transmissions from day to night. Unfortunately, this in my view would affect the larger part of our native population, a wide majority of whom are Sinhala-Buddhist. Even the Sangha sabhas, peramunas, urumayas, and balavegayas, are aggressively divisive, self-proclaimed, but unknowingly inflicting further enmity between their own community in order to remain militant for the sake of achieving ‘party’gains … How many realize the long-term damage to the nation and its people at large?

In this South Asian Social-Democratic Sovereign State pledged to uphold and propagate from its traditions rooted in Siddharta Gautama’s Theravada Buddhism, I sadly fail to understand why ordained monks have to lift up their saffron robes – now fast changing to shades of orange, burgundy, crimson or fiery red – for the sake of rowdily demonstrating and angrily manifesting in venemous nasty tongue, when affronted by a half-dozen or more TV crews. If rightfully confronted by senior officials of the Lankan Police, they disrespectfully challenge established authority.

Not even Madavi Somè, Yakkadaya, Choppe or Maru Sira reacted with such low-graded ‘thuggery’ against the Ceylon Police in the early 50s and 60s, though they were considered criminals and imprisoned overnight. Yes, right, agreed, … the hamudurus’ harsh cry is either in favour or against political supremacy, whereas each morning, evening and especially during Poya, senior monks of their very own sect in temple compounds solemnly preach the noble virtues of maithriya and ahinsa to dozens of elderly upaasakas, upaasikas and hordes of little children, all dressed in spotless white sarongs and shirts or modestly draped in lamaasaris. Meanwhile bill-boards, posters and banners along public thoroughfares and street corners boldly announce a range of tutors who offer students ‘Tution in Buddhist Civilization’ … to what end?

My question then: Does the Buddhist Sangha care a damn about who reigns within and outside their ashrams, monasteries, dharma-salas and temples – what about our future generation; to what extent would they find the Indian Buddha’s Dhamma worth treading or even emulating ? Of what significance would be our age-old Pali intonation, Buddahm saranam gatchchami; Dhamman saranama gathchami; Sangan saranam gatchchami. Imagine latter day Sri Lanka with less or least regard for the Five Noble Precepts of Lord Buddha.

No second to Lankan TV transmissions are some of our prostitutionalized Lankan newspaper houses. One daily TV transmission in particular is widely broadcast during early morning peak-hour featuring maxi-sized ‘Newspaper Headlines of the Day’. And the varied organs of the Press are in competition with each other to gain viewer attention by exaggerating and often unethically loading upon unfounded slander, baseless gossip, and/or unethical political misbehavior. I fear this could lead to further turmoil and disharmony among the larger majority of Lankan commoners spread throughout the island and create wider cracks among the Sinhala community itself.

Citizens are in a state of acute tension even within their very home and family environment; nearly all of the hard-working or job-seeking youth on their regular errands are either acutely depressed and disgruntled, or numb and submissive to what is mercilessly ongoing. Why find criminal offence in one who drifts to drugs, alcohol, crime and suicide if such victim was denied the liberty to reason on how best to await with hopeful anticipation for a better day tomorrow ??? With the Ahimsa we tend to widely preach, let our Statesmen who are determined to recall the death sentence mercifully register the ‘hopeless’ for responsible care and rehabilitation by civil authorities in association with volunteers from our multi-ethnic socio-religious groups. That in a nutshell is maithri and ahimsa.

In a TV sponsored Sinhala program, one learned Medical Prof. remarked, “At this rising alarming rate – of desperation and frustration – a majority of our nation’s youth are soon going to end up physically incapacitated and mentally sick”. How terribly sad and painful to hear.

From 5 a.m. each dawn, hordes of singled or grouped uniformed school boys and girls patiently await at open-air wayside bus-stops. Already ‘full’ private vans, buses and 3-wheelers, doggedly rush to gather a fresh load and accelerate on to the next stop while desperately trying to overtake their opponent drivers in front, regardless whether they are oil-tankers, container carriers, heavily loaded trucks or a careless three-wheeler packed with a bunch of little school-goers sandwiched between a truck and an overtaking van or daring scooter-rider.

Though early in the dawn, the rush has begun to boil over, overflowing in fury and fume along our public thoroughfares – only to be repeated backward again before sunset. Traffic control is rare, nil or powerless. Accused and jailed offenders for whatever neglect or fault gain prompt release through intervention by political higher-ups. Defense laws exist to restrain or punish offenders, but political interference has become the norm with Lanka’s Judiciary in a state of near-rigor mortis!

Just an example: Certain political higher-ups knew in advance and there is evidence to prove how they manipulated their escape from the Easter Sunday explosions. Christian parliamentarians themselves fled in time with least care for their brethren among whom they habitually congregate to worship the same God each Sunday or Feast-day. What level of hypocrisy has our beloved nation of leaders stooped down to ?

Instead, nowadays it has become fashionable for political opponents of the same rotten bunch in the State Assembly to point fingers at each other about the so-called series of Islamist-ISIS plots and attacks. Nearly all of the local audio-visual TV channels as well as the printed media seem aimed to further confuse the majority public at large. This adds to the rising level of disappointment and frustration of our commoners everywhere.

To painfully bleed again

When on the eve of my departure to Rome I asked a beloved Lankan NGO-friend, “Can we be hopeful about the upcoming election”, he promptly and remorsefully replied, “It can only become worse.” I hope and pray he will be proved wrong. God help Sri Lanka.

Did I hear your distant cry for peace and reconciliation in our land of origin? Have I rightly sensed your call for ridding Sri Lanka of dirty politics?

With apologies for the long summary, permit me please to close on this prayerful note. Feel free to comment and widely circulate. May be the time is near for all Lankan expatriates to call through the auspices of the United Nations for a halt to dirty politics in Lanka and therefore unite for the founding of a ‘World Association of Lankan Expatriates’. Who knows ! May be for a start, some concerned reader may draft a Public Appeal (or Petition), obtain Email consent, and submit it to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Who knows ?

The writer is a freelance media reporter in Rome, Italy

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One response to “A Despairing Appraisal of Sri Lanka from a Patriot Expat from Rome

  1. In six months Sri lanka will have reached the seventy second year of its independence from Britain after Ceylon took its first slippery step on the downhill slide to the abyss.
    There was a time in Ceylon when people from different ethnic groups and religions coexisted, but that was shattered when politicians sought to elevate one group and one religion above all the rest.
    Expelling and exiling the Burghers, defeating the Tamils in the civil war and engaging with radicalized Islamists has not lead to better conditions.
    As an ex-pat and exile myself, I am unsympathetic to Sri lanka’s self-inflicted woes. Chauvinism and jingoism lead to ruin, and hubris is always punished.
    Kuveni’s curse, resulting from that first act of political treachery, will most likely prevail to eternity.

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