Sunday, December 28, 2008

A new year resolution...

Every noble achievement ever made in the journey of mankind has always been a destination of a noble dream.

We Sri Lankans have been struggling to portray a cultural and national destiny to our small Nation ever since we became a colony of the West in 1505. Every battle we fought for independence was a stroke of the brush with which we have been trying to paint our destiny on the canvas of time. Of course there were grand victories. The day we won the Cricket World cup in 1995 was one such day for our small Nation because that was something we fought and won. Those days made us look at each other with eyes filled with joy. We saw the same joy in all our eyes no matter what ethnic group we belonged. And, there were debacles. They made us look up at the blank sky with eyes welled up in tears. But the sky saw that tears were tears in all our eyes no matter we were Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, or Burgers. Most often, the debacles were destinations of tribalism of a few. All those victories and debacles added different colors to our painting.

2009. What is magical in this year? Nothing, unless we decide to try another brush to paint our picture. What about stopping for a while to think seriously if we ever had a dream for our painting? Are we really painting a picture without knowing what we want to paint? Well there is no harm if each one of us can not see the dream. Few months back, I took my ailing father to Niagara Falls. We had little preparation. The first glance at the entrance from the American side shattered all our hopes. We moves from place to place and each time we saw different Niagara falls. Finally we took a boat ride in the river bellow, and still we saw different but larger views of the fall when the boat moved. Maybe people who look at it from the Canadian side could see a still wider view, but unless they moved along the Canadian boarder, they wouldn't realize that there is nothing called "this is how Niagara falls look like". Same is true with the picture we are painting. Each one of us has a stroke there, and we make it without knowing how the final destiny of the portrait should look like.

This is the point we can sit back and think about. Lets think of things we have done right. The days we had bright colors. Take the day we won the World cup. Did we win world cups when Cricket was limited to few schools in Colombo or a particular social class? Those were the days we used to come home with injuries. We started to win after we let it go. Where did it go when it was free? To the lads who would play in the hot sun with a suitcase or umbrellas for a wicket, some piece of wood for a bat, and something roughly spherical for a ball. Those lads spoke some language not necessarily English. The destiny was a portrait rich in color everywhere. Any sample from it for the National pool was inevitably rich in capability. But, did it happen magically? No, the price was also high. The Cricket board has been a place for vigorous battles. One of the first battles was to get rid of those who inherited colonial practices. I think the same applies to the bigger picture we are painting. We have to dream of a day where we can proudly say we are an Asian role model for democracy, social justice, human development, and human rights. Why do we need human rights? Why should we care? Is it because some NGOs are yelling too hard? No. It is the perception of every citizen that his/her fundamental rights as a human is upheld by the country he/she lives in that makes one identify himself/herself as a citizen of that country with pride and a heartfelt love for that country. An oath can not do that. Note that it is the perception that matters, not what is written in the Law. Do all our citizens love the country with equal spirit? If not we have room for a new dream. Why do we need human development? The full potential of a human comes out when one is educated and trained to be productive. Otherwise, the population will not be an asset, but a burden to a country. Sri Lanka has the population of Canada or Australia. Are we harnessing the full potential of it? If not we have room for a new dream. Why do we need social justice? Is social justice for some elite segment of the society is enough? Do our Government institutes treat anybody who walks in to get a service with equal hospitality no matter what one wears, no matter how well they speak English, no matter the level of connections one shows? Have we ever heard stories where people from far away places like Jaffna, Hambantota, or Monaragala being asked to come again another day because some officer was not there to serve, while a son of a minister is given special seating and served in no time? If yes, we have room for a new dream. Why do we need democracy? Democracy is important because our final portrait will be ours if every one of us contributed a stroke of brush on the canvas of time.

A day will come when all of us can step back and look at our portrait and say "that is a pride of Asia". Till that day, lets work.

Happy new year to you all.

With best regards,

Thrishantha Nanayakkara
Radcliffe Fellow
Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA