Being Sri Lankan.

(Image by D3rtyMunkey)
We've barely worked our way out of one ethnic conflict - and already trouble makers of Sri Lanka are starting up the next one. Anti-Muslim this and that - a small minority to be sure, but a frighteningly vocal one. They insist that we must protect 'Sri Lanka' and that they are 'Sri Lankan'.

To me - I have never imagined myself as any less Sri Lankan because I was from a minority  That was not how I was raised, and that was not how the people around me saw themselves. But what scares me is that as a nation we spend so much time drawing lines around our communities, that we forget the things that bind us together as Sri Lankan. And to me - those are the best things we have.
To me being  Sri Lankan means having your mouth water at the thought of acharu in little siri siri bags. Thambili on a sweltering day. Horrific traffic and people driving like they are blind. The mosques call to prayer broadcasted on their speakers mingled with the nearby temples chanting. Waving to the elephant when we pass the Gangarama temple. The smell of Sidalehpe when one is sick. Feeling a thrill when some random Hollywood movie mentions 'Sri Lanka' and re-watching that scene for that reason. Complaining about internet speeds.

Being Sri Lankan to me means always having your breath taken away when Vesak comes around, and the whole city seems to come alive. Eagerly waiting to see what magnificent Christmas decorations Odel and the 5 star hotels will dazzle us with. Plates of buyriyani at Ramadan. Blessing our multi-ethnic society every-time a long weekend comes around. Double blessings when we find two in a month. Araliya trees in bloom. The tree lined Thurstan Road. The smell of sandalwood in Wellawatte.

Calling everyone 'Aunty' and 'Uncle'. Everyone knowing or being related to everyone. Everyone having family who lives in USA, Canada  Australia or all three. Family dinners that don't serve food til 10pm. Always asking someone new you meet - 'What school did you go to? Oh, what batch? I know so-and-so'. Lavish weddings. Jumping with excitement every time an American fast-food franchise opens up. Freaking out at cricket matches. Sighing whenever you go abroad and someone assumes you are Indian.

I feel Sri Lankan because of all these things. This is what Sri Lanka is to me. And no matter who they accuse of heading conspiracies  and how they try to divide and alienate us - I just need to remember that there are things that bind us together, no matter how different our lives are.

But I fear that while the rest of us refuse to raise our voices, this small angry minority will rip us apart. And when we allow that to happen  - it is our children who will weep. Like our parents left us a war torn nation to fix - we will leave our children a shell of a nation. Is this what we want?

Edit on 23rd febuary 2013

This post has reached a wide expanse of people - including making its way by email rounds and status updates with the credit being given to 'annoymous'. And still the response is over whelming. This is just one that I was able to track down has also featured this. Thanks also to the Facebook Page Buddhists Questioning Bodu Bala Sena who posted it and recived an overwhenlming response. The comments and shares and whatnot has overwhelmed and humbled me. Thank you to every single person for their amazing response. I am blown away.
This gives me hope that indeed this time around we're not going to wait for the riots or a war to make us realize what is at stake. This time we stand up from the beginning. And this time - Sri Lankas will win. Together.  


Argent said…
By far your best Homs. Not Because I'm a Muslim. But because I'm a Sri Lankan.. Kudos
Ruzni said…
amazing, well said sekaram :D
Penina Hassen said…
WOW....really good note!!! only hope more people are on the page as you and I and come in to their senses!!!
Anonymous said…
Is it possible for a non Sinhala Buddhist to become president of Sri Lanka? NO! Like it or not, non Sinhala Buddhists are considered as "anya jaathikayan" and "anya aagamikayan." Almost all Sinhala Buddhists might talk about one nation one people ect...but in their next breath they will turn around and say that this is a Sinhala Buddhist country. Christians, Muslims and Hindus are only tolerated as long as they keep their mouths shut. This is the real state of this country.
Tilak said…
Brilliantly written and above all the very truth!!
zaanrider said…
wonderful...loved the way you have written....
Roses said…
Lovely thoughts put in even in a more lovelier way! Amazing stuff!
Anonymous said…
Lovely thoughts and feels homey! Despite not being able to become president of this country, I have lived an amazingly lovely life here thus far. I am also from a 'minority', but one who does not consider to be so, as being Sri Lankan is what I've always thought of myself as.
We are the very same groups that fought TOGETHER to gain independence.
The very same groups that Celebrated our Sporting teams victories..TOGETHER
The same groups that worked tirelessly to support the Tsunami victims..TOGETHER
The very same groups that stood up against anyone ridiculing the country, TOGETHER.

We also will be the very same groups that work TOGETHER for a brighter Sri Lanka.

We are one nation...a proud one at that!!! We are Sri Lanka.
Sam said…
You just made me miss home like crazy.. Also, love the post :)
Anonymous said…
Well written. But the reality that is coming around is not gonna make any match to this lovely essay.The things you have written here is what I felt 35 years ago, but this same sentiment is not what is felt by a youth of 13 years today. The Government(Sinhala buddhists) of present is sowing hatred amongst its own and what is to follow is Ethnic cleansing. The Past and Present governments have always done this, it happened with the Tamils. Fact is that most of these Sinhalese people would not be half way where they are today if not for those minorities.
Only Racism rules in Sri Lanka. On a lighter note its OK for Sinhalese buddhists to build temples in England and around the world and have Monks that go around abusing kids.
Shara said…
Thanks so much for your thoughts everyone.
I think we just need to remember our similarities and not our differences. 60 years after Independence USA was lynching blacks and blindly digging for gold and look how far they have come.
We're still a young nation. We still have hope.
Amr Rizwie said…
Awesome :) keep it up <3 SRI LANKAN <3
I cherish all those memories as well darling! Being Sri-Lankan does not have anything to do with it being a Sinhala Buddhist Country and everything to do with you psyche! You are a Sri Lankan in a Sinhala Buddhist country as much as Niran is an American in a Anglo Christian Country where the president is sworn in on a Bible.It is a good thing that Obama's family did not send him back to Kenya because his ancestors were once slaved in the country he was born.
He is now the president of the USA where the South is still segregated and half of the country still believes he is a muslim foreigner!
Anonymous said…
Love your thoughts... I wish if every Sri Lankan feel the same way...
Bimal said…
Exactly how I feel too. Thanks for a great writeup.
Vanessa said…
Could Not Agree More... I love it...
Ruwan Perera said…
you are a part of this culture. you are a part of the heart beat of country .little i know of you meant a lot today after reading this. there is not some one called a minority in a nation . we all are a one .if any one cannot think so surely will be expelled so soon. keep on writing on your heart beat . love to hear shara..
H said…
Just read this.

Heartwarming, to say the least. :)

I just have one or two (minor) issues.

Your perception of this united Sri Lanka, while not untrue, is a very Colombo-centric one. Go out to the provinces, and this semi-utopian multi-ethnic paradise that we THINK we see in Colombo just disappears in front of your very eyes.

Also, I have to agree with Anon above that a non-Sinhala Buddhist won't be allowed to hold high office in this country for years - even decades - to come. That's just how things are.

I hate to be cynical, but sometimes it is important to understand the ground realities of such a delicate situation. It's not all kewum, kokis and kiribath. :)

Having said that, you are spot on about the spirit of Colombo and how it should IDEALLY apply to the whole of Sri Lanka. And your words are powerful and evocative, and they have more than helped get the message across, which I guess is the point. And I dare say, you have more than succeeded. Well done. :)

- H
Queen of Pluto said…
Really sweet post. I'm more a I'm from planet Earth sorta person. That's the first point I will differentiate my self from others, i.e. Aliens.

Few generations down the line, I hope our kids will be so mixed up they will not really know their ethnic backgrounds unless they start saying "I'm 1/16th Sinhalease, 1/8th Tamil.... " As lovely as cultures are, I hope they become a thing in the past.. like how we look at Egypt.. Your geographical location shouldn't dictate who you are as a human. Our culture is already an international culture. We are mixed in so many different ways.. That's what makes it so lovely. The mixture of everything.

While I do understand the position of some of the people commented, I think it's wrong to generalize people based on their ethnicity or religious affiliations. We must acknowledge all ethnic groups have their own share of bumbling idiots who are completely narrow minded. The true minority in Sri Lanka is them. Majority of the people are peace loving, open-minded lovely people.
blackbiro said…
saw this shared over facebook and i just wanted to thank you, the author, because it's a damn good piece. beautifully written, and devoid of political agenda. i love it, because it means so much more to us as sri lankans than anything else i've read so far on the subject. you've hit the nail on the head. well done!
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Rahul has many years of experience in the tourism industry and is particularly interfere in bird watching and wildlife, culture and heritage. He also specialises in motor mechanics and served in Sri Lanka Driver Air Force for 16 years as a Transport Mechanic. A sports enthusiast, Nalin played for 16 years on the Sri Lanka Air Force Soccer team.
Rahul said…
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Shali Perera said…
My talented child :):)
Sri Lanka needs to remember not to forget.. <3
Anonymous said…
The funny part about "sinhala buddhist" is that Lord Buddha wasn't Sri Lankan
Elisha Mullins said…
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Anonymous said…
Wonderful Article !
Love your enemy ! We don't have a right to kill other people ! Don't Judge others ! Find the TRUTH ! Enter Heaven ! Pray for Sinners [Specially Sri Lankans]!

Many reason:
Buddhists are scared because popular wars are lead by Muslims ! They don't like wars !

Buddhist is a by product of Hinduism
[Sad when we think about their eternal life ! Many near death experiences knows the truth..But many are not using WWW correctly... ]

Matthew 15:10-11 ESV
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

Anonymous said…
your nostalgia for unity is all well and nice, but instead of putting the blame solely on the 'angry minority' why don't you look at the root cause of this problem? Sir Isaac Newton said that every action has a reaction. What you are witnessing is the reaction to the problem, ie. a symptom of the problem. Why don't you address the problem as well? You haven't even mentioned it once on this post. Since you might not be aware of it, let me spell it out for you: The problem is the increased radicalization of some muslims in this country, who are now demanding halal certification for everything imaginable. How come you all were fine without halal certification all these years, and all of a sudden, you need them on everything now? Does that mean you aren't going to eat our kavum, kokis at our new year celebrations because they will not bear the halal certificate? Why don't you discuss these real issues instead of pointing fingers at the 'angry minority' whose alleged crime is their reaction to these real issues? Unity by definition requires two sides to come together. Stop blaming just one side, and look within yourself to see how you can help unity prevail. I noticed you didn't have any comments that opposed your views. If you are so concerned about unity, I challenge you to publish this comment.
Shara said…
Dear Annoymous.

I don't moderate my comments - never have, never will. I will not get into your comment - because as much as you are entitled to your opinion I am entitled to mine. The reason nothing negative appears in these comments is because so far, no one has voiced it.
So thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I have a feeling that you seem to think I am Muslim by race - and in the spirit of my beliefs I won't confirm or deny it. But I would advice you not to make wide assumptions about authors when your share you opinion.
Shara said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
Dear Shara,

i'm glad to read your words and the enthusiasm behind this. The thing is if everyone, really every citizen in Sri Lanka -to leave the politicians out- will think like you Sri Lanka would be a real paradise. Because the citizens are who vote for the government ppl. A multi cultural country with its own history that might show other states in the world how to live peacefully. Sri Lanka could be a state where others can learn from. BUT i read your older posts... you never never mentioned anything about the genocide of the tamils in 2009. The Srilankan government kicked tamil ppls' human rights with their feet. And it's still keep going on. If you know the happening in Sri Lanka in 1960s and before Tamils were treasure for Sri Lanka. This is something that made me sad by reading your post!
Anonymous said…
A Tourist Board approved tour guide with almost 20 years experience in providing a quality and a reliable service to thousands of tourists from all around the world. I previously worked in large government projects in the construction sector both here and abroad and then followed my passion to travel and show the beauty of this nation to others. So I followed a guide course and qualified myself as a tour guide.
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Anonymous said…
The Sri Lanka you describe is ever so familiar to me. Your words are moving.

I am sad at the present state of affairs, but not very surprised. In fact, I would say that this situation was inevitable.

The reason for this is the general stress felt by the people. The people find it difficult to make ends meet, and buy enough food for their daily meals. The problem could have triggered when a concerned citizen asked a businessman why food prices were so high, and the easy reply may have been that the halal certificate was upping the prices.

And so now halal food and Muslims have become the target for those seeking out an excuse.

I am an amateur economist. I love economics because truly it is a simple and beautiful science. However it has become obfuscated by individuals in power for malicious reasons. I follow what is called "Austrian Free Market" economics. My inspirations are Frederic Bastiat who wrote "The Law" (freely available on the internet), Frederic Von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Ron Paul and so on...

My understanding of the subject allows me to see that the current situation may not be resolved politically. And politicians, however well meaning they are, would not be able to alleviate the problem. The premise behind this is that the government causes more harm than good in whatever it does.

The best solution is for the government to stop trying to help the people. To dismantle the free education and medical care system. To private our infrastructure. To close down the central bank. And so forth...

This sounds like crazy talk, but it is the only way our beloved country can get back on its feet.

Keep writing...!


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Sri Lanka is in the ocean of the Indian subcontinent. But it is an independent country with its own sovereignty. Tropical island is small, but has a diverse geography and climate. A person who can travel to Sri Lanka Driver to any area of ??hot or cold fast pace to move within only six hours by car.
Rahul said…
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Anonymous said…
Dear Shara,
i am the "Anonymous" to whom you responded. thanks for responding, and also for your advice, but rest assured i am not making any wide assumptions as i got the link to your post from a friend of yours, and therefore, am well aware of your ethnicity.
I find it typically "Sri-Lankan" of you to write your opinion, encourage comments, but refrain from participating in any discussions about solving the very issues that you are lamenting about. Like I said in my first comment, if you are not willing to discuss real problems, and are content with sighing and pointing fingers alone, then you have no right to complain. good luck to you and the rest of this country that desire unity, and by extension, progress for this country.
Anonymous said…
Shara, Thanks for the beautifully written post which so lyrically captures what it is to be Sri Lankan :)For seeing what Sri Lankans all share in common and recognising that our diversity just adds to the vibrancy of our country.
P. said…
Beautiful! You've so accurately captured what it means to belong to a richly diverse country. Also, your point about the "small angry minority" is spot on. The problem with these groups is that they claim to speak for an entire community - all too often, our silence allows them to get away with this nonsense. Time for all of us moderates to speak up - loud and clear. I'm very inspired to do a similar piece for India! :)
Anonymous said…
Loved every word! <3
Anonymous said…
very true!
but do you really think Muslims are part of this Sri Lanka you mention? I feel they are not. They seem to have a hidden agenda to wipe out all other ethnic groups.. That is something everyone should have in mind. Unfortunately, if we just stay silent as we stayed in the past, we might loose this sri lanka one day.. This does NOT mean that the way it is handled now is correct however.. I wish if Muslims were also like tamils!
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What you read yesterday reminded me of something I wrote about 4-5 years ago. Someone in an INGO asked me to find a poem about sri lanka, to share with her friends from other countries (everyone had to find a 'country poem'). i couldn't think of one, so i quickly wrote this one:


The heartbeat of my country
crashes as wave against rock
bursts into spray and song,
it roars down monsoon-swollen rivers,
drips one reluctant drop at a time
from the leaves of a bo tree.

My country’s heartbeat
resonates as drumbeat and dance step,
rolls off the udekki, the geta bera and thammatama,
turns somersaults along the Street of Pageantry and Veneration.

The heartbeat of my country
resides in every clod of earth turned at ploughing,
it rides the unwavering voice of the farmer coaxing his buffalo,
and dances in the harvest song,
traces the contour of tank bund,
rises with the rural dust of drought-heavy days,
slows with nightfall and awakes at first light.

The heartbeat of my country
has been captured in verse and prose,
etched on rock and manuscript,
carved on collective memory
residenced in lives and livelihoods.

My country’s heartbeat is as much an epic
as that of any other land;
made of triumph and defeat,
theft and magnanimity,
intrigue and passion,
blood-letting and benevolence;
a chronicle of kings and queens and
people and events,
a gathering of stories
of invasion, defence and recovery.

My country’s heartbeat is resilient.
it can be pushed against the wall,
crushed under the jackboot of invader or tyrant,
but it is far too tender for destruction.

My country’s heartbeat is the resolve
to overcome tragedy
bury it with a smile and move on.
it is the fuel
that turns an island into a dansala
twice every year,
and conjures kiribath on the most humble table
come the Aluth Avurudda.

My country’s heartbeat
arrives as laughter and tear,
the steaming cup of tea
and the red of a betal chew,
it is the dance of the toddy-tapper,
tThe patience of stilt-fishermen,
tThe shrewdness of the Southern businessman,
the suave of the trader,
the thrift of the gentle folk from the Peninsula,
the faith of the devotee that walks on coals
or is suspended on hooks from a Vel cart.

My country’s heartbeat is white
on Poya days and funerals,
red on May Day,
multi-coloured on polling days;
it has seen black days
and has known sunsets bathed in tears,
death, destruction and dismemberment,
and yet it is an unguent that sutures
the most terrible cuts,
a song that persuades embrace,
and a constant call to meditation.

I have heard the heartbeat of my country
in the tolling of the bell on Samanala Kanda,
the healing drone of pirith weaving its way
through tree and conversation,
in the call for prayer,
‘Allah O Akbar’,
the church choir and the hymn
and the chanting of the Poosari.

My country’s heartbeat
is, in fact, indescribable
and this gladdens me,
for I do not wish to see it traded
I do not wish to see it defined and bled,
contoured and decimated.

I live in a country whose heartbeat sings to me
and perhaps others.
It gives me heart
it gives me life
And lets me breathe.
I am content.

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