Monday, 03 July 2017 07:31

A singer, a doctor and a kingdom

On social media recently I came across the wedding photographs of a young female singer. In the traditional wedding costume, she was radiant. Taken with obvious professionalism, the photography brought out the hope and joy of the beginning of a young couples new life with poignancy.

As a songstress, Sahali Gamage came to national attention in 2009 when she rendered the euphoric song ‘Maha-Rajanini’( Great king). We had just vanquished the LTTE, the terror organisation which for long had menaced the land, bringing death and destruction in its wake. The country was jubilant, the dark cloud that hung over it was gone, now we could look forward to nation building, peaceful and transparent.

Naturally, a lot of credit went to the then government of President Rajapaksa for the leadership provided in the long drawn out battle against the terror group which had by then established a de facto government over a part of the country. So entrenched were they that in the final years they fought like a regular army, defending territory; against a much larger and better equipped Sri Lankan army.

Bloodiest conflicts

The actual battleground was relatively small, perhaps 5,000 square miles in all. In Western Australia, there is a farm named Anna Creek Station which is said to be around 9,000 square miles in size. But that is not the largest farm in the world. There are two gigantic farms in China which are said to be about three times the size of Anna Creek Station, about the size of Sri Lanka! The approximately 100,000 casualties we suffered in the thirty some years of sporadic fighting does not qualify our war to be among the bloodiest conflicts in recent times. Similar conflicts lately in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, for example, have resulted in greater blood-letting in much shorter periods of fighting. In World War 2 in just four years of war Russia alone suffered more than 20 million dead. Be that as it may, the threat posed by the LTTE nearly unhinged our impassive status-quo, challenging whatever political and military skills it possessed to the hilt. It cannot be taken away that it was the Rajapaksa government which took up the military challenge posed by the LTTE and fought it to a finish.

Every nation is different and every culture is unique. The response to stimuli is not often uniform. There is a motor accident; people gather, the police arrive and the law takes its course. However negligent, it is understood by all concerned that the act was not intended. The law will decide the appropriate punishment. An accident happens in another country; the people gather, they assault the driver and burn the vehicle (thus destroying the evidence!). Those in the mob could be anybody; a three wheel driver, a rubber tapper, a hospital orderly, village thug, a busybody. It cannot be claimed that in their line of work they are negligence-free. On the contrary, experience tells us that when they get to work anything that could go wrong would go wrong. While a passenger on an urgent journey is in the three-wheeler, it suddenly runs out of fuel; the driver had forgotten to fill the tank in the morning. The rubber trees will not be fertilised on time; the tapper neglecting that vital exercise because the benefits are a too long term for him. Many a patient suffers because the wrong medicine will be administered to him by the hospital staff, who will also overlook the stocking of essential medicine. These are typical acts of negligence that do not get noticed only because of their prevalence. But here at the scene of the motorcar accident, there is a righteous rage; it is the mob instinct, the thrill of its destructive power, not rationality that governs.

‘Maha-Rajanini’ proclaims a king, one who has united the land. As commonly said, everything is relative and seen through particular eyes. In the Second World War, Britain had to fight the most formidable of enemies, the world class German army. When the war was finally won (after a collective and massive effort by the Allies) the British did not think of making Churchill, their combative Prime Minister the King, and thereby replace the constitutional monarchy of George VI. How much ever the British gave thanks, a Churchill dynasty was not in the cards. Things were seen and understood in a certain perspective. For about two decades Osama Bin-Laden was America’s public enemy number one. President Clinton tried to eliminate him, Bush Jnr used all resources at his disposal to get him, but they both failed. Finally, it was President Barrack Obama, or rather during his presidency, that America settled scores with their primary enemy. America exulted. But, no one suggested that Obama quietly converts his presidency into a royalty!

Prabakaran enjoyed the absolute and unfettered power of a feudal king. He could have with a nod of his head eliminated anybody living in the area under his control and claim that the victim was an enemy of the people.

The person who carried out the assassination would be declared a great nationalist. If Prabakaran wanted any land, house or vehicle in his domain he had to only decide that they were needed for the ‘cause’. And, as in any feudal order, Prabakaran could anoint his son as successor and all that his followers could do was to hail the decision as divinely ordained.

Did Sahali Gamage really want a king (and a kingdom) for us too? I think not. According to the information available on social media, the pretty musician is an intelligent young woman. She did not want some hocus-pocus career; astrology, political functionary or even as a lady in waiting in a royal court. Instead, she aspired to a career in Western medicine, a calling that is bound to give her individuality, career satisfaction and intellectual enrichment.

In the ‘kingdom’, the Advance Level examination is ‘sudden death’ to those students who do not obtain the required aggregate in marks. It could be that on that day (day of the examination) or that time, the student is having a bad patch in his/her studies. Such is the variety and the richness of life that it may well happen that later, with maturity, that student could turn out to be a much better doctor than those who reach their intellectual peak in their mid-teens. But in the ‘kingdom’, failure at the Advance Level examination is goodbye to all hope. The system is unrelenting. So Sahali had to enrol, for a short period, at the controversial SAITM to pursue studies in medicine.

Hope and opportunity

Outside of the ‘kingdom’, life is an ever-renewing cycle of hope and opportunity. A shortfall at one examination at some point in life does not mean the door is slammed on your face for good. Sahali later left Sri Lanka to study medicine in a Western country, a country that accepted her, gave her an opportunity to study medicine and then become a doctor.

While the truth is so obvious, we insist on defining the present in terms of a dead past. Our points of reference are of kings and kingdoms, old schools and family connections.

Having paid our meaningless homage to these symbols of failure, we see no hypocrisy in taking to the sky to beg for development aid or scholarships from countries so unlike us. We have to emplane to the Arab countries to earn a decent living. For those who want a good life for their families, access to quality services and a society where there is a rule of law, it is the West that gives hope. Indeed, narrow is the corner we dwell in, but narrower still seems the minds and spirit therein.

Sahali’s good fortune did not end with her opportunity to study Western medicine. After her marriage, she reportedly intends to settle down in Canada and raise her family in the wholesome environment of a Republic which is truly democratic. I have no doubt that the life she has chosen will reward her with many blessings. We can only wish her the very best. (Daily News)

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