What is the white man’s burden?
Can I find it in my fields?
Does he stir it with his bourbon?
Is it the rod he wields?
And all the white man’s children,
These heirs to his estate
Lithe in laps of luxury
Unbridled by its weight.
Ever suckling at the bosom
Of privilege and power
The world is their inheritance,
Theirs is the chosen hour.
And we who toil beneath them
Dealt the brown man’s hand
Must ever labour thrice as hard if
As equals we dare stand.
– S.S. Bartlett
A controversial topic, yes. My main point here is not colonialism, but the inequality that is still ripe and approaching putrescence in the modern age. As a student fortunate enough to study in in Europe I have encountered a modicum of contemporaries who are oblivious to the privilege they have inherited. Their lives are sans the sort of prejudice we from the “non-Western World” must endure. Upon my return home I have come to realise that had a student from my home country been afforded the same opportunities many of my European friends had, they would have reaped its fruit threefold.
Note. I would have gladly avoided colour had I not been so keen to allude to Rudyard Kipling.
A roundabout of lies lies not far
From the blackened Muslim shop;
Mettha, Karuna, Muditha, Upeksha
And I have come to hate those words.
For when Aluthgama burned; Mettha.
It was love that stole their breath
When the hot mob’s iron teeth
From whose revolver I know not
Found their hearts and brains and bones
And sent them all to sleep-like death.
Karuna; when absurd rhetoric like a wall
Separated predator and victim
As cages keep lions away from men.
But compassion for whom I wonder?
Was it the cult whose temples burned asunder?
Muditha; happy in being drunk on melancholic draughts
That lie fermented in the hot earth;
Foaming at the mouth for twenty five years.
What brave baboons are these who
Having no fears of last night’s nuptial hour
With that striped beast
Once more binge at that bloody feast?
For my bruised kin who reacted not in the like;
Who having no homes of their own reacted in the least.
Shall I the true robed monks call
And from their meditations wake them?
What would they say of proclaimed manes
and a race above the race of men?
Rude I need not be.
The answer I fear I hear.
A roundabout of lies lies not far.
At 58′ to 83′
Are they not cars that pass
Of every man made chassis and class?
Mettha ,Karuna ,Muditha ,Upeksha.
Four new lives to reach that bloody brim.
There is more of the predator in the victim.
The poem, I must stress is not targeted towards a single race or religion as a whole, but extremism and ultranationalism. The poem was written following the Aluthgama incident and anti Muslim violence in Sri Lanka.
Unlike its name suggests, “Sri Lanka” hides little beauty in its history. So bloody and volatile is its past that one might argue that all that is left of this “resplendent isle” we call home is a marred landscape choked by the toxicity of violence. The civil conflict Sri Lanka endured for three decades is bitter gall to swallow and something most Sri Lankans would sooner strive to forget, yet to this day the continued manipulation and malpractice of Sri Lankan society’s volatility predicts a future with a dark foreboding. The lack, rather complete neglect for reconciliation threatens to curdle and corrupt Sri Lanka’s youth and once again cast the island into a viscous cycle of war and bitter animosity over petty differences in religious and ethnic spectrums.
The term “I am Sri Lanka” is an exaggerated claim that has all the air and heat of a cliché and deflating balloon. The term “I am” speaks to a majority, and implies that one group presides over the other. It is this post-war approach to portray unity to the world that has ironically crippled the future and promise of a near independent nation. This lie sold to the youth of the country, that one is and not that we are threatens the existence for a blossoming peace. To quote John Donne (aptly) “No man is an island.” and Sri Lankan youth ought to remember that whether Burgher, Malay, Tamil or Sinhalese not a single man or race can be self sufficient with the absence of his fellow countrymen. The lie that is “I am Sri Lanka” ought to be rewritten and rethought before it twists a darker picture than it implies among the youth. “We are Sri Lanka” must take precedence over both majority and minority.
Furthermore it must be brought to light that the youth have not been bred by peace or promises of flowery futures, but rather the insecurity and ideologies of their fathers and thus have inherited the same bitter resentment that can lob the country into instability once again. However these tensions are dormant, only infecting the subconscious, and the failure of those who administer and tutor the youth is in taking inadequate steps to eradicate such seeds of disunity planted by successive governments on both sides of the fence.
Despite the endeavours by the country’s administration to heal this deep gash in the veins of a multi ethnic community, the erecting of monuments only goes so far in hiding the wound. While it is commendable that highways and roads now bridge far-flung provinces the misunderstanding that concrete and cement can fill the cracks within Sri Lankan society must not be taken too seriously. Mass displays of non-existent wealth such as the spending of some Rs.3Bn to host the Commonwealth Summit are unnecessary. This coupled with the fact the some Rs.280Bn is spent on the country’s militarisation against a long defeated enemy is a questionable allocation of resources. Instead of the mass parades and public tamashas initiatives must be taken to nip the weeds of ultra-nationalist movements that seek to bring one ethnicity or one religion above all others. It is this form of neo-terrorism that the country’s youth must strive to exterminate. Unlike the riots of 1983, ’77 and ’58 when the youth had little power to salt the soil of the Civil War the current generation of youth is well equipped; possessing an array of weapons in their arsenal for “peaceful warfare” online and on air. The Internet promises a multitude of platforms for assaulting such groups that extol disharmony. Anything from Facebook and Blog Posts to Scumbag Steve Memes are lethal and effective in crippling those who seek to break the peace and promise this country has to offer. Applying such measures will choke the seeds of Anti-Western, Anti-Muslim and Anti-Christian ideologies sown in the minds of the misled public and pave a way for a truly independent nation.
Diversity is a double-edged sword, one which with we can wage war over petty differences or one which promotes an economy and society of variety and value. It is in which way the youth wields the sword that will determine whether it is “I” or “We” who are Sri Lanka.