There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat…
Shakespeare, aptly in Julius Caesar
We cannot take any more! That seemed to be the summation that drove the middle class and upper to hold silent vigils with placards hoisted. It was a giving vent to long pent-up disappointment, frustration, anger, outrage, and new found fearlessness. The pervasive feeling was being sick to the gills of the government and its leaders and debased Cabinet Ministers. I do not think those who originated the vigils ever thought results would emerge so soon and be accompanied by capitulation. The main slogan of the protests: Go Gota Go in Shakespearean language can be: Methinks thou art an offence and every man should beat thee.
I am not competent to analyse the situation at present in Sri Lanka and incapable of commenting on it with prognosis in the sense of forecasting likely outcomes of the situation, and predictions. But I have the gut feeling and sensibility of a mature woman who loves her country and her fellow Sri Lankans – all of them – except of course those in power and hangers on and toadies. Hence my going into a province of comment I avoid in this column. But what else can one write about when one’s thoughts, hopes and fears are pinned on the present situation. Times glory is to … unmask falsehood and bring truth to light (Shakespeare).
Speaking of predictions, a certain elevated hospital attendant from Anuradhapura comes to mind. We heard she was even dictating policy but we were too scared to even whisper her name. We know killings have taken place, abductions and white vans which mercifully were kota uda in the recent past. Hirunika, to whom I ascribe the honour of being the igniter of loud protests, brought this Anuradhapura dame to light by wanting to have a forecasting session with her but was stymied by a barrage of police persons. Who was she to be guarded so well?
Hirunika posed this question to the head police officer and also made a very succinct remark; “You should be guarding us, the members of the public.” Oh well, some have greatness accompanied by wealth, a palatial home, security and even permission to build a hotel into the sacrosanct Nuwara Wewa, thrust on them!
But now…Whoopee! All lost! Fear in its place in the hearts and bones of those who rode so high.
The best known April/spring gathering in English literature was persons getting together in the last decade of the 14 century to go on pilgrimage from London to Canterbury to revere the martyr, Archbishop Sir Thomas Becket, killed in his cathedral by four emissaries of King Henry II in 1155. Geoffrey Chaucer recorded it in his Canterbury Tales in 1387, the first major work in the English language.
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
On March 31 and April 1 and thereafter, the people of Sri Lanka rose and gathered on a sort of pilgrimage in sympathy with the less privileged who were moving from queue to queue to get bare essentials and being deprived on all fronts. In the meantime the PM’s son, tipped by his mother mostly to be bequeathed future leadership as a birthright in this country they appeared to treat as their demesne, was sporting in the Maldives. He was then ready to be feted by school children and suckers when he declared open a playing field already in use in Bandarawela. His mother was journeying to be feted in a Carlton school.
Never mind the dying through hunger, the lack of essential medicines, the utter suffering of the masses due to government’s mismanagement. The tamashas which the Rajapaksa family love and their sycophants provide had to go on. Proof: holding a huge National Day parade this February 4. TV news mentioned that Brother Basil was busy planning May Day rallies! Thank goodness we poorer ones this year need not drool seeing the heavily laden Avurudhu Mese at Carlton House in Tangalla, the PM’s home turf residence. Fate of the banas at Temple Trees on poya days? Will they continue? Not many will attend.
I refreshed my memory about the former Spring Uprising, also brought about by rulers’ tyranny, incompetent governments and consequent suffering of the masses. That Arab Spring occurred in the early 2010s with a series of anti-government protests which spread across much of West Asia. It was in response to corruption and economic stagnation that started in Tunisia, and continued in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain where either the ruler was deposed – Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak and two others, or escalated to civil wars as in Kuwait, Oman, Jordan and Sudan. The slogan was ‘People want to bring down the regime.’
The initial protests faded by mid 2012 as many were crushed by the governments of the various countries. However, some escalated to large scale conflicts like the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIL; an insurgency in Iraq and a coup in Egypt. That was the first instance of people gathering consequent to social media messages.
Many parallels can be drawn as also differences between the Middle East uprisings and ours. The Arab Spring fizzled out and they termed it the Arab Winter. People in usually complacent, submissive, compliant sunny Sri Lanka rose up: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by apposing, end them? We took the gamble and all right thinking, national minded people across the board say that the vigils and protests MUST go on. We cannot allow a winter to set in. We will have to suffer much more slings and arrows but they will be of a remedial kind; the economy et al will be set on correct courses but will be extremely arduous, time consuming and will call for much patience. Most importantly: competent, respected, honest people must take the lead. Absolutely no violence should be allowed at this juncture, particularly.
Again as Shakespeare pronounced: If you prick us do we not bleed? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?
Delighted with the Cabinet resigning and the exit of the Governor of the Central Bank – but with a substantial pension. He it was that looked to be the cause of much of our country’s trouble: styming going for help to the IMF, paying off some loan that could have been deferred and printing money at a rate and saying it would not cause inflation. Of course he was listening to his master’s voice and performing at their bidding, but he should not have. John Maynard Keynes pronounced There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. That is just what CB Gov Nivard Cabraal did.
The rats slink away from the sinking ship
Apoi bohoma sthuthi
, nanri, shukriya, danke schon, gracias. The measly but rich rats are fast disappearing. The grapevine reported that one big man left while security cameras at Katunayaka Airport switched off. Families have been dispatched to safety. So also precious goods bought from looted wealth. Will countries like US, Britain, Singapore accept such as migrants? Of course the dual citizens will go back to doing whatever they did in their second domicile. Or will they, along with stained reputations, have to live in places like Seychelles, money haven African states, Dubai? Won’t they, after a time, yearn for our buth curry; our hills and valleys; temple, church and kovil bells ringing? Won’t sea, sand, sun; wild life and wild ways; and the glitzy artificiality of each of those three mentioned countries pall on the migrants? JOLLY GOOD for all their evil. Bloody thou art, bloody will be thy end. Shame serves thy life and doth thy death attend. They might also as they sit in loneliness with no sycophants or bum suckers, suffer as they made others suffer like Thajudeen’s family for instance, and ponder as Shakespeare wisely said: Life’s but a shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
We thank our well-to-do protesters who came peacefully on the roads to say most forcefully ‘enough is enough’. We all have to maintain that peace and the protest too.
BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7
It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.
The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’
It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.
At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.
However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.
The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.
There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”
The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.
Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.
What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.
In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.
However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.
Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.
Queen of Hearts
She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.
Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’
When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”
Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.
The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’
She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.
“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”
A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.
“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”
Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.
“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.
“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”
What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.
“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”
The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.
Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.
And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.
We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.
Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue
KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1
by Harshana Rambukwella
In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.
This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.
However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.
Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.
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