Colombo, Identity, Media and Communications, Peace and Conflict, Post-War, Reconciliation

On Anthems and the State of the Union

I have been stirred and moved even to tears by both the Tamil and Sinhala versions of the Ceylon, now Sri Lanka,anthem. I think I owe this emotional tie to birth on the island, to school on the island, to my first toffees and cricket matches on the island. I wonder now how a new boy born today in this same, yet- not- the same, Sri Lanka will feel, denied the comfort of hearing his mother tongue at the award ceremony, the annual Shakespeare recital, the spelling bee.

I find myself a bit blasé contradicting the noted historical wisdom of the ministers who passed the recent decree. They said there are no countries which sing their anthems in more than one language. Of course, that is not true. Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand, South Africa, even the United Kingdom which brings together different nations with their particular anthems, come to mind. But I wonder why a country that has celebrated its rich mixes– that have produced outstanding talent in literature (Ondaatje), cricket (Murali), and that sprinter, Susanthika Jayasinghe, who won a silver at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, and Duncan White who started the trend at the White City Games in 1948– has changed its law.

I speak too much of sport. What about antropology, which has rewarded the world with Gnanath Obeysekere and Valentin Daniel, political analysis, with Jayadeva Uyangoda, diplomacy with Jayantha Dhanapala? We have many heroes in our country and we were all once, boys or girls, moved, choked-up, listening to our mother tongue on the loudspeakers.