Photo courtesy of Maatram
How does one begin a love letter?
I’m sorry, it’s been a while since I have written one.
Sri Lanka my dearest, my love, my strength,
You are in my heart. You always have been and always will be. But right now, you are really making your presence felt. As with many loves, eventually, my love for you got complacent. But you have woken up from a slumber inside me, picked my heart up and stolen it back to Galle Face Green. My mind has obediently followed. The energy, courage, resilience and humour of my fellow countrywomen of #GoGotaGama has kept me there. The rhythm of the drums and the protest chants have invigorated me to distraction. The kindness and generosity of our people in the face of so much hardship and difficulty has given me hope. For the first time in a long time, I feel that the purple-orange sunset painted Galle Face sky truly is your limit.
You are home.
But you have broken my heart.
You have broken it many times.
You broke it when you allowed racists and bigots to define you. When you glorified violent men who killed in your name. When you empowered corrupt thieves who stole from your own. When you caved in as shameless opportunists carved you up, extracted pieces of your body and sold you to the highest bidder. When you rewarded cowardice, nepotism and greed. When you were complacent as inequalities and injustices piled up high. When you looked the mother of the disappeared, father of the hungry, wife of the detained, husband of the exploited abroad, grandfather of the forcibly cremated, grandmother of the raped, daughter of the assassinated and son of the exiled in the eye, and then turned away, wordless, solution-less, cold.
But still, I love you.
And I acknowledge, my love comes from a place of privilege. For I never starved, my father was not killed, my brother was not tortured and my sister was not taken away. My land was not stolen, my language was not denied, my gods were not desecrated, my customs were not ridiculed, my accent was not laughed at, my elders were not silenced, my belonging was not questioned. But you watched as all of this was done to so many of us. You let it happen. You let it be done in your name, offerings at your alter.
It is my privilege to still be able to love you. For so many, it is too painful. For so many, it is too hopeless. For so many, the grief runs too deep. You have failed all of these so many. You, the one who should have been a permanent source of strength, of home, of self.
I am sorry. This still is a love letter, though it may no longer feel like one. But you must understand, my love for you is inextricably entangled with pain and anger and guilt. Perhaps this is why I had locked you up in a chamber of my heart, even as my life and work took me beyond your shores. But my love for you has always simmered under the surface, ready to seep through when triggered by a smell, a sound, an image, a memory or conversation.
And now, at what is undeniably one of your lowest points, this love has burst through the dam I built around it and washed over me. It has transported me back to you. It has left me longing for you. It has given me permission to dare to start to think of the possibility of believing, that maybe, just maybe, this will not end with another heartbreak.
And I ask myself why?
And I ask myself why.
What I see today, is a groundswell of a collective conscience that I didn’t think existed, an imagination of how our society can be, an unleashing of our potential, a celebration of our humour, a realisation of our strength; not of our military or political leaders or religious institutions, not even of our cultures or traditions or taught histories, but of our people. Our imperfect, damaged, stifled, suffocated, resilient, community-minded, creative, generous, fun-loving people.
And then it strikes me my love. You only exist because we created you. Because we believe in your existence. Because we subscribe to the idea of you.
But we have abdicated our responsibility to you.
The contours of your existence, your character, your violence, your indifference, were drawn by men (and women, but mostly men) who crave power, who idolise themselves, who think themselves superior and untouchable and whose greed, hypocrisy and selfishness knows no limits.
We believed you into existence, but failed to disbelieve their version of you.
We accepted their constitution that says some of us are more equal than others. We blindly followed their political parties which only served to turn our democracy into their oligarchy. We let them pass laws that legalised the arbitrary detention and torture of our fellow citizens. We turned a blind eye when they stole from us, even as this only emboldened them to steal more. We celebrated as war heroes, criminals whose crimes against humanity have gone unpunished. We put thieves, charlatans and murderers on a pedestal, and helped them build it higher. We told ourselves that this was how the system worked, and in our own small ways, worked the system too. We were complacent with the sovereign power we hold, lazy with our democratic responsibility, inconsistent with who we treated with humanity.
We have been complicit.
With every concession we made, with every excess of theirs we allowed to go unpunished, with every failure of ours to stand in solidarity with our neighbour, we made you smaller, uglier, poorer.
If only we had taken the care to imagine a better you, perhaps you would have manifested into that imagination. Instead, we let them imagine a worse you, a you which existed only to served them.
And this is why I now dare to believe.
We have started to imagine again.
And as our imagination gets richer and our collective conscience gets stronger, their power over you will begin to fade away, and perhaps you will finally be able to become your true self. It already is happening.
It already is.
And then I realise. The reason you broke my heart so many times, is because I broke my heart so many times. I failed every time you failed. We all did. For you live in us, as much as we in you.
I am sorry my Sri Lanka.
I will do better by you. We all must.
Thank you for reading my letter to you. I hope you understand that it only comes from a place of love.
Now I should end, but I have forgotten how to end a love letter.
Perhaps, I should find a new way, drawing inspiration from my compatriots.
Kaputu kaak kaak kaak.