can’t afford to look only to the West for inspiration, writes
A peaceful coexistence
It is often the case that the visitor proves to be more adept than
the native when it comes to accurately observing and recording the
customs, culture and society of a particular nation. Just as an
individual only learns his true nature once his reflection has been
revealed to him in the mirror of public opinion, so it is that a
society requires the impartiality of an outsider in order to truly
illuminate its collective personality.
I was born in
Sri Lanka in 1979 but have resided in England for the last twenty
years, and although the visits back to my motherland are frequent,
I still feel somewhat of a tourist. And in spite of my dark complexion
differentiating me from my fellow holidaymakers, I remain able to
locate and identify the various social intricacies and eccentricities
of Sri Lanka to an extent in which its local inhabitants might never
hope to emulate.
worrying and widespread societal trend I have noticed in recent
years has been the endemic westernisation of Sri Lankan culture.
I remember clearly the days when a visit to Sri Lanka would signify
an escape from the crass commercialism and soul-destroying consumerism
that England represented. I would long for the cultural purification
which only my birthplace could supply; a country schooled in the
legend of its own rich history, where tradition would never be sacrificed
for the sake of superficial ‘progress’. In short, Sri
Lanka was the perfect antidote to the capitalist monotony of the
days are no more. Perhaps I am viewing the recent past with rose-tinted
glasses, or maybe during my previous visits I was too naïve
to notice the gradual changes that a society with ambitions to join
the modern global economy must inevitably make. But no, I fear that
history will prove me correct, and that Sri Lanka is on its way
to losing its Asian identity as it strives to become yet another
Ours is an
era of globalisation, with capitalism the religion and America the
messiah. And where America leads, the rest of the world will undoubtedly
follow. Viewed in purely economic terms, this is not necessarily
a negative thing. With its embrace of free enterprise the United
States has demonstrated that financial prosperity is available for
all those individuals who are willing to work for it, and it is
thus no surprise that many other countries view America’s
economy as a model that they wish to emulate.
consequence of increased affluence is the cult of consumerism which
inevitably ensues, and it is this growing shift towards material
obsession that is having a damaging effect on Sri Lanka, and more
specifically those youthful members of Sri Lanka’s elite.
Youngsters, seemingly empowered by their parents’ wealth,
are able to buy into that lifestyle which Western societies ascribe
so much unwarranted kudos to. They must have the latest mobile telephone,
wear the most fashionable clothes and listen to the latest music.
In their fascination with all things western, they have neglected
their own culture in their efforts to embrace another.
For an outside
observer, whose heart remains in Sri Lanka, this is a depressing
state of affairs. It is not my intention to resort to hyperbole
for sensationalism’s sake, but it appears that financial progress
has resulted in moral corruption. Economic evolution and cultural
development is inevitable, and often necessary, but Sri Lanka’s
promising future has to be reconciled with its illustrious past.
is a land of happy contradictions, where chaotic, bustling freeways
sit comfortably alongside serene, sandy beaches. So why can’t
Colombo’s emergent cosmopolitanism and rampant commercial
growth coexist in conjunction with the ancient magnificence of Polonnaruwa?
history, indeed my cultural history, is a precious, wondrous thing,
and it is precisely because it’s so very precious that it
must be guarded and protected. It’s survival is vital if Sri
Lanka is to maintain a semblance of its past glories and hold on
to its national identity. It is thus the duty of those members of
society’s upper echelons, for these are the people who effectively
run our country, to ensure the preservation of our distinguished
If a whole generation
of adolescents spend their formative years constantly looking to
the west for inspiration and cultural leadership, then our own rich
traditions risk obliteration. And that is a price too high for any
amount of progress to justify.