Plus - Letter to the editor

Let us go back to the way we were

The year was 1965. At the conclusion of our traditional big match versus St Thomas’, the Royal team was summoned by the Principal and told that reciprocal matches had been initiated with schools in Jaffna and as a first step, the school’s cricket team was to proceed over the weekend, for an encounter with St. John’s College.

So a team of 14 players, comprising a Muslim captain, ten Sinhalese, two Tamils, and one Burgher were bundled off in the Yal Devi the following Thursday and arrived at the Jaffna railway station to a truly warm reception. Over the next two days we played some fascinating cricket before an unprecedented and enthusiastic crowd. A challenging declaration by our captain, on the second day, in the true spirit of the game, left the Johnians around 140 runs to make from 20 overs. Their talented players rose to the task, to take them to victory, much to the delight of the appreciative crowd, and Jaffna had seen a great game of cricket, played to its highest traditions. Yes, time wasting tactics in the face of possible defeat were unheard of in those days!!

At the closing banquet that followed, the night air was filled with songs, in Tamil, Sinhala and English, with team members exhibiting their talents in solos and duets. The warm and generous hospitality continued into Sunday as well, before we were escorted to the railway station for a memorable send off and as the train pulled out of the platform, there was not one dry eye in the Royal team!!

Yes, there was indeed a time when that boy from the North was no different to his counterpart from the South, East or West.

He was just as caring ! There was a good reason for this. The concept of equality was still prevalent throughout the country then, and the commonly and widely spoken language of English, made communication so easy.

What happened in the ensuing years can be summed up in just one sentence from the memoirs of a leader, who once looked to Sri Lanka as the model for his own country.

Lee Kwan Yew, one time Prime Minister of Singapore, observed, “On my subsequent visits to SriLanka, I watched a country of great promise, go to waste.”

A product each, from St Thomas and Royal, through their actions (SWRD – Sinhala only) and inaction (JRJ – 1983 riots) were largely responsible for the ethnic divide, and the horrendous destruction, that followed in the ensuing years. In July 1983, the world witnessed a merciless assault on innocent Tamil civilians, ( in retaliation for the death of 13 soldiers, killed in the north by extremists) that was orchestrated and ruthlessly implemented by gangs of misguided thugs of irresponsible politicians: barbaric acts of cowardice that had their inevitable long term consequences that we have all experienced, and some of us have been fortunate to survive.

The shame of those acts will unquestionably haunt our beautiful country forever: and yet, through it all, there were also heart rending acts of kindness and courage from many civic minded Sinhalese, who rose to protect their Tamil friends, at great risk to their own lives. I was one such beneficiary, as the Sinhalese members of the Tamil Union cricket team of 1983 moved into live in our family home in Bambalapitiya, and left only when they were certain that the threat to us had totally receded. In that group of eight,three were outstanding cricketers from the south and to each of them my family and I remain permanently indebted.

The Nation is now at the crossroads, where the President, having inherited the consequences of the actions of his predecessors, has successfully brought a needless and yet brutal war, spanning over 26 years , leaving behind a trail of untold suffering, death and destruction, to its termination. Immediately thereafter, the President inspired confidence in his repeated addresses to the nation, by speaking in Tamil as well, conveying with sincerity, his genuine desire to unite the country. Moreover, he also stressed that it was mandatory to respect the Constitution and to be mindful of the need to establish Good Governance and the Rule Of Law.

With such statesmanlike assuarances from the head of our nation, genuine peace has never had a greater chance, as it has now, though the healing process will take its time.

Although a practising Hindu, I have also read with great interest, Lord Buddha’s teachings. In a predominantly Buddhist country, let those priceless pronouncements be the guiding light on the path that we will all have to travel, to unite our nation, conscious that there are wounds on both sides that may possibly never heal.Perhaps each of us genuinely committed to that goal could take a quote from the sayings of Mahatma Gandhi, …..“Let me be the change I want the world to be” and allow our conscience dictate our actions, so we may go back to “The Way We Were”.



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