Sunday, April 24, 2016

I was born here, in Colombo

by Victor Cherubim
( April 20, 2016, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) To many in Sri Lanka, life overseas is a bowl of cherries. It is quite natural for longing to travel outside our shores of our small island, to see the world. Strangely from birth, it becomes a cherished ambition for some, in search of the unknown, the unchartered, the new frontier of experience? Could it hardly be a comparison, as a step on the Moon?
Over centuries however, many world travellers too have come to our land, some in search of adventure, and others in search of trade. We ask ourselves what makes them travel? Is it a pastime to find solitude, solace or sobriety or in hope to conjure memories of the hidden jewels of pleasure?
Life in our land and life abroad
If life in our land is so different to life abroad, or seen to be different, why is it that many leave our shores taking perilous journeys over land and sea(s) and many continents, as refugees?
If life in our land is so different to life abroad, why is it that they are willing to give fictitious accounts of persecution in today’s Sri Lanka,perhaps, to earn a crust abroad?
Why on earth are so many desperate to leave Sri Lanka and do work in unpleasant conditions and very long hours in an unfriendly work environment, say for example, in Sainsbury’s Freezer Rooms packing and stacking food, for a measly wage and studying during daytime to qualify for Student non-support Visas to UK?
It appears to me that there is disconnect between lives lived in Sri Lanka and life abroad and that we are willing to sacrifice everything for a wage? Do I have to mention what hardships our women domestic workers have to tolerate in the Middle East?
Reminiscence of my youth in Sri Lanka
As a small island I need hardly state we are used to a close knit family life. We experience diversity, many different environments, different climate, different races, different languages, culture and religions, a varied lifestyle within a small island.
Sri Lanka had a hot, steamy climate; when it rained, it thundered, when it was balmy, it was breezy. We had a variety of landscape, hills, rivers, beaches and wild life sanctuaries. Our seas surrounding us abound with coral and seafood and marine life.
As an island nation, privacy was an uncharacteristic. Everyone knew everyone else down the street. There was a parochial feel, perhaps, to co-exist in a more harmonious way to nature and man. This was toppled by the war and the disharmony it created. We thought of our homes as wellness generators rather than isolated residences. Islanders by nature are inquisitive. Hardly, would we think “Oh, that is not my problem, as everybody’s worry, was our worry.” What an interesting predicament? What an advertisement?
We were taught from an early age to think of Mother Nature, our ocean, our earth, our environment as something tangible, something to value and treasure. We were close to nature in more ways than one. Our New Year, our seasons, our festivities and frolics were in association and celebration of nature. Our customs, traditions and even our ayurvedic herbal medicinal treatments were natural.
It was sad that this cultural diversity, heritage, a closeness to nature was abandoned due to the exigencies of the 30 odd year war, when families were separated by association.
It is comforting to know that we are once again back on track, being driven to seek our natural habitat and our inborn tendencies to respect and in reconciliation with man and Mother Nature in our celebrations of our New Year.
What then is the difference between our lifestyles in Sri Lanka and abroad?
The most noticeable difference between life in Sri Lanka and say life in the UK, is the conspicuous spatial experience. Both Sri Lanka and Britain are islands, but there is a surrounding cloak of discretion, a secrecy and understatement tending towards unpredictability, unless you are here some fifty odd years, when this changed perspective becomes normal.
We become vulnerable, dependent and it becomes harder not to romanticise obstacles. Expatriate or diaspora life is learning to live alone. Seeing and sensing a routine, getting a hang of life abroad, takes time to establish.
We in Sri Lanka are passionate about our lust of wander which is compromised by its imperfections and now our debt burden.
What do I want for Sri Lanka in the future?
“I was born here, in New York City “stomps Bernie Sanders, the candidate seeking Democratic nomination– a qualification for Presidency of the United States.
My vision for Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, is because I was born in this City. My dream city of Colombo of the future, 50 years from now is for humans and not for cars. There must be places for people to walk down the street, to cycle to work, to be able to interact with people. Regrettably, our brains have been conditioned to autos and three-wheeler travel. They have commandeered too much living space. Much of the City of Colombo as seen from above, from air and space has changed. There is too much concrete, asphalt, the flow of goods and people has changed, what I used to know.
When in Colombo two years ago, I walked from Bambalapitiya to Kollupitiya, a short distance to Green Cabin, to sample the food I used to taste when I was a young lad. I walked the length of Marine Drive, parallel to the railway line, mainly to experience a stroll down the beach. The trudge to Pettah was an experience of meeting humanity.
How can we enhance the quality of life of Colombo?
Cities, if not parts of cities, need to be planned to be greener and more open, more walker friendly, more personalised shelters. We need to plant more trees, more flowering trees. We need patient grooming of these roadside shades. We need human surroundings and interaction.
More than most, we need to integrate solar power, water and wind to cool air in our homes and office spaces. We need to be different from Singapore or Chicago to be recognisd. In short, can we bring us closer to nature rather than build everywhere blocks to reach the sky?
There is a whole world out there which we won’t realise how much we don’t know until we get out and see how other people want to live. People are becoming eager to do things differently. Let us note these differences, not only to love and accept and work with difference, but see the beauty of diversity.

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