Tamils have Tamil Nadu Muslims have Arabia, Christians have the West, we Sinhala Buddhists only have this little island

I’m sure you have heard a version of it at some point in your life. No? Lucky you. Growing up I used to hear its variations of this sentiment about as frequently as bomb blast during the war years. Not very often. Just enough to stay in the mind. Thankfully voiced by non immediate family members. Though my Jaffna relative, without a hint of irony, warned us kids to preserve the purity of the Sinhala race by never marrying those “dut-ti Tamils”.

It’s a nasty reminder of the power of colonial era ethnic/cultural/religious divisions. Yes, there’s a “Sri Lankan” identity. It gets trotted out during international cricket. Rest of the time we are a worm pile of labels and suspicions.

For decades we never really wanted to deal with that reality.  Now its impossible to ignore and is feeding a greater evil. This can’t go on. Irrespective of history, it is a toxic way to live. I feel its slowly killing us all. As history has shown, it only serves the politicians.

All my life I have heard the sentiments of the title. From a disconcerting sampling of society. Consultant medical types. A driver holding forth to his fellows outside a tuition class. A mathematics teacher aghast at how “those Tamils” are learning Sinhala. She seemed to imply some sort of “takeover” was underway. From Old Girls Association aunties grumbling about minorities creeping into “good Colombo Buddhist” schools. Domestics gossiping down the lane. From orange sheeted skinheads who are neither the Buddhists nor the monks they claim to be. The list goes on.

Irrespective of the speaker, there was never any immediate disagreement from its Sinhala audience. The shrillness of such talk made disagreement an act of ethnic treason. You either proudly declared your agreement or nodded submissively before changing the subject to something pleasant. An aversion to politics seemed an acceptable excuse.

Most of such sentiments ride on a familiar sense of imminent ethnic annihilation in Sinhala culture. A fear built on historical and demographic fact. A few are selectively emphasised (as with most talk of histories and politics). Their nuances get blurred through repetition. A sense of grievance rises as the shrill dominant emotion. All adding to a sense of paranoia. Of cracks in the dam, writing on the wall and other signs of oozing apocalypse.

The threat of ethnic doom is drilled into you at school. It starts with the golden ages of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Templates for the ideal Sri Lanka. Ruled with stern fatherliness by benevolent kings. Whose absolute power is blessed by a pious religious establishment. A time pictured in vast irrigation works. On whose waters dance reflections of stunning stupas (not kovils, mosques or churches). Surrounded by endless fields of paddy signifying self sufficiency in rice and independence of the outside world.

These utopias are shown getting pounded south by the regular invasions of Cholas and Pandyas (unsubtle proxies for Tamils). The counter punches of heroic kings ultimately futile. Thus the “Tamil North” gets painted as a result of invasion. An foothold of the “55 million” Tamils (a frequently bandied number) just waiting to cross the palk straits and wipe “us” out. During the war years, the LTTE was the advance guard of this invasion. Now it’s anyone taking about “Tamil lands”.

Next comes the cunning greedy “West”. The brutal Parangi (Portuguese), Dutch and the insidious English. Buddhist temples destroyed. Monks slaughtered. Destruction of the Buddhist establishment hits at two implications.

  1. Removing the institution that legitimises local rulers
  2. Replacing it with a belief system that is a political/cultural assimilation tool of empire.

Christianity is shown as that belief system. Its local converts, even in the most “detached” narratives are implied as traitors. Selling out their Rata, Jaythiya, Argama (country, race, religion) for perks below their station.

The notion lingers today. Predatory Catholics are supposedly out to bag Buddhists through “love marriages” and baptise the children. The evangelicals buy converts with their dollars.

By this time the “discussion” implies a numbers game. A brutal matter of who out breeds who. Typically I heard this in mutterings about family planning as a plot to thin the Sinhala herd. While the Muslims in particular are patau gahanawa – having multiple children as if by the litter.

The inevitable next topic is what to do. Its conclusion: “protections” for the majority. Or else get snuffed out. The national flag offers a model for this mindset. The minorities kept in their place. By the roaring lion of aggressive ethnocentrism and the sword of the state. If the minorities even increase slightly, “they” will start to “take” parts of the country. “Look at how Wallawatte has become a little Eelam” was considered the final say in the matter.

Descriptions of these “protections” I have heard tend to be of privileges. Cultural ones to puff the ego. Legal ones to make the bully feel powerful. Economic ones (supposedly for the “common” Sinhalaya) but in reality, ones that push the crony net work up a notch. Translating into political power to the men who claim to be monks. Spots in “good” schools. Jobs, business opportunities etc reserved for those who go to bodhi pujas and have Sinhala names. So if you needed a heart transplant it will be the ethnicity not competence of the doctor that decides if you lived or died.

Thankfully I have never heard of anyone suggesting mass killings of “the other”. Perhaps there is some residual Buddhism managed to seep through the usual bhodi puja idolatry. Maybe it’s the stain of 1983. Most likely its the notion that getting one’s hands bloody and lugging petrol soaked tires is too low class.

Such attitudes make it is easy to dismiss all Sinhalese as a bunch of Nazis. It’s what the pro LTTE types want you to do. Or agree that such views are justified as the local Nazis claim. The reality is too complicated for a blog post.

At the root of it is a political system running on the manufactured racism from the colonial era. A system that rewards its practitioners with easy power. Far easier than coming up with sustainable economic policies. Not to mention the headache of implementing them and then being held accountable at election time for the results. Accountability is poison to political power. Which is too important to be decided by voters.

Far easier to champion the island’s master race. Offer the best protection against the “Demalas” and “Thumbiyas (Hambayas)”. It gets people excited. Makes them feel they are special without actually having to achieve anything. Feeds nicely into the physical thuggery of retail politics. Fits the implicit view of the state (personified in a leader) as a paternalistic feudal monarch. Our current rulers have pulled this off better than anyone in the past. I could go on and on. Devolving this post into attempted political analysis. Which only turns the wheel of bickering.

In the light of recent events, turning such broadly accepted perceptions into fringe beliefs, seem impossible. Its not. Just slow, complicated and very hard. How will it happen ? What will it take? I have no idea. Other than a gut level feeling that it will happen. Though I fear only after much blood and tears have flowed.

For once history offers a twisted slice of hope. It took nearly 90 years after independence and a blood civil war for U.S to formally abolish slavery. A longer time had to pass for the notion of racial equality to go main stream. All before the election of a black president. Yet after all that time, the principles of its constitution are uneven on the ground. In this context Sri Lanka with a mere 66 years as an “independent” nation has a long way to go.

How long will it take for a Sinhala majority to elect a Tamil president? Simply because he has good policies and a realistic path to implement them ? Impossible? A person in 1842 USA (66 years after their independence) would react similarly to the idea of a negro president.

Chances are neither you nor I will be around when ethnicity is not the dominant factor of life let alone politics in Sri Lanka. The change needs to happen in places untouched by solidarity rallies and blog posts. Namely in the Sinhala heartland. Which needs to find a way of making a sustainable fulfilling living. Without feeling insecure about its cultural survival.

Sound impossible no? Since fear is the ancient default political power tool, it seems so. Yet I choose to remain hopeful despite my own cynicism. Sri Lankans will eventually think of themselves as a community of humans and get along. We won’t be around to see it. I wish I knew what I could do add a drop to make that happen but I don’t. Do you?

Thank you for reading this far. Your endurance puts you among an exceptional few.

Trishaw sex book frozen, authors deny BBS links

Publication of the long awaited “How to have sex in a Trishaw” book is on indefinite hold. Its publisher, the Vātsyāyana press, refuses to explain. It merely issued a tweet stating that “no date for future publication is planned”. The exploding speculation of the causes has focused on a falling out with extreme faction of the BBS. Howdever the actual cause is shockingly bland.

The core idea of the book is an expansion of the “How to make love in a mini” info graphic. The Trishaw version depicts positions taken from the Kama Sutra and the Arabic Al-rawḍ al-ʿāṭir fī nuzhaẗ al-ḫāṭir (The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight) . These are adapted for the space available in a Bajaj 4 stroke three wheeler.

According to an undisclosed source, this is where the book’s trouble began. Tests proved that many of the positions were unsafe when performed in a three wheeler. The risk of toppling the vehicle was “very high” for over 90% of the positions. Some positions placed unusual stresses on the three wheeler’s frame. These would in time cause structural failures when the vehicle was moving. The findings were confirmed by occupational health and safety experts. The consequences of these findings were far reaching.

Unverified reports indicate that Bajaj Auto Limited in India has threatened legal action against the authors. Photography for the Illustrated versions of the book was cancelled after The Kama Kala Shilpi Peramuna (the union representing adult entertainment artistes) also promised similar action. Both organisations claimed the book misinformed the public into high risk behaviour.

The third axe to fall was a raid by Department of Adult Recreation Health and safety monitors on premises owned by the authors. A court order sealed the manuscript when an initial hearing concluded that the material was of “significant risk” to the public safety.

The book was meant as a financial life saver for the book’s authors, the Ceylon Fornication and Recreation Club. The club (the oldest of the country’s colonial era “copulation societies”) is battling adversity on several fronts. The publication freeze only worsens the club’s financial and legal situation into a nightmare.

The club is already under investigation from the Department of Adult Recreation for poor hygiene and STD prevention practices. An expensive legal dispute with a much younger, better funded sports club forced the Ceylon Fornication and Recreation Club to stop using its once familiar acronym. With it went the marketability of its valuable brand name.

The last decade also saw a female membership numbers and fees shrivel. The club continues to take a beating for refusing membership to the GLBT community. The list of disputes and investigations over financial irregularities is much longer.

In the face of this crisis, the book was touted by external consultants as a smart idea. Initial funding is rumoured to have come from an extreme fascist faction which broke away from the BBS. This faction is intent on increasing the Sinhalese birthrate by banning birth control and setting up “breeding” centres. The book as meant to “stimulate” the working class population. A segment that supposedly made greater use of three wheelers.

So far the club’s only lucky break is not having to return the initial funding money for the book. Which the club is unable to locate along with some of the members involved with the project. Possibly this break is motivating the club to strongly deny the BBS related involvement.

Society observers are convinced that the club is doomed. Many draw parallels to its end with the now defunct All Ceylon Russian Roulette Club and the Ceylonese Bare Handed Wild Boar Hunting Club.

Yes, the voices in my head comes up with some odd stuff. For the sake of what passes for sanity I have to get it out of my head so here we are. At least it is a relief from my attempt at weightier rants. Thank you for reading this far.

Why do successful Sri Lankans migrate?

December dinner parties are a time for meeting recent migrants. On their first “homeland” visits after “settling” in a new first world. This year I began to notice a different type of migrant at these events. They scare me. More I think about who they are and what they left behind, the fear tightens.

They left for a LOWER quality of life. In Sri Lanka they already had things “normal” migrants hope their kids will one day achieve. It is the ultimate contradiction of migration motives. So why did they leave? I feel I should not have tried to answer that question.

Consider what they left behind. Jumping off the upper rungs of corporate and professional ladders to start at the bottom in a new country. Or abandoning local careers cultivated with years of diligent focus. They left behind large houses with servants for cramped apartments. Pulled the kids out of “good” Colombo schools. Swapped chauffeured cars for battered Fords or crowded subways.

The group is diverse – even from the small sampling I met. Yet they have distinct features. Both husband and wife have degrees. They are at the upper level of their technical expertise. A promotion away from crossing into executive management. Staying would have meant more money, a bigger house, flashier cars, and fancier holidays. The standards by which we measure success these days (secretly or not).

Most managed large projects in their fields. One guy’s overseas work allowed him a life right out of posh lifestyle magazines. The wives worked for multi nationals, got paid in hard currency, ran successful businesses. One IT guy told me how the family used to spend frequent weekends at 5 star resorts. Now he’s a humble contractor somewhere cold and grey. Making deliveries between projects to pay the bills.

They knew what they were getting into. It took planning. Scoping visits to see the prospects at the destination. Evaluating the personal and financial costs. One guy had the grim details worked out on a spread sheet. Electricity. Groceries. Fuel. Mortgages. Schools (good private ones). Taxes and possible income. They would, at least at first, make quite a bit less. Live constrained lives. Yet they left.

It was not for a few money making years in Dubai. It meant new passports. The sale of properties (the clearest sign of a major life shift in Sri Lanka). All this inflates the WHY question.

To which their answers are evasive. Something about “educating the kids” and the “long term”. The word “prospects” got used often alongside other vaguenesses. I feel awkward to press people who are only friends of friends. They don’t know me enough to trust me with the truth.

So I had to sniff for clues elsewhere. A closer look at their backgrounds is a good start. There is a narrow spectrum in my “sample”. Parents who were mid level government servants, lawyers, general practitioners. A mother who was a teacher. Not the kind of people with the type of essential contacts you need in a feudal society like ours.

Those who survived local universities did so unstained by the politics and with first class degrees. Others qualified through company training programs and part time professional courses. Their big breaks were getting in the door of large companies. They used their technical expertise with well developed people skills. A combination that powered a rare entrepreneurial drive. Which got things done amidst the usual insanity of Sri Lankan complications.

It added up to success in the snake pit of Sri Lankan corporate life. Despite not going to the right Colombo schools or belonging to a minority. No one cared as long as the balance sheet was good.

What they lacked are political connections. They preferred to live by their abilities and the rewards of their achievements. Far better than anything gained by selling one’s loyalty to a big man for a meagre government job. There is always a point where someone with the right skills had to do the work. No amount of patronage can design large IT systems or manage logistics of complex projects.

Those I met had in some way worked in the upper levels of Sri Lanka’s economic life. Big infrastructure projects. IT systems connected to the nation’s financial nervous system. Projects that in different ways saw the meeting of economics and politics. They got to see the inner plumbing of Sri Lanka’s financial health. Perhaps glimpsed the consequences of ignorant greedy powerful people.

In this way they built their success during the war years. Through yet another bomb blast. Power cuts. The Tsunami. The Checkpoints. Remember those? They operated in an economy where the only reliable factor was the next catastrophe. Amidst all this they stayed in Sri Lanka. While a parade of friends/relatives left in the face of tightening first world migration rules.

Now the war is faded to infrequent anecdotes. We are the “miracle of Asia”. Our rulers are flush with money our grand children won’t need to pay back. Which still doesn’t answer the original question: Why flee at the dawn of a “golden age”?

Did they see something coming that we don’t see? Something they felt even their abilities couldn’t handle? Reasons compelling enough to leave behind a comfortable life in Sri Lanka? Abandon the fruits from years of hard work?

Eventually, one of the migrants muttered to me: “I don’t want my children growing up in a dictatorship”. His “explanation” stunned me. This guy was one of those hard nosed practical analytical types. The kind who avoids politics and the theoretical to focus on facts and practical results. He seemed embarrassed by his admission. But single malts have a way of bring out confessions.

A dictatorship bad enough to drop the hard earned rewards from years of toil? The silence about the specifics made me want to think he was trying to get me off his back. Stop me from probing about his personal choices. If I mentioned this remark to my farther I know what he would say.

Granted my “investigation” of this demographic is not scientific. Mostly eavesdropped conversations. Noted body language. Recollections of interesting phrases that stayed in the brain. Poured through the sieve of idle speculation. Then distilled in my personal cocktail of cynical pessimism.

I did not use carefully worded surveys. There was no data modelling. Statistically, the tiny “sample set” is only adequate for a limp joke. So you can safely dismiss my gloomy speculation as just that.

Migration choices are highly personal. Perhaps this group of people are just ambitious. May be they think they can rise higher elsewhere. They certainly have the skills and the drive to pull it off. Sri Lanka is a small pond once you add certain globally sort after abilities to your CV. I have seen such departures before.

Yet this group reminds me of people on a high wall with a good view of a cricket match. They can see things those on the ground cannot. What they see is making them abandon a life’s work and run.

I REALY want to think I am bleating at shadows. So please convince me that I am. You know where the comment box is.

New Look 2

A new theme in less than a month. Not a very good trend. Last time there was a 5 year gap between such changes. The problem with being a minimalist is that small things end up mattering. Specially when there isn’t clutter.

I loved the typography of the previous Syntax theme. What got me were seemingly minor things. The pushing the “meta” stuff to the footer and the dark header. Utterly superficial. But such is the price of minimalism.

In the end though, a theme should focus on the content. If this Isola theme doesn’t work out, its back to Syntax. Which looked like this:

cerno decked out in Syntax theme
cerno decked out in Syntax theme

Casual Muslim phobia : realisations from a personal encounter

The encounter I am about to describe happened long before the Dambulla mosque incident in 2012. Years later it still sits on me. The weight growing with the current decent of Sri Lankan politics. I began writing this as a way of dealing with it. It led me to realise a few things about my supposedly cynical self. Then ended up becoming a declaration of war.

What happened ?

I am out on a walk with an elderly relative of my farther’s generation. One of our rare unexpected chances to catch up. We are in the one of those (then) newly spruced up urban green spots. We are passed by a tall, fair, portly gentleman. Kurtha top. Jeans. Nikes. Skullcap on closely cropped hair. Greying beard bouncing on a prosperous stomach to diligent strides.

It starts in the vein of “look at that fat Buriyani fed Muslim” – referring to the walker. Then avalanches into a matter a fact muttered tirade. About Muslims “having all the money”. Because “they all support each other” and “stick together” unlike “our” stupid backstabbing Sinhalayas.

They are dazzling Sinhala Buddhist girls with their wealth and converting them through marriage. Newspaper notices by women announcing changes from Sinhalese Buddhist names to “Muslim” (Arabic sounding) names are cited as evidence. This leads to the topic of women.

“They” treat women like property. To illustrate – an aside on how the careers of brilliant muslim female protégés were cut short by new husbands who wanted them to stay home. Hijabed like penguins. There was more but you get the drift.

Thinking back, I realise the odd daze I went into was a type of shock. It was not due to WHAT was said (I had heard it all before) but the person saying it.

This was a person I respect deeply. The only one I know who has read the Koran (in translation) along with the texts of other religions. Who retired from a successful career in an Islamic country. A time often recollected as one of the best periods of his personal and professional life.

Early in his career he experienced first hand post independence Sri Lanka’s decent into tribalism. He resisted. Usually alone and at a personal/professional cost. Now there he was, parroting local fascists in a “reasonable” conversational tone.

What shocked me the most was realising how sad and paralysed I felt. My instinct to respond, to argue (however politely), died in my throat. For the rest of the walk and perhaps long after I was on some social auto pilot. May be I still am. The fear, aggression and overall negativity behind those words took something out of me. Possibly forever. What I lost I still don’t know.

Wasn’t that a melodramatic, cheesy theatrical paragraph? I would snort in cynical disbelief if anyone else wrote it. All I will see is a pompous act. A cheap easy strutting of liberal Sinhala anti BBS credentials without risking a beating.

Stop this silly over reacting

Any reasonable person would say so. There was no hostile confrontation. Sensible types could validly claim that people are entitled to express their prejudices privately. In our tribal society, I should not get upset at private prejudices of relatives.

Others can rationally point out that I’m getting worked up over things that have nothing to do with me.

They can validly point out that I don’t even have any Muslims in my immediate circle. Of the few I “know” peripherally, one can out Vodka Russians in Moscow. Another avoids praying due to “all the bending” (might be rugby injuries). I have interacted with more Muslims on Twitter in the past year than in my whole adult life.

On top of it all I have broad disagreements with how religious beliefs (including Islamic ones) are practiced. Any true slave of Cthulhu would.

What is your problem?

In one word: majoritarianism. Let me explain since it took me a lot of writing to realise this.

The casualness of my relative’s words implicitly assumed agreement as the normal response to such sentiments. By extension, agreement to the idea that minorities should be restrained in subservience to the majority. Otherwise “they” will “take over”.

It is not an uncommon view. Many countries are built on majoritarianism. Israel was setup as a country for Jewish people. Malaysia for the Bumiputras. Quebec has its language police so lesser tongues know their place. A commitment to religious freedom is not expected of Saudi Arabia. Even the Liberté, égalité, fraternité has less liberté, égalité and no fraternité for those open about their religious beliefs.

I now realise I find such majoritarianism disgusting. The revulsion comes from a gut level primordial feeling. Deeper than the cesspits of ethnic/cultural/linguistic/religious politics. The shock was realising the intensity and depth of this disgust.

Why react this way?

One root of my unhappiness is that someone I respect subscribes to such sentiments (however privately). Another could to be the feeling (unverified by data) that his sentiments are shared by a large percentage of Sinhala people in Sri Lanka. Particularly in more homogenous non urban areas where most of the population live. I live in the hope that I am wrong on this assumption.

None of this explains the intensity of the miserable feeling left by comments on an evening walk. I now realise the sadness comes from the fearful, pathetic pettiness at the core of all majoritarian beliefs.

I blame this reaction on a catastrophic failure of my painstakingly refined cynicism. I should be able to see such beliefs as just another fart from the human tragedy called politics. Shrug off the associated emotional stench – along with seeing another human demonised behind his back. Is the melodrama of this paragraph an attempt to show what a big bucket of human empathy I am?

No, just a realisation about my gut level reaction to certain kinds of politics. I can’t shrug it off. Its weight will eventually grind me down into fatalistic dust.

So what to do?

Nothing – or so I thought. I live in a world of “practical” people. Who survived, even thrived, despite the madness of politicians. To them worrying in writing over these sorts of things is a sign of inner frailty. Perhaps even psychiatric problems. The thought of talking to anyone about a long ago incident feels stupid. The fact is talk is unproductive.

The next futility I thought of was writing this. Pecked out in my usual clumsy way. A few stolen moments at a time over several months. Eventually to be splashed out on an irrelevant medium. No, I’m not asking for your reassurance about my writing. The selfish purpose : to clarify the mud of my thoughts and decide what to do.

Writing also compressed my inner beliefs into an uncompromising hardness. A hardness that I never thought I had. Which has become, despite my best efforts, a declaration of a quiet war against this majoritarian madness.

I lack the physical courage for candle light vigils and solidarity marches. Or the quick wit for political shouting matches. My waking hours are spent on “essentials”. Paying the bills. Worrying about roof leaks. Navigating the Kafkha’s labyrinth of school admissions. Trying to find one more moment with the newest arrival and his drooling grin. Before he grows up (into what kind of world I dare not wonder) and has “no time” for his loony thatha.

I’m not going to bother fighting fascist demagogues on social or any other media. Instead I’ll contribute to eroding the social acceptability their insane beliefs from within. All the while looking like one of the nodding loyal herd. Trustworthy. Polite. Respectful. Pious at bodhi pujas and sermons. A germ quietly slowly withering the host.

I’ll do it my way in this and future lives. If that makes me a traitor and all the usual labels, I don’t care. I am not making threats. Just making a vow to my self. The cynical part of myself is having a laugh but it knows it has lost.

This rambling word spew obviously isn’t my best output. Mixing political abstractions with gut level emotions in a blog post is a bad idea as you can see. I won’t apologise. I had to get this out of the head. If you read this far, thank you for reading. You are one of a very special few!

My new look

Its been a while. Which in itself, justifies the change. Nearly 5 years since I last did it. Perhaps I should have waited another month. But I’m tired of anniversaries and impatient.

As you can see, the progression to the minimal continues. The emphasis is now squarely on what is written. Though the “meta” stuff is still available in the footer. Perhaps its bit too austere? As I fold into my decaying years I prefer it that way. The only look that matters now is readability. So I chose Syntax.

I must admit I will miss the old Vigilance theme (pictured in this post).. WordPress.com has “retired” it. I too need to get with the times. At the time I thought it too was a foray into the minimal. Looking back I feel it has a lot of of “sidebar” fluff.

Picking the new theme took an annoying long time. Time I really don’t have. Forcing the neglect of so many important things. As was well as non essential urges like actually finishing this month’s post quota. I thought a good old “I’ve changed my WordPress theme” post would be easy to write. But picking the theme became an exercise in thinking too much about trivialities. What fun it was. Futile escape in the most frivolous indulgent ways.

Any way, here’s my parting shot at Vigilance.
Vigilance theme screen shot

To add to the look down history, its predecessor
Cerno with the old Garland wordpress theme

and Cerno’s baby picture from 2008

Cerno - the pre marital look

Get your green card and go! Leave this god forsaken country

“Get your green card and go! Leave this god forsaken country”. A verbal punch in the face from my father. Before I can react: “I have lived my life. You have to think about those wonderful children..”. It trails into a familiar muttered “kiyala va-duck-na” (no point talking about it). Then deflates to a sigh. Then a long unseeing gaze at a plant by the wall.

I sipped my coffee, deciding not to react. My best at keeping a pleasant Sunday afternoon unruffled. I had dropped in on an errand. Stayed for coffee in the cool veranda’s shade. Looking out over the small lush garden. A plate of Amma’s divine Thala Guli between us.

What sparked the eruption ? I may have commented on the latest insanity of our rulers. Or a recent blatancy of their skin head goons. My try at sounding witty and informed (polished retweetable remarks require constant practice). I should have known better. Such comments sours his mood. Once it was a sage retort wrapped in a morsel of insight. Then it eroded to a dismissive snort and disgusted epithet. Now it’s a retreat into silent despair. Punctuated by the occasional hurl of angry words.

I understand his dismay at Sri Lanka’s hidden decay. Old friends from his government service days keep him updated on its details. Thankfully most of us are spared such horrors. We see the clean pavements, highways and Vesak lanterns that no Instagramer can resist. He sees the shaky props holding up the scenery. It’s a contraption of dangerously bungling ignorant arrogance driven by greed. Dependent ever more on the teat of foreign loans. A tumour drunk with easy power. Poisoning the future with hate and fear. Making public violence an evil we accept with another shrug. We are on the Titanic. The sinking is slower (for now). He knows just how few the life boats are.

He wants me to get his grand kids outside the reach of bad things getting worse. Even the essential types of contacts you need in Sri Lanka, are less reliable. We both know that I can never build wall of such contacts against the rising madness of daily life. Time may come when even a Sinhala name on your ID card or reciting the right lines of Pali to prove you Buddhism will not help.

So he is willing to join many in his generation as Skype grand parents. Waving at babies on pixelated video feeds. Multiple clocks on the walls marking the time zones of various offspring. Waiting for a few precious hugs on rushed holiday visits. Yet a few more chips off an already globally fragmented extended family. Linked by increasingly occasional family reunions.

All this he accepts with a resigned conviction. The same conviction with which he put me on a plane out of the country long ago. A flight with a lot of boys my age being sent off by similarly minded fathers. For me, the start of a long exile. I still remember that pre dawn drive to the airport. Coasting through checkpoints with military curfew passes.

The world did not fall apart as he feared. Yet his confidence in his judgements remain unshaken. In violent times you make choices as a parent on available information. Not with the luxury of hindsight. Will I wait till I have to take similar desperate acts for my kids? We both know that the world now is a crueler place. Sudden departures are as good as leaps into darkness. Better to make plans now in the face of looming uncertainties. He’s annoyed perhaps angry I am not doing this for my kids.

Part of me thinks I should argue against such fears. Point out that the first world isn’t what he thinks it is. The Asian century, it’s awakening giants and all that sort if thing. Besides the war is over, no? The economy is growing (what ever that means beyond slick restaurants).

I won’t mention the real reasons. That I feel utterly at home even when stuck in Thimbirigasyaya traffic. My sanity questioning love of the weather. Colombo sunsets and morning light through banana leaves. All insane little things that trigger the primordial instinct that I am home.

Such selfishly sentimental appeals can’t argue against his decades of experience and knowledge. They are cowardly dodges of hard questions facing one as a parent. The state of the economy and where it’s heading. Your chances before the forces of law, disorder, and the courts should misfortune strike. Your chances at getting the kids into a “good” school in a crumbling education system. Then there are the accepted inhumanities of society. From rape to the mentalities behind the smaller interactions of the daily grind. Looming over it all, the consequences of what the politicians are doing. Our children will have to face these even if we don’t.

My father no longer has time for placard holders and “champions of change”. Going back to the Titanic metaphor, we struck the ice berg long ago. The compartments below are flooded. The poor in third class are drowning. The captain is mad. Why are you not running for a life boat while you still can?

It all boils down to a guilt trip. Yet something in the pit of my stomach is telling me he is right. A bad gut feeling that’s been growing even before the tragedy at Aluthgama. Now snowballing into a despairing feeling that something has died.

Have you felt it? Are you trying to ignore it by comparing prawn curry reviews? Meanwhile, people who have a lot to gain by staying, have got their green cards/pee-arrs and already left.