Rare success in explaining Sri Lanka to non Sri Lankans


I find it impossible to “explain” anything Sri Lanka related to non Sri Lankans. Until recently, I never thought it was possible. My own failures and those of others I have seen were catastrophes of miscommunication. Thankfully I have found an exception. Before revealing it to you, its essential to appreciate the difficulties of “explaining” Sri Lanka related phenomena.

Practically anything Sri Lankan is smeared in unspoken complex cultural contradictions. Your education in their nuances and sensibilities occur through the mess called growing in Sri Lanka. Its very hard to unpack these subliminally learned awareness into structured comprehensible nuggets for non Sri Lankans.

Yet without such a childhood of absorbed awarenesses, nothing appears what it appears to be. Sri Lanka becomes

  • just another brown peopled third world mess oversimplified by foreign correspondents
  • the exotic, “charming” holiday destination of travel lit, teaming with boutique hotels, elephants and slick photos

During my eons in exile, having to “explain” Sri Lanka is the misfortune of successfully explaining that I am not an Indian. If the audience was a person from the US, the hill was steeper.

It seemed every sentence required a clarifying foot note. Each one spiralled off into further digressions of “background” or context related “explanations”. Inevitably you run out of time and leave your listener with a heap of confusing references, a blizzard of barely pronounceable names and a sense that its all too confusing to bother.

In the face of all this, Ru Freeman’s interview on the Diane Rehm radio show in the US stands out as a rare success. As you can listen for your self on streaming audio , the “explanation” has two key pillars of success:

  • the tight focus of context: Ru Freeman’s novel On Sal Mal Lane
  • the razor sharp listening skills of a world class interviewer who already seems to have a lot of good background knowledge to bridge the content gap for what is primary an US audience

Don’t take my word and listen to the interview on streaming audio. Don’t you think its a rather successful “explanation” of something Sri Lanka related? While you are at the comment box, share one of your experiences of explaining Sri Lanka to non Sri Lankans.

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