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.

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15 thoughts on “Get your green card and go! Leave this god forsaken country

  1. Been in the opposition for 20 years and not being able to see any sign of winning anytime soon can have certain effects like immunity to reality and self hatred. The doomsday prediction have been going on ever since the war against LTTE started. It’s been 8 years now, not only the Titanic is floating still some are claiming that they can see the statue of liberty. Of-course so far away and very tiny indeed.

    • You seem to be implying my father is an UNPer which is not the case. He’s given up hope on any politician administering the country and not looting it. As for the doomsday scenario, it’s less of an event and more of a process. Things getting worse slowly enough for people to adapt. Yet their circumstances don’t improve.

      Personally I don’t see it exactly that way. But I also don’t get to see the facts and figures he sees/hears.

    • You pretty much summed up the opinion of his generation :) it applies to the rulers and cronies of all political shades. Just the each iteration seems to out do the previous.

  2. An excellent post. Your pater was a civil servant? I have been trying to get a few people to try and document the experiences of the few that are still around, I even managed to get myself and a journalist invited to their annual lunch last year but I have had no time at all to follow up on the project. Would you like to do some work on this?

    Great post, by the way.

    • Thank you :) glad you like the post.

      He’s been an ex civil servant long than the time he toiled in that role. Bailed out early.

      Seems like an interesting project but I’m strapped for time. Its practically a miracle I manage 2 posts a month. But I think there are quite a few tweeps out there who have a better journalist backgrounds who could help (Meg T for example).

  3. Good post…everything I was thinking the last few weeks. Sigh. I stay for my parents, siblings, niece and dog. That’s about it.

  4. Wonderful post as always Cerno. The voices in our collective heads seem to be saying the same thing. Your voices just put it out so eloquently.
    My father-in-law is singing the same tune as your father. My sisters, who are both based in the US, say the same thing. One of my friends put it very frankly “what are you waiting for – being a minority – are you waiting for them to knock on your door?” Since Aluthgama, I have had little else on my mind. I am looking for an exit strategy that doesn’t feel like defeat..

    • Thank you :) Glad you liked the post. Good to know I’m not the only one whose heard this.

      It a tough choice to face. Eventually the fascists (which is essentially what they are) will turn on the “majority” who think they are immune to intimidation.

      Noodling on a post I started nearly 3 years ago that touches on all this. Didn’t have the heart to write it but its coming out sooner :)

  5. This article is a series of statements made by a pessimist and a loser. I did not find this article interesting nor reflects the general mood of majority sri lankans nor my own experience I had recently. My recent visit to sri lanka startled me. you noticed this moment you land at the BIA (out of the airport in half hour as oppose to over an hour) . Nearly six years since the end of the brutal war, many sri lankans (the majority) has moved forward and the system has been able to focus their attention on improving the conditions for Sri lankans as well as for the visitors.
    At the pool in a hotel between Tissa and Katteragama, a group of British tourists told me how nice to see the buddhists and the hindus next to each other at the festival. My short answer to them was “its a shame that the mainstream media does not see it this way”.
    The bottomline is if you are not happy just leave sri lanka, let sri lankans do what best for the majority Sri Lankans. Go to america but don’t come to my backyard(not america) , we do not want pessimists like you, we don’t have enough landfill to place characters like you.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment so extensively. I’m glad you for the post interesting enough to do so.

      I’m sure a fast airport check out and pool side chats with tourists can give a very different impression of life lived in Sri Lanka.

      Certainly very different than that of people who have spent most of their lives in Sri Lanka through 30 years of war. The experience of those who stay behind after your visit is over can also vary from what your have noticed.

      You are exactly the type of optimist and winner Sri Lanka needs. Please return permanently – the country needs you!

      I don’t want to insult pessimist and losers by claiming to be one of them. If I have that privilege, I should move to the country you are in so I can acquire your winning optimism.

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