“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.