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61st Independence Day

Sixty one years, and a breath of fresh air

Over a span of nearly twenty three centuries, we in Sri Lanka inhabited a proud land, that held Independence Liberty and Freedom in the highest esteem. In this Island citadel, we fiercely defended our own Independent way of life, our liberty and our Freedom in defiance of all incoming influences.

The glory of high summer is best appreciated when you shiver in winter's cold. Equally, the preciousness of Freedom can be really relished, only when you lose it.

While embracing what was wholesome and salutary in what other cultures could offer us, we conscientiously cultivated what was strictly our way of life.

Within the unity provided by Independence, there was of course, room for dissidence and discordance, conflict and difference of opinion. There was freedom to say your say. Pettiness and jealousy, intrigues for power and influence could exist. But, within the strong feeling for Independence and Freedom, those destructive ways could be managed.

But, in the early nineteenth century, a power struggle developed, that led the same misguided leaders astray. Manipulated by foreign powers, they plotted the overthrow of our 23-century old rule of monarchs.

British

Late Professor Tennakoon Wimalananda, a historian of high repute, once spoke to me about a document he had come upon in a British museum. A letter written by a British Officer in Sri Lanka, in 1814, enquires from the Colonial office in London: "The Big-fish is in our net. Shall we raise it?"

(The Big-fish is a reference to King Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe) Back came the answer from the Colonial office, to the British Officer in Sri Lanka: "Do not worry. Their people themselves will raise the net for us."

In the plots and conspiracies, Sri Lanka lost her Independence, that was a majestic presence in the history of the world. Imperial rulers took over our island as their subject colony, engulfing the nation in a vast sense of devastation. Soon after our Independence was signed away on the 2nd of March 1815, the time gravity of the national tragedy began to dawn on the people and on the nation, as a whole.

The sense of loss of Independence at National level, and the personal sense of loss of freedom are excruciatingly soul-torturing to a nation that has known Independence, its loss is debilitating and enervating.

Metaphor

It is the same with an individual too. In the context of sense of loss that follows the end of Independence, a nation feels inhibited. This State is true even of individuals who lose their Independence their freedom.

Late Mulk Raj Anand, eminent Indian man of letters, who passed away at the age of 98, in 2004, provides a powerful metaphor, to convey the sense of loss of Independence and freedom. In a short-story composed by him a young mother takes his son along to a crowded carnival ground. The little son holds his mother's hand, as they walk through the carnival ground. The little child sees balloons being sold.

He asks the mother for balloons. The mother pulls him along without buying him balloons. His eyes are focused on a sweetmeats stall.

The child needs them. But mother takes him away. It is the same with toys and attractive garments. As they proceed the mother loses the child in the crowd. They are separated. The child starts screaming aloud. The organisers of the carnival take charge of the child.

They try to comfort him: "My child do you want balloons?" The child says: "I do not want balloons. I need my mother." The organisers keep on trying: "My child, do you like sweets?"

"No, no, I want my mother."

All the things that the child asked are offered. But, the child is not comforted. He wants only his mother.

Conquered

The loss of Independence of a nation, or the loss of freedom by an individual is a psychological parallel to the state of minds of the child in the story by Mulk Raj Anand.

In a context of lost Independence, or deprived freedom, nothing satisfies. A tyrant, who has conquered an Independent nation, may feed the people lavishly. But, that food famishes and does not satisfy.

An individual's freedom may get robbed. But, he is kept in luxury. In such a context of lost freedom, the luxury is troubling and not satisfying.

Discords

Sixty-one years ago, we regained our Independence. During these years we have had our discords and dissensions. But, our sense of Independence sustained us.

Today, as we celebrate the sixty-first anniversary of our Independence, once again, groups who had been trodden under-foot by a tyrannical oligarchy of torturers, are beginning to breathe as free and independent human beings.

Each year, when we celebrate our Independence, we should consolidate our nationhood, recalling the days when we had to endure an alien rule and lead a life devoid of true inner satisfaction, whatever one outer-frills.

Today we are free and Independent. This sense of freedom and Independence, pervades our lives, like an assuring and protective presence of a mother, that perpetually comforts the child.

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