Being in the line is nothing new | Sunday Observer

Being in the line is nothing new

24 April, 2022

“Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.”
–Lao Tzu

Sri Lankans are experiencing the physical and mental agonies of being in lines for hours, in some cases days, to buy cooking gas, petrol and diesel for their vehicles and other machines. We all would like to see the availability of essentials without having to waste our time and energy at these lines. Unfortunately, we have no other choice at the moment.

We can also notice that people are extremely vigilant about their position in the line and will not allow anyone coming after them to join the line in front of them. Especially for the people whose livelihood depends on the few litres of fuel they could gain access to each day, the position in the line to get fuel becomes the most important asset in their lives due to scarcity and exponentially increasing prices.

It is not hard to see the justification of guarding the position in the line with one’s life since there is a possibility that the supplies will run out or the prices will go up at any minute. Different people face such challenges in different ways, depending on how they process information in their own minds.

On top of all such uncertainties there can be greedy vendors, issuing officials and/or politicians, who have the control over all the stake holders in the value chain, armed with information about possible price hikes, who would use the opportunity to make an extra buck by holding on to available stocks until the price is increased.

Inhumane acts

There have been cases, especially when people get to know of such inhumane acts, where the fights for the position in the line have ended up in injuries or even death of one or more people. However, it is extremely important to understand that a human life for a few litres of fuel is not at all a worthy trade off irrespective of the social and/or economic status, race, religion, skin colour or the political affiliation of the person who ended up sacrificing that life.

We may conduct all kinds of investigations to find out who broke the law and who is responsible for the wrongdoing and so on. Even if the person who died is proven by such investigations to be the one who broke the law, he should not have been executed by anyone, since we supposedly are living in a land where one is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

On the other hand, anyone who has been living at least for twenty years in Sri Lanka should have gained an understanding about how people behave in the country and what could be the possible outcomes of one’s own behavior.

People may have experienced clear violations of their rights and still kept quiet since they knew that the suffering will be even greater if they made any noise about it. It has come to a point where the safety of one’s life is in his/her own hands and the daily struggle of the people for basic needs of their existence is yet another sequel to ‘Mad Max’ movies.

Whether we like it or not we also become main actors or extras of this movie when we drive on Sri Lankan roads where we also try to get to the front of the line, especially at a traffic light when it is red or at a rail gate when it is closed. The scene is even enhanced by a three-wheeler positioning itself in front of you, by coming across double lines and cutting you off, allowing you to think for a moment about the meaning of its bumper sticker: “This is the land of the Buddha”.

What most of these warriors do not realise is that they are all in the bigger line of life that they joined at the time of birth. Every second the front of the line leaves this world and new members join at the back of the line. We do not know how many are in front of us or the number behind us at any given point in time.

Unknown forces

Some of us are given the opportunity to move to the front of the line as a sudden surprise and sometimes a few people around us, some thought to be ahead of us and some expected to be behind us are taken to the front but not us, making us stay in the line longer. This is one line we are happy to avoid the position in the front. Most of us would do everything in our power to stay in the line longer. If some unknown forces are dragging us to the front of the line, we would seek help from others to stop it.

While we are in this line, we try to claim ownership of pieces of land and other physical objects hoping to feel good about our stay in this line. We will even mate with others in the line adding new members to one end of it, though we perceive the newcomers as members of our own group being in the line with us.

We use ‘time’ as a measurement of the length of our stay in this line and try to perceive things depending on the time we have already spent in the line. As we move towards the front of the line our perceptions will also change though we sometimes try hard to avoid such changes. If we did not allow our perceptions to change according to our awareness, we will not be able to experience reality. That is perhaps why Thich Nhat Hanh once said:

“Birth is okay and death is okay, if we know that they are only concepts in our mind. Reality transcends both birth and death.” If we at least try to understand the nature of this line (which in reality is not even a line but an infinitesimal dot in a series of line segments we all will be staying in over and over again) all of us, humans, are in then perhaps we might be able to put the fuel lines and medicine lines in a better perspective.

It is not just one person, one family, a party, race, religion, social or economic class, or even one country that nurtures this line of life. In such a situation one might wonder whether we should just sleep in the line till we get to the front, or can we do something to enjoy being in the line while making the others also enjoy their journey through this very same line?


It certainly wouldn’t be a waste of time for Sri Lankans to think about the best possible ways to solve the problems we are facing today as a nation and try to understand how we ended up in this mess to begin with and whether we could have prevented any of these had we done things differently.

“When our identity expands to include everything, we find a peace with the dance of the world. The ocean of life rises and falls within us-birth and death, joy and pain, it is all ours, and our heart is full and empty, large enough to embrace it all.” – Jack Kornfield

The writer has served in the higher education sector as an academic over twenty years in the USA and fifteen years in Sri Lanka and he can be contacted at [email protected]