Covid-19 | Sunday Observer


24 May, 2020

Well now! Covid-19 has taught some of our people a few lessons, reminded a lot of our people of forgotten lessons and shown all of the people that for most of our people, bad ways of doing things must be sincerely and committedly remembered lest the world, according to them, becomes lesser for their demise.

Ok, if you are still with me after swallowing that bit of textual spaghetti, let me clarify it with a few examples.

We have a lady staying with us who helps around the house. She is what most people would call a domestic but who we call family, sharing and sharing alike everything we make use of ourselves from our tables to our bathrooms.

Having been stuck here for a couple of months, after lockdown eased up over the last few days she wanted to go home to Kandy. So, out toMirihana police to get the required approval.

She was cordially invited in, gently asked if she was a “domestic”, her details rapidly processed, instructions clearly given and escorted out and helped to get a tuk to bring her home in 20 minutes flat.

Oh, and lest we forget, as she left the police station, she was handed a big comfort kit of provisions with the cop who gave it to her saying “when someone is returning home, we don’t like to see them leave empty handed”.

When she related this to us, I literally blinked twice. Was this an example of the Sri Lankan police that has been vilified for decades as the most corrupt state institution from here to kingdom come? Or was this the “new normal”? I firmly believe it is the latter. I believe that Covid-19 has reminded our enforcement agencies of our nation’s largess and generosity that has made us stand out among countries as top flight as the world battles this menace. For the Sri Lanka Police, I believe that this was an ideal opportunity for them to become re-empowered and come full circle and deliver on their mandate and indeed, expand that mandate as the protectors andsuccorersof our citizenry. In that, I believe that they have gone way beyond responsibility in duty and have arrived in the realm of the human. I salute them. I am proud to call myself a Sri Lankan.

Then there is this other lady, a friend. During the lockdown she travelled all over Colombo with her son. Now the son had to go outstation to visit his father.

She hits the police station and tells them of her travels but not those of her son. She is barred from going anywhere obviously but her son is processed through to go outstation. And let us not forget that other friend of mine who bragged that he went everywhere around the country after leveraging his position to get the type of curfew pass required for that. When I asked him his purpose, he said “I can’t stay at home like a prisoner,machan surely?” Neither of those are very nice people, are they? Most of these are the middle and upper-middle class of the country.

Such people have lived for decades bucking systems, leveraging old-boy networks and getting ahead without a care how much such action is a) unfair and b) detrimental to others.

These are the people who feel that if they are alive at all, then they are alive because they have the capacity to serve themselves and let the nation be damned. They are that confused and confounded bunch of unclassy urbanites who are unable to see the disgust of the country at their behaviour.

If asked, they would vociferously claim they are responsible – to themselves – and know not the fallacy of their argument when a nation demands national thinking.

They will go on to elaborate and expand on their take, giving themselves a dozen reasons to justify their conduct. All lame. All sick. I am not proud to call myself a Colombo middle-class urbanite. Let me have nothing to do with them and may they have nothing to do with me.

So here we are. Two different social classes for the lack of a better phrase, the same enforcement agency and two diametrically opposing views of how to do things. The question that begs to be asked here is “in the context of these examples, what can be said generally about us as a nation of people?”

I like to think that the less enabled, who have lived by and because of that creed of mutual generosity and caring would always be as empowered as this new breed of cop and this crisis is merely one of dozens that they have dealt with over their lives, responding to each with trust, honour and value.

They are the majority. The cops, domestics, day-wage earners, rope makers, miners, farmers.The so-called poorer classes. They would rise to the occasion every time and execute better than any white-collar executive ever could.

I would hazard a guess that our urbanites too are immensely capable of dramatically adjusting ourselves when they are forced to do it or when compelled to do it or are frightened into doing it. However, the minute that enforcement, that reason, that scare is removed, they would default to their normative behavioural patterns of deceit, deception and manipulation as seen by that second set of examples. They are the minority.

Small problem. The minority has the ability to continue to desanitise the entire country physically and metaphorically and they will. They will need to be reminded again and again and yet again that while they may be material somebodies they are human nobodies.

They must be vocally vilified for that base crudeness and that utter vulgarity that they try to pass off as responsibility. They must never ever be allowed to forget this. Hopefully they will change their ways at least to some extent or heh… do the right thing and commit the honorable harakri but nah, they are not honourable people. They would be too cowardly to do that. Let us therefore name them. Shame them. Have done with them.

From the larger majority, let Sri Lanka as a whole learn. Let it redefine its life, lifestyle and civilization. Let the middling urbanites humble themselves in front of the majority and attempt to emulate their conduct. Let them dare themselves to shift the definition of power, ability and capability to those who truly deserve those identifiers.

Let them also know, the meaning of real responsible citizenry. Let them also know, in some small amount, what it means to trust trust, honourhonour, valuevalue. Let them also know that quality citizens suffer fools only because of hearts filled with generosity and pity for those disabled middle class and upper middle class people – not citizens – of Sri Lanka.