22 Jun ’14
On Friday, June 13, we had the privilege of visiting Lakshman Kadiragamar Institute in Sri Lanka. We were graced by the presence of Mr. Malinda Senevirathne, Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Nation,’ which is a major English newspaper in Sri Lanka. Mr. Malinda spoke on Reading and Misreading Sri Lanka. Mr. Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, the Executive Director of Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS) also joined us, and he discussed the Socioeconomic Context of Sri Lanka. After our tea break, Dr. SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda, Senior Lecturer at Bandarinaiake Center of International Studies (BCIS) happily walked on the stage and set the tone for the remaining of the afternoon. He engaged us on The Story of Lanka.
Keyline #6 was beautifully intertwined in each of the individual talks–What, ﬁnally, does it mean to Read Cultures? Reading cultures involves the ability to view a country, identify its many factors and delicately place the pieces together to create the picture of the country itself. All of these factors somehow interact and “mutually reﬂect and aﬀect each other,” but how? It is the job of the so-called, reader of culture” to master this art. Such an ability lends the reader a new set of eyes, not only forming a new context through one might view their current surroundings in, but a permanently shifted paradigm that aﬀects their personal life and own community. Every individual that spoke at the university presented information not only about Sri Lanka, but oﬀered an analysis that challenged me as the listener to view the country as more than an island oﬀ the coast of India resting in the Indian Ocean. Mr. Malinda’s topic–Reading and Misreading Sri Lanka–reﬂected Keyline #6 precisely. Mr. Malinda, as an active journalist, commentator and translator, oﬀered various valid points regarding the art of”reading cultures.” He stressed the fact that it takes time to know people and that as students traveling and staying in Sri Lanka for no longer than 8 weeks, we won’t “know the country” right away. We won’t ﬁnd what makes Sri Lanka click nor be able to read Sri Lanka. “The timeframe for Sri Lankans is lifetimes.” This statement is the very ideal that encapsulates the island in the heart of the Indian Ocean. The culture, tradition, religion and practices that are embedded in this country motivate the way of life here. There is no rush, but an appreciation of the element of “slowness” here. Mr. Malinda posed the question, “Where has being in a hurry taken the world?”
And shortly followed with the answer, “Nowhere.” Sri Lankans don’t adapt to the the ticks and tocks of the world, the watch on the visitor’s wrist, but has fostered a way of life that captures the essence of time and their belief that this isn’t their only lifetime. Mr. Malinda encouraged us to realize that “Time is longer than life” and to be patient.
Mr. Malinda then stressed the importance of attaining a balanced view of a country by talking to a variety of people and surrounding Yourself with diverse peoples of the country. “If you want to read a country,” he said, “Let them lend themselves to you. They will come to you.” As readers of culture, there is an aspect of the task that requires a silence–an observant mind, which then cultivates an understanding and an absorption. There is a need for us to ﬁnd the pace of our surroundings and then to walk at that pace. Only then will we be able to begin to “read” a culture. Engagement with a country’s many aspects is crucial, and as “nomads,” we’ve been able to
do just that in many ways–from visiting a Buddhist temple and staying at a meditation center, to attending lectures where we learn about the socioeconomic context of the country and even interacting with babies at the Sarvodaya Infant’s Nutrition Center. We are constantly learning, constantly interacting, constantly experiencing and constantly reading.