‘Tis the season to be… reconciled

“And all of this happened
Because the world is waiting
Waiting for one child
Black, white, yellow, no one knows
But a child that would grow up and turn tears to
Hate to love, war to peace
And everyone to everyone’s neighbour
Misery and suffering would be forgotten forever”
Thus goes the lyrics of the beautiful Christmas carol “When a child is born”. It embodies the message of Isaiah 9:6.
On Christmas day we celebrate the birth of Jesus, this amazing child who would change the course of history with His teaching. As Christmas draws nearby, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of shopping, preparations and general merrymaking. Yet, Christmas means much more than these materialistic trappings; it is a time to reflect, a time to give and a time to reconcile.
 Maybe Christmas is all about reconciliation. I think I first heard the word from the lines of a carol-“peace on Earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled”. As the lyrics imply, it’s a time to renew our strained relationships with God; to return to His unconditional love; to thank him for sending His only begotten son for our salvation.
 Even though we usually limit it to family and friends, reconciliation between human beings is another important aspect of Christmas. Many Sri Lankans have the tradition of arranging a Christmas lunch or dinner for the whole extended family. Through all sorts of parties, cards or gifts we are actually renewing our relationships with one another. To quote a friend of mine “That Christmas reminded me that, love doesn’t belong to just one religion, or one race. Love isn’t a human thing either. There is love in us all, and it may take special days like birthdays and Christmas to show it openly, but love; it’s somewhere in our hearts.” It is heartening to see many people sharing this love by reaching out to the less fortunate too.

The story of Christmas has been told many a times over, be it through dramas, carols or paintings. Being in Sri Lanka, the soothing tunes of “kalakata pera e Bethleheme”, “Rajathi Rajamani” or “Silent night” pleases our ears alike. Yet the message of the story eludes most. To me, it is about the importance of a humble heart. He wasn’t born in a palace full of riches; a manger was his crib. It wasn’t the kings who received the news of his birth first; the angels sung it to poor shepherds who kept watch on their flocks. 
May the prince of peace be born in your heart this Christmas! The beautiful prayer of Saint Francis (listen) seems to be an apt ending at this juncture as it invites us to be an instrument of our Lord’s peace-not only this Christmas, but in each and every moment we live.
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
ඔබ සැමට සාමය සතුට පිරි සුභ නත්තලක් වේවා! இனிய கிறிஸ்துமஸ் நாள் வாழ்த்துக்கள்! Merry Christmas!


Ode to the Sky IX

A series which began as a tribute to the sky that unites us all, has now ended. Yes, what started as a one-time thing has become a long-running series that defines our work. We may never know what shades and hues the sky will take next. Thus it is beautiful in all its great mysteries. In our final Ode, we explore the skies in their long journey, with pics from the depths of time to the farthest reaches of space.
Yes, outer space indeed.
So let’s call this one an “Ode to the Stars” as a special. Of course we do have one from the Earth’s own history as well, so we haven’t exactly been highly um….consistent with this short, fast ode.
The message of peace is universal, and transcends the very continuum of time and space. Nobody craves war, or misunderstanding.

All artworks here are courtesy of myself-http://vasix.deviantart.com/ and will not be used without my prior permission.

They are all digital pics done with Photoshop, a very old-as-crap version, but I’m a poor man after all  :).

Poem by: Rochelle Silva

The Star
Burning bright, ever so bright,
It loomed ahead in the darkest night.
Ruling the skies; a feast to the eyes,
A frenzy of thoughts did arise.
A radiant star, beckoning from afar,
Guided kings and shepherds alike.
A star did nestle, close to a crescent,
Being a symbol to the faithful worldwide.
Sacred it is, if with six points apiece,
Meaning “Shakthi” and “Shiva” in peace.
And yet to another, fate does it usher,
Deciding whether one enjoys or suffers.
Burning bright, ever so bright,
Oh little star, if only you knew,
How precious thou art, no matter our caste,
A beacon of hope to our troubled hearts!

Poem by: Shailee Wick

He hides from the world

In his rank smelling tower
High up in the mountains
As close to the skies as he can get
He looks through the glass
Beyond clouds and skies
At the great abyss of darkness
Brightened by stars galore
And he smiles as his eyes
Follow one blinking star after another
And he whispers slowly
“The end is here”
In the yellow journal, notes of his life
Hide one prediction, worthy of being written in gold
“I look at the stars and I know it is here
An end to this hatred, wars and fear.
Soon like the faraway clouds of dust
The world will once more know how to love”

Quote by: Vindya Jayasinghe

“Whenever I look up the sky, I feel I’m free and open, I may never reach it, but I will always look up and see the beauty, believe in it and try to follow where it leads…”

Poem by: Vijini Mallawaarachchi
Stellar Thought

Gazing above the airspace
In the hours of darkness
Expecting a shooting star
To make a wish for good

As midnight rises
Imagination comes to life
Wondering what would be there
Which is not known to us

Stars that twinkle above
Painting the darkness in vivid colours
Making up figures of myths
That we name as constellations

Some are newborn white dwarfs
Some are dying neutron stars
Just like us, they have a life
Which will end in a supernova

Through the dust and gas
Among interstellar spaces
Floating across nebulae
Destiny can be glimpsed

The mind can travel
Imagining the undiscovered
With the wish for a star-gate
To dial across the universe

Poem by: Priyangwada Perera
The sky is like life….
 Spreading long and wide… 
With a glimmer here and there,
 Glistening at sunrise. 
Beyond the horizon, to a limitless land
 Across the sands of time.
 Star secrets, clouds of dreams;
 In a flashing comet
 Comes a heavenly gleam…
We have explored the heavens, and now it;s time to take the clock back a few tens of millions of years, and put ourselves back on Terra Firma.

Poem by: Vasika Udurawane

 Beneath the angel’s wind-swift wings,
The thunder of a restless earth;
Beneath a host of heavenly saviors,
A world ever-shifting.
Imperfect to its core, to be purged at final salvation,
To be kissed by breaths from miles above
To be saved from damnation.
Fires blaze below, roaring sinners burn;
But no such sinners see I in your sky.
In the storm of tossing clouds is flame,
The blaze from heaven that lights up all mortal eyes.
Flight of angels, so far above me,
If only you could feel us,
Our breath, our cries, our tortures,
Our birth-cries, and death-mourns;
The screams of the shifting ground,
A cruel, forsaken goddess.
Angel, perfect light in glowing sky,
Guide us through an endless night.

Thus ends our work for the time being. Maybe catch us later on during the rest of the festive season. Wish you all a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year!


(The story of the misunderstood man continues.. ..)

“I’m here, always here,” she slurred with a rasping hiss, shifting and ghosting out of her son’s firm and powerful grasp.
He grunted as he sat down heavily, looking at her with an accusatory glance. “Reassuring,” he grumbled, “but right now I want you out. I’m going for a walk.” Standing up, the man sighed heavily as he padded out of the cave. The rock he was on, was no more than a little inselberg, an isolated mountain cut off from one of the major chains. It was one of many in the center of Lanka, the vast expanse of the untamed Malayadesha wilderness.
No mighty hero kings ruled here. It was the hellish heart of a paradise isle, with thick forests as far as the southeast, as far as the distant Galha Nadee and the mighty peak of the sacred Samanala Kanda.

In short, no man’s land.

This green carpet cloaked the highest mountains as far as he could see, and right now he was walking right through it. He and his mother had fought predators from leeches to leopards, and he knew this terrain like the veins on the back of his hand. Coarse, impenetrable, waiting to burst out under hard stress. Pushing angrily through the close-growing vegetation, he never let it brush his terrifying face. But every now and then, he felt his mother’s whispers surrounding him, tearing away at whatever humanity remained in his mind.
He halted for an instant beneath a huge, ancient jak tree.
What if he could finally admit to himself that he should lose whatever made him a MAN? What a feeling it would be to strip away his dirty sackcloth tunic, his rusted, twisted bracelet, and the bead necklace which he used to count the number of days and months he had before dying, and just allow the wild to really grow on him.
To lose his collection of stolen Sanskrit scriptures-rotting as they were-his inkwells and styluses, and turn manly speech into bestial obscurity would be a perfect salvation. The slippery rocks were in his path. Under his mother he had slipped away into the stream of violent beastliness, but now…

A memory once more.
He hated these.
They carpet of  his conscience rose suddenly, and no matter how many times he attempted to sweep the dirt of his sinful past beneath it, it kept clawing its way upwards. It was a memory that could be awakened by the grunts of a wandering herd.

Cattle in the forest.
With a farmer, singing hoarse songs to the spirits as he trudged down the leaf-littered paths.

The soft touch of his mother chilled him again. “What are you waiting for my darling?” she whispered, clinging to his body, stroking his hard back and chest softly. “Go on, show me what I have taught you.”

His muscles tensed at the sound of this, as his footfalls became as soft as a cat’s…

Is Sri Lankan culture losing to growing Western influence?

Is Sri Lankan culture losing to growing Western influence?
Lishani Ramanayake
The thing is culture is not something that is easily defined. It is not just the way we are educated and brought up. It is very much a social construct. It is what we make of it, comprised entirely of what is accepted as social norms, attitudes and values.
So then, what exactly is our culture? Are we a nation of Kandyan dancers and tea drinkers? Or are we more than that?

A lot of people, particularly the older generation, believe that Sri Lankan ‘culture’, whatever this means, is eroded by the onslaught of Western influences. Take, for example, the increasing demand for “coffee culture”. It’s ironic that in a country that is known around the world for its intrinsic affinity towards tea is now being drawn towards the typically Western phenomenon of coffee shop hang outs. Why? Because it’s the ‘cool’ thing to do. And how do we know this? Because Western media told us so.
Change is natural. It is normal to be attracted towards the new and the exciting.
Globalization and the influx of Western ideas mean that this influence is all around us. Radio, Internet, TV- we are being constantly bombarded with other cultures, whether it is the idea of the formulaic ‘All American’ classroom structure of jocks, nerds and other miscellaneous socially ambiguous stereotypes, or even the increase in Western trends of dress, like the inexplicable crop tops, high-low skirts and bustiers that are making countless appearances on Instagram accounts worldwide.
The question is, is this really a bad thing?
Thalaal (19) said, when asked this question, “what are values really? A group of people created a social paradigm and thought it would benefit the community as a whole. But then again no one is obligated to follow that. Westerners are far ahead in terms of development and standard of living, so their lifestyle and ideals probably have something to do with it.”
This view was shared by Sabeena (19), who added, “I really believe that at the end of the day, it comes down to the strength of your own roots. Do you want the west to influence you, or do you not?”
It’s true enough that the scope of globalization has greatly developed our way of life. The onset of the Internet has given us access to everything that is happening around the world. The growth of multinational companies in our country has increased our socioeconomic opportunities, and given us more variety and choice as consumers. Some would even argue that the onslaught of Western ideals might even be progressive for society. The improving, more liberal role of women outside the domestic stead, or even the way Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender individuals are viewed today is a testament to the influence of Western ideas on Sri Lankan cultural values.
But this has also to an extent, eroded the ‘Sri Lankan’ way of life. Most young people today speak better English than Sinhala or Tamil, and are in fact ashamed to be seen speaking their mother tongue. Has Western media conditioned us to the point where we are embarrassed of who we are? Do we feel that we don’t measure up enough, when compared to the west? Has it come to the point where we are ashamed of our ‘Sri Lankanness’?
Chamath (24) opined, “I think that Westernization and globalization has mixed implications upon Sri Lankan culture and our way of life. Sri Lankan cultural values and traditions are slowly disappearing due to increased exposure to popular Western culture. For instance the youth tend to celebrate Halloween with greater vigor yet have no idea regarding the Sinhala Tamil Avurudhu traditions. We just have to appreciate the best of both worlds rather than just sticking to one.”

This story, which appeared in the Nation on December 1, led to another story, titled ‘7 signs you’re becoming too Westernized’ published in the Republic Square

Born this Way

The following story may seem slightly irrelevant. Of course the day to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS came and went. I never saw any red ribbons, but then, I can’t remember if I left the house that day. There were tweets about AIDS, although they had to share the spotlight with #RIPPaulWalker tweets. However, for AIDS Day I wrote a story that also highlighted the issues faced by the LGBT community. And we are sharing the story here because race, religion and ethnicity aren’t the only reasons for conflict. We come to many wrong conclusions and thus act in a shameful manner. Society corners them and is even repulsed by them. The question though is this, why are we so bothered by what one does in private? Why can’t we love someone of our own choice, without letting our sex get in the way? We were born this way, so why can’t we accepted for who we are?

Understanding the psyche of LGBT Community

Understanding the psyche of LGBT Community

There was a time when HIV/AIDS was unheard of in Sri Lanka. However, the situation is changing drastically, which could be due to an increase in awareness of the virus. It could also be due to the society being more aware of sex and sexuality.Years ago sex wasn’t a topic that was discussed. It was assumed that what happened between two people was none of society’s business. Sex and gender were assumed to be synonyms. However, people gradually realized that sex isn’t an act between man and woman only, or that what you are born as isn’t what you need to be recognized as. With such realizations, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities and activism groups sprang up and pride parades were organized to fight for gay rights.

The island’s legal system considers homosexuality as an offense. Many believe a conservative nation like Sri Lanka is still not ready to accept non-heterosexual relationships as a real thing. Many believe interest in the same sex is a phase or an illness that can be cured. In most cases, homosexuals are forced into marriage with the hope they could be cured. 

Fortunately, society is gradually becoming more open-minded and the conservative mindset of many is changing for the better. Organizations like Equal Ground organizes many campaigns and events where the LGBT community can meet and raise issues they have. Such events are also attended by heterosexuals who want to fight for gay rights and also understand the LGBT community.

Sri Lankan authors like Shyam Selvadurai have addressed issues faced by homosexuals in novels like Funny Boy, Swimming in the Monsoon Sea and Cinnamon Gardens. More and more Sri Lankans are now open about their sexuality and encourage others to raise a voice for the LGBT community.
With the growth of the community, the term LGBT too is seeing an addition of other letters and now also includes questioning, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA). However, there are many factions within the community, as the subgroups believe the rights they fight for aren’t similar. Further, communities of this nature tend to focus on one issue at a time. Campaigns are carried out, but gay marriages aren’t recognized by law in many countries. 

“LGBT communities must adopt a holistic approach instead of taking up issues individually,” UNAIDS Country Officer and Public Health Specialist Dr. Dayanath Ranathunge said, adding that a lack of active campaigns, support groups and services have led to the alienation of homosexuals in society. “We are in denial that such people exist, although society has to work closely with them to understand them,” Dr Ranathunge further commented. He also said that the LGBT community has no real definition, which could be a barrier to both understanding sexuality and recognizing their rights. Dr Ranathunge also spoke about why HIV/AIDS is believed to affect homosexuals the most.

Hypodermic needles, from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery or breast feeding and contaminated blood transfusions are ways in which HIV/AIDS can be transmitted. Yet, common belief is that HIV/AIDS can only be transmitted through sexual intercourse which could be virginal, anal or oral. In fact, many wrongly believe that AIDS is a ‘gay disease’ which has also led to an increase in homophobia.

The truth however, is that HIV/AIDS is not something that only affects the LGBT community and sex isn’t the only way the virus can be transmitted. Yet, it is one of the most common methods, which is why it seems like HIV/AIDS cannot be discussed without also discussing sex and homosexuality. Due to the nature of anal sex, an individual who indulges in such sexual practices is more vulnerable to the virus. Another reason why homosexuals seem the most affected is due to the stigma that surrounds homosexual relationships. Religion plays a huge role here, as many faiths consider homosexuality a sin. Further, the law of the nation also creates anti-gay beliefs and attitudes in the country. “They can’t confine to one relationship and can’t have stable partners due to a fear of exposure,” Dr Ranathunga said, adding that many homosexuals have unprotected and casual sex. Further, due to the law and social stigma, homosexuals are afraid to get tested and thus may spread the virus without their knowledge.

Special programs
However, homosexuals should not hesitate to get tested. Dr Ranathunga said, “according to our oaths, a doctor cannot be biased,” adding that doctors who handle HIV/AIDS patients are trained to be impartial and not let the patient’s sexual orientation or preferences get in the way of treatment and care. “However, this doesn’t always happen as some doctors can be insensitive about the patient’s feelings,” he added. “There are now special programs where the Ministry of Health and society works together and actively encourages individuals to seek help,” he commented, saying that, “the infectivity of a patient drops to nearly zero percent if they seek treatment regularly,” and, “if a patient is diagnosed at the age of 25 and receives proper treatment, he can live up to 65.”
It is also important to look at children who were ‘gifted’ HIV while still in their mother’s womb. They have no choice, but to live with a virus that will forever label them and restrict them. There are also those who go abroad, especially to the Middle East, in search of work. They are often raped, which has led to many Gender Based Violence (GBV) movements. “It is important to catch them on return and make sure they are not infected,” Dr Ranathunge said, adding that, many practice unsafe sex due to their vulnerability living alone in a foreign land.

However, why is HIV/AIDS feared so much? Why is a day dedicated for AIDS on December 1? Red ribbons are worn with pride to spread awareness. Organizations like Lanka Business Coalition for HIV and AIDS (LBCH) organize awareness programs in commercial institutes and address issues regarding stigma and discrimination. The National STD/AIDS Control Program has clinics around the nation, where tests are carried out and treatment given. Further, anyone who suspects they have AIDS can find listening ears at the clinics, where pre and post diagnosis counseling is offered. The importance of counseling for HIV/AIDS patients and homosexuals were stressed too by many organizations, as many are emotionally affected and often need to share their feelings, fears and insecurities.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection / Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) is caused by the HIV virus and affects the immune system. Due to prolonged periods without symptoms, patients are often not aware of the disease until it’s too late. The virus weakens the immune system which makes patients more vulnerable to other diseases, leading to situations where the immune system cannot even fight against a common cold.

There are many myths about AIDS, especially on how one can be infected. Due to a lack of sex education, many assume AIDS can be spread through touch. There was a time when AIDS patients were treated like lepers and were feared by society. However, campaigns now reveal the truths about HIV/AIDS and awareness programs are conducted around the country.

Further, prevention methods are also discussed and people are encouraged to have protected sex. Sadly, Sri Lankans are still quite oblivious about sex and protection, although condoms are now sold at most pharmacies. People are however, reluctant to purchase condoms as they feel humiliated and embarrassed. Earlier this year the Rotaract Club of Cinnamon Gardens posted a video titled, “Buying Condoms in Sri Lanka” which aimed at helping people purchase condoms. There are also gels that can be used to prevent being infected. Further, people are encouraged to not have casual sex and be aware of the sexual history of their partners.

However, it is important to remember that HIV/AIDS can be transmitted through body fluids too. Blood transmissions have led to the spread of the virus and injecting needles that carry blood with the virus has also significantly affected the spread of the virus. While mosquitoes or other insects cannot transmit the virus, people are told be aware of needles used for tattoos, piercing and other types of branding. Thus it is important to know about prevention methods and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The campaigns and programs all boil down to a message of equality. Heterosexuals aren’t ‘normal human beings’ and non-heterosexuals are not abnormal and if our sexual orientation defines how human we are, we definitely need to rethink our beliefs and values. Thus it is important to not only fight for the rights of the LGBTQIA communities, but also dispel the myths that surround HIV/AIDS.