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When I was in Delhi last week, I was privileged to meet the Indian Minister of External Affairs who turned out, though he looks old and distinguished, to have been at Oxford while I was there – and to have succeeded Ravi Tennekoon as a Lecturer at Trinity College, before heading back to India to better things. I still recall Ravi telling me that he was giving up the position at Trinity – which seemed to my undergraduate enthusiasms all one could hope for – to get back into real life. Well, he is a barrister in London, when I believe he could have contributed much more either to Sri Lanka or to academia, or to both – as did his predecessor as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, Professor Peiris, before ambition turned him sour. Salman Khurshid meanwhile is the Minister of External Affairs in India, and still extraordinarily mentally agile, as befits a lawyer turned novelist turned politician.

Our meeting was to present him with my latest publication, ‘Mirrored Images’ a collection of English and Sinhala and Tamil poetry from Sri Lanka. Published by the National Book Trust of India, as a companion to ‘Bridging Connections’, a collection of short stories, it shows the common themes explored by writers in different languages in Sri Lanka. It would be an ideal showpiece around which our ambassadors abroad could show the reality about this country, and combat the divisive propaganda of those trying to destroy Sri Lanka. Needless to say, our Foreign Ministry will do nothing about this, as they did nothing about the wonderful film, ‘Common Differences’, made by a Croatian who showed the essential unifying features of this country. It was only after I had screened the film myself that, under prodding from the Ministry of Defence, the Lakshman Kadirgamar Centre finally had a screening on April 3rd. Thankfully, they took a leaf out of my book, and instead of engaging in the othering that so many of those who think themselves patriotic engage in, they asked Jehan Perera, along with other participants in the film, to contribute as discussants.

This concept of othering, which we seem to have adopted from the West instead of sticking to our cultural traditions of inclusivity, recurred in my mind as fundamentally destructive, when I heard Mr Khurshid talking about the close links India had with Sri Lanka. His view was that, whatever other links India would build up, with the region, with Asia, with the world, there was something special about the relationship with Sri Lanka. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

May 2013
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