The ‘Thambi’ Boy Who Paints the Temple

Twenty-four years ago, Osman Saldin was born in Grandpass, Colombo. His parents and all his relatives were practising Muslims. Osman’s father’s job was painting temples. Osman grew up watching his father draw intricate patterns of Buddhist imagery and scenes from various Jataka tales on walls and ceilings of Buddhist temples around the island. Later, Osman learnt that like his father, his grandfather and generations of ancestors had earned their livelihood in this way.

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He says it won’t happen again

This is a story I’ve been meaning to tell for a while now.

While the story itself is set in the recent past, there is a bit of a backstory that encapsulates the series of events that led to it.

September 2009 —home

It was a Thursday and my father had just returned home from work. That night at the dinner table he tells us about the new boy who started work at his office. ‘He is a smart chap, committed to work and very respectful. What more could one expect?’

His name is Sahan.

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For Adhil

(Opening remarks made at the Adhil Bakeer Markar Foundation’s Inaugural Youth Dialogue on the Role of Youth in Shaping Multicultural Societies )


A very good morning everyone. On behalf of the Adhil Bakeer Markar Foundation, it’s an absolute privilege to be able to welcome you all to the Foundation’s inaugural event: this Youth Dialogue with His Excellency Prof. Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Former Prime Minister of Turkey, who will speak to us about something extremely important to us and something that our dear friend Adhil cared so much about– the Role of Youth in Shaping Multicultural Societies.

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How Elitism In Access To Education Is Failing Our Young People

Originally published on the Sunday Leader

The Budget for the fiscal year of 2017 has been presented before the Sri Lankan Parliament. Once capital carrying costs are deducted from last year’s allocation, there has only been a marginal increase in the allocation for education. While some noteworthy steps such as increasing the student intake to universities, the provision of student loans and scholarships to top graduates, steps to uproot ragging and incentivise students to pursue technical and vocational education have been taken, I believe that the policymakers of the country could use some introspection on the inequalities in the education system at the school level.

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Why Facebook Won’t Help Heal War Torn Sri Lanka’s Wounds

Originally published on the Sunday Leader

Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict: one of the world’s most protracted and destructive conflicts of our time was brought to a bloody, military end in May of 2009. Seven years have passed since, but the communities in the island remain divided along narrow ethno-religious lines. In many ways, this is a result of the conflicting narratives held by the Sinhalese and the Tamil communities as well as others on Sri Lanka’s history, the beginnings of the conflict and how it was brought to an end. Many Sinhalese people in the South only see the conflict as a separatist war that was initiated by terrorists who happened to be Tamil and do not recognize the years of discrimination and suppression that the Tamil people had to undergo under successive majoritarian governments in post-colonial Sri Lanka who turned the two communities against each other for narrow political wins. Many Tamils in the North have witnessed the violence they saw in their backyards but fail to recognize that thousands of bright and innocent men and women in the South were also killed by the LTTE and do not see the woundedness of the Sinhalese. In a sense, there is almost a competition between the communities to emerge as the ultimate ‘victim’ of the conflict. These narratives have sustained overtime and have been passed down from generation to generation  cemented by the media, politicians, textbooks, literature, the arts and so on. This is only exacerbated by various conspiracy theories and hate propagated by racist politicians who thrive on our differences.

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Becoming me

Kumudu and I studied together at our all-boys college in Colombo.  We weren’t friends, really- he was one year senior to me: but I knew of him (everyone did). While we practiced for the Shakespeare Drama Competition at the college main hall, Kumudu and his friends practiced for their Sinhala dramas for the national level competitions. Kumudu would almost always play the female lead. For us- teenage school boys, this was quite a spectacle and Kumudu and his friends would often be made fun of. They called him the ‘p-word’ (a Sinhala expletive) and all other kinds of names.  While in my first encounters of Kumudu, he seemed taken aback and clearly distressed by the unending bullying; as time passed by it seemed like Kumudu was unaffected by the endless name-calling and bullying: he even fought back a couple of times: almost as if the bullying made him stronger and more resilient.

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Kajan and Sulakshan: Motorcycle Diaries

Originally published in the Sunday Leader

Last Thursday, two young students of the Arts Faculty of the University of Jaffna — 23 year old Kajan and 24 year old Sulakshan were allegedly shot by the police at a roadblock in Kankesanthurai, Jaffna. There are various narratives being shared on the sequence of events that led to the shooting: everything from the youth being drunk and refusing to stop the bike at the checkpoint to them being members of the armed gang ‘Awaa’ which is allegedly linked to recent incidents of violence against civilians and police in Jaffna. However, until there is an independent inquiry into what happened, we cannot know what exactly happened that night at the Kulappidi Junction. The bottom line though, is whether drunk, not stopping when pulled over by the police, having a history of criminal conduct, all of the above or none, the police had absolutely no authority to shoot the two unarmed young men who were on the bike.
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