We Never Learn From History

Human blunders usually do more to shape history than human wickedness. – A J P Taylor

I don’t remember 1972. Because that was the year of my birth. But significant events happened that year. In May 1972, Sri Lanka officially proclaimed itself an independent republic. On the 22nd of May, the first republican constitution was adopted and powered the way forward. By the end of the year, my parents took turns staying in queues to buy milk powder, sugar, rice, and other essentials. All of it was rationed.

I remember 1974. My dad sold the Morris Minor. I sat on the steps and bawled. I was traumatized at 2 years old because a stranger came home and drove away with our car. Also, the New York Times reported on Sri Lanka on the 6th of May 1974,

“At dawn, hundreds of people wait in bread lines. Elderly men and women pick through garbage. Thieves harvest vegetables and rice in the countryside….Perhaps the fundamental reason for Sri Lanka’s plight is that the cost of food imports has spiraled while export earnings have remained stationary. A blend of Government mismanagement of farmland, meager incentives to growers, the take‐over of private estates under land reform and the residue of colonial tradition—the British ignored food production to spur tea and rubber exports—has left a lush nation virtually begging for rice and wheat.”

My parents were still queueing up to get the basics.

I remember July 1983. I didn’t see it, because I cut school feigning some imaginary illness and stayed home. Someone said everything happens for the best. Not for the Tamils. Their homes and businesses were burned down. They were killed. In their hundreds, maybe even thousands. More than a hundred thousand Tamil people were made homeless. My best friend was Tamil. I didn’t know. I found out 5 years later because I wondered how she and her sister looked so pretty with sharp features.

I remember December 1988. I should have sat for the Ordinary Level Examinations, but it got postponed. It was JVP trouble. Those days, the Sinhalese were getting killed. (unbeknown to my 16yr-old ignorant as hell self, Tamils and Muslims were also getting killed.) While the JVP was bombing the parliament (2 grenades were hurled into a room where government MPs were meeting), the LTTE was bombing the Pettah central bus stand and many other places. Every morning, my mother would send me off to school on the school bus and say ‘God bless’. I don’t remember children not coming to school because there were bombs going off in Colombo. My school was Bishop’s College – in Colombo.

I remember May 2009. Prabhakaran was killed. I was working at that time. And I thought, finally this country can move forward. My husband and I decided not to look for greener pastures, but stay in Sri Lanka.

This is 2022. 50 years old and I am in the queue. The people proclaimed freedom from the ruler of their own choice. And it looks like a new constitution is in the making.

Indeed, history is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes. – Voltaire

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