Title: Diaspora
Year: 2015
Publication: Litro Magazine

What if the three million exiled Sri Lankans formed a nation?

 

Forgive your country every once in a while.

If that is not possible, go to another one.

Ron Padgett

Diaspora


It’s a simple car bomb, and it’s rigged to a busload of schoolgirls. No one knows it is there except for me. The Ceylon Islands’ bomb squad were trained by Israelis, but have not had anything to defuse in 20 years. By the time they get here there will only be carcasses of young girls to sift through.


I have three daughters and I am far from a monster. Yet this mission was created on my recommendation. It has taken me 10 years to formulate this plan and I believe it to be the only viable option.


In an hour, thirty-five schoolgirls between the ages of 8 and 12 will die or be disfigured because of the length of the hem on their school uniform. After that, this country will burn for weeks and after that I will be there to put out the fire.


It all began with Chamara Jayawardena, esteemed Sri Lankan cricket captain, swearing live on the BBC. A leader resigning like a drama queen wasn’t unusual in this county, but an old boy of Trinity College dropping the f-bomb in public was something scandalous.


The story of Ceylon began not with King Wijeya or Queen Kuveni, but with a post-match press conference at Lords. Chamara Jay was usually well spoken and polite, but that day he looked ruffled and agitated.


He was responding not to the dull cricket match that he had wasted five days on, but to news that Buddhist monks had set fire to Tamil businesses in his hometown of Kandy.


“Today I am deeply ashamed to be representing Sri Lanka. Thugs in robes claiming to uphold Buddhism have committed shameful acts in recent times. But none as disgraceful as the torching of property owned by Sri Lankan Tamils, people who are my brothers and sisters.”


“This may not be the forum, but it is the only one I have. I wish to announce my resignation as Captain, and my renunciation of my race and religion. Henceforth I no longer consider myself a Sinhalese or a Buddhist, as doing so implies complicity to these hate crimes, implies allegiance to these fucking arseholes.”


“I am Sri Lankan and consider any crimes against those living in my land, regardless of their ethnicity or religion, to be crimes against me. I have used my position as a sportsman to feign apathy as most of my fellow countrymen do. No longer. This is unacceptable and I will not accept it. Thank you. I will not be taking questions.”


The clip played on CNN, Al Jazeera, Russia Today, networks not known for their interest in cricket or in the troubled isle south of India. Among Sri Lankans, the clip was shared and argued about on social networks, many of which were blocked in the island. Patriots denounced our cricketing hero as a stooge of the west. Liberals exulted him as a hero.


The population of Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, exceeds 20 million. It is the head count of the Australian continent squeezed onto a landmass the size of Tasmania. Yet the nation of Lanka extends far beyond the boundaries of this fair isle.


2 million Sri Lankans, exiled by economics and politics, reside in kingdoms across Europe, Asia, Australia and North America. 1 in 10 people who could be identified as Sri Lankan no longer reside within its borders. This diaspora is made up of Tamils banished by the Eelaam wars of the 80s and 90s, Burghers exiled by the Sinhala Only policy of the 50s and 60s and economic refugees of every shade of brown working as slaves in the first world. The diaspora features a myriad of races like Sri Lankan Moors, Kaffirs, Chetties, Parsis and Chinese, spurned by the land of their birth.


It is among this diaspora that Chamara Jayawardena’s tirade receives the most airplay on unblocked bandwidth. For many, Jayawardena is a hero, a sane voice speaking for humanity in a paradise plagued with division. At home, those in power denounce the man as a traitor, who should be ashamed for airing the nation’s dirty laundry on the world’s washing lines.


The story is reported widely and shared ad infinitum and is accompanied by banner ads for a luxury resort called Ceylon Islands. These ads call for hospitality personnel, hoteliers, marketers, architects, engineers, waiters, chefs and artists to apply for vacancies and offers ‘competitive remuneration and career advancement.’


When Chamara Jayawardena is gunned down at a traffic light, while taking his sons to cricket practice, the story hits the world’s headlines. Eyewitnesses, all of whom later retract their statements, describe men on motorcycles, pulling up to Jayawardena’s Pajero, won for being player of the tournament at the 2019 World Cup, and firing 5 times into his SUV. No arrests are made for the murder.


* * *

Sri Lanka is a sovereign Buddhist nation, the sole custodians of a Lankan brand of Buddhism. If China goes secular and Burma goes psycho, we are, we believe, the last bastion. This, we are told, is important, important enough to burn churches, stone mosques, dismantle kovils, send monks to parliament, and shoot the very Prime Minister who began this idiocy.


Buddhism is based on karuna and metta, kindness and compassion. It is about harnessing the mind and the desires, accessing the soul, using thought, word and action to promote the good, the just and the right. It is philosophy more than religion, though in Sri Lanka it has adopted all the ugly traits of organised faith.


Buddhism is a way of being, grounded in empathy, in benevolence, in nonviolence. Ceylon has made a joke of that, a deeply unfunny joke. Those who industrialize aggression: the military, the cops, the gangsters, the politicians, all claim to use violence as a last resort. Over here, in the sovereign home of nonviolent Buddhism, it is our first port of call.


A drunken spat will end in a homicide, a domestic tiff will conclude with acid, political disagreements are resolved with guns, a failed exam leads to the drinking of poison. Each of these happen each and every day in this beautiful land.


The malady may not be a uniquely Lankan. Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin L. King are now signposts on dirty boulevards, sepia photos used to sell computers, postage stamps that we spit on. Their names are spoken and their words are quoted, while their ideas fester in the first world and rot in the third.


Around the globe, in every bloodied outpost, it is as clear as God’s disdain. Pacifism is the idea that failed. The idea that should have been placed on an altar after two wars made Europe a steaming heap. The idea that has been skewered on a hook and left to decay for half a century. The idea that will be bludgeoned and burned each day for as long as vermin have claws on these lands.


* * *

I follow the bus in my air-conditioned van. On the passenger seat is my diary, my cigarettes and lighter, and a black box with an antenna and switch. As a father of three daughters, my choice of target may appear suspect, though it is very much not.


Could I not have placed my explosives at the house of parliament, that floating building on Colpetty Lake, designed by one of Geoffrey Bawa’s many imitators? Could I not have targeted one of the government buildings on Duplication Boulevard hidden amidst bo and banyan trees? Is the killing of children necessary or even acceptable as a means to an end?


I have spent the last year at the Diego Garcia naval base typing up a 30-page report justifying what I am about to do. In it, I have outlined 7 different scenarios that could deliver the desired objective. Of these, the thirty-five schoolgirls represent not only the lowest head count, but also the most effective course of action.


Nothing softens the heart like the birth of a daughter and nothing hardens it like the death of one. Killing schoolgirls, especially those of tender age, yet to become rebellious and petulant, will create a frenzy of emotion and a call for blood. There will be ground support for a pogrom on the perpetrators and finally, after decades of peace, the Ceylon Islands will be at war.


* * *

In 2025, both Forbes magazine and Conde Nast Traveller ran cover stories on the Ceylon Islands. Floating on the equator, somewhere between Somalia and the Maldives, the islands had become a refueling stop for shipping lines on the Indian Ocean as well as a sought after tourist destination.


The cluster boasted 345 archipelagos, 230 eco-friendly resorts, a resident workforce of 500,000 and an annual turnover of 300 billion, making it the most successful tourist destination of all time.


Travellers marvelled at the landscaped beaches, the native fauna and the crimson skies. National Geographic published colour spreads of butterflies, elephants, black leopards and a recently discovered species of Ceylon dragon. Conde Nast praised the standards of service, the exquisite flavours of its Sri Lankan fusion menu, and the innovative use of air taxis, hovercrafts and hot air balloons to transport guests from one paradise to the next.


It is only when The Economist unveiled the man behind the curtain that heads began to turn. Raviraj Balasingham had left Sri Lanka in 1983, like thousands of Tamils who lost homes and families in riots and wars. The story behind his fortune has many versions. Some say he ran pornography shops in New York State during the 90s. Others report him as a predator who made profits on foreclosures during the ‘08 credit crunch. Many attest to his presence at LTTE fundraisers and claim that his offshore investments armed the Tamil Tigers for three decades.


The Economist noted that 82% of all employees were of Sri Lankan descent and enjoyed generous wages and perks. The magazine raised questions on discriminatory hiring practices and asked why the group of companies was registered in Shanghai and not in New York, where Balasingham was a resident. “Sri Lankans work harder than anyone else, as soon as they are taken out of Sri Lanka,” was Balasingham’s retort.


While these allegations remained unaddressed, his appearance on the Fortune 50 raised a few eyebrows. In an exclusive interview with the New York Times, he revealed his motivation behind the purchase of the Ceylon Islands. “I wanted to create an authentic Sri Lankan tourist experience, on a place free of Sri Lankan bureaucracy and corruption.””


Indeed as the nation of its birth degenerated into a third world theocracy, as its economy and tourist arrivals dwindled, the Ceylon Islands boasted a GDP that would’ve placed it on a list of first world nations, despite the fact that it was a privately owned conglomerate. It was the beginning to which I am about to put an end.


* * *

The late great Chamara Jayawardena outlined his approach to captaincy in his posthumously published autobiography Charmed Life. “I always look at the result rather than the method. I tell my bowlers to bowl at the mistake they want the batsman to make. If I need 300 runs, I play egos against each other to achieve it. People get too hung up on rules and process. I commit to the result before I even know how I will create it.”


Make the commitment. Then figure out how to do it. Wise words from a dead man. So what was my desired outcome? To destabilize and destroy the economy of the Ceylon Islands, an economy based on pluralism, equality and professionalism. How does one destroy something based on all that is good and just? It is simple. Just add religion.


Do not for one second think that I am a novice. I have managed operations for both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, some covert, others less so. In my youth I engineered seven political assassinations, one involving a head of state, and to date none of them have been solved. After I switched sides, I helped end the war in 09 and cripple the terrorist group whom I once worked for.


In the early 10s, I was in charge of silencing soft targets referred to in military parlance as ‘children’. I disappeared journalists and activists and helped manage the press fallout afterwards. I then retired and set up a PR firm for government ministries, a lucrative enterprise that didn’t require the spilling of blood. Then I was approached by men I had done business with before, asking me my opinion on the ‘Ceylon Islands problem’.


I told them what I learned in my time as a fixer. It’s not enough to kill or kidnap or disappear. You must find a goat to scape, someone who wouldn’t like being blamed, someone likely to retaliate in the face of false witness.


If I plant the smoking gun in the mosque on Slave Gardens, how long before religious tensions turn paradise into hell? Can a successful secular state formed on principles of democracy and transparency survive the slaughter of 35 young girls, without the demand for an eye for an eye? We shall soon see.


* * *

In 2029, Raviraj Balasingham made the boldest move of a career built on maverick maneuvers. He requested an audience with the UN and brought with him a delegation of distinguished gentlemen and ladies. Among them were scientists, engineers, economists and lawyers, each of Sri Lankan origin, mostly citizens of Canada, Australia, UK, New Zealand, Malaysia and Brunei.


He presented financial records outlining the solvency and profitability of the islands’ tourism, shipping and agricultural sectors. The Ceylon Islands’ tea, rubber and coconut industries were leaders in markets across the globe, eclipsing their Asian rivals, dwarfing the small change earned by the island south of India, which their parents once called home. The Islands’ manufacturing sector had managed to remain competitive without resorting to cheap labour. Its fledgling stock market was stable, transparent and highly lucrative.


His case for an independent state predictably found opposition among SAARC countries, notably the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, now a one-party dictatorship where all citizens were required to convert to Sinhala Buddhism. It mattered little, as China, the US, the UK and the recently reformed Soviet Union all voted in its favour.


Balasingham’s proposal was drafted by distinguished Queen’s Council Sir Christopher Peripanayagam, respected civil rights lawyer MHM Aziz and renowned litigator Samaraweera Pereira. Sri Lankans resident in London, The Hague and New York respectively. The constitution was that of a secular democracy, a meritocracy that would serve as a homeland for a legion of displaced Sri Lankans.


Riots erupted in Colombo on the day the resolution passed, though the world’s media focused on the inauguration ceremony in Batticaloa City, the newly crowned capital of Ceylon Islands. Rohan de Kretzer, CEO of Ceylon Islands Resorts was sworn in as Governor General.


The cabinet was made up of technocrats, among who were three Nobel nominees. While the nation began as a one-party state, free and fair elections were promised within five years. While qualified expats were welcomed, citizenship and land ownership was restricted to those who had at least one Sri Lankan parent.


Exiled filmmakers set up studios. Grammy-winning rap star Maya, banished from the homeland in the 00s staged a music festival. The last surviving member of the ‘43 group auctioned his paintings in Batticaloa City. Housemaids from the Middle East, slave labourers from Singapore, skilled and underpaid technicians from Sri Lanka flocked to the visa office to cash in their worthless passports.


It was article 7 of the constitution that received the most attention both from critics and supporters. To be granted citizenship, one had to denounce race and religion. In other words, it was not possible to be a Ceylon Islander and remain a Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim or Burgher. Every citizen was a Ceylonese and had to pledge allegiance to a flag of three colours, representing the official languages of English, Sinhala and Tamil. While freedom of religion was tolerated, it received no state patronage.


The newly formed government resurrected and replayed Chamara Jayawardena’s Lords press conference from a decade ago as inspiration for the state’s constitution. The great man’s birth anniversary in May was declared a national holiday. The Chinese built highways and ports, the Americans set up universities and the Arab nations signed trade agreements. By 2033 the population of Ceylon Islands had swelled to 3 million.


While the world moved on, Sri Lanka refused to recognize the sovereignty of The Ceylon Islands, calling it a ‘rogue state’ propped up by a ‘puppet western government.’ The Ceylon Times noted that most critics of the new nation were Sri Lankans who had had heir visa applications rejected, and went as far as to publish the rejected application forms of Sri Lankan ministers looking to defect.


My wife, my three daughters and myself all received new passports. We each denounced our Tamil heritage, our Hindu beliefs and our allegiance to the island of our birth. At the time it appeared a small price.


* * *

The bus turns off at Dickmans Drive and I drive into Chamara Jayawardena Avenue, where I am late for work. My black box has a reach of 15 km, which means I could set off the charge from the safety of any one of the neighbouring islands.


It is 8.25 am and the Royal Bishops College would start its day in 5 minutes. While the school is co-ed and progressive, its transport is segregated. The boys’ uniforms are traditional white slacks and white shirts. The girls wear a one-piece white frock with shoulder straps and a hemline above the knees. It is an outfit considered sexy by hormonal teenagers and pedophiles.


The crime rate in Ceylon Islands is negligible, thanks to a zero tolerance policy. Since inauguration there have been no murders or rapes, at least none that were reported in the Ceylon Times. The punishment for all crime from theft to drunk driving is immediate deportation to Sri Lanka. Many claim this to be a fate worse than decapitation. Rumour has it that serious offenders are sent to Saudi Arabia and Texas for execution, though this has not been proven.


The police force and army have been trained by Israel, the economy managed by consultants from Singapore, the hospitals and schools designed by specialists from Sweden. Consultants were granted residency but not citizenship, unless they had one parent who ate rice and curry by hand.


There was talk of compulsory military training for all citizens, females included, but this is still being debated in parliament, along with bills asking for a crackdown on religious freedoms, the hijab and circumcision.


The national cricket team applied for ICC status, but is yet to receive word, despite beating both Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in friendly test matches played at the scenic Bloomfield ground on the isle of Trincomalee. One day the Ceylon Islands will play a test match against Sri Lanka and may even win, according to optimists.


I get a call from a Maldivian number as soon as I get to office.


“Where?”


“Plan changed. We have decided that the evening run is better than the morning. Game will take place at 230pm and not at 830am."


“Who decided this?”


I sigh and say nothing.


“We will need full report.”


“Obviously.”


Click.


I took this job on the basis that I worked alone and had no chain of command. The less voices there are to silence, the easier the cover up. My comrade from Maldives knows this and is not required to like it.


I told you that I am no monster and perhaps that is why I am having second thoughts. My wife and daughters live in an apartment on Lavinia Hill overlooking Pettah Beach. I have been here three years. The girls attend Bridget Thomas Convent and my eldest may be head girl next year. It is a much better life than we had in Colombo, Jaffna or in exile in Toronto and I will be sad when it is over, which it undoubtedly will be when I press that button.


* * *

The fledgling nation is not without its teething problems.


For the past few years, the Sri Lankan government has been threatening military action. While there is no doubt they have the firepower and the muscle to overpower the 45 archipelagos, they will not be able to cross the Indian ocean without facing the US coastguard. Ceylon Islands have hired frigates from the Diego Garcia naval base to protect the waters from Somali pirates, Pakistani mercenaries and rogue Arab rockets.


Then there is the thorny question of immigration. The meager indigenous population are granted citizenship but the non-Lankan expats are not. Governor De Kretzer maintains that priority will be given to those cursed with a Sri Lankan passport. In the first year they receive 5 million applications of which only 40,000 are granted passage. Minister of the Interior, Sir Christopher Peripanayagam is an open Social Darwinist and has publicly stated that he only accepts ‘useful’ immigrants and will shun ‘uneducated freeloaders’. The unskilled, the lazy and the politically inclined are not granted residency.


Sir Christopher Peripanayagam published the 6 most wanted criminals in the Ceylon Islands. Two were Muslim jihadists, two were Tamil separatists, one was a serial killer, one was a Marxist agitator. None of the names belonged to me.


There are class tensions and religious tensions, though nothing to rival the paradise back home. The Economist hints that the Ceylon Islands will become a capitalist fascism, not unlike Singapore or Dubai. Policymakers within the islands take this as a compliment.


If you haven’t visited The Ceylon Islands, I cannot tell you what you are missing out on. Eleven months of sunshine and one month of snow. An island of wild animals where predators are kept on a leash. Landscaped hills, aquamarine lakes, cities of steel, and citizens of fixed smiles. And an air of controlled freedom that is the envy of the uncivilized world.


* * *

It is 2pm and I stare at the switch, knowing that the phone will ring and the caller will be impatient. If the Muslims are blamed for the blast, the Ceylonese will storm their mosques and the Arab nations will withhold their oil and release their savages.


Here are the things that allow me to sleep at night. The knowledge that all nations will die, even as their crimes live on. The notion that ideals can corrupt as thoroughly as cynicism does. The reality that politicians are chosen for their ability to win votes, rather than their prowess at governing. The Ceylon Islands experiment is destined to be a blot on history, a trail doomed to fail. You can take the Lankan out of Lanka, but you can't take the Lanka out of the Lankan.


I could tell you I am doing this under duress but that is untrue. I could tell you I am doing it to forward my position and that is partially true. I could tell you that I used to gamble compulsively and that I haven’t visited a casino in 30 years. I could tell you that sometimes the biggest gamble is to do nothing and wait.


I could tell you that the 500,000 Maldivians whose islands are being swallowed will be sent our way, unless. I could tell you that I didn’t expect to enjoy life this much when I took the assignment and moved here.


From my office I see the statue of Chamara Jayawardena, holding aloft his cricket bat, as if he has scored a quadruple century on a tricky wicket. It is the first thing immigrants to the main island see. It is our Statue of Liberty founded on a statute of limitations. I stare at it while my phone rings.


The caller is not from the Maldives, but from the neighbouring building. It is the great Raviraj Balasingham himself, founder of the nation, a man who has taken decades to wash the blood from his paws.


“Chris is that you?”


Ravi is the only person on the planet aside from my family not to address me as Sir Christopher.


“Ah Ravi, how?”


“Have you heard anything about a terrorist plot?”


“Can’t say I have.”


“The Israelis are agitated.”


“When are they not?”


“True. Keep your eyes open Chris.”


“Always.”


It is 2.29pm. History is a zero sum game. The only truth is the law that governs the universe. The strong will devour the weak. And if you’re not doing the devouring, then you must be one of the weak.


The question is not whether it is better to be a big fish in a small pond or a guppy in an ocean. The question is whether it is better to be a citizen of a lawful nation or the ruler of an unfair one.


The west is best if you are a servant, but the east is better if you are a master. You may say I have had my unfair share and you would be right. But we are creatures of appetite and how much or how little precisely is enough? If you’re in the habit of going all in, it doesn’t matter how many chips are on the table. This call will not be from the Maldives but from Diego Garcia, and I may have no more excuses left to give.


I call my eldest daughter and we chat about cricket, about her speech to the girl guides and about the three boys who think they like her. I hear the beep of call waiting but I do not hang up. I have dragged this out for ten long years. What conceivable difference could a few more make?


 

 
   
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