by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
January 8th 2015 is upon us!
It’s the Day of decision for Sri Lanka as it faces yet another election to either re-elect or elect the most powerful person in the Country.
My thoughts and prayers with all Sri Lankans as they cast their votes in what is perhaps the most crucially important presidential poll the Country has seen.
The current election has electrified the country. A wave of hope that effective change through the ballot can be possible has engulfed the nation.
As a Tamil and a Christian I am very happy about the surge of optimism prevalent among Sri Lanka’s racial and religious minorities.
Even though the competition is between chief candidates from the majority community the minorities are well aware that they have a very important role to play in this poll.
The recent past has been one where the minorities were regarded as being of no consequence in determining the outcome of a Presidential election. Jan 8th provides an opportunity to demonstrate that every citizen of Sri Lanka regardless of race,religion, caste or creed can exercise their franchise to elect the President of their country
The minorities in general and Tamils in particular must vote and not boycott the polls.They must vote courageously in large numbers and prove that they are an integral component of the country no matter what majoritarian chauvinists say.
A troubling factor in this respect is how the poll would be conducted. Will it be free and fair?
We’ve had many flaws in conducting elections in the past. The present election campaign has already exposed many deficiencies. The chances of the poll being flawed are very much there.
Despite these flaws Sri Lanka can be proud of keeping the light of democracy alive.
The Jan 8th election too will be imperfect but this does not mean that it should be written off beforehand.
In spite of the imperfections and faults Sri Lanka must continue to keep up their democratic tradition alive and strive for greater perfection in the days to come.
For this as many voters as possible should exercise their franchise. They must vote early and go out to booths together in large numbers.
This is indeed Sri Lanka’s day of destiny and my heart goes out to every voter who will make difficult and often daring decisions and mark their ballot papers today.
I took some time off from the hustle and bustle of daily life to ponder over this election.
It is in that pensive, reflective mood that I wish to share three poems with readers. I feel that they are appropriate to read and reflect on an important day like this for the Sri Lankan nation and people.
Three Poems for Sri Lanka on Presidential Elections Day
ONCE TO EVERY MAN AND NATION
The first is from James Russell Lowell a nineteenth century American poet.Lowell who had been a Professor at Harvard University and was also the first Editor of “Atlantic Monthly” wrote this poem for the “Boston Courier” of Dec 11th 1845. It was titled “The Present Crisis” and written in protest against America’s war with Mexico.
The title inspired the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) to name its official magazine “The CRISIS”. The NAACP is the premier Afro-American organization fighting for the rights and emancipation of the coloured people in the USA.
The poem is rather long with many parts that may not be relevant to Sri Lanka at this point of time.
There were however some verses that were modified into a Christian hymn. This hymn relates to the responsibilities of people as they make decisions shaping the destiny of their country.
It is a hymn often sung in Churches at times of national importance like an election.
I do feel that it would appeal not only to Christians but to all people of goodwill who believe in the almighty or in a conscience.
Incidently this poem-hymn was quoted by Rev. Martin Luther King at the the conclusion of his speech, “Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” on April 4th, 1967 at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City.
Here are the four stanzas comprising this poem/ hymn titled “ONCE TO EVERY MAN AND NATION”. (Women please forgive Lowell. He was from another male-dominated era)
Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.
Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.
By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.
WHERE THE MIND IS WITHOUT FEAR
The second poem I want to share with you all is from someone very well known in Sri Lanka. It’s from Rabindranath Tagore and I know a whole lot of people in Lanka are familiar with this particular poem.
Tagore as is known was a Bengali and wrote poetry in the flowery Bengali language. An anthology of 103 of his poems were published as the “Gitanjali” and was translated into English by the poet himself.
“Gitanjali” earned Tagore the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.
Interestingly enough Tagore’s poems are sung as national anthems by two countries. “Jana Gana Mana” in India and “Amar Shonar Bangla” in Bangla Desh.
The poem I present here is “Chitto Jetha Bhayashunyo” (where the mind is without fear). It was written before Indian Independence from Britain and articulates the vision of Tagore for Free India.
This poem is one of the most well-known of Tagore’s creations and one of my favourites.
I do think it’s appropriate for Sri Lanka at this juncture. Here then is it.
“THE MIND WITHOUT FEAR”-
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action….
Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake”.
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
The third poem I would like to share with readers is also from an American poet the famous Robert Frost. He has been one of America’s frequently quoted poets.
Robet Lee Frost who won four Pulitzer prizes for poetry was born in California but lived in Massachusetts . Many of his poems were based on rural life in New England .They were used often to deal with complex philosophical themes.
“The road not taken” by Frost is a poem published in 1916 in the anthology “Mountain Interval”. It’s the first in the volume.
Apparently Frost used to take long walks with his friend and fellow poet Edward Thomas in the countryside.Thomas at the end of a walk would often complain that they should have taken another path.
This amused Frost and the poem was a gentle swipe at his friend’s pet peeve. However the poem was perceived to be of greater depth and regarded as inspirational.
Many regard it as a paean to individual freedom, independence of action and choice.
According to some it illustrates “that once one takes a certain road, there is no turning back.
Although one might change paths later on, the past cannot be changed. It can be seen as showing that choice is very important, and is a thing to be considered”.
I do think the question of choice in deciding which path to pursue is of paramount importance to the Sri Lankan people as they go to the polling booths today to make their choice and decide upon the future course of the Country.
Here then are the verses from “THE ROAD NOT TAKEN” by Robert Frost:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference”
I do hope that these poems would be of some relevance to readers
On that poetic note I take leave with the fervent hope that my people would make an informed , courageous choice on this D-day.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at ~ firstname.lastname@example.org