SRI LANKA: Silent Enemy

BY Shanthikumar Hettiarachchi

I watched every single day during the self-imposed quarantine period that a flock of ‘great white pelicans’ (migrating birds) settling on a Banyan tree (ficus Benghalensis) about 30 meters across from my window. My count of them on their way to settle for the night was at least 20+. I had tried my level best to hear their call, but disappointingly I could only hear the resounding call of the noisy city crows, and the mynahs (which belongs to the starling family). These local breeds dislike the ‘pelican presence’ and there is a constant commotion over the space of this Banyan tree for the local settlers. Given the size of the pelican there is no way either the crows or the mynahs could possibly have a chance for the night park.
Pelicans take priority.

This pelican community is really scrupulous about their setting out for food which is about 5.45am and settling back on the tree commences about 5pm. The community it seems to me is on the increase by the week. All this happens on their part with a sense of purpose and silently while the rest of the locals make a hullabaloo of the situation. The pelicans with no pandemonium take their place for the night, and by 6pm all is silent but at least a bird population of over 200+ birds might be resting for the night on this Banyan after a difficult compromise. While the silent migrating birds settle down before they make their morning beeline to the Diyawanna Oya (a large water reservoir that connects most of Colombo’s water paths), yet a silent enemy seems also has migrated and settled, as Covid 19 among the human population of this island nation, Sri Lanka.

The roads are made silent, hustle and the bustle of the cities are dormant. The dominant political voices are numbed and made dumb. The priests, bhikkhus Mavlavis and other religious leaders have opted belatedly to engage in real social responsibility beyond the church, temple and the masjid. The Silence of the Sacred is communicating to the religious that they must not only preach but practice, and this is the real time to work silently for the defeat of the silent enemy among us.
Silent enemy is creeping through our beloved land and our people, teaching us that humans might be rational but irrationally lived with greed of the market and trade: investment and profit before people. Humans might have created supersonic instruments but have not listened to the wailing of the natural world. Humans progressed perhaps to a pinnacle of achievements but failed to care for the ones ejected by the very system and institutions operating more powerfully than the elected governments.

Silent enemy still strong and robust, warning the humans right across the globe, obstinate and hard hitting, paralyzing the systems with no mercy. The great white pelicans require no quarantine, no health curfew, no road blocks, they silently fly back and through, gliding, frolicking and seeking their feed to survive. Silent enemy, the Covid19, decides who survives and who succumbs to its intricate maneuvering of the mechanism of the human body – the respiratory system.

Silent enemy is attacking the vociferous nations big and small and their people with a weapon of ill health in an unprecedented way. A silent enemy with equal and unknown ways, unselectively taking the toll on the most vulnerable population. Human intelligence and its sophistication is as if halted because the enemy is also within. All human wars for land, religion, power sharing, nationhood, caste, class, trade, finance are all silenced by the silent enemy.

Isolation, physical distance, not visiting grandparents and parents have become paramount activities and non-activities. Strange relationships are being cultured by the silent enemy.

We have to defeat this enemy publicly because the assault is so public. The culture of scientific research with special attention to biochemical and witness-less laboratory experiments, knowledge creation, information dissemination and the callous handling of that information as power, will have to be mended in all the different modes, from trade to international relations. Values, virtues, cultural norms, religious affiliations and beliefs must be revisited and re-examined thoroughly. We cannot simply go back to the ‘old edition with its hard cover’ of any of these paradigms. Even though treasured and venerated some of them, may be revisiting and revisioning them will become imperative if those paradigms to be relevant in the remainder of this century. The banyan tree has the capacity to hold all the local and migratory birds and still be relevant and effective as a tree.

Silent enemy, humans will defeat obviously, provided they are willing to learn some bitter lessons at a terrible cost of forty thousand + dead worldwide at the time of writing. About forty Great white pelicans I think are resting tonight on that Banyan tree. The entire tree is in deep silence…

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-006-2020
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Democracy, Right to health,