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Essays

The Writings of Thrishana Pothupitiya of Sri Lanka

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The Power of Humanity

16 year old Thrishana Pothupitiya of Bishop's College Colombo writes about the tsunami which devastated her island home.

I woke up on the day after Christmas, the 26th of December. I got out of bed and having washed my face, I made my way down to have breakfast with my family. The dogs were barking, children were playing outside our gate, the birds were chirping, my mother was shouting at my brother to get ready....it was just another ordinary day in Peliyagoda..... or so it seemed.

A few hundred miles down the road an extraordinary event was unfolding, there too families woke up and were having breakfast around the table, there too mothers were asking their children to get ready, there too the dogs were barking, the children were running onto the beach to play, picking shells and even playing cricket. But a boom a thunderous boom broke the peaceful morning....it came rushing, churning, swirling, smashing, destroying, emptying, hurling everything in its path......in a sweeping murderous instant a 20-foot tsunami had broken the heart of Sri Lanka.

It was devastating, soul destroying bringing tears to a father who held his dead son gently, his tears flowing down the child's body, a river of grief....his wail echoed around the world in the homes of London, New York, Tokyo, Melbourne, New Delhi, Moscow, Cape Town and Bejing.

Parts of the south and east coast were decimated, there was blood and carnage everywhere, bodies were flung from trains, hotels and ordinary homes. The wave swept over Sri Lanka and then receded with the dead and the dying.

It was a catastrophe; the world's worst natural disaster had struck Sri Lanka after a massive earthquake in the sea near Indonesia, registering 9 on the Richter scale. It registered an even greater depth of sadness and heartbreak in Sri Lanka - whole communities were wiped out and it brought death and destruction.

Sri Lanka dominated the world's headlines as people woke up on Boxing Day to view the devastation on their television screens.

The image of a loving father grieving from the depths of his soul, grieving for his son who appeared only to be asleep shook the world - it broke the hearts of many from Stratford in East London to downtown Tokyo.

The scenes from our country galvanised people into action...bloggers sent messages screaming down the internet, an SOS was sent across the globe.....the tears of Sri Lanka brought tears to humanity, it provoked compassion as Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales said when he visited the London Buddhist Vihara in Chiswick, Great Britain and met Mahanayake Ven Vajiranana and the many volunteers from the Sri Lankan Community.

This spirit of compassion brought forth extraordinary tales - waiters fully knowing their families had perished went out to save the lives of tourists, a child who had learnt about the tsunami in her classroom fore warned her family and took them to safety, a mother smashed the window of the bathroom in her hotel and pushed her daughter out before the murderous waters took her life, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka saving the life of his political opponent and that of his family who were stranded on a rooftop, churches giving shelter to Buddhist and Hindus, temples giving shelter to Christians. President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga appealed for humanitarian assistance.

The tidal wave shattered Sri Lanka but it could not break the power of humanity. It was human kindness and compassion that reached out to the people of our land - and out pouring of love, of generosity that overwhelmed our nation...... Children sold their Christmas presents in the UK to raise funds for the tsunami victims in the Asia-Pacific, the dollars, the yen, the pounds, the rupees flowed in of every currency from virtually every land.

People are giving, without a thought for themselves as they see the devastation day in day out on their television screens, reality television at its worst and yet out of this disaster comes hope, hope in the form of human compassion and kindness.

They come from all parts of the world to re-build our land. To re-build schools and whole communities washed away by the giant wave.

It is the strength of humanity. Disasters bind us together with chords that cannot be broken. Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Americans, Britons, Swedes, Australians, Germans, French, Nigerians, Arabs, Singaporeans among the multi-national, multi-coloured kaleidoscope of humanity all working together to help Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is a cricket loving nation and what a wonderful sight it was to see the world's cricketers spurred on by Shane Warne who stood side by side with Muttiah Muralitharan to reach out to our country in a one day match in Melbourne, Australia.

Our cricket team have also launched an appeal.

They say it will take 10 years and billions of dollars to re-build Sri Lanka. But more than the colour of money it is the colour of humanity, the same blood that runs through the veins of humanity has reached out to help the distressed and the dying in Sri Lanka. It was an act of love. An act of compassion. An act of humanity.

Albert Einstein said: 'A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.

This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.'

This tsunami has freed people from self and they have opened their hearts, their minds and their wallets embracing the needy not only in Sri Lanka but in Indonesia, in Thailand, in the Maldives, in South India.

The great Martin Luther King said:' An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.'

This disaster has been a fine example of the people of the world going beyond the narrow concerns of themselves and embracing humanity in South East Asia.

We are surrounded by teams helping our fellowmen from all four corners of the earth - this has never ever happened in Sri Lanka and we have never ever had such a disaster such as a devastating tsunami. But we can drink from the cup of human kindness, we can gain strength from that solidarity and support, just as a child who has fallen raises her hands to seek help to stand on her own two feet, the world has come to our aid and has extended hands of friendship, love and support.

The ties of humanity will help us to get through this ordeal, we will one day stand up on our own two feet again, and we will rise like the proverbial phoenix. We will say thank you to human beings of all nationalities, creed and colour who came to our aid who responded to the call of Mother Lanka in her hour of need.

Ten years down the line there will be a new, vibrant, positive, compassionate Sri Lanka - and we pray that it will be a vision of Sri Lanka at peace with herself and her fellowmen.

We will draw strength from those simple acts of humanity that helped us, extending hands of friendship and support when we fell as the water rushed at us and threatened to flow over our souls. We will never forget.

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The Daily News in Colombo Sri Lanka published Thrishana Pothupitiya's essay as a lead feature on the tsunami on Wednesday 19th January 2005. Her article was read by people across the island and around the world on the Daily News internet edition.

The following short story was written by Thrishana in 2002 for a British Council Sri Lanka Contest:
 
 

CURIOSITY

 

Suzie's brother was always telling her "Your curiosity will get you into big trouble one day" his words came true, the day she found a strange looking bottle with funny writing on it. Without much thought Suzie drank the liquid inside. That’s when she began to feel rather queer. When she looked at herself, she saw nothing. Then she realized it. She had become invisible!

 

At first Suzie was rather frightened, and she wished she had not been so stupid. If her parents find out Suzie would be in big trouble. So she quietly slipped out of the house, to the narrow lane in which her house stood. Walking down the lane she came to the main street. There stood the hospital where her father worked (he being a Doctor). For a moment Suzie wondered if she should go and tell her father what had happened, but then decided against it. She was still invisible so it was not likely that her father would see her.

 

She walked lazily down the street. There was a big Jewelry Exhibition in the museum just down the street. She thought that she might as well go see it, as there was no fear of spending money on tickets. But Alas! It was 6 o'clock and the museum was closed for the night. But something was wrong, the side door was slightly ajar. There was no sign of anyone inside the building. Suzie crept in not thinking of the danger that might lie ahead. Suzie's curiosity finally brought her to the exhibit where the world's largest sapphire was kept. it was inside a safe fixed into the wall and was only opened at the time of the exhibition. The door of the safe was locked and a man was trying hard to open it. Suzie crept closer to get a closer look. Even though she was invisible she was careless. She slipped over a chair and with a loud "THUD" fell down.

 

The man was suddenly alert. "Who's there?" he asked in a gruff voice. Suzie kept quiet. She knew that if she got caught she would be in big trouble (as usual). The man saw the chair on the floor. "Now how did that fall? Never mind it must have been the wind or something", he said to himself. He put the chair back in its place, and went back too his battle with the safe. It simply wouldn't open.

 

Suzie looked closely at the man. He was wearing a dark suit. He had on a maroon tie and black gloves. His hair was brown. Suzie kept all this in mind, it might come in use sometime.

 

For the first time in her life Suzie sat down and thought hard. She knew that she herself could not stop this man alone. She also knew that she had to go get the police. But dear me, she was invisible so how would the police see her, and would they believe her? They'd think it was a joke. Yet she was a determined girl, and she thought she would try. She ran as fast as she could to the police station, but she didn't know to present her case. But there was one thing that she didn't know. The power of the drink would fail in ninety minutes, and that ninety minutes were up. Now she was plainly visible before the policeman.

 

"Well then, what seems to be the trouble little miss?", asked the policeman kindly. Breathless with excitement Suzie asked the officer if she could see the inspector.

 

In the inspector's office Suzie told him about the bottle with its weird liquid and how she had drunk it and become invisible. At first the inspector did think it was all a joke, but then realized that there was something in the tone of her voice that made it sound quite truthful. So she went on to say about the robbery that was taking place in the museum. She went on saying what the robber looked like and what he was wearing. Then she told him how the robber was trying hard to open the safe. The inspector stopped her and asked her whether he might be there still. "I don't really know, he might be there, but you'd better hurry if you want catch him", she replied.

 

Suzie turned out to be correct. The frustrated robber was trying hard to open the safe. The police arrived just in time to stop the robbery and catch the thief.

 

Of course Suzie got praise from the police, her friends and her brother. She even got a reward from the owner of the sapphire she rescued. But her parents how ever were quite angry with her, for drinking strange liquids and going to dangerous places. "Remember Suzie curiosity killed the cat. That bottle could have contained poison. Don't let us find you doing things like that again", they scolded her. Deep down they were really proud of her although they would not give her the satisfaction of knowing it.

 

THE END