THE SAARC IDENTITY

—AJEET COUR–

1. First of all, let me express my gratitude to Mr. Samarasinghe and his colleagues for giving me this opportunity to bask in the warmth of the presence of all of you, the great luminaries of Sri Lanka, and to share my humble ideas with you!>

2. I must confess that when I got the rumour of an invitation for this conference a week back, I got confused by the Theme.

3. Rituals and Ethics in the SAARC Region ?

4. What is their relation ?

5. And, why only rituals out of a whole world of the eternal charm of Folklore, which comprises of a universe of not only rituals, but also myths and legends, folk tales and songs, fables and cosmologies, folk theatre and grand mothers’ tales, folk arts and crafts, life of Buddha and Jataka Tales, Mahabharata and Ramayana, the Hadeeses of Quran, the stories of Bible, stories of our histories, all are part of our awareness. They keep our age-old historical memories alive and vibrant. Their sensitivity and rhythm weave a unique kaleidoscopic pattern which is like a silent symphony of our lives ! A silent stream flowing endlessly in the depth of our awareness.

6. They all go deep down in the roots of our existence, and chisel our sensitivity and our ethics, our moral and social values, and form the core of our cultural consciousness.

7. Cultural consciousness of the Region as reflected in the folklore, tells oral tales and sings songs of the same elements of nature and the same wonder of life around : birds and animals, the little ants and snakes, the bees and butterflies, the trees and plants, the flora and fauna, the clouds and monsoons, the rivers and oceans, grass and crops, which share this universe with us. We sing songs and tell tales of the whole of nature and all the wonders of life around !

8. In short, the whole universe of folklore underlines our SAARC CULTURAL IDENTITY, and our collective consciousness.

9. Having worked for Cultural Connectivity in this Region since 1986, because SAARC Charter signed in December 1985 had somehow concentrated on trade and left out culture, the most important ingredient for creating a connecting link in the SAARC region.

10. If one drew a line from Afghanistan to Bhutan, and another from Kashmir to Sri Lanka and Maldives, one finds that there is no break in communication between any two contiguous points. Communication breaks down only on extreme points of the scale because of multiplicity of Languages, Cultures and Ethnic Group in the SAARC region.

11. While organizing SAARC Festivals of Literature since April 2000, I gradually discovered that besides cultural links, there are also civilisational roots which connect us. They are : Folklore, Buddhism and Sufism.

12. We in FOSWAL realised long back that if we were seriously endeavouring for cultural connectivity in the region, we must explore the cultural roots, lying intertwined under our earth, of the entire SAARC region, right from the Indus Valley Civilization.

13. We have thus been organizing Festivals and Academic Seminars of these three too, since 2005.

14. We in the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature are convinced that our folk culture defines our identity as it is tied up with our historical memory, the way we look at life and the universe, at the nature around : the planet earth that we share, changing seasons, rains and sunshines, birds and animals; our attitudes and rituals, habits and customs, myths and legends; our relationship with our environment, nature’s bounties and furies; and our social, religious and political evolution – in short, our whole civilization.

15. Our collective ancient skills of goldsmiths, ironsmiths of mainly the nomadic tribes, leather craftsmen, potters, rural women who paint colourful murals on mud walls of village huts and earthen ‘choolahs ’ : the cooking places, the grain storage earthen pots, rare craftsmanship of carpenters, the marble inlay craftsmen, mask-makers, craftsmen who hand-craft musical instruments, enamel inlay work, zardozi work, tailoring, hand embroidery. All these skills can be shared with the modern world : a mechanical, insensitive crowd of people indulged in the rat-race of more sophisticated killing machines.

16. In these days and in this age, the younger generation needs sensitivity towards these ancient knowledge systems, innocent rituals, and grandmother’s tales which establish and reaffirm man’s relation with nature, from plants and animals, birds and clouds, to the changing colours of the sky, and with millions of stars in the cosmos !

17. It is unfortunate that children have got busy in Computer Games and have no time for redundant grandmothers who tell stories. We keep them tucked away in their lonely rooms, in our kitchens, or worse : in homes for old people !

18. Carl Muller, are you listening? Where is your railway linesman who worked under your father, and howled: ‘Don’t hurt her, that is my grandmother. [ ‘___ about a ratsnake which your father was about to kill’.]

19. I confess I had to think really hard and long about the relation between rituals and ethics.