A Letter to Lasantha’s Widow

Martin White | Published on October 13, 2011 at 5:01 am

As Lasantha’s widow Sonali by now you may be weary of the flood of well-deserved tributes to a compassionate and undoubtedly heroic friend, partner and social commentator, and perhaps you even look forward to being left alone to measure and fathom for yourself the personal loss to yourself and your family. It is hard for us, as outsiders, to imagine what precisely this is, although we can come close – very close – if we have the heart to feel deeply what another person feels, as I believe Lasantha could and did. That such a person could be perceived as an enemy of anyone at all is difficult to grasp, and maddening to contemplate.

While I feel compelled, by my own sense of humanity, to add my humble voice to the chorus of appreciation for a tremendous talent and human being, I also wish to broaden the tribute to include you. For some time I have followed your writing and often wondered to myself: who is this person of such dogged, unyielding commitment to the cause of righteousness in a country so seemingly bereft of a moral compass? Often I have thought of writing you a letter of congratulations, expressing my disbelief (and joy!) that our nation, corrupted in so many ways these past few decades, could have spawned such a prolific, sensitive writer, whose humanity shines through almost in every statement she writes, and whose daring seemed to have no bounds.

I did not write such a letter, for reasons I have never really properly thought through. Perhaps it is because it would shame myself too much, to realize that it is the absence of our own people’s willingness to engage relentlessly, honestly and courageously in a serious debate about the course of our nation that has led us into this morass. Whenever you wrote, it affirmed the truth that, yes, our nation does have a conscience, a sense of fair play, justice, or even just basic decency.

It must be hard to see yourself, or Lasantha, in purely symbolic terms, as an event of this gravity tends naturally to catapult people into. Yet we cannot avoid this, and maybe neither should we. On one level it is inescapably symbolic – I mean, what he (and you) has stood for in the particular historical context that you have found yourself in. And yet, I understand all too well that it must also feel so personal. I hope it does not make it harder to come to terms with because of this dual aspect. 
I live in the West, and I once saw a documentary about someone regarded as having died a hero, and his daughter kept having people saluting her in memory of her father wherever she went. Bafflingly, the girl was not moved by this, but said it kept reminding her of something she didn’t want to keep being reminded of in that way. She wanted some peace. I cannot know how all this feels to you right now, although I force myself to try and imagine it. All I know is that I just wanted to express something that is in my heart, and that is mostly gratitude – to you both, for the stance you took even at a price you knew you risked having to pay. Yours is the story that every person of conscience dreads, and I feel impotently pained that this is what you, so obviously a well-meaning and kind-hearted soul, have to endure for however long it takes…

I have been in such circumstances (in a sense), and know that these are not decisions taken necessarily with an attitude of heroism at all, but taken with a sense of blind hope, and maybe confidence that natural justice will somehow prevail.

I cannot know how it feels to keep seeing oneself elevated to this symbolic level when one is trying to cope with a tangible reality. And I cannot know (although I pray that I could, for then I would modify it accordingly) whether what I say will be gratefully received, or seen as burdensome or irritating. What drives me is the simple, maddening knowledge that there has to be pain in all this for you, and then the hope that it might comfort you, even just a little, to know simply that people around you, even who may not know you personally, care deeply, very deeply, about how you feel – especially so because we know what you are made of, and what you have tried to do for your society.

People of noble character, who could easily have joined the club of trough-sniffers, simply stood their ground and spoke with their hearts. That alone is a blessing! And it is a lesson for the rest of our people if they only choose to pay attention. If more such people knew how to speak with their hearts, there would have been fewer obvious heroes, and our society might (imagine!) have evolved on a different, less wretched, course.

Sonali, I am a Buddhist, not by upbringing but by conviction. I believe that Lasantha has not disappeared from the world. That isn’t just wishful thinking, but something, in my own investigation at least, I find entirely credible. Truly so. The world that created him, his imagination and his morality, has not, and will not, let him go. And there is every hope of being united again, in different forms, in different ways. If you are a Christian, there is that same hope too.

As for you, you have shown us that among us are the noblest of people, alongside the most wretched, as Jesus said, who perhaps know not what they do. If you and Lasantha have given hope to just one person, Sonali, that is something truly worthwhile and remarkable. And I promise you, that you have.

I am perfectly aware of how strange it may be to receive a letter of this nature, so please don’t feel obliged to reply. I just hope that it does not aggravate, but rather helps in some minor way, even if it is just realising how far one’s commitment to decency travels in this world. The tears I have felt rising while reading yours and Lasantha’s words in the past have often renewed my faith in humanity – and that can’t be a bad thing.

There are many of us on the same path, doing everything from helping suffering human beings, to nursing stricken animals. It is all about morality. That at least is what I have come to learn for myself. When all the dust settles, Sonali, what we are often left with is just the raw feeling. Just know that there are others who are willing to share that feeling with you.

First published in The Sunday Leader January 18, 2009


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lasantha vigil at viharamahadevi park

A Letter to Lasantha’s Widow

As Lasantha’s widow Sonali by now you may be weary of the flood of well-deserved tributes to a compassionate and undoubtedly heroic friend, partner and ...