Once upon a time, there was a country called Ceylon. It was a quiet, rather sleepy place that did not covet greatness: a former British colony, a little backward in some ways, perhaps, but civilized and decent. Its climate was felicitous, its scenery of legendary beauty, its people known for their simplicity and friendliness to strangers.
The cultures and customs of Ceylon were fascinatingly polymorphous and its faiths multifarious, ecumencial and syncretistic, for many different races called the country home. Walking through the streets and bazaars of its capital, you might hear a half-dozen different languages spoken in the space of ten minutes, and see twice as many different styles of costume on the backs of passers-by. This multiplicity of races and faiths did not always live in amity, but life was largely peaceful for all that. Garden walls were low, gates were left open and front doors ajar. The children of all races played together in the streets.
Ceylon ceased to exist in 1972. It was superseded by a new country, Sri Lanka. Unlike Ceylon, Sri Lanka has not been mostly peaceful: it has been at war against sections of its own populace for nearly all its history. That history is a sorry account of expropriation, ethnic oppression and cleansing-by-stealth, war, revolt and separatism; its successive governments have been noted mainly for their violence, corruption, incompetence and malfeasance, their gradual erosion of the rights and opportunities of those whose lives were in their trust, and their reluctance to leave office when their time was up.
Like every other Ceylonese, I became a citizen of Sri Lanka on 22 May 1972. I am, I believe, a reasonably good citizen. I pay my taxes, obey the laws and do my civic duty as I see it. I am no revolutionary, neither do I think it possible to resurrect the past.
Yet I am not - and will never be - Sri Lankan in my heart. I am a Ceylonese for ever. The tourist brochures call Sri Lanka Paradise, but the real paradise was always Ceylon. The fate of my motherland bears out the the lesson the singer sang, long before he sang it:
Call someplace Paradise, kiss it goodbye.