The other face of Kumar Sangakkara: The man who united Sri Lanka spiritually

Kumar Sangakkara

Many anecdotes have been written about both Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka Cricket. The story of Sri Lanka’s World Cup triumph in 1996 is more than an anecdote – it is incredible enough to be pigeonholed as a fairy tale.

But if there is one thing about Sri Lanka that has been made to languish in gray pastures, it is Sri Lankan Tamil’s love for cricket.

Sri Lankan Tamils and their love for cricket

On the eve of the 1996 World Cup final, a clique of Tamil youths in the war torn Jaffna, stealthy bicycled passed army camps to purchase Kerosene oil. The oil was not supposed to light lamps for study sessions at night. The Kerosene oil would be poured into motors that pumped water out of the deep wells found in Jaffna. The water gushing out of the pump would be directed onto a turbine. A dynamo connected to the turbine would give power, sufficient enough to make a portable TV run. This is how the Jaffna Tamils witnessed the emphatic victory of Sri Lanka in 1996, under the sky that was glistened by rockets, shells and missiles.

Until recently, Tamils have never gained recognition for both their love for cricket and Sri Lanka. There are stories about cricketing legends of Jaffna who never became. There are stories about a Tamil boy who bowled at 110 mph, went to Jaffna during war and never returned. War, politics, majoritarianism  have all made Tamils to saunter in the evilness of riots and violence.

So what has Sanga got to do about Sri Lankan Tamils’ love for cricket? I could write umpteenth number of posts about Sanga’s laurels inside a cricket stadium. Many scribes have recorded his on field shrewdness well. What the web sphere lacks is a half way decent ascribing on Sanga’s influence on the Tamil speaking population of Sri Lanka. Being a Sri Lankan born Tamil, I guess it would be apposite to write on the love the minorities of Sri Lanka, who have been plagued by war and violence a href=”” target=”_blank”>have on Kumar Sangakkara.

Being a Tamil in Sri Lanka was not an easy task in the bygone decades. The north and east, where Tamils lived in plenty was throbbed by armed conflicts. Tamils were always scrutinized. A journey of a few kilometers has to be done through myriads of army camps.

The sense of belonging to a country

The Tamil militants, bombed vantage points in Sri Lanka’s main cities in the guise of innocent civilians, which compounded the problems of the Tamils. There was ethnic profiling. Speaking the Dravidian language meant that you had to undergo rigorous inquiries and interrogations. It was understandable, since the militants masqueraded themselves as Tamil civilians to carry out attacks on politicians, yet it was tough to digest. Tamils were treated as second class citizens.

Tamils were considered a threat. No body was willing to treat Tamils with respect and to treat them as citizens of Sri Lanka, which resulted in Tamils not being able to get the feeling of belongingness. Even though the government kept on proclaiming that Tamils belong to Sri Lanka, it wasn’t good enough to make the Tamils believe that they belong to where they are. Through out history the hearts of Tamils were shattered by broken promises and spurious agreements.

Being a Tamil myself, even though I loved my country more than anything else, I never got the sense of belongingness. I was made to feel like a lovelorn boy who is after a beautiful woman but got no response. I loved my country, but my country never declared its love for me. But things changed quickly in 2011.

Sangakkara’s MCC lecture

“With me are all my people. I am Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim and Burgher. I am a Buddhist, a Hindu, a follower of Islam and Christianity. I am today, and always, proudly Sri Lankan,” said Sangakkara in the MCC lecture in 2011.

Yes! That is the requital I needed. The minorities needed. It is the utmost recognition for the people who have fallen head on heels for their mother nation. It may have been true words flowing out of the core of his heart or may have been a perfect clincher for his impeccable speech. Nevertheless, it gave us all the felling that had eluded us since Sir Ponnambalam Ramanthan was towed along the streets of Colombo in the early part of the 20th century. There was this man, standing in front of the elite members of Lord’s, in an international forum as an icon of Sri Lanka calling himself a Tamil! Yes, we are no more second second class citizens. We belong to Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka belongs to us.

It doesn’t end there. In his speech, he spoke how gallant his father was in protecting the lives of hundreds of Tamil children during the riots in the 1980s.

“I recollect now the race riots of 1983 now with horror, but for the simple imagination of a child not yet six it was a time of extended play and fun. I do not say this lightly as about 35 of our closest friends, all Tamils, took shelter in our home. They needed sanctuary from vicious politically-motivated goon squads and my father, like many other brave Sri Lankans from different ethnic backgrounds, opened his houses at great personal risk.

“For me, though, it was a time where I had all my friends to play with all day long. The schools were closed and we’d play sport for hour after hour in the backyard – cricket, football, rounders…it was a child’s dream come true. I remember getting annoyed when a game would be rudely interrupted by my parents and we’d all be ushered inside, hidden upstairs with our friends and ordered to be silent as the goon squads started searching homes in our neighborhood.

“I did not realize the terrible consequences of my friends being discovered and my father reminded me the other day of how one day during that period I turned to him and in all innocence said: “Is this going to happen every year as it is so much fun having all my friends live with us,” Sangakkara said.

Sangakkara’s influence on the Tamil cause

This prose of Sanga is a microcosm of the typical Sri Lankan society. You may be speaking a different language, following a different religion, but you are a family when you live together. Incidentally Sanga’s father wasn’t the only man to have saved hundreds of Tamils’ lives.

After the 30 year war ended, Sanga made sure he used his influence both as a cricketer and as a cultural icon in Sri Lanka, to lighten the lives of Tamils whose lives had fallen under the dark during the conflict.

Sangakkara and Muttiah Muralitharan have both almost adopted Mankulam, one of the epicentres of the horrors of the war. Sangakkara is the patron of the Foundation of Goodness, an organization that has helped many Tamil children realize their dream.

Sanga launched “Bikes for life” campaign, where by students in the war torn areas would become the beneficiaries of bicycles, a simple mode of transport that would help them commute between their schools and homes. This campaign is said to be Sangakkara’s brain child.

“Bike for Life” is campaign initiated by Sanga to donate bicylces to the school children in the north of Sri Lanka

Sanga went a step ahead to exhume the cricketing talents in the north by organizing Murali Harmony Cup in Mankulam.

“..Kumar argued that the best way to develop cricket in the North and East was by inviting teams from all corners of Sri Lanka to play in towns like Kilinochchi, Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Mankulam. It would encourage and inspire talented cricketers as well as providing a unique opportunity for cricketers from the south to gain a life-enriching experience.”

A beautiful stadium was laid on the debris of 30 year war.

Sangakkara opening a library in Mankulam

When Sanga visited Jaffna in 2013, he was mobbed by people of all ages, a luxury that even prominent Tamil politicians do not posses. The love for Sanga in the north is unconditional.

No politician in Sri Lanka has ever managed to make the entire population of Sri Lanka rally under one hood. But Sanga did it with ease and elegance, exactly the way with which he plays his cover drives, when Tamils of the north fervently surrounded Sangakkara in Jaffna.

Sangakkara mobbed by Tamil youths in the north

Sangakkara – The hero Sri Lanka needed and deserved

Sangakkara is the heart-rob of Sri Lankan girls and the inspiration of Sri Lankan boys. Unlike many international stars who use their fame and popularity to market goods and thrust brand names on the minds of fans, Sanga has used his popularity to enlighten the Sri Lankan youths. Sanga is a member of the Think Wise initiative launched by ICC
He is involved in a number of charity works in Sri Lanka. He is a member of the Think Wise Initiative, launched by International Cricket Council, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and UNICEF, which is aimed at raising awareness around HIV prevention and eliminating discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS.

“Tamil is a language I wished I was fluent in,” said the 37-year-old on the AskSanga section of his official website. Among the Tamils in Sri Lanka, Sanga along with Mahela are the most loved Sinhalese. It is a real fortune for the emerald isle, that these two have identified and used this to good effect to console the hearts that were shattered in a cruel war. Sanga acts as a bridge in uniting ethnic groups.

It is disheartening when players of Sanga’s caliber are shunned from playing cricket in Tamil Nadu, just because they speak Sinhalese. Sangakkara has done a lot to the Tamils of Sri Lanka that no one else has done. I find it an obligation to shed light on Sanga’s activities that transcend all race and creed.

Hopefully the Tamil diaspora will one day realise the great deeds done by Sanga and the fellow cricketers to heal the psychological wounds of the Tamils. It is unbecoming to see protesters in Australia and England targeting the cricketers of Sri Lanka. It is obvious that they go for the softest of targets, to voice their opinions.

Kumar Sangakkara may very well become the Imran Khan of Sri Lanka. Right now, Sri Lanka needs a leader under whom Sri Lankans would ardently unite forgetting all differences. There is a leader in Sanga. A leader who could probably open the now closed avenues of Sri Lanka that would aid us in realizing our potential and be the true “Pearl of the Indian Ocean”

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