Sri Lanka has been an enigma?Megasthenes, who came to India in the wake of Alexander'sexpedition as an ambassador to the Mauryan court, spent two years in Ceylon as part of his sub-continental sojourn; the Roman developed trade relations with it; for ancient Greeks and Romans, Sri Lanka was Tabrobane?the name derived from Pali for Tambapani; the Chinese said that ?the island produces more bountiful and valuable rubies than are found in any other part of the world?; the Arabs called it Serendib; the Portuguese called it Ceilao, the Dutch, Ceylean, the French, Ceylon and the English, Ceylon. King Devanampiya Tissa was so impressed by the story of Emperor Asoka'stransformation from a war hero to a man of peace that he began to treat Asoka as his mentor. Arthur Clarke, the author of Treasure of the Great Reef, said about Sri Lanka, ?Though I never left England until I was 39-years old (or travelled more than a score of miles from my birthplace until I was 20), it is Ceylon (Sri Lanka), not England, that now seems home.? Sri Lanka is also believed to be birdwatcher'sdelight with at least 26 species and 81 sub-species being endemic out of a total of 425 species spotted so far.
The author begins by tracing the ancient past of Sri Lanka which had built a network of tanks and other bodies to make agriculture, especially paddy cultivation, possible in the dry zone. The people had been living peacefully till the last quarter of the 20th century when the Tamil militant movement disturbed ?the traditional caste formations? and the social structures. He says that it is however ironical that Jaffna in this tiny island produced the first graduate of Madras University in the form of a Jaffna Tamil as also the island'sfiercest militant outfit?the Tamil Tigers!
In an effort to provide a solution to the Sri Lankan problem of its troubles with the LTTE, the Tamil Tigers, the author quotes what Singapore'sPrime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had suggested – first, the Tamils should be asked what their aspirations are and how best these can be accommodated; two, instead of shutting out the Tamils from the bilingual landscape of the country, Sri Lanka should look to the future instead ?of remaining rooted in the past?; third, the Sri Lankan solution should be surgical?if two peoples or two parts of a country cannot pull along together in a peaceful and progressive manner, ?it is best for them to go their own ways?. That is the way to ensure both peace and growth, ?to realise their full growth potential?.
How far this solution is practical, remains a question mark!
(National Book Trust, India, A-5 Green Park, New Delhi-110 016.)