I was not more than 12 when one day I was going past the Philip Neris Church with my father at the wheel. Suddenly he exclaimed,”look child there goes Lord Soulbury‘s son.” Obviously I was looking out for sartorial elegance in that motley crowd. My father pretty well knew of the lounge suit clad personality that I was looking for and observing my failure to spot the man said,”look that’s him in white vetti.”
With his thick bronze curly hair knotted at the back and a brown file tucked under his armpit, he walked at lightning speed, an unusually lanky, stately figure till he moved out of my sight only to get lost in that sea of humanity. Much water has flowed under the bridge since that day but his image remains ever green, so very vivid to this day with time not taking its toll on that impressive and indelible impression.
Ramsbotham Swami I learnt from my father later preferred splendid isolation in the wilds of his Batticoloa ashram to his luxurious London manor and chose a lifestyle contrary to that of his father that upheld the system as representative of the British monarch in Ceylon in colonial times.
Soulbury’s son is not alone in the company of great men that chose the simple, unostentatious way when they could have fully well led the luxurious trappings that entice many in the modern social order. José Mujicais, the former President of Uruguay lived in his dilapidated farm house and was seen hanging his clothes on the line when the BBC reporter walked in for an interview. His wife was cooking and Manuela his three legged dog was seated on a rickety old chair. His old Volkswagen beetle was parked outside – the one he opted for instead of his official bullet proof limousine. Addressing the UN on global poverty Mujicais asked the delegates who a poor man was. None dared answer and he said,” well, a poor man is he who is always wanting more. “Certainly Muzica drove home a strong point to the international pecking order gathered there on that day. While global economic and political power fosters the need for greater power, a steady rise in inequity results in international terrorism. Mujicais has underscored the need for these elite groups within nations and outside to lead austere, simple lives if they are to move in the direction of world peace.
Talking of bourgeoisie simplicity, it brings to writer mind the late VP Menon one of India’s most celebrated diplomats that used London transport instead of his ‘official chariot.’ He refused the plush surroundings of a palatial home in Kensington gardens and chose a one roomed abode, drawing only a token monthly salary. Menon fasted for days and lived the life of a complete vegetarian whereas others of his tribe are hell bent on frivolous social gatherings gormandizing the sumptuous food their palettes are strangers to, perhaps never even set eyes on before.
Giving equal weightage to national policy and individual importance was Ambassador Kalil – one time India’s representative in Rome during whose tenure an Indian woman was widowed. She approached a junior officer requesting redress. He said it did not come within the preview of the Indian embassy. Ambassador Kalil hearing this summoned the guy and the telling off he gave brought out the best in Kaleel. “Look, this lady has been widowed. She is one of our nationals. It is the Indian embassy’s duty to look after her interests. However trivial it may be, it must be given the same respect and treatment we give for any national policy. I disapprove of your conduct,” he said with firm intonation the occasion demanded.
Kalil’s grandeur and exalted spirit, his ability to nullify elite trappings and release himself from the petty potty fetters of elitism is a role model for those that are found wanting in the culture of humility. Certainly if such elegant and eminent diplomatic skills were at Sri Lanka’s disposal, Rizana Nafeekwould be still amongst us. Magnanimity and graciousness are hall marks of a luminous diplomat which Sri Lanka has failed to show case as in the case of Rizana Nafeek where diplomatic bungling instead of effective diplomatic handling was evident.
Talking of the need to avoid naive king sized arrogance as did Ambassador Kalil it brings to writer mind today’s papal humility where the present Pope Francis is a great celebration to the Catholic church. Emphasizing on the need for a poor church, he disowns his papal residence and even prefers public transport to the papal limousine.
On the subject of humility, we in Sri Lanka can be boastful of the only intellectual in the most authentic sense, this country ‘s great privilege Dr. E.W. Adikaram, who is not even remembered today. He was far removed from the highbrow of mundane living. His elevated mindset enabled an enhanced his thought process. He saw in the nationalist a lunatic and the world’s trappings, lunacy. Despite the reservoir of intellectual depth, he led a life of unbounded simplicity. Unfortunately his intellectual stature failed the attention of both politician and media men opting for ‘elite meat ‘ rather than moral eminence.
Having disoriented themselves from the external emotional baggage of customs, traditions and rituals, these men have striven to fall in line with moral congruence which incidentally is what religion is all about. We see this in the Buddha when he reached the highest level of existence on the 7th day of meditative power under the Bo tree in fact the nonexistent state, where he did not label that supreme realization as Buddhism nor did the prophet when he saw the light of truth in the cave on Mt. Hira necessitate him into perceiving it as Islam, not to forget Jesus that fell down in a swoon on Mt. Olives see his finding as Christianity. They were far removed from the sociological theory of labels and to restrict them in that territory is to underestimate their greatness in whatever be the contributions they made for the benefit of humanity.