Collective grit and circumstances | Sunday Observer

Collective grit and circumstances

18 December, 2022

There are certain aspects of the economic meltdown that have had a decisive impact on people’s lives. You could even say that people have changed the way they think fundamentally. There are changes on the smaller canvas as well.

Some changes are of relatively minor import. Others are of far greater impact. For starters, to map out some of the lesser aspects, people have decided that they have to catch up for lost time.

This means that they have decided to spend, travel and enjoy life. They may never get the chance and that’s why they’ve decided they will fly with whatever possibility that presents itself now.

Well sourced articles on Sri Lanka say that people have begun to sell their assets in order to buy food and afford basics such as transportation. Be that as it may, they also seem to have simply decided they have to catch up for what they missed in terms of entertainment and eating out.

This may sound odd. People battling to feed themselves and get by while sending the children off to school, now taking off on expensive holidays selling their assets to boot to be able to afford it?

That may not be exactly the way it’s turning out. But indeed, people are traveling as they haven’t done for a very long time.

The pandemic prevented them from doing it. Then came the harsh period of the meltdown with fuel and gas shortages which meant that people could hardly get out of their homes leave alone embark on relatively extensive tripping journeys to places they’d not seen or visited.

What can be said is never underestimate people’s need to live life to the fullest. Economics can’t impede that and Sri Lanka is a living embodiment of that verity. This is not to say that Sri Lankans are having it easy and are breezily tiding over difficult times. Neither is it an attempt to propagandise and say people are having great times when patently they are not.

But people are doing the best they can. It’s not a phenomenon restricted to Sri Lanka. The airports are packed. People are traveling and catching up for lost time. They were sick and tired of the pandemic restrictions and are saying emphatically that they are not taking any chances. They are traveling while they still could.


In Sri Lanka these days wherever there is a party a social occasion or just and old boys’ and old girls’ get together, they are all out there in full force. The holiday bungalows are full. Long distance trains are packed to capacity because people are enjoying the release from home-confinement in the long term.

It’s safe to imagine that it’s not necessarily because people can afford it. But perhaps even if they have to make sacrifices they deem socialising and getting away from it all as too important to be relegated to another day.

They have already done the sacrificial routine during the long winter of discontent that was the pandemic followed by the pure hell that was the economic meltdown.

What are the economics of it all? Should restauranteurs and others in the hospitality business be advised to make a buck while they can?

Make no mistake, they are already doing that whether anybody likes it or not. They have sensed that people are enjoying their new found freedoms and are making the best of it while they can. Nobody can quite blame them too because they had closed shop for such a long time.

Are they being blamed for making a killing from people that can hardly afford it though they are out there in their numbers traveling, eating out and partying? Not exactly. Their lot is not enviable either. Prices have gone up and those who run establishments are paying far more to maintain their businesses than they used to. If they charge more, it is because they have to.

So much for economics and the people’s desire to keep things moving whether they could afford it or not. This is not to ignore the vast numbers that probably are hard put to afford food leave alone afford travel and eating out. But it’s just to say that the folk that are getting about are not those exactly able to afford it either.

The other upshot from the economic meltdown is that people are more acutely aware that they should take their destiny into their own hands. They are not willing for instance to listen to demagoguery, screeds and speeches of people from backgrounds different from their own.

They discovered during the pandemic-closures and the economic meltdown that was to follow, that politics and the consequences of political grandstanding are in any case largely irrelevant to them.

They are not even willing to listen to the Cardinal any more. People are also not willing to listen to anything that smacks of parochialism, racism and religious dogmatism.

They have had it up to their ears learning to live with the consequences of all that. Besides, they know that when the times are bad they are all in it together, be they Muslim, Sinhala Tamil, Christian or Hindu.


They don’t prick up their ears — not even when the Cardinal speaks — because they are aware that getting on with their lives is what they have to do. Getting involved in politics is not for them. They have been there, done that and by and large got their fingers burnt.

Of course the Cardinal wants local government elections and there is nothing that’s wrong with that call. But the people are mute by and large not because they do not want local Government elections but because they want to make sure that there are no polemics getting in the way of their struggle to live, eat and pursue happiness.

We are not America where the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is almost a constitutionalised credo. People in this part of the world are aware that the more you pursue something the more it eludes you in many ways. Though they do not want to ‘pursue’ happiness with a vengeance, they do want to live their lives to the fullest and be happy in the bargain.

It’s why they are traveling, living it up when they can and do not want any dogmatist or preacher or anybody at all telling them what to do. Never mind the Cardinal, but if there was something positive that came out of the pandemic and the meltdown, it is that people learnt the virtues of live and let live. They went one further and decided that they have to help others if everybody is going to get through bad times together.


It’s something that money can’t buy — this transformation of views. Politicians cannot thump the bully pulpit and deliver fire and brimstone speeches because nobody is listening any more. There are enough people to call their bluff.

Demagogues wouldn’t dare these days. They know that the people are in survival mode and are not in a mood to listen. Many known demagogues — there is no need to mention names here — are not to be found anywhere. It’s good riddance of bad rubbish, and it’s hoped that things stay that way forever.

But it’s hoped that the nation makes use of this transformation in attitudes to make this condition more permanent. Let there be tolerance not just in people’s minds but also on paper, legislated for good effect.

Every calamity has a silver lining and cliché though it may be, people have learned through the tribulations of the past two years or so that they may as well live their own lives and not be influenced by every passing speech-maker and con artist. They should have known that long ago but it took some lived experience for them to learn the truth.

Some of the time spent hunkering down in times of crisis was time well spent even though most of it was spent at home. However, people are now trying to catch up for lost time too.