Book Review

| by Nilantha Ilangamuwa

“There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried”
― Oscar A. Romero (1917 –1980)

( September 12, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The earlier idea of the destruction of the social system and “establishment” of the social disorder was a systematic ideological option designed and driven by certain elite groups. It was merely an irrational hypothesis. Perhaps it is not a true and rational argument when you dig into the social dynamic history of the island nation of Sri Lanka.

Imagine a tool box in your house that has only a hammer. Perhaps it is natural wanting to use it whenever a problem arises in the house. Killing hundreds of thousands of people who were screaming for freedom and radical change of the society is the result of hammering the society and people’s desire. Right from the beginning there was a lack of intelligentsia in the political parties and movements. Therefore they had to stop before reaching the goal. 

Sri Lanka, the country which holds a “rich” history in many ways, is a failed state in pseudo-modernistic times. What went wrong in this country? How did the country turn into the land of jejuneness? Why did the people of this nation allow themselves to be blindfolded by their ruler? How did the nation lose the opportunity to rise with respect along with other countries? Finding facts and figures to answer these very questions is a complicated task and needs collective responses from every layer of society.

The latest autobiography written by an eminent human rights defender and jurist, Basil Fernando, a self-exiled son of this nation, is able to light the candle of new discourse with rich narratives of his personal life. This is a careful selection of his life story which takes up a quarter of his life as a human rights activist and a poet. Most certainly Basil has faced a great deal more in his seven decades of life but for some reason he has chosen to ignore much of it while writing this autobiography.

Fortunately he has grasped the causes of the disease that has victimised the country throughout its history. The book’s title itself has merged the criteria and the frame that he aimed to describe: “A confession of a lawyer otherwise the story of mine.” I do not intend to quote particular parts of the book as I found every word of this book equally important.

The book has silently, but carefully presented the destruction of the social system, especially the destruction of the civil litigation order or procedure in the country’s justice system. In other words, the book can be the very first publication in Sinhala medium, which discusses what went wrong in the public justice system in Sri Lanka and how it felt for him as a professional in a court room. But an interesting factor is that the book is written with the art of literature rather than engaging in a boring legal discourse. Therefore the book is not only for those who are engaged in the legal profession but every citizen of this nation.

In the present context, Sri Lanka is a country which lost its own identity due to political vulgarism and plundering designed by those who manipulated the system. Basil, in his unfinished confession tries to address this tragic social phenomenon in a different tone and simple language. In some chapters of this book he uses different arts with compassion while in others he offers his deep thoughts on events he has come across. Especially, when he writes about the “village” where he grew up, he has somehow been able to narrate most of the positive outcomes which later influenced his social activities.

It is Basil’s nature to take even the most horrendous, notorious and fatal issues with a greater than the average degree of tolerance. He always talks with all concerned whenever there is social or personal complicity surrounding a situation.

As I quoted at the beginning of this short review, I can do no better than take the serge words of Óscar Arnulfo Romero who was a bishop of the Catholic Church in El Salvador who spoke out against poverty and social injustice. Romero was assassinated while offering Mass in 1980.

I have no ambition for power
And so with complete freedom
I tell the powerful
What is good and what is bad,
And I tell any political group
What is good and what is bad
That is my duty ~ ( The Violence of Love ~ Oscar A. Romero, March 23, 1980) 

In his autobiography Basil attempts to explain what is good and what is bad, in the society in which we live. In other words, Basil’s autobiography is an honest confession, written in a simple language and at the same time revealing the deep insight into the social dynamics of Sri Lanka.

This is a confession against hammering social complicity. This is a confession which is capable of being able to introduce useful tools to re-engineer the social system and bring order out of disorder. This is an awakening call by Basil, though expressed as a personal account; it must spread throughout the Sinhalese heart and mind. We can awaken ourselves to respect and dignity through this confession.

He has done his duty; it is our responsibility to finish his unfinished confession in order to contribute to the social transformation based on true freedom and justice in our Motherland.

Contact Basil at