By Riaz Hamidullah
Colombo July 6 (newsin.asia): In early 2016, by a strange stroke of luck, it was decided that I should move to Colombo as the next Bangladesh High Commissioner to Sri Lanka. In my teens, my father would often refer to Sri Lanka as the land that offered an exceptional array of individuals in politics and international civil service. Naturally, I felt relaxed feeling that I am not going to an unknown land. Additionally, I in my career in the foreign service, I had come to know a number of distinguished Sri Lankans well.
Colombo offered distinct attractions. The commonalities were also striking. Four years on, as I leave the shores of this magical Island State for The Netherlands, I leave with mixed emotions.
Admittedly, my time here had been somewhat tumultuous for Sri Lanka. There were moments when my diplomatic mettle was tested. But a fine balance and patience kept me afloat. Once an Ambassador from another country whispered to me: “Beyond two years in Colombo, envoys tend to run into controversies.” I was left in a tizzy. Yes, I had to understand and follow Sri Lankan politics and changes, but with a difference, as an authentic “friend of Sri Lanka”.
There were “unpleasant issues” but I am happy that most people in Colombo appreciated in both letter and spirit, whenever I touched on or flagged an uncomfortable aspect. I would always say: “Bangladesh does not have financial support to offer to Sri Lanka, but our genuinely, homegrown, and tested knowledge, expertise and experience in development is always on offer for mutual benefit, specially for the majority of people at the grassroots.”
I leave overwhelmed by unbounded affection, love and regard from so many Sri Lankan friends and acquaintances. After I met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on November 23, 2019, the President tweeted: “It was a pleasure to meet Bangladesh Ambassador Riyaz Hamidullah and discuss enhancing bilateral relations between our nations and within SAARC region.”
My interactions were not limited to the leaders or persons in high office. I received unstinted cooperation from a host others of whom I name a few likes Janath, Rizvi, Sayuri, Yasantha, Shamithri and Trivan. The empathy, humility, large-hearted tolerance, and affection they consistently offered, would leave me in awe.
Many had been cautioning me for weeks that parting with Sri Lanka would not be easy. It would be a formidable challenge in fact. I face this starkly, at this hour. Such has been the quiet transformation brought about by Sri Lanka on me that on occasion, when I pursued issues or matters of interest to Sri Lanka at Dhaka end, some colleagues would remark: “You seem to have migrated to Sri Lanka!” I would happily take that because, for me, friendship has to transcend borders and other man-made barriers.
I have served in many countries and every country tends to tug your heart strings. But leaving behind Sri Lanka has been truly challenging. There is something unique and inexplicably exceptional about the island and its friendly, ever smiling people.
Thank you: every Sri Lankan friend, for your treasured ties, and also so many unknowns (I can’t remember their names) who I came across and who helped me re-discover the inner beauties of human beings in various shades. Let’s celebrate humanity, harmony and humanism beyond any man-made barriers.
(The picture at the top shows High Commissioner Riaz Hamidullah receiving a gift from Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa)