“If” is a term that constantly goes through my mind. I sometimes wonder what if I had not sent two resignation letters a long time ago (7-9 years ago), when I was earning a fat paycheck (IRRI and University of Sydney – where I had a 3 year and a 2.5 year contract respectively). One qualm that I divulged to both my employers in the Philippines and in Sydney, was that I was the center of attention and I was deprived of my mandatory privacy. So what if I had scaled the heights of success professionally? – what if I was a scientist or principal investigator in a North or First World country and not a senior lecturer in a developing nation? That word “if” sometimes goes through my head, but I take some comfort in that I found my calling – “University Academic” – due to those forced circumstances.
So why is privacy invaluable? First, it is an inalienable human right written in most constitutions and it is also a sanctuary for a human in the absence of judgement and scrutiny. Public eye, means a constant stream of evaluation and this can only be escaped by our own private spaces. I have lived without privacy for 10 years now. No moment, whether seated on the commode, or taking a shower or making love to my wife, goes in the absence of attention from Big Brother and his gang of perverts. The voyeurs are always looking at my life and judging me based on what the sensors and lenses convey and that has been my life this far.
Of course, the other side of the coin is that I’m a paranoid schizophrenic. Of course there are no symptoms other than the ‘paranoia’ symptom, but it does get doctors and arm-chair critiques excited that I could be a good subject to study for paranoia. Of course, I know I’m not. After many anti-psychotics and anti-depressants and a whole dimension more of interventions, I still believe, just like 10 years ago that my life is under constant surveillance. Either I’m incurable or the doctors are incompetent – You be the judge of that dichotomy.
So what If? ………I only know that I have resurrected my career and have made something of my self – husband, lecturer, researcher and poet. All due to my life being under surveillance and all these roles have helped me establish myself where I am right now. It is definitely a humble place, after all I’m no cutting edge researcher in Australia or a rice guru in the Philippines, I’m just a lecturer in a populated town outside of Colombo, making an honest living, when a smile and a degree certificate gives more back than a reasonable paycheck. After all, I only discovered myself, for all to see and judge unrepentantly, isn’t that the case here ?. I will undoubtedly die in this same pit but what I need you to know is that, although my dreams never materialized, I took solace in a lot of other things, including teaching and poetry, to give back, when society did not give me anything back in return.
One has no clue at what time one reaches one’s pre-destined estuary and I’m no virgin Amazon now but a wedded Nile who will someday reach his own delta. My only hope is that I would have given enough fresh water to those who depended upon me. We all leave behind a legacy and my legacy is no cure for cancer or a supercharged rice plant, just a simple quote on life – “Life is not about the currency of banknotes, it is how many passports you have acquired and stamped from people’s hearts!”
I came on this stage accidently and I will pass on accidently one day but my only hope is that my legacy will not be accidental. After all, privacy is a human right, the apical space when man feels like himself, a room of no tethers or strings, where man is gifted with both folly and leeway to be himself, not to break the law, but to embrace his own version of solitude and even make love to his loved one, with memory being the only reel. No power should ever have the fists to take that away from man. Truman was no hero, only a pawn, to adopt and ratify a basic human right – the right to a private life.