August

The month of August
has brought sudden rain – the heat would have been
unbearable, otherwise – the familiar
tea coloured puddles, like mirrors
of sky water reflecting earth

the school yard is strewn with hopes
this school, that is now our home.

we came here in a flock
wading across a hollowed lagoon
against a shower of a lethal kind
death falling from the sky
like the anger of gods

that was May.

in this classroom
the lessons are muted from life’s unfolding
the blackboard
empty like our immediate futures

the row of plastic toilets
is a part of our lives
like those guava trees
in our garden, or the well
the gutters are overflowing
with donated goods
and the kindness of other people

we wear bands
around our necks, sometimes hips
with keys to those homes
abandoned

like in those power-cut evenings
back in the village
we sit together cracking jokes
as the evenings grow longer
as the jokes run out or begin to repeat
as time refuses to tick

Advertisements

The Beauty of Vavuniya

A beauty of vavuniya

the beauty of Vavuniya

In my recent visit to Vavuniya, I visited a women’s self help group in Thekkawatta. They had all come with their children, dressed up for a show. It was good to see how much beauty is there in Vavuniya, despite all the turmoil and sad stories we hear from the camps.

Love, Politically

I am not sure this new year will bring us the happiness and prosperity that we so wish each other in our frenetic-poetic text messages. Not in Sri Lanka. Maybe not anywhere. But then, I confine myself to this island; and this island is what I give a damn about; and I give a damn because I want to be happy in this little island this year.

image1So here’s something that makes me write on the first day of the year. I don’t care for citizen journalism, but in a situation where all of us sit around and crib about our decedent politics, it was refreshing to see someone walk out there alone; paint some canvas and put it out in front of the Fort Railway Station. Ok, it’s not the mass rally that will topple the government. And this young man, Sanjaya is still shy with his words, but he gave me enough freedom within his paintings and his slogan “Fight for Love; Love Peace” (Direct Translation from Sinhala). I will caption it, MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR!

image2

I am glad I went there. Apart from discussing about how poorly recieved art is among the masses with these fresh graduates from Haywood, we managed to have a decent conversation about why we should or should not leave out the words “war/peace” from our captions. After all, ‘peace’ is no more the winning horse. It certainly is not, as long as you think that Peace is a round of  talks in Switzerland or a ceasefire.  

image15

We were not disappointed: a lady walked to us and wanted to know what we mean by ‘all this’? “Are you trying to say that the war we are fighting now is bad?” She just managed to introduce herself as an army doctor, and it was a shame she did not wait for an answer. (Like all supporters of war, they bombard you with questions and fly away…and that question is suppose to haunt you in your dreams: “Traitor!!!!!”)

But what actually haunts me is this: “how do you have a conversation with a person like this good lady army doctor, who thinks that we are an ungrateful bunch of spoilt madmen, who don’t give a frothing penny about what our poor soldiers go through up there!”

Do they really think we hate our boys so much to side with foreign conspirators for whatever the gold we get to utter the Poisonous word Peace! The other day, driving past Ratmalana Airport, the road gets blocked and eight ambulance vehicles whizz past me, surely with body bags, followed by a Rosa bus full of bandaged young men in sanatorium clothes. Eyes plastered, arms in dressing…I know it is not a movie! and I bang at my steering wheel in frustration! CANT WE SEE! CANT WE SEE!! CANT WE SEE!!!

AND YET WE SAY NOTHING!

image8Sorry I have to change topics. I need to cool down…..

So, like Sanjaya, I too choose to talk about love in this situation. And my impression is that Sanjaya too, chose so for similar reasons. It makes little sense to talk of how battles are fought and won between governments and guerrilla groups. Of course you can talk about it for hours, but what is it that we as individuals who are far away from that line of action, who are caught up so much with our mundane battles, begin to realise that there really is a thin red line that connects our personal battles to those big games. How are own personal battles, within us, between those who  are close to us, are also arenas of conflict and violence of varying degrees. How cruel are we in these little battles we fight? between lovers, brothers and sisters, families, colleagues? How unforgiving? How mad do we get once we are out on the streets? How abusive?

No wonder the world is full of thieves, and people who are just about to become thieves.

The real battle is perhaps not the one up there in the north, in that sense…the real battle would be within us…within this society we face every day…to remain kind, loving, uncorrupted, good at heart, and have a conscience. The real battle is to believe in these virtues, in a time that they seem so out of vogue.

Perhaps I am as much a reductionist as Marx when he said that the fundamentals of everything is in economics: but I keep coming back to , no not economics, but love: love is the answer to many of the social deseases of the modern day. Love is a perspective; a practice; it is a process of healing and transofrmation.

Love has the power to transform us in to more honest individuals; kinder and more contemplative; more compassionate. In this mass anesthetized oblivion of our lives, only love can strike a sensitive chord.

And without that sensitivity there would be no Art. Nor Peace.

This is the moral choice we make. And I pray, I do not want blood in our collective conscience.

Inspired by Sanjaya Senevirathne

image0

Something about Priyanga

I met Priyanga in Pahe Ela, somewhere near Anuradhapura. She is still a beauty, in her thirties…She was widowed in the early nineties, a year after her marriage…she told me the exact name of the battle he lost his life in, which evades my memory now…it was somewhere in the eastern frontiers…now she lives with her family. The pension of Priyanaga’s husband is quite something. It’s almost as if that money and the prestige of a war hero could replace the loss of Priyanga’s man.

But somehow, the loss of this man dominates the whole house. The moment you enter the place, you confront with his life size image garlanded. He makes a visitor slightly nostalgic and sad. I stood there trying to find a way to relate to him and the loss of him and this attempt to replace the loss of him.

After lunch, in the dry-zone drowsiness, Priyanga asks me to use her room; take a nap if i want to. I walk into her little room.In some places the paint was coming off the wall, and you could see a thin sun beam seep through a tiny crack in the ceiling…but apart from that it was a room of a woman who was meticulous about tidiness. Somehow, these things you would notice only much later…after you get over the initial shock of having to face with so many photographs of a her husband – in uniform, in civil clothes, carrying an AK-46, sitting on a armed car, arm in arm with his platoon buddies….her room was like little museum dedicated to his memory. A photograph of Priyanga and him together was on the dressing table, with a little paper red rose Priyanga had made.

In the throbbing intimacy of that room I couldn’t breathe for sometime…naturally I couldn’t nap…I had stumbled upon someone else’s privacy…

and it has taken me all this time to write about it, to acknowledge…and still, months later, I do. I found the time. I found the courage. I found the emotion.

 I add to this post a poem written sometime back…this is for Priyanga and the man she lost. It’s something personal, as always…

A Soldier Mourned   

Gunshots in the distant night
Surge with news of death
Inklings of my turn brew
In livid silence between the shelling

News of death that comes, as foretold
In the guise of white papers to be signed
Neatly typed, touchy words from someone unfamiliar
Someone without a shadow or a face

Polecats yowling
Fever-pitched battle to game and mate
A minor crisis on the half-done ceiling
Their frenetic scuffling
Trailing into my dreams

I turn to your side of the mat
To residues of your last embrace
The memory of you tapping
On the valley between my breasts
Asking, as if you knew
It is what I almost cannot give

The ghost of your ardour
Sealing my womb
As days slip too easily
Into night

Jesus loves you

Apparantly, this photograph which I shared with a group of young filmmakers in a script development workshop, was developed in to a short film about a kid in a refugee camp who loves to draw. I read the treatment and it was very powerful. I am amazed how my impressions, when shared, could lead to so much creatvity in others.

So, this will be one of my prize photographs… 

Toy Tire

In Kiliveddy IDP camp in Muttur, a tire is a toy for this kid. Deprived of his home in the Sampur battle, he doesn’t know how long he’s been here in the refugee camp. Not that he does not remember, but he cannot count. He does not answer anything more than his name, and that’s what he repeats, smiling…as if his name is the only language he knows. Obviously, he is not going to school.

Personally, I have seen tires in a different context as a kid. It is something I can never imagine as a toy. I don’t want to repeat what a tire stands for in my childhood, 1988, 1989 Sri Lanka: The world knows about it; and I have already written a story about it: Pallu (it’s listed under Pages). With that I imagined that it is out of my system.

And then I meet this boy, Seethan – if I got his name right, with his toy tire around his neck, homeless, probably rootless, and futureless despite my optimism for him and the others of his kind. Seethan plays with a tire that epitomizes the hieght of violence I have experienced in my life. Of course, he’s lived through another war, with its own symbols of violence.

I want to hug him as if I were his twin. But I couldn’t.