On a new way of seeing !


“Blessed are the weird people–poets, misfits, writers, mystics…painters & troubadours–for they teach us to see the world through different eyes.” Jacob Nordby

300 profile MaryanneGaya’s Intro: Maryanne is a rare person and her story is unique. She is young, a Nigerian graduate, hands-on mother of two lively sons and lives in Sri Lanka like an ordinary Sri Lankan person, not like an expat. She braved the administrative red tape and passed the Open University exams to qualify as a Special Needs teacher. She is a friend and so is Tharindu. Wonderful people living in Sri Lanka as she should be lived. I saw a different Sri Lanka through Maryanne’s eyes and somehow find her living there an interesting take on a country many of us only know so much about; our view, our perspective. Read her earlier writings especially on the encounter at the Blind School in Ratmalana. Respect !!


Truth is I miss Nigeria.  Not everything about Nigeria, just the version of Nigeria that I fondly remember. The sight of Fulani herders making their way through drying shrubs with their cattle; Gwari women carrying sky high loads of chopped up wood in calabashes on their necks, because it is taboo to carry it on their heads.

I miss seeing all these things that remind me of the remnants of a life slowing being replaced by technology and urbanization.  Nigeria, particularly northern Nigeria inspires me. Leaving it has taken out a significant piece of me that cannot be replaced by anything else. The Nigerian sense of humor, the food, the extended family drama, and all the reasons that made it home to me cannot be found any where else! [Read more…]

Colombo weather and identity politics of exile


Gaya’s intro: Cerno is not exactly a blogger in my opinion but a writer who chews up and spews out down an internet stairway some stuff from the attic of that mind of his. He doesn’t write often but his stuff does not expire as blog posts should cos his writings largely are a mix of ruminations on phenomena that will repeat themselves and resonate with the reader even years later. Thanks for giving us the chance to delve without bothering about the rummaging bit. Send more down the stairway when you got something in the attic and happy 6th year Anniversary Cerno whoever you are !!



I love the Colombo weather — particularly from a non air conditioned car stuck in the blaze of afternoon traffic. The people who cannot venerate such a glorious climate are obviously a bunch of ignorant ungrateful whiners. I say this without sarcasm and despite the risk of being lynched by an enraged mob. Because the many avatars of Colombo weather is a central symbol of my identity and love for this mad, wondrous island. Yes the explanation starts in the next paragraph.

I admit that complaining about the city’s heat, humidity, and rain has a critical social function. It is among the few remaining strands of shared ordeals that unites the city’s — perhaps the country’s — fragmented society. Weather whining is also a safer valve to let off steam than bemoaning another form of communal suffering we cannot change : politics. Consequently only the insane would attack such a fragile pillar propping up social order and public peace.

Yet too many (you know who you are) abuse the social utility of weather whining. I have no sympathy these self proclaimed victims of meteorology. I am unrepentantly deviant in my celebration of Colombo weather. I switch off the blasphemy of air conditioning whenever I can. I leave windows decadently open for the warm, sticky breeze or to share the sweet joy of YFM with fellow road sufferers. Let the ignorant whisper in the corridors about my sanity. I KNOW with almost religious fervour how privileged we are to sweat in the tropics.

I consider myself a tropically bred person. Colombo’s weather – particularly humidty and its associated reeks – is central to my identity. It packages the infinite facets of my sense of home into a single primordial sensation. A sensation that has been sharpened by centuries of exile in other climates. Read more here on Cerno’s blog

Photo credit: Len Theivendra, Colombo Jan 13

An iSrilankan Exclusive: Bird of Passage on the quirks of being Srilankan


Diaspora and the perks of marginal identities


All beginnings are not easy and it took some time for me to succumb to the persistent charms (and nudging) of Gaya and get down to writing. I live in an Asian metropolis for a good part of the year, am Ceylonese by birth and Sri Lankan by citizenship – at least according to my passport. I am not one of those lucky sods who have two or more passports and can navigate international borders with ease – it is not as if the opportunity were not there but for a myriad reasons I let it pass by.


I spent a near idyllic childhood in pre-war Sri Lanka, shattered to some extent by the JVP in 1971. This brought some excitement to our humdrum existence from the perspective of a child, but since I remain a firm advocate of non-violence, I am not particularly grateful that the JVP brought an end to an era of relative peace that seems so distant and elusive now.


I am choosing to write this column using a pseudonym – first, because I wish to be unencumbered of some baggage I carry with me. This is the baggage we call gender, race, ethnicity, religion, kinship and so on. The moment I write down my name, the Sinhalese will say oh, but that’s a Tamil and the Tamils oh, but that’s a Sinhalese, and the Muslims oh, but that’s a Burgher and the Burgher’s oh, but that’s a Muslim. And the men will say oh, but that’s a woman, and the women, oh, but that’s a man. You get the picture.

Then there are also those people whose preoccupation in life is researching family genealogies. They will say I know her/his great grandfather was a scoundrel and his/her great grandmother was a slut. Sri Lanka is such a small place and people always seem to care more about whom you are related to, rather than whether you might have anything worthwhile to say. Second, there might be occasions where I express things that might potentially land me inside a white van and I don’t want to unwittingly deprive my offspring of a loving parent. Finally, it’s liberating to have an alter-ego – yet another marginal identity.

Sinhalese? Tamil? Muslim ? Burgher ???!!

To elaborate on the issue of identity, I went back to Colombo after college in North America many moons ago and was looking for an annex to rent when I started my second real job. One sunny weekend armed with the classifieds section of the Sunday Observer, I checked out almost every single available annex. The prospective landlord or landlady looked me over from head to foot, and I was bemused to discover that the Sinhalese thought that I was Tamil, Tamils that I was Muslim, Muslims that I was Sinhalese and Burghers, bless them, “mistook” me for one of themselves.

The Burghers, of course, got it right because everyone in Sri Lanka is essentially a Burgher (which after all means “citizen” in Dutch) – or better a delightful achcharu (a word we share with Malayalee speakers and a root achar we share with Hindi, Bengali, Urdu and Assamese speakers). If any Sri Lankan traces his/her ancestry far enough he or she will find out that s/he is a wonderful mix of North and South Indian, Arab (via South India), Malay (via Indonesia), aboriginal Veddah and European descent (a smattering of Portuguese, Dutch or British for good measure). I am delighted by this achcharu of my heritage. It is too bad that many Sri Lankans are not and insist on fiercely guarding their permeable ethnic turfs. Good fences make good neighbours?

Suffice to say that I have lived and continue to spend a good part of my life in Sri Lanka and I love the land “where every prospect pleases and only man is vile”. Reverend Heber seems to have exempted the women of Sri Lanka from his observation, so let’s assume that there is some hope for the human beings that inhabit the little island, which some of us consider the centre of the universe. I accepted Gaya’s invitation to write this column on the musings of a Sri Lankan with one foot on the island and the other in the diaspora, in my capacity as an “independent thinker”. So it matters not, who I am. What I have to say hopefully matters more.

Nothing is simple

I share with you the thoughts of a bird of passage – in my view, a rather privileged vantage point. Birds as you know move easily across land, water, forests, farms, gardens, villages, cities, countries, continents. Of course, they do get disoriented, cold, hot, hurt, shot, killed, lose their habitats. All of this is the universe of my ponderings.

If you are like me, we can leave our Sinhaleseness, Tamilness, Muslimness and so on behind but it’s difficult to leave the Sri Lankaness (or the Ceyloneseness) even when things get pretty bad. Those few diasporans (is that a word?) who have responded to the call of returning to and rebuilding the motherland have often found, much to their chagrin, that people with knowledge and exposure to other (and sometimes better) ways of doing things, frogs who have made it out of the proverbial well, are not necessarily welcome back. The frogs deeply entrenched in the mire of the well are deeply threatened and jump around discomfiting and/or chasing away these hapless returnees. And never mind the returnees. In Sri Lanka even the competent frogs, who have never left the well, barely have a croak of a chance.

Things that will add up

So is the situation hopeless? I tend to see glasses as half full. Two recent events both posted on this site offer a glimmer of light leading out of the darkness. The first is the conference of youth leaders held recently in Jaffna by Sri Lanka Unites. To get 500 young people, representing all of the districts, as well as parts of the diaspora, to sit down and discuss their common life experiences (some of which have been very painful) and their aspirations and visions for a different future is no mean feat. They lead by example where a myopic adult leadership has consistently failed. The personal journey made by Tanya Ekanayake to Jaffna to engage in understanding and healing through music is a similarly worthy and inspiring endeavour.

So I am convinced that there are things that we can all do or support. Little things, perhaps, in the larger scheme of things. In the long run that is what will add up. Not what politicians will do or not do for us.

Bird of Passage corresponds every other week exclusively with iSrilankans.

Confessions of an unrepentant multi-ethnic Lankan

LAVANYA, Bremen: Multi-Ethnic and Happy.

There’s this awesome feeling I get when people I meet for the first time instantly guess that I am from Sri Lanka. Happens rarely – but when it does, it feels epic.

I’m not entirely sure as to why that is the case though. What is it that makes me happy in not being mistaken for an Indian or any other South Asian? [Read more…]