“இனிய புத்தாண்டு நல்வாழ்த்துக்கள் & ශුභ අළුත් අවුරුද්දක් වේවා”

It’s Avurudu time. We live in Italy where there is no koha, alas. Other avurudus were sad and void of hope; in short, pretty hopeless. There was no end in sight. Kohas sounded hollow and Avurudu only meant that Southern Colombo people could leave the city for a long weekend confining themselves to safe cities outside the war zone.

kokisWe managed pretty well though, as we did all our lives, to make Avurudu a time of celebration with friends and to eat some kavum and aasmi type stuff with ripe bananas. The more traditional of us would have a ‘gama’ to go to and at this time would return to the walawwa or some relative who stayed behind. A friend, Dileepa, once said to me in Sinhala ‘ Avuruddata yanna gamak nethi kenaa duppath manussayek’ ‘those who do not have a village to return to in the time of Avurudu are truly poor’.

I am in the global village and so I went to Pali kade to wish Pali and family from Matara a happy Avurudu. He had not got kavum this year cos his mother had just passed away and there were no celebrations…

I called my mother’s carer who is living in the old house and looking after her and she said she had made kiribath for my mother that morning…

Times have changed and are changing. It takes a lot of imagination and creativity to bring Avurudu in its truest meaning alive. But I think it is not impossible. Maybe we should focus less on the Kavum and external manifestations of the traditions and focus on the values themselves.

Yesterday I read this super post by a friend of mine whose family goes back to Moratuwa, where mine is. Udan Fernando returned from the Netherlands to Sri Lanka and lives there now. He writes about Diversity being a Blessing as he finds a Muslim eatery that is still open at Avurudu, but there is a subtle plea in that post if one detects it.

Avurudu_SwingHere is another beautiful thought at avurudu and strangely, this too is from someone who happened to live his childhood at some point in Moratuwa. Thereafter he lived in other countries and is a rather unique human being if you read his blogs and literary interests. Sereno Barr-K as I call him in my mind, went to school with a brother of mine. I hope I meet him personally at some point in this life. Here is his writing  and remembering what it was like to have three swings made by his Thamil father in the garden and how traditions are dying out: Best wishes for a Sri Lankan New Year ! Yes, Sri Lankan.

It’s not the swing, or the semantics in the end, it is what and who we would like to be and how we would like to evolve, what we keep and what we improve on that will make the Sinhala, Thamil and Sri Lankan including Muslim avurudu values truly worth celebrating both in Sri Lanka and in the Global Gama-Village  where, Seeni Sambol and Katta Sambol doesn’t always come in MD bottles and red rice and Maggi coconut milk can make a nice kiribath!

“இனிய புத்தாண்டு நல்வாழ்த்துக்கள் & ශුභ අළුත් අවුරුද්දක් වේවා”

Diversity is a blessing: Udan at the Muslim ‘eatery’ !

Gaya’s intro: The irony of this post below is that one year ago, when the BBS were attempting to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment, here was the iSrilankan Avurudu post 2013 echoing a campaign by non-Muslims to turn the current around: Buy Muslim without fail this Avurudu!


Colombo and outskirts are having their usual ghost town character during the Avurudu (New Year) season. No vehicles on the road. Very few people are around. All shops are closed except a random Muslim eatery where I had my brunch with a few interesting people who could not make to New Year celebrations with their respective families.

One’s a security guard of Burgher King. He could not get leave to visit his family in Embilipitiya.

The other is a manager of a small shop who’s also entrusted with looking after the premises while the owner is away.

They looked a bit sad but when I chatted with them, the common Sri Lankan expression came up: monawa karanna da (what-to-do).

There were two budget-tourists who were relieved that there’s at least one place for them to have cheap food. Thanks to our neighborhood Muslim ‘kade’ (way-side eatery) a few of us could have food. Thought it’s a blessing that the New Year is celebrated only by Sinhala and Tamil ethnic groups! And diversity, I felt, is not just a normative consideration but also a very pragmatic one!

muslim1 muslim 2 muslim3

Photos: Udan Fernando

Make peace with the past or be swept away on a torrent of suspicion


Dear friends, diasporans, countrymen,

Don’t lend your ears or your tongues to anyone these days, or who knows what will happen?  That’s the general feeling today five years on from the end of war between the GoSL and the LTTE. Is this justified?

When there is an arrest of a human rights activist, there is an immediate outcry on the digital and traditional media. Any call for due process and a condemning of continuing evocation of PTA provisions is generally seen as ‘opposing’ the security of local communities. New suspicion lines and allegiances emerge from surface talk and posts on digital media that are mere expressions of sentiments that ride on a deep sadness for what we have not yet created in Sri Lanka post-war : making peace with our past.

Screen shot 2014-03-19 at 10.31.18 AM

Today those detained, Ruki Fernando and Fr. Praveen have been released from detention. They may have been detained on well-grounded suspicion or in an advanced fact-finding mission re the whereabouts of a possible inciter of communal tension known to them. Others are still detained and more will be detained as they are in other post-war zones. These are matters for the defense establishment of a nation.

What is important to us as civilians is the climate of suspicion in which these arrests take place.

What is important is that citizens are not seen as fighting the defense establishment of the country but as striving in these yet dark days for the need to engage and reckon with our past. [Read more…]

In Loving Memory of a Mother: Sithy Fowzia Razak


rose redJanuary 14, 2014 marks the 70th birthday of my beloved late mom–Sithy Fowzia Razak, a simple woman who was born in Sri Lanka and gave her best to her kids after her husband [my beloved dad, Razak] passed away at Mecca while he was performing Umrah in Saudi Arabia. [Read more…]

Hello iSrilankans under the Poya Moon !

Photo on 2013-05-03 at 16.49 #2HELLO  to all my friends made on this website and on FB during the past year or so.  It’s my birthday week and this day is dedicated to kick starting a lapsed engagement: my website has been simmering on the backburner too long and am back stirring the Sri Lankan cauldron and give thanks for a patient readership and friendships with people I write for, whose work I publish and in short, the peeps I love.

Am unapologetic for my absence as in the real life of a mother of two growing children I dedicated myself full-time to nurturing a connection with the getting-opinionated kids, enriching and organising the space of our family life to become more a laboratory of creativity, literature and humour and here’s the icing…I baked a rainbow ribbon cake and iced it for my daughter’s 8th birthday  !!! As a non-cake maker am still reeling from my much-appreciated -by-daughter maiden effort. Amusing to think that the prospective of a simple fondant icing cake can totally freak one out. Having a little party at home with fifteen kids is an annual tradition now and its the fifth party at which I tortured myself (and them) with a treasure hunt for which I had to have Italian clues as we live in Italy.


1278126_10152202924653696_288061430_oOurs is a trilingual household English-German-Italian outside the home not forgetting the Sri Lankan culture pervading all as another influence and the digital cultural regime threatening their future adolescence. Therefore, mum here is on the warpath to keep the reading alive, the creativity with tactile stuff like lego, paint, creative games and stuff challenging the reliance on virtual realities and digital entertainment.

May fail, may not, but you can’t blame a brought-up-on kimbulabanis-and-pink-whistle-Blyton-reading Sri Lankan for trying. I temper the reading-creative time with good food – goes hand in hand- but all this needs a LOT of organising and emotional engagement which stole my website time away. What to do?

But my family is not under one roof. Sometimes one can step outside the door and say about one’s community: here, these are My People.  I find that exceedingly hard. My people are all over the world scattered far and wide from one classroom in Methodist College where I grew up, from one island where their parents were born; even my brothers and sisters need a world atlas to be located. In keeping with this reality I scheduled skypes and overseas long calls with my special people this my birthday week as one birthday bash could not include all my beloved in one geo-space. Such is life and we should take the good with the sad and change with change and not let it kill our friendships and community sense.

I was not jolted into action by my own need to blog or write but by others; the patience of those who will read these writings hopefully again, the contributors such as Maryanne Kooda who write amidst the challenges of daily life and whose original writings I am privileged to publish and the fact that I would like to keep this space as it is: independent, diverse and a space for those who write and have a original perspective on Sri Lankan stuff or who live in or are Sri Lankan and have a perspective on the world.

The Lady Who Cried at the Galle Literary Festival is not just a story by a Nigerian living in Sri Lanka writing about Nigerian attacks on humanity; it is much much more. Maryanne Kooda writes “This time I am praying that those who have recognition enough to hold the world attention like Chimamanda Adichie, will tell the tales not only of old wounds created by Biafra, but of the new scars created every day”. While we are emerging in Sri Lanka from an old long conflict with open wounds which have not healed and an outcome which is not agreed upon by all who make up Sri Lanka, five years on we need to steer clear of new religious fanaticism and division by people of any faith or ethnicity dressed up in a different cause .

We too may burst into tears when the old wounds and conflicts are captured  somewhere else in the world perhaps in our eyes insufficiently by another Diasporan daughter or son-writer while the grass in Sri Lanka is in danger of being crushed by new divisions and religious fanaticism, perhaps it will not be so. ‘No harm’ in staying awake to the present-day realities played out in other parts of the world and in our own backyard. May God Bless Sri Lanka and its multi-ethnic peoples of many faiths and may we stay sane and vigilant to the cause of peace and absence of horror and carnage in our Motherland.

1378073_10151615516917581_172369377_nWell, am heading back to Sri Lanka in December and meanwhile I am rolling out stuff on iSrilankan which I hope you will read and contribute to.

As the song which is a favourite of my second brother goes “Today has been my birthday and tonight I should be glad” – tomorrow is my birthday and today I am very very glad to have this friendship and connection in this God-Forsaken world.

Have a good TGIF today as it’s Poya tomorrow in Sri Lanka when the full moon rises over this crazy planet of ours. iSrilankans, stay well under the moon !!


Photos: profile of Gaya by iCamera Macbook, cake baked and photo by Gaya, Kimbulbanis baked and photo by Kasuni used with permission.

Never Again: “Tyre Daala Meruwe !!” (they burnt em with tyres).

Black july


Thirty Year Remembrance July 23,1983

I was only 11. I didn’t know much about that day or how it began. The sun shone I am sure cos it wasn’t raining. My school shoes were not wet or soaking. I guess I was being told that morning that they hoped that I would have done well at the Shishyathwaya or the Grade 5 scholarship exam for which I had being given extra tuition in Sinhala for a year. Am sure many other Tamil children my age were being told the same thing that morning.
As the day went on in a quiet side of Moratuwa where there was no burning, no one said anything to me, No. 6 in the family.
As I went next door to play I was shocked to see the father of the children. Wimalasiri Uncle as we used to call him, who rang the bell at church every Sunday and was such a strong person to me, sitting in his customary chair but rocking back and forth and wailing throwing his hands into the air. I still remember how he looked and he had forgotten to wear his usual banyan or shirt and was bare-chested. “Tire daala pichchuwe… unwa meruwa… mata nawaththanna beri wuna…. Aney Deiyane ai unwa meruwe…ee” ( They burnt em with tyres. They were killed… I couldn’t stop them… Oh God why did they kill them like that???”
There were no explanations given for my sister coming late at night from HSBC where she worked and looking like she had been in an accident or something. It was getting weirder and weirder. My brother Shermy was darker-skinned and had been going to the bank with the money from the company he worked for. “Umba Demalayek nedha? ( you are a tamil, aren’t you?) He had been asked as he had zig zagged on his motorbike through the burning capital of Colombo.
Uncle Myla short for Mylvaganam managed to make it to ours. He stayed for a while and then migrated to Australia eventually. Our neighbours kept in their homes a family whose car was parked in our back garden so as not to identify their whereabouts to anyone even on a little backroad. Such was the lack of trust after the burning.
Women scaled walls in sarees or tried to.
A friend of mine later told me a strange story: He had lived in Borella in a line of houses that had been set on fire. He is a Sinhalese. Their home caught fire and burnt to the ground along with other homes. They were taken to a relative’s home and their parents came over with a few belongings they had saved. I remember standing in the garage of my aunt’s home with my older sister he said the day after the burning. “A band of sarong-clad thugs came to the garage as they were looting what they could and barked a question at my sister. I was terrified. She grabbed a “manne” or machete from the garage and shrieked to the men to stand back and not to touch our things. I was behind her. I could see her face. I had never seen that look on her face. I never thought she could do something like that. I don’t think she knew she could either. It changed us forever. We felt as though we were Tamils. I never really felt like a Sinhalese since. When I worked in London they protested saying I was a Tiger-sympathiser and that I should be sacked from my job. I don’t give a damn. I am not a Tiger-sympathiser or any other label. I knew what it meant to be Tamil that day. It changed me forever”.
We got our results late that year for the Shishyathwaya as the marking was late on account of the riots and I passed. Am sure many other little Tamil children my age passed that year very well as we had already sat for the exam by July 23. It had been the next big thing on our parents’ mind: where we would go to school next year 1984 as twelve year olds in Upper School and begin the journey towards the O Levels and grow into brilliant young men and women in a country where everything seemed possible.

Sherpas, Snakes & Ladders and a sheaf of Oleander!


World Outside Your Window: An entry in the diary of an iSrilankan.

ueli_still2 copy

It’s Sunday and my German husband needs one or two hours on his mountain bike before the day fully begins. I need one hour with my New Yorker and cuppa tea, which routine break of day activity has kept me sane and energised to face the world, for months or years now.

 The world of mountain climbing the tale of the Krieg am Everest with Ueli Steck, Moro & Griffiths caught me up in a whirl of falling ice, Sherpa hostility and else. [Read more…]

A space to remember


Far away from Sri Lanka I gaze at the swallows with underbellies golden-glazed in the evening sun dip and swirl in abandon. I watch a white giant magnolia unfold.

Screen shot 2013-06-04 at 11.23.58 PMAnd then I think of all that is grief, all that is not now anymore but has gone before and wonder how in a hundred years someone will say what were they doing, thinking saying, all of them around the world who supposedly had lost something to war but had no human courage, largehearted unity and creativity to imagine, create and embrace a memorial space. [Read more…]

Lighting a Bucket Lantern with ‘Uncle’ next door !


Today was such a special day when I was a child.

Weeks ahead, the front room of my neighbours,’ the Wijesuriyas’ home, would be gradually filled with Vesak stuff. No last-minute rush or mess was allowed, for Uncle (as we used to call him) did things at a ritualistic pace repeating the activity in precisely the same way down to the last detail, each year in May. I knew the important months when I was a child in which I did something with someone and this was something special joined in by other people in the community as well and so it made that month important like Christmas in December, Palm Sunday, Easter and Avurudu in April, Vesak in May, the temple Perahera in August down the lane and the Church Harvest Festival in October.

Vesak Lantern VI

So in the front room the bucket lanterns and the candles would appear separately in their brown paper packs. As no one slept in this room there was plenty of space on the floor for preparing and lighting the bucket lanterns. [Read more…]

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…]