Category Archives: Featured

5 years ago the national anthem was sung in two languages: Happy Independence to Diverse Srilanka!

This post was published five years ago on Independence Day 4th Feb, 2016. It was a historic moment when the national anthem was sung in Thamil for the first time. I recorded below the contributions of those in and outside Sri Lanka and in some ways nothing changes, the maskeliya views, the people’s desires and the sentiment, no not even the bad stuff that muddies up the picture changes. Reviving this space, I bring you the first then and now snapshot! 

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Maskeliya, Sri Lanka. Image Credits: Deepthi Peiris,

So we got our land back from the British and before that the Dutch and Portuguese. It’s one hell of a land with mind-blowing pics of each strand of sea n foam, pasture and plain, paddyfield and rubber estate, coconut palms to the south and palmyrah to the north, sunrise on white sands in Nilaveli, the gorgeous Arugam Bay and Passekudah, and sunset on Galle Face and golden sands of Mount Lavinia to Bentota.
Continue reading 5 years ago the national anthem was sung in two languages: Happy Independence to Diverse Srilanka!

Sri Lankan–Africans from Puttalam: visiting my “long-lost relatives”!

MARYANNE KOODA

[Maryanne wrote this in her inimitable style many years ago. But the comments kept rolling in and I am thankful for saving this piece for anyone who is interested in the hidden histories of our people and their ways]

Along a narrow trail that wound a short distance from the Puttalam /Anuradhapura road, lay the quiet village we were searching for.  We reach Sirambiandiya after a four hour trip by bus from Colombo.  We are unsure of what type of reception we will get, as the research we had done on them, told of a people who were fed up of being treated like a circus freak show!

The knowledge of their existence has since been publicised by musical performances at the Barefoot Café,  so the novelty had worn off. Yet we were still interested in meeting them, despite the possibility that they may be wary of visitors. We took the chance and were delighted to find them open and friendly.

Continue reading Sri Lankan–Africans from Puttalam: visiting my “long-lost relatives”!

Five years ago: ‘Stranded’ an art exhibition (and so much more) by Sivasubramaniam Kajendran

Five years ago, Siva called me up and said ‘please can you do a post for my exhibition?’ That was this post on Stranded which he exhibited in Jaffna.  Today, am waiting for another call from Siva to create a post on his N.O.W exhibition which is at the Theertha Red Dot Gallery on 6 March 2021. It is incredible to think of how one phone call could have created an encounter. But we Sri Lankans have not snuffed out that ‘energy’ to ‘initiate’ ‘create’ and ‘encounter’ all by our own wee selves. Yes, from all over the world. We are here! 

Stranded 1STRANDED: by Sivasubramanium Kajendran

Première at  2.30 pm on 28th March at the Art Gallery, University of Fine Arts, Jaffna.

Exhibition dates: 28th March-1st April 2016.

I still hear Siva’s strong voice as he concluded our conversation a little while ago with the words ‘give my regards to your family.’ Bitterly ironic, given what Siva has left to call his own.

Continue reading Five years ago: ‘Stranded’ an art exhibition (and so much more) by Sivasubramaniam Kajendran

Interview with Tanuja Turairajah on the making of Project Belonging

Living as a migrant for the first time in Zürich, Tanuja Thurairajah found herself thinking about the narratives that people were exposed to in their daily life.

“When I came here I met other Tamils, but somehow I felt that they reached out to a different narrative and I reached out to a different narrative…”

Continue reading Interview with Tanuja Turairajah on the making of Project Belonging

Don’t miss out on Kenan Malik in Galle, Colombo or Jaffna!

Screen shot 2016-01-13 at 2.15.12 PMA must-see, must-hear, writer-lecturer-broadcaster is in town—Kenan Malik— the author of the book I am reading right now and one of the cleverest dudes of our times.

Which town? If you glance to the right you will see the ‘what’s on’ listings of  the three listed events in Galle, Colombo and Jaffna as part of the Galle Literary Festival 2016. For the lazies, the Galle literary dinner is on the 16th January at the Galle Fort Hotel, the talk at the British Council Library with Smriti Daniel is on 20th and the Jaffna Public Library event on the 23rd January. How lucky they are; how jealous I am.

I discovered Kenan Malik right after the Paris attacks. His After Paris post on his blog Pandaemonium was refreshingly lucid and plotted the factors that many jihadi-junkies failed to draw together to create the admittedly-grey none-too-clear map of the nature and unknown multi-cause of radical extremism in Europe, today.

Then there was the analysis of multiculturalism. Clever writers you thank from the depths of your non-racist, shocked-by-Trump, non-convert-to-media-bullshit-awe, Self. Thanks for being clever and actually putting it out there from an angle that comes with a background in neurobiology and philosophy and an interest in ideas, race, immigration, religion, the works.

Screen shot 2016-01-13 at 2.13.46 PMI am jealous. Reading The Quest for a Moral Compass, I wished that I had bought a ticket to be there at the GLF to hear Malik on home soil. How amazing Galle is as a backdrop to the arts: the beauty of the snow-white mosque overlooking the coast where the Portuguese named Galle after the proverbial rooster ‘galo’, the Dutch fort reclining on its haunches (claimed by many since), and the crows, rocks, restaurants, peddlar street cafes and sunset waders, all bringing Galle, the southern heel of Sri Lanka, to life.

I wish I were there to hear him. Instead, I am in London. So please do go in my place and read the book if you can lay your hands on it. If not, let me know and I’ll try to bring a copy in April for selected souls who will repay the favour with a nice hopper dinner or crab curry;)  I am sure you will find it stimulating your grey cells, your belief and your desires for your society in this odd phase of human evolution. He wrote others, but right now I am deep in this one, and so you understand.

Screen shot 2016-01-13 at 12.11.15 PMThe GLF as it is known may not have an easy ride—as nothing ever has in Sri Lanka—as the tuk-tuk ride through the years of organised events and exercising discretion, reveals. It takes courage, as ‘Shyam-courage in the time of boycotting’ showed, takes belief and effort and thankless tireless passion and drive. So a vote of thanks to all those who stick their neck out rooster-fashion to crow in another GLF: For a tsunami-flooded, war-battered and post-colonial country, we have another event that brings in the world to a corner of paradise we know so well: Good on you!

 

 

 

 

A space to remember

GAYA FERNANDO

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. Continue reading A space to remember

A mother’s tribute to her community !

 

Natalie Soysa: A Mother’s tribute to her CMB Community from iSrilankan on Vimeo

 

NATALIE SOYSA

 

I’ve often complained about everybody knowing everybody’s business in too-small Colombo.
Today, I’m ready to eat my words.
I am bringing up my son in what you would call a single-parent household.
But there’s never really been just a single parent in my home.
I thought the benefit of being a photographer meant that my son’s every moment would be frozen in time.
Juggling a camera and baby was not as as easy as it looked, but I still have so many pictures of him!
And its only because he’s always in someone’s arms!
So many different arms have come to spend time with him, play with him, dance with him, change him, bathe him and feed him.
My son doesn’t have a single parent, he has a village.
Its been a wonderful reminder that humans are essentially pack animals and not isolated family units.
My son is being community raised and he’s going to be all the better for it.
This is a tribute to all the arms that have held my son close, reminding him that he is loved.
This is a tribute to my community.

 

Words & Photographs – Natalie Soysa

 

Bio

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Natalie Soysa in her own words : I am a freelance photographer and journalist based in Sri Lanka who quit a 13 year career in advertising in 2010 to pick up a camera and head off on what most would call a fool’s journey.

After a few photography & photojournalism projects that feature the post-war explosion of arts & culture in the country, this June, I will be taking over as new Manager-Arts at the British Council.

Most importantly – I’m an incurable Star Wars geek.

Visit Natalie’s about me page for more info.

 

 

 

Photo by Indu Bandara

 

 

 

Aiyo, Tissa !!

PR_Challenge Patriarchy_comrades

 

GAYA FERNANDO

There are millions of people who write stuff and say stuff. People shudder, wince and move on. Today,  it’s the speech that moves on in tweet and share, snowballing it’s way over the social media. However, somewhere it first appeared in Print; that’s real bad. Print counted for something once,  was seriously reviewed, edited material at some point.

Tissa Karaliyadda sat up and chirped at me over my first cuppa. “A man should always be the Chairperson.” This is a much-tweeted opinion of  the Minister of Child Development and Women’s Affairs. He has been shared by Frances Harrison as well as my close friends. Aaarrrgh! What was the man thinking ???

Continue reading Aiyo, Tissa !!

A Tale of Two Women and the birth of Paartheepan

GAYA FERNANDO

Rizana Nafeek left the country forging her age on a passport and found herself in hot water with the laws of the foreign host nation. She was denied her life in the discretion given to the tribal family negotiation process in Saudi Arabia and was sentenced to a terrible death. Ranjini left the country as a refugee post-war and found herself in a legal ‘black hole’ in Australia regarding ‘significant and continuing security threats to Australia. She failed the security test of which no details are released and was thrown into indefinite detention with no reasons given and no appeal according to the processes of national security in Australia. She may not lose her life immediately though there is a significant and continuing risk that she will lose her mind as others have done and are receiving psychiatric treatment as the length of indefinite detention takes its toll on the human mind.

Both the girl Rizani and the young woman Ranjini did not make this journey alone nor are they very cognisant of the procedures to which they were submitted. They left the country assisted by a network of agents who profit from assisting those who wish to leave the country to do that for a hefty fee.

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Admittedly one young woman accidentally may have caused the death of a child and the other may have been employed by a terrorist organisation during a war in the country she left. What matters now is how Host State processes mete out justice on their terms to people who are in the grey area of the law and to whom a discretion may apply given the individual circumstances of both women.  Yet what is seen is that the only criteria applied is how these actions affect the host nation. Both Rizana and Ranjini are just migrants/refugee applicants who do not belong there.

On January 9th we lost Rizana and on January 15th was born a son, Paartheepan, to Ranjini, who is still in indefinite detention. This is what may change the tide in the case of the second young woman.

Paartheepan means light to the world. Paartheepan’s father is a Permanent Resident of Australia, Ganesh and so, ‘Paari’ is an Australian citizen and will be able to leave the detention centre without his mother. However, for the present, strategically as well as naturally it will be best to leave the little baby with his mother for his well-being and hers as well as to attract more outrage and attention to her plight which is hardly in line with 2012 human rights norms relating to limits in detention, the right to appeal and the right to know the charges against you. Paari has two brothers at the Villawood detention centre who go to school but come back to the centre and are not free to leave.

I have followed to some extent the campaigns for Rizana and Ranjini from the social media callouts and other newspaper reports. It has been alleged that the delegations to plead on behalf of Rizana may have worked against her interest with their premature indications of a settlement, possibly hardening the resolve of the tribal family negotiators to withhold the pardon in this case. I have no informed opinion on this. However, if this were the case, there is a lesson to be learnt; many may be. It is therefore with a certain anxiety that I view the vociferous, emotional twittering of campaigners who call on even Barack Obama to press for the release of Ranjini. Paartheepan, bless him has his own hashtag #paari, another called #bornfree and the campaign grows in animosity towards ASIO, Chris Bowen and others involved as State Officials in this case.

RA51712While it is very commendable and humanly moving to see the campaign for Ranjini, it is not uncommon for State Authorities to tighten their resolve to continue their process despite the clamour of activists and to be seen as not giving into pressure from rights groups. This is evident in many such situations in Europe, USA, UK and well, pretty much anywhere including Sri Lanka.

Therefore it is hoped that little Paari and his mum will not be hindered by this social clamour and that the authorities determining their case will be given that prudent window in which to reach a dignified verdict on their own. Sometimes activism is its own enemy and the campaigners get carried away by tweet overload. Congratulating their efforts, it is hoped that political realism will allow this life-changing decision to be carried out by the powers that be as soon as possible.

This is the announcement on the website Letters for Ranjini on his birthday Jan 15th.

We are blessed with a boy, Paartheepan (Paari).

4.075kg on 15-01-2013 Tuesday at 8:23PM.

Mum and baby are fine.

Regards, Ranjini and family.

One little note of relief is that little Paari weighed over 4kgs at birth and he is in good health. Pardons and amnesties are in place for a reason as is the review of judicial process over other state institutions. Let us hope that Paari will hasten the processes that will determine if Ranjani is or is not a continuing security threat and will signal a new life for the family in Australia if all goes well.

Paartheepan, Ayubowan !!

The face of Sri Lanka : postures, gestures and smiles

by NATALIE SOYSA

A simple idea set to an arresting photomontage which needs no explanation or subtitles.

Gaya’s Intro: Natalie Soysa is one of the core contributors to iSrilankan (you will see more of her work and insights in the future as am getting better at drawing blood from my favourite peeps). Natalie stimulated and encouraged me in creating iSrilankan over a year ago. She offered me with characteristic generosity, unlimited access to her amazing collection of photography. Here I would like to say that I am surprised and humbled by many of my Sri Lankan friends who have offered resources with none of the caution, conditions and cynical strings that usually accompany sharing one’s work on digital media.

The logo of iSrilankan is an image by Natalie Soysa: an artistic interpretation of the face of the moon. I knew when I saw it that this is how I imagined the logo : spherical, independent of bias, original and distinctive sans lettering. She is one of those rare talented people who will suffer from an abundance of talent not a lack of it. I hope to direct some of her creative energy, insights and personality into the sentiment at the core object of iSrilankan: Featuring a collage of evolving Srilankanness in diverse forms in Sri Lanka and all over the Planet.

Bio

Natalie Soysa in her own words : When I was a child I wanted to be a photographer. And a writer and an actress and a musician and a lecturer and an archeologist and an anthropologist and an activist and a journalist. I’ve realized along the way that I can’t be a Jill of all trades, but I can be of some.

I presently shoot with my very first camera, a Sony Alpha 230 purchased in late March 2010 with the 18-55 mm / 3.5 – 5.6f kit lens, a 50mm / 1.8f prime and a 75-300mm / 4.5-5.6 zoom lens.

Visit Natalie’s Creative Studio and her Flickr gallery.

Natalie is available on assignment both in Sri Lanka and overseas as a photographer, journalist and ideas consultant.