In Benghazi today or Jaffna then, the teachers kept on teaching despite the shelling!

The BBC reported this today on a school reopening in Beghazi and I was reminded of what the Jaffna teacher said …

[Read more…]

Do you remember Johnny Batta? The irony of it all…

A comment on De-Mining Sri Lanka: A Job for Widows and Survivors

Screen shot 2016-01-19 at 11.40.22 AMRead Smriti Daniel’s article on Al-Jazeera published on 12 January 2016. Enter a world you didn’t know existed, but one which Vimaleswaran Gunamala, Ananda Chandrasiri, Damian O’ Brien of the HALO trust —and even His Excellency the British High Commissioner James Dauris, who previously in Columbia knew de-mining and HALO’s work and visited Kilinochchi last May—are fully aware of.

This is Mahumalai, Kilinochchi in the baking heat of a northern sun.

The LTTE laid a circle of explosives around a well where soldiers might stop for water or in the gardens of homes they abandoned to the advancing Sri Lankan army. Mines have been found in pots of curd and plastic cricket bats.

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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!





MUST-SEE: ‘Meya Thuwakkuwak Nove!’ This is not a gun!


20th August at 7 p.m. at the Lionel Wendt Theatre. Go get yourself and a friend a ticket. Details here !

Seeing Chamila Priyanka’s Meya Thuwakkuwak Nove left me with a flurry of thoughts, moved by the gust of politics created by the play. I still have not fully recovered. It was such a powerful play. I am still in a state of disbelief that this play is directed by an amateur director; that this is his debut.

meya thuwakkuwak nove featured

Genre-wise, the play is close to a political satire, but Chamila has not succumbed to the recent trend in Sinhala theater: very superficial renditions of the contemporary political context in which the audience indulge in a brief spell of thrill and amusement by guessing the play’s characters in real life – “oh this is Duminda Silva”… “no, that’s actually Mervin Silva”, so on and so forth.

Chamila has successfully transcended this calling out for well-deserved appreciation and praise for his political maturity and theatrical acumen.

He courageously treads a dangerous minefield by discussing the politics of religiosities in Sri Lanka, particularly the contemporary twists and turns in the institution of Buddhism in a hyper ethno-nationalistic backdrop colored by an aura of triumphalism and a militarized culture that permeates every nook and corner of our society.4

I hesitate to call this a ‘youth play’, though Chamila, as well as his cast and the production team, are in the prime of their youth. The reason is that they do an excellent job of work, almost on par with the so-called “seniors and professionals” in Sri Lankan theater. Though we have not heard their names before, these actors appear reasonably trained and definitely serious in what they do. Their acting is refreshingly good and makes a lasting bond between the players and the audience throughout the play.

What an ingenious idea to have an old yellow Lambretta scooter as the main prop of the play? It conjures up multiple meanings and symbolic values related to the plot of the play, and adds a sharp visual irony to the stage.1

Chamila seems to be a visionary as he had coined the name of the play as far back as in late 2012, which precedes the recent ‘playful act’ by a Mayor in a Southern city. Chamila Priyanka needs to be congratulated for his achievement and thanked for giving us a wholesome theatrical treat.

Chamila has indeed made his debut with a big bang but he remains humble and modest with his characteristic coy smile.

Udan Fernando, PhD Researcher Visiting Academic, Open University of Sri Lanka.

Photocredits: Achintha Dahanayake

“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”

Happy Valentine’s Day iSrilankans !



Full view:

valentines full

Photocredits: Udan Fernando

MUST-SEE: Pattini-Kannaki devotion photo exhibition 22 & 23 Feb

new poster with edited website
By Sharni Jayawardena
& Malathi de Alwis

[Read more…]

A Masters worth its Salt: Master of Development Practice, Peradeniya Uni


Some people get into development work without a clue as to what it’s all about. They joined up to a corps of people who wanna make the world a better place. That’s fine.

Then there are professionals who slog away at commercial jobs and half-way take a break, unwind in the mountains or beaches of Sri Lanka and wonder if this is all there is to life. Then they apply with their corporate skills and experience for jobs in the non-profit sector. That’s great!

Some people are very career-minded and would like to start out with a degree in an area that will give them experience in working with communities and are interested in the concept of sustainable development.  That’s wonderful !

Oh yes, and what about the experienced employees in NGOs who think they are too ‘senior’ to come into a University classroom and take on a challenge sitting beside the young hopefuls twenty-something but are crazy about getting a Masters in the area of work they love?

Well, all of you are absolutely welcome !

Master of Development Practice (MDP) at Peradeniya

“Sri Lanka and its neighbours face compelling challenges as they move toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals in the context of pursuing a sustainable development agenda. These include threats from climate change, vulnerability to natural disasters, rapid urbanization, demographic change, persistent and substantial levels of poverty and malnutrition especially in lagging regions and among vulnerable groups. Addressing these complex issues requires professionals with many areas of core knowledge, practical skills and an interdisciplinary approach” MDP, Peradeniya University website

Why it is innovative and unique

There are some features of this MDP that make it an incredibly practical and workable challenge to those committed to development. They are not listed in order of importance.

FIRST, the MDP is open to those who may not have a University degree but instead may be able to meet the equivalent in terms of experience. We could give you a few courses you may need but the gates are not barred; they are open.

SECOND,  the MDP is conducted entirely on weekends so those who are working full-time as most of us do, can travel up to Peradeniya on the weekends when lectures are held.

THIRD, it’s just great that the MDP is inter-disciplinary, drawing on humanities, social sciences, management, law, health sciences, natural sciences and engineering, to name a few. And this inter-disciplinary thinking gets you good marks with UN and NGOs, non-profit sector as the work at hand demands this perspective rather than expertise in one discipline.

FOURTH, the MDP can place the students in ‘placements’ for their field work in unique locations and working with top-notch Development Orgs the range and scope of which cannot be rivalled by any other Masters in this field.

FIFTH, the faculty, the liaisons and connections with Columbia University and the global network makes this Masters a valuable experience and one that will give you the insight and professional knowledge to further your career and to expand your perspectives on Sustainable Development.

Applications for the following academic year 2016/17 are NOW OPEN  Dec-Feb. Please see the student resources page on the MDP website for details and for your easy reference here is the Applications Page.

Student Testimonials :

“when I found out about the new approach focusing more on field training and the inter-disciplinary course content itself, covering geography, biology, statistics and economics (which should be essentially included if the development practitioner is to design and implement projects that would benefit different aspects of life of the beneficiaries) it made more sense and yes, I thought this is it!”  Natasha Yatawara. Read her story from Gambia in this interview.

The Master of Development Practice is a programme in 17 countries.  The Peradeniya University is one of the five Asian universities to be included in the global MDP network. It’s a Masters programme worth its salt. iSrilankan is proud to promote its benefits to the Sri Lankan local and international student community.

Like the MDP Facebook Page  right away and you can keep up with the news and updates easily.

The images of Peradeniya University above and the collage below are credited to Kalpa Rajapaksha

New York Times Review: On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman

 New York Times Review

“Before reading this rich, sensory novel, my literary familiarity with Sri Lanka came mostly from Michael Ondaatje’s rollicking memoir, “Running in the Family.” But it was enough of an introduction, with all its extravagant, hilarious dysfunctions, to pique my interest in the island nation. Ru Freeman’s assured second novel is a much quieter yet rewarding portrait of a community of families on a dead-end road in Colombo, the country’s capital. They are a mixed lot on Sal Mal Lane: Sinhalese, Tamils and Burghers, descendants of European colonizers. “

“Freeman never strays far from the neighborhood’s youngest inhabitants. They are wondrous to behold, with their intelligence, imagination and innocence. I don’t know that I’ve seen children more opulently depicted in fiction since Dickens. ”
Christina Garcia, New York Times

Read on…

Best Books for May 13

On Sal Mal Lane

by Ru Freeman | Graywolf Press

Screen shot 2013-06-20 at 9.57.32 AM


On a single street in Sri Lanka, the rumblings of far-off civil war grow louder while a group of childern–an ethnic mix that mirrors the region’s straining cultural diversiy–play cricket, fly kites and otherwise sparke with innocence. This is a brilliant, beautiful and crushing story about childhood, its kindnesses, comforts, misunderstandings and shifting allegiances, and also about the end of childhood. It’s not a spoiler to say the book is epically tragic (you’ll cry straight through the last 50 pages), because prescience is one of its themes: A young boy, pierced through with foreboding, senses what will happen to his cherished sister, while an omniscient narrator reminds us that

we are hurtling toward certain grief. When the war finally comes to Sal Mal Lane, you’ll understand exactly what’s been lost. And you’ll mourn it.




Monday Morning: Tulie convinced me that it’s ok to tell my girlfriends I don’t need self-help books ;)


“If the stacking of the bookshelves are anything to go by, we have a lot of under-confident people in Colombo city, searching for a better way / better meaning in their lives. Nothing wrong with that of course. As a devourer of several self-help books in the past I know where they are coming from.”

Gaya’s Intro: I loved Tuesdays with Morrie up to a point and after a few days wished that he would get on with the business of passing his soul into the soulcloud. I groan when a girlfriend tells me that they just bought 4 copies of the same book in the USA for their girlfriends and that it’s in the car if I could walk up with em…. 😉 Now I feel stronger in denying their love and self-help book offers. Babes, I don’t want anymore clichés.. now if you were offering an hour on Nilaveli beach toes upturned towards the bay of Bengal with a long iced drink in hand… no? then am off for that chase-the-blues morning swim girl.


It’s a phenomenon that has exploded all over the bookshelves of Colombo bookshops; Self-Help Books.

They have always been there of course but lately they seem to be EVERWHERE! Not in just select shelves, in out-of-the-way corners as they used to be, say, a decade ago. [Read more…]