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

Black july

GAYA FERNANDO
 

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.
 

Rolling Back the Years – A Story of Hope

ELIJAH HOOLE

I remember this song. No! In fact I know this song. ‘Annan Ennada? Thambi Ennada?’ A song from the black-and-white days – a song that explores relationships in a materialistic world.  A song Thilahan sang for a school assembly, once upon a time.  Indeed, so much has happened since then. Here I am an old man of sixty, relaxing under the shades of The Mango Tree.  This tree hasn’t changed much – it is the same old mighty tree from forty-years ago, but I have changed; my sight has weakened, hair has grayed and I have become a weary old man.  This tree and this song my Sony radio is currently playing, bring back memories – man’s greatest possession.  Memories of my childhood, memories of my school days, memories of Thilahan – my best friend, memories from those good times.

morning greetings

[Read more…]

Going Home to Childhood

 

BY GAYA

Going home to childhood; one of the sweetest things in the world.

A pause to refresh from disillusionment and stark realities, taking us full circle to where we came from with smells and sounds that never really change in a developing country village.

Bitter-sweet though, for going home is not an option for many of my friends who have nothing and no one to return to childhood with.The village is torn apart and people they knew are now in Western cities all over the world, having fled the no hope country at war.

This is one of the greatest human tragedies of war: leaving home in wartime, regardless of the circumstances in which people moved away and their differing level of loss.

The loss of a childhood home should never happen again in war. Never in Sri Lanka. 

Give back my home, can you give back my friends, my parents’ photos on the cabinet, the old upholstery, the torn divan, the sound of the neighbour’s quarreling and an old bicycle leaning on the side of the house. I see Bata slippers dusty and smoky blue stapled with a safety pin, the mango trees, my toys and medals, trophies and collection of old photo albums and more.

Can there be a place where the old photos blow, the chairs creak and the dust of our childhood lies in the earth waiting for me to return ? Where are the children of my school? Are they now in Toronto, Sydney, London, Singapore ? Who knows where… who knows when they will all return singly and survey our childhood homes and neighbourhoods and wonder what happened to me. Who will tell them I remember them STILL ?

The first art books with my drawings that my father was so proud of, left behind when we moved away during the IPKF years. We walked away like beggars with no belongings. What do we have there now ? What have we moved on with ? What are the things we brought with us. Can you bring me something I left behind ? Can you bring me my story ?

The above is your story. I am listening to it in little conversations in phrases and utterings that have been tossed around the world and I think I hear you in many voices.

I am going home. To my childhood home. I know how important it is to have that home by the sea. Where my memories are. I have never known how special it was to have it till I knew what you lost. That is not guilt, but valuing what you have in the face of another’s loss. I did not take yours away but I will do my darndest to help Sri Lanka say Never Again.

For this I keep going home. With two little children who know what Jaffna smells like, with a toddler who saw passekudah at 8 months and rode a boat to Naagadeepa before 2 years old. We chose some nice stuff for Savi, the little girl we sponsor and my daughter packed it herself. We will remember cos it takes only one human to remember. We will not forget but join in the hard work that lies ahead for years and years to say Never Again.

I love my home and my country for without this love I cannot work with the complex needs and people I need to work with to change something for the better. But I am not just me now but also you. For didn’t they say ‘we are all Sri Lankans?’ so surely I shouldn’t worry if I talk about you, about Jaffna, about your loss. Cos you are also Sri Lankan. There are no ‘Tamil-sympathisers’ cos we are all Sri Lankan, yes? Good. I am going home and going to Jaffna as well as to Nuwara Eliya, Galle and Batticaloa for this, this is my native land and it is full of Sri Lankans. But first, am going to my childhood home, to be me again.

I am sorry that you cannot do this and that I cannot bring it back for you.

Sri Lanka matha ! May you grow well and prosper dear island home torn and wrecked by man and nature but where a million stories blow and where the strongest hearts and wills are to be found among the old, among the young, among the rich, among the poor, and yes among you.

For I have found them all and this, this is what I can do.

Reconciliation: What? Why? How? by Elijah Hoole

 

NEVER AGAIN:  Please read the intro ‘To Unite or Not to Unite is THIS the question.

 

With our Government busy defending itself against war crime allegations, protecting the sovereignty of the country and advising the common man to say ‘no’ to Google, the Tamil leadership and, of course, the Tamil Diaspora dreaming of some mode of foreign intervention and drooling over the latest Channel 4 documentary, the Muslim Community deeply wounded by the recent developments in Dambulla, and the common man constantly worried over the ever increasing fuel price, it’s understandable why the journey towards achieving true and authentic reconciliation has become such a tricky business in our country. With so many external factors coming into the equation (of achieving reconciliation) even Albert Einstein would have had trouble sorting things out and moving forward.

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‘To Unite or Not to Unite’ is THIS the Question ?

 

Gaya Fernando

 
I agree with Elijah.  Not the old prophet on the frontispiece of the King James’ Version but young Elijah with tousled hair and same appreciation of quirky Sri Lanka as I.  But then Elijah and I are from the same land.  When I saw his Youtube testimonial on Sri Lanka Unites a long time ago I said to myself ‘watch that space.’  A few days ago Elijah sent me his essay on Reconciliation.  I read it and knew that I would need, as I generally do, a quiet moment to reflect on it and introduce it properly.
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Never Again : 31 years ago the ashes of the Jaffna Library were scattered in the wind

31 May 1981

 

“On this day 31 years ago, the Jaffna Public Library was burnt down by the members of the Sri Lankan security forces. All its collection of more than 90,000 volumes of books turned to ashes within hours. This act of cultural genocide left an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of the Tamil speaking people.”

 

Ashes – to the Jaffna library

 

by Rasika Jayakody

 

History’s footprints
are ash.

There are ash people,

ash places,

ash memories,

and ash eyes.

This library,

the one you see,

is ash too.

There were ashen people here,

wearing ash spectacles,

sitting on ash chairs

and reading ash books.

Those ash books

contained ashen lessons;

the lessons of 1981,

1983,

1987-88-89,

and onwards,

ash years;

and the ash walls here

still recall

the ash words

heard on the ash day.

Where would all this ash go,

one day?

maybe there is an ocean,

somewhere,

an ocean of time,

made of ash

and ashes.

The ash ocean,

will kiss

the ashen shore of

Jaffna,

the city of ashes,

and caress

the ash heartbeat of my nation,

“Sri Lanka maatha…”

The featured part-image of a burning book was part of the Colombo Art Biennale’s exhibition in 2009.

NEVER AGAIN !!

 

 

 

Images of the Week    May 19-26, 2012

A Journey of Remembrance and Transformation together !

 

iSrilankan wishes to remember today the people who lost loved ones, livelihoods, homes and identity in the long ethno-political war in Sri Lanka. Diverse and some yet unknown sorrows could make this nation and her people grieve without end.

I could grieve and move on.  A grieving father could grieve a lifetime.  A mother who still awaits in her heart in a Kandyan home for that MIA son in the Sri Lankan Army who fell in Killinochchi is perhaps not celebrating the end of the war and its verdict of certain death of her son.  A Diasporan caught up with the burden of guilt and identity is torn apart by what he owes to his ‘people’.  A child whose first ten years was marked  by the death of one parent and abandonment by another, faces the breakdown of social structures in the North due to war and cannot be cared for adequately in the post-war situation. She is growing in grief.

One day is not enough. Yet this is a time to remember the fear and horror that should never return : The terrible suicide bombers in the South, the child soldiers in the North, the shelling of civilians having dinner and doing their homework and getting married in the North and East, the terrible civilian deaths that marked the final battles, the many parents who lost their children to war, to paramilitary abductions and assassinations, and the fatigue and emotional exhaustion of all Sri Lankan people both home and away who have no energy any more to dwell on the carnage, war and related themes. It is human. We are all half-dead it seems at times with remembering.

There is much to grieve after. But there has to be transformation for us to breathe as individuals and to save our energy for those worst-affected by war.

And we are transforming.  Not at the pace that we may wish to see yet there is transformation. Society is today very concerned about issues of impunity that would have gone unnoticed during the war. A Buddhist monk attacks a mosque in an act of impunity and violence and there is no bloodbath and civilians take a stand against impunity; the mother has formed an organisation for war widows and the father stands still and quiet in the Diasporan silence asking revenge from no one; the child finds a good children’s home thanks to the supportive network as well as the functioning system of public service in Jaffna; the young Diasporans are not willing to be brainwashed and ordered around by ‘middlemen’ and messengers’ and are willing to find friends in all ethnic groups in Sri Lanka; the SLU network is doing good work and networking the young people to prevent future division. Countless people, organisations, clubs such as Rotary and others are helping to transform the post-conflict society in Sri Lanka based at home and ‘abroad’. And they count for something.

NEVER AGAIN

The Never Again series will look at Srilankans both in Sri Lanka and living in the Diaspora who are agents of transformation and who are willing to engage with communities in their own country and in Sri Lanka to prevent a return to conflict. iSrilankan will share their journey  motivated by love for their people and guided by good sense in this post-confict societal transition.

 

An Avurudu Wish for Savi !

 

There are many Avurudu Kumaris and Avurudu Kumarayas-in-waiting ! They need your SUPPORT, your GOOD SENSE and your BELIEF in HIS or HER RESILIENCE.

This is a time for engagement and realism; a time to cast aside emotion and plunge into action.

 

An Avurudu Wish for Savi ! from iSrilankan on Vimeo.

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Pradeep Jeganathan : Forgive, but do not Forget

Forgive “What about the beginning and middle, is my question, though simple in construction, grave and serious in its import.

Surely, from the burning of the public library in Jaffna, to the massacre of pilgrims at the sacred Bo tree in Anuradhapura, to the massacre of women and children in Sathurukondan,

to the killing of worshippers in the mosques in Kattankudy, there are the most inhuman and vicious atrocities that punctuate the unremitting brutality of our civil war. No list would be complete, my four events are simply, and obviously, a sampler. [Read more…]