The Wedding Day: an imagined portrait of an unusual occasion.

Originally published on Groundviews.

Image by Indi

He was a filmstar, they said. But she had never much cared for films. She had heard of schoolgirls hoarding dog-eared posters; giggling over provocative poses; singing the songs the stars sang; dancing the dances the stars danced; wishing for the same clothes and hair styles. She had heard stories of the glitz and glamour of that faraway world. But they meant nothing to her. Her school days hadn’t lasted long. She hadn’t the time to grow up, watching films and singing songs.

Time was snatched from her and replaced by a gun in her hands. A gun could stop time, she was told. And it had. She knows it has been years since she’d pulled a trigger for the first time, but she can’t tell how many. She can’t measure time by days or weeks or months anymore. None of that makes sense. She can’t measure them by bullets either – there have been too many fired at her and fired by her.

Only her body hints at her that time has passed. She was short and stout when they took her away but now she has grown taller, slimmer. The puppy fat of her teenage years has given way to smooth, hard muscle from constant training, constant moving. Her hair, which she wore cropped short in her younger days, now snakes over her shoulder in a long plait that tickles her bare hip. Her then non-existent breasts have bloomed out over the years despite the tight, limiting uniform. She remembers blushing this morning as she put on her sari jacket, noticing almost for the first time how much her body had changed. In the past, it had been almost easy to forget she was a woman. The sudden reconnection with that essence of herself as she wore her crimson wedding sari that morning made her feel self-conscious and almost uncomfortable. Continue reading The Wedding Day: an imagined portrait of an unusual occasion.

Living with the Other

Originally published on Groundviews.

Imaginary friend, by *V3Nr3VeNG3

I often have to remind myself that I live with a Tamil.

My housemate, Vanessa is a Tamil, married to a Sinhalese and I have been living with her and her husband for almost a year and working with her for over two. She is also one of my closest friends.

She is Tamil; I am Sinhalese. But even as I write, it’s hard to think of the two of us along those lines, because I can’t figure out what defines our identities. Even if I can define what makes her Tamil, I still can’t define what makes her different from me.

Is it colour? She is darker than I am, but we are both brown skinned.

Is it accent? She sounds no different than me, except for a tiny, pleasant lilt in her voice.

Is language? We both speak English. She speaks better Sinhala than I do, and fluent Tamil, of which I do not know a word.

Is it culture and customs? She married a Sinhalese, much to the horror of some of her relatives. But she is happy with her choice.

Is it dress? She dresses just like me and we are endlessly in each other’s wardrobes.

Is it in name? She kept hers. “I like my own name”, she told me simply, by way of explanation.

Is it in political affiliation? Her political views are as vague as mine. We are not for the leadership, nor are we for those who wish to topple it. If she doesn’t find today’s politics suited to her, I could say the same for myself. We both hope instead for something in between – something more palatable, more honest. Something we cannot see today.

Is it in parentage? Her parents voted for Mahinda. Mine for Sarath. Continue reading Living with the Other

A day in Vavuniya

Originally published on Perambara.

The heat in Vavuniya is incredible – oppressive and dry, as if it is trying to sap every last ounce of moisture from you and evaporate it into thin air. As I clambered out of my blissfully air conditioned van and into Vavuniya’s searing heat a few days ago, I felt immediately tired, even though I had only been sitting and sleeping for the past 7 hours since we left Colombo.

I mentioned this to the young woman I was with, who I had picked up from her family’s house just outside of Vavuniya town and she cheerfully agreed. “It seems to get worse every year, even my aunties agree”, in her thick European accent. Only in Sri Lanka for a very brief visit, she met me and my crew for a day’s worth of filming connected to her charity work at the Vavuniya hospital.

My first impression of the hospital was that it looked quite new – I supposed it was probably built up after the end of the war last year. The paint on the walls was still fresh and clean and so were the wide windows, if you ignored a light coating of dust, inescapable in these parts. Walking inside however, I saw that the place was a mess of tired patients and harried medical staff. Stray, mangy dogs skittered unnoticed in and out of the open doors and crowds of aimless looking people sat on the floor of the entrance to the hospital and all along its corridors.

My companion saw my doubtful stares in their direction and clarified: “IDPs”, she said simply. “They arrive in busloads early morning, but they cannot leave until they’ve all been seen. They are only allowed to go back to the camps late in the evening.  So they wait”. I remember the two young girls I had seen when I first stepped out of our vehicle in the parking lot. They were sitting at the foot of a dusty red government bus, staring at nothing in particular. I supposed they were waiting to go home too. I felt sorry for them, sitting there with nothing to do and in this terrible heat. One of them looked at me, brow furrowed, when I pointed a camera in her direction but looked away again, disinterested.

Continue reading A day in Vavuniya

A message from a first-time voter

Originally published on Groundviews.



Two choices, by schelly

In 2005, I didn’t vote. Being 21, I was eligible to vote, but I didn’t – and if you asked me why, I would ashamedly admit I simply didn’t care. I was in University abroad, my mind preoccupied with the Arts, my arms wrapped around my glossy new textbooks, my life an adventure waiting to happen. Voting, politics and presidents didn’t register on my radar: the picture they represented was too big for me to fathom and it all seemed so removed from the microcosm of my life. In 2005, my parents were the presidents of my world and I the rebellious citizen, rioting for my right to certain freedoms.

After my university career, I moved back home and joined a media institution – just in time to get a front row seat to some of the most significant events in Sri Lanka’s history. 2 years and the end of a war later, I find both myself and my country in turmoil. Strange, considering we are supposed to be at peace now. But then again, we are supposed to be many things. We are supposed to be a democracy. We are supposed to be opposed to violence because violence is the way of terrorists – and we are supposed to have defeated terrorism. We are supposed to be a liberated people, with freedom of movement, expression and choice.

But it is election time now and what, of all those things, do we have? Continue reading A message from a first-time voter

Understanding Horror

guernicaGuernica, Pablo Picasso

I’ve tried to understand this war, and failed.

It’s made me feel rather stupid – this inability to wrap my head around 30 years of horror, why it all started and who is to blame. Everyone seems to talk about it with such ease – like it’s the simplest thing to understand. As if it’s effortless to take one particular view and stick to it. I listen to the sophisticated talk of politicians, of family, of friends and marvel at the sureness of their convictions with frustrated envy.

It could be my limited understanding of politics and history that’s to blame. I have tried to remedy this over the past year or so, and despite accusations to the contrary, I hope I am making some headway. The more I learn, though, the more that yawning chasm of untapped knowledge stretches. I wonder if I will ever conquer it. And if I do, I wonder what that will mean.

Because, when you think about it, is there any such thing as understandingthe war? Is there any way to rationalize what happened? Every gun shot, every limb torn away, every life snuffed out, every radicalized mind, every spirit shattered – how can we justify those things? How can we say, “it had to happen”? How can we blame it on a few people, sit back and feel better about ourselves? Continue reading Understanding Horror

The Choice

She just wanted to stop moving. They had been moving for so long. She rubbed her eyes tiredly, still sleepy after being grabbed from her bed and told to run without any warning. They hadn’t stopped moving since.

That was hours ago – she knows this because while she started off stumbling in pitch darkness, clutching her mother’s hand so that she wouldn’t fall, she could now dimly see her way as the  night gave way to a grim, cloudy morning.

It was hot. Her dress stuck to her, wet with sweat and her bladder was getting uncomfortably full. She looked around at the crowd surrounding her family and desperately tried to stave off the feeling. No toilets here. There were scattered bushes she could have ducked behind, but she sensed now was not the time to stop moving, although she so badly wanted to. Besides, who knew what was behind those bushes, watching, waiting. She felt a mosquito bite into the flesh of her thigh and paused to slap it. She looked at her hand to flick off the dead insect and found it covered in blood. Hers. Continue reading The Choice

Tomorrow When the War Began

May 18, 2009

I was watching ‘My Fair Lady’ when the war ended.

My phone disturbed the enjoyment of the old classic – one I’d grown up watching since the age of at least 5 – with its constant buzzing in of alerts.

Updates. Breaking News. All saying the same thing. Someone’s been killed. The names are different; the triumphant proclamations of death the same. Almost mechanically I forward the texts to my mother downstairs, knowing she’ll probably appreciate them more.

Then the final and most important of them all – the leader, dead, shot. The mass murderer, the simultaneous bearer and destroyer of the hopes of an entire community. The embodiment of one side of this 26 year war. The villain, the psychopath, the almost ghost-like elusive figure of terror. Dead. From ghost to human to carrion.

Strange how the death of one could spell the end of 26 years of terror. Strange, but true.

I read the words and could not comprehend them.

My brain told me to rejoice but the crackers outside only made me jump, uncomfortable in my own skin.

The war was over. Over. Over. Over. No matter how many times I said it over in my head – or even out loud – it just seemed… unbelievable. Unfathomable. This war has been in my life as long as my parents. So strange to think of it that way. Obviously not to compare the two but just to think about the length of time – my lifetime. It started 2 years before I was born. So I have simply lived with it all my life. And over that time 70,000 people have been killed, or so I’ve been told. Who knows the real numbers? Who can quantify it, really? There’s certainly no way to qualify the lives that have been lost, on both sides. At least – I hear myself tell others – at least the death toll stops there.

And what did I feel? Strangely, nothing much. Continue reading Tomorrow When the War Began