A close friend asked me recently what ‘home’ meant to me. It’s not that we often delve into the philosophical during our frequent conversations together; she needed some information for a project she was working on and was interested in getting the perspectives of her friends and family. I was flipping through the answers she got from various other people and, in comparison to their one-liners, my own responses were rather long-winded. While this is laughingly typical of me (I have never quite mastered the art of being concise), I have a vague feeling that my answers to her questions were rather confused and convoluted. Weeks later, I still keep coming back to that question of what ‘home’ is and what it means to me – especially from my changed perspective as a fly-by visitor to the country I grew up in – a country I’m not sure I’ll ever truly return to again, except for periodic visits like this one.
It could have been because I lived a few of my formative years in Sydney that my bonds to Sri Lanka never felt terribly strong or permanent. I don’t remember much of my time here pre-Sydney. I was under 5 and have vague but happy memories of going to nursery and playing in my grandmother’s vast home and garden. Memories that old (or new, depending on how you look at it) are tied more to people, family and immediate environments rather than a country and sense of national identity. As children, I don’t think we ever dream there is a world outside the playgrounds we make for ourselves – except of course in the fancies of our imagination. For me anyway, anyone who wasn’t a fellow pint-sized sibling, or protective parent or grandparent, or stooping, loving Sumana, or sari-wrapped teacher, was either faceless or quickly forgotten. Continue reading Home
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
Originally published on Groundviews.
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