|Sunday, 12 January 2003|
The road to Kilinochchi
Like so many of the journeys within Sri Lanka presently, early morning seems the best time to start, to beat the traffic. Kilinochchi was the destination for a meeting as dictated by the work I do now. Fortunately the starting point was Sigiriya and not Colombo, which would have added another three and a half hours to an already long journey.
The very familiar turn off at Mirisgonia (where wild elephants visited only a few months ago), just outside Dambulla leads through Kekirawa, now a bustling town. Tranquillity and sleep dominate. The road still good, leads on to magical Mihintale and northward. Medawachchiya and Vavuniya are passed and then two checkpoints, where time is spent quite happily and the road goes onward.
Impressions are absorbed all along, but anxiety about the forthcoming meeting is dominant. Kilinochchi is reached. The meeting place found and the meeting held and concluded. The journey back begins, what triggers the reflections and nostalgia, is it the hospitality and goodwill shown which has started a train of thought, or is it that somehow the people met seemed so familiar and a part of the past? The dignified white clad central figure reminiscent of one of my friend's father also Tamil speaking, who had been so tolerant of us as teenagers and especially the use of his cars by us. The others at the meeting and on the periphery, polite and welcoming adding to the feeling of familiarity and comfort.
The first time I travelled this road must have been over a half a century ago, secure with my parents still in their youth, myself three years old, with no memories of the time. Since then I have travelled this road a few times over the years with no particular consciousness or any clear impressions.
This time the impressions are strong and stark and I am an of an age to be a grandfather, which I am not, but able to discern and understand at least something. I am troubled. For is understanding again eluding me, as it has done so often and is my vision blurred and very one-sided. Unlike Alice I cannot step onto the other side of the looking glass completely.
So much is taken for granted in our quest to go forward to live, to survive. Clarity on the surface at least is emerging as we drive back from a heartland of our country. A heartland how so and certainly not ours, is a thought that can spring to mind. I must move past this and into the mists of the past, if I am to see and to feel; the facts of today.
The damage and destruction to buildings, pockmarked with holes made from different guns fired by so many different hands. All hands of my countrymen and neighbours, no one else. Triggers pulled in the belief that homes and hearths were being protected. How can protection come from so much destruction. The answer if at all must be further back. Solutions are all one needs, not a probing of the mistake of the past.
The little thatched church catches my eye and attention. Temporary roof no doubt to create a place of worship. Worship for whom, for the Christians the followers of Jesus the Christ, the gentle teacher depicted in robes and sandals, longhaired, the son of a carpenter who propagated a mighty religion, vibrant two thousand years after his birth. Would his followers, especially in the new worlds be at ease in this thatched church surrounded by landmines.
Who will be comfortable in this church? Most certainly the people of this area and Christ himself, who would find the people very much like those he lived around. For am I mistaken or do I not see His face in the people I pass.
Still not at the two checkpoints I wonder where are the mosques. Have I missed them along this stretch of road. My great grandfather's great grandfather Don Adrian Jayewardene Thamby Mudliar, controversial character though he was, may have been more geared to the lack of mosques where his forefathers worshipped. For he the Christian was buried in the splendour of Wolvendhal church.
What relevance, what relevance indeed thoughts race from family back to religion. We in a country blended by followers of the four major religions and some others have still not found harmony or cohesion. Why have our religions not helped with no irreverence could the Lord Krishna have articulated the beautiful Bagavad Gita in the guise of charioteer, while guiding Arjuna along this road, easily would be the answer.
Easily, Kovils too are not commonplace, but the signboards in all shapes, sizes and languages warning of land mines are all along the roadside. The recent rains have brought out the lush green foliage, but how does one cultivate among the landmines. The answer seems to be that one does not, with the exception of a few plots, this agricultural area is still dormant. The huts in the few fields and lifestyle if one can call it that, heartrending.
The eyes of the people are black, not with rage as we may sometimes imagine. But black in their fullness and dominance of being human.
The motto of my family handed down, probably by Thamby Mudaliyar 'never despair', very relevant but yet so fragile. Very much in context in the eyes of youth and elders alike in this also heartland of my country. Who am I to judge, who am I to even speak. But judge I do not and speak I do, out of desperation for how will we come out, how will this land and people move forward.
The much maligned politicians seem to be doing their part, not only the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his government and Mr. Vellupillai Prabakharan and the LTTE who have initiated a ceasefire and peace process, but also the President Chandrika Kumaratunge, Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse, and the PA, Mr. Rauff Hakeem and the Muslim Congress, Mr. Thondaman and the CWC, the TULF and others who have stood steadfast in the cause of peace. The Norwegian government has headed the international communities positive initiatives.
We the people, the beneficiaries of peace by and large, have done nothing much except analyse the situation. The journey continues and this particular one will soon be over.
The check points revisited, in fact require no check. Quite strange that coming into 'the uncleared area' the government checkpoint as a policy, seemed to check baggage only of Tamils, going mostly homeward towards Jaffna, or may be my impressions were wrong. For the first time since I started travelling abroad in the 1960s, only on this occasion on my return home last month was I allowed to come into Sri Lanka with my baggage unchecked through the green channel. All these many years when foreigners went unchecked I was checked. May be there is the same logic being exercised into the 'uncleared areas'. The home landers baggage to be checked, others not.
Apart from this discrepancy, as far as I was concerned the check points were both not inconvenient. Vavuniya, must definitely have developed from what my mother, the wife of a Government servant stationed there remembers from fifty years ago. She has often talked of the peafowl flying overhead like a blue cloud. Peafowls are still plentiful on the sides of the road. Medawachchiya and the Rest House where I rode high when employed by the Ceylon Hotels Corporation, a landmark from my past.
All that now remains is straight roads and familiar territory. But Mihintale has to be passed. The teachings of Gautama Buddha first received here by the hunter king have stood the tides of time. Did my maternal great-grandparents, Buddhists from the southern village of Weligama visit this fount of Buddhism. Doubtful in their time. Now peaceful in their burial grounds in the shadow of a Buddhist temple, would they wonder how Buddhism which reached so far south to them, the teachings of so compassionate a one, can reach northwards to salve the wounds and create security and comfort and allow dignity to flourish.
Some Mosques now tribute to the Prophet whom I so admire for his great teachings, especially of brotherhood and equality. So misunderstood and misrepresented in the polarised world of today. The world, little we can do about it. But this little land of such beauty and especially her people, is there really something we, the average, can do, one never knows.
My road leads southwards and to security and a brighter future made so, by those I am leaving behind. For are they not talking peace and has the killing not stopped? They have certainly changed my life, but what will I do for them. Maybe the great religions or the Norwegians and other foreigners will help them. I travel to the good things in life. Christmas is around the corner. But who is my mentor, who is my neighbour, who is my brother? Maybe these memories too will fade, of the road to Kilinochchi like those of the past, and I will be complacent again.
- Prasanna W. Jayewardene
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