27 January 2012

Kumarigama, Ampara: 1988 and 2010

A revisitation

The year was 1988.  September, if I remember right.  I was on a private bus, going from Kandy to Ampara.  Uhana, actually.  Kumarigama to be precise.  One of the villages that sprung up thanks to the Gal Oya Project.  I was with a university batchmate, Premasiri, who was from Kumarigama.  This was ‘LTTE time’.  This was a time of unexpected attacks at night and even during the day.  LTTE ‘freedom fighters’ setting up booby traps, stopping buses, shooting passengers, storming into villages murdering children, pregnant women, the sick and the elderly in cold blood. It was a time of butchery.  

I was at the back of the bus.  We were approaching Arantalawa, where the LTTE had killed some 30 odd Buddhist bikkhus traveling in a bus.  A fellow passenger, a student from the University of Sri Jayawardenapura, seated at the left end of the back seat of the bus, i.e. next to me, told me (in jest): ‘This is a dangerous stretch; the LTTE can come out from the shrub jungles over there (pointing towards the East) and shoot. We are used to it.  We have our palms to protects us (he lifted his left hand, finger outstretched and together, indicating that this was how a bullet that might otherwise hit the head would be stopped).’  I saw the humour but couldn’t really laugh.  Humour. That’s all they had.

That night, seated outside his house, Premasiri told me how the LTTE had attacked a village close to his: ‘They came in the night.  Everyone was asleep.  Before anyone could do anything, they had killed dozens of people.’ 

‘The following night, some young men from the next village retaliated; they stormed into a Tamil village, the closest one, and killed innocent people.  I saw the dead.  The Sinhalese who died and also the Tamils.  They all looked the same. All poor.  The same kind of impoverishment. The same bellies carrying the same amount of rice. Not much.’ 

Today, August 5, 2010, I came down the same road.  There were no jokes about LTTE attacks, stopping bullets like Baron Munchausen.  There were some bunkers here and there, but not every 50 m or so.  There was one check point at Maha Oya.  I remembered a different time.

I remembered getting down from the bus on several occasions, walking through check points. Having bags checked. Having soldiers running their hands all over me. Necessary inconveniences. Happily suffered.  That was a different time, a different country. 

Twenty two years ago, almost, I spent a night in Kumarigama.  I remember thinking that there was no one who could guarantee that there wouldn’t be an LTTE attack that night.  I remember thinking that there was nothing that anyone could do.  Life was a lottery.  It was to become a different kind of lottery not too long afterwards when the JVP and UNP thought it would be fun to see who could wring the necks of the ordinary citizenry more effectively, but that night fear had a name: LTTE. 

Right now, I am in Kumarigama. Same house.  I didn’t come with Premasiri.  Premasiri’s father, one of the first ‘settlers’ is no more.  His brother, Weerasinghe, ‘Loku Aiya’ to all of us, is now the principal of the ‘village school’, Kumarigama Maha Vidyalaya.  His other brothers, Oliver and Kumara are out in the fields, harvesting paddy.  Loku Aiya’s son, Isuru, at the time a mischievous little baby, is now repeating his A/L exam.  He took my 9 year old daughter, along with his 12 year old cousin Samadhi and her brother, 9 year old Nipun to watch their uncles at work.  This is post-LTTE Sri Lanka.  It’s a post-war Sri Lanka. 

I don’t know the name of those villagers who were slaughtered in those terrible days.  If that was alleviating grievance or countering terrorism, I’d much rather live with grievance and terrorism.  I know we are not living in a perfect world, but this imperfection is good.  Premasiri’s mother, M.D. Babynona, now 69, seems not to have aged.  Same affection. Same warmth. Same simple loveliness of being.  There is electricity now.  There’s harvesting.  Life is good. 

I am not living in a Perfect Sri Lanka.  This is however a New Sri Lanka.  In a way a consolation prize and nothing more, yes.  Looked at from another angle, this is good enough, one could say. 


Anonymous said...

What pain lies buried in the four corners of our land.

Never thought consolation could be a sad existence

h. said...

"but this imperfection is good" - It is. Definitely the least bad I've known in my lifetime. For those who suffered from terrorism and war, these got to be the best times.