16 March 2023

Jekhan Aruliah has set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Glorious. Splendid. Excellent. Resplendent. Salubrious. Resilient. Wonderful words, all. And yet, they hide as much as they describe. Everywhere on this planet. From century to century. Across millennia. Across generations. We know the names of conquerors, kings, queens and tyrants who have ruled over people and lands. We don’t know the names of their foot soldiers. We don’t know the names of those whose lives and livelihoods they stepped on as they marched triumphantly to the high seats of power. 

Those other stories are not necessarily contained in antonymic descriptions. There is glory and splendour. All is not desolate and dry. They are not all about acquiescence. They are sometimes captured in visuals and sometimes in texts. They are mostly resident in stories that don’t get written but are said, remembered and passed on, and in images that are indelible.

Then there are times and there are people who take these lovely words, hold them in their hands, turn them over and offer us facets we were ignorant of. I remember in particular a coffee table book that was published in 2010 by Asia Capital PLC in 2010. It was titled ‘Glorious Jaffna’ and sought to ‘put a bit of Jaffna into your life by empowering the next generation through the expression of love’. 

And I wrote the following addendum: ‘...[L]ove for children, love for education, and love for the commonness that is ‘village’ among most Sri Lankans.  The Foundation is convinced that ‘it is not possible to be communal if you truly appreciate culture and find joy in the other community’s culture’.’ Should have been, ‘in the cultures of all other communities.’

I remembered the Jaffna of glory as captured by Tharindu Amunugama in that coffee table book when I saw a post by Jekhan Aruliah, who has been living there since 2015. A Facebook post. A set of bicycle pictures and some words inspired by some Central Bank numbers.     

‘The Northern Province has the highest household bicycle ownership (72%) and the lowest car/van ownership (3%), according to the most recent data from the Central Bank of Sri Lanka for 2019. Just as in Colombo you may hop into a friend's car for a lift, in Jaffna those with the gift of balance hop onto a friend's bike. The agility of those who hop, and the leg power of those who pedal are extraordinary.’

That’s a startling stat, but if you break down provinces to districts and districts into vasamas and villages, you might find that the car/van to bicycle ratio is heavily skewed in favour of the former. That’s about income disparity. It’s about making do with what you have. What the Jaffna numbers say and what they don’t say are stories yet to be written. They are known by people. They are known by people like Jekhan Aruliah who has committed himself to show Jaffna-facets that are less known or completely unknown.

‘Through my articles on Lanka Business Online, and my FB posts I try to change the perception of Jaffna and the North being in a continuous economic doldrum. I've been in Jaffna since 2015, and gradually the ball is rolling!’

What a wonderful task he has set himself! He not only educates but inspires. Just imagine if there were a hundred Jekhans in Jaffna. Imagine if there was just one in every province or one in every district or one in every vasama or one in every village? Sure, that’s a lot of positive vibes and some might think ‘way too much to digest.’ Better than if they remain unknown, hidden and therefore assumed to be non-existent, I feel.

The point is, although less war-torn than Jaffna, no village in this island has been spared loss, displacement and disenfranchisement. And just like the Jaffna seen by Tharindu and described by Jekhan, these other places, these other peoples, these other lives and livelihoods are heroic in their own right. Hoodwinked by politicians, rejected by systems, they still do wonderful things. Writing their stories, capturing their expressions by no stretch of the imagination allows conclusions such as ‘all is well, all is good.’ They know it, if not anyone else. And it won’t hurt for others to know that just as there’s commonality in deprivation, there is commonality in coping. Hopefully recognition of such commonality could lead to understanding and solidarity.

We need to share with one another our 'Jaffna albums'. We need to create albums for Aralaganwila, Narangamuwa, Gonagolla, Kandulawa, Kasikote, Delft, Arachchikattuwa and other places. Jekhan Aruliah has a template. Eminently suitable for replication.

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart