08 March 2023

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

It’s almost 400 kilometres from Kudamaduwa, Kottawa to Kumarigama, a village close to Uhana, Ampara. That’s if you take the Southern Highway. It’s shorter if you go through Kandy, but quicker. It’s almost 200 kilometres from Kandy, and that’s still quite a distance. Long enough to make the trip as fast or as slow as one pleases.  

There are times, however, when you just cannot make the road slow; not if you’ve been up until 1 am, writing, napped for an hour, left home at 3 am so you could make it to Kandy by 6 am where there are friends ready with a hired van to go to Kumarigama just to be with a friend who was going through a particularly rough moment.

It was dark, anyway and first light arrived as we approached Kadugannawa, my friend and I, batchmates from Peradeniya who, like those others waiting for us, had visited our friend’s home in Kumarigama several times over the last 40 years.

Even at night, with just one pit-stop for a cup of tea, there was time enough for conversation that took us into sunlit days and carefree times. There was slowness. It was super-fast from Kandy simply because someone else was driving and apart from another pit-stop for breakfast I slept.  Until we got to Maha Oya.  Time stopped making sense. We were, all of us, caught in a moment when the past, present and future tenses got jumbled.

Our friend, Premasiri, ‘Aliya’ to all of us, hadn’t slept in two days. We caught up with him at the Maha Oya hospital, trying to get the hospital authorities and police to complete administrative ‘musts’ so that the body of his nephew, Isuru, could be released to the undertakers.  

Isuru was probably four years old when I first saw him. A happy child. He wasn’t too interested in his studies, but managed to get through his exams. When I met him next he was in his early twenties, quite at ease with himself loitering around Kumarigama, helping his uncles in the paddy fields and taking care of his younger cousins when required to do so. He would later join the Water Board as a meter-reader and would earn the love and affection of colleagues, superiors and the communities in which he worked.  

I didn’t see Isuru this time. He was too broken and I, just like my friends, wanted nothing to wreck my image of the easy-going, quiet boy who was always around that house, 38/20, Kumarigama, Uhana.

We must have stayed there for a few hours or just a few moments. The names of villages associated with different kinds of tragedies in that other time few remember were familiar. Arantalawa, Gonagolla, Bakkiella. The paddy fields on either side of the road were layered in various shades of gold. The jungles beyond weren’t viewed with the kind of anxiety I had felt, so many years ago.

We got to Kumarigama before they brought Isuru home. It was harvesting time, so the canal that ran by the road to Kumarigama and then by that old house was dry. They were all there, the young people who had grown old, the newly married who had become fathers and mothers and some even grandfathers and grandmothers. Some had gone and others were on their way out. The bo tree at the ‘Kumarigama Junction’ seemed serene, as it always had.

W.G. Weerasinghe, Aliya’s brother and Isuru’s father, hadn’t aged. He no longer taught but didn’t seem to have retired either. He was still the educator and humanist whose life I had sketched more than a decade before in an article titled ‘The journeys of W G Weerasinghe.’ This is how I summed it up:

‘Some journeys take us far. Some people don’t travel but they precipitate unbelievable journeys.  Some build the building blocks, some build upon the building blocks. We must all do our little bit, not so that our children get to travel but they have the choice to do so.  Weerasinghe need not have done any of this. He did.  Some journeys are worthy of salutation.  His journey certainly is.’

I cannot, even now, get inside the head of a parent whose son had fallen over 1,000 feet to his death from Nuwaragala in the dead of the night, leaving behind a young wife and two children, a son who was three and a daughter a little over a year old.

Weerasinghe Aiya put his hand on my shoulder: ‘what I learned from all this is that I had never known how many people loved my son and how much.’

Isuru had come quite a distance along a road and reached a destination. He probably hadn’t planned to stop. He hadn’t planned to have so many people from so many places travel along so many slow roads and stop at the same time at this particular junction called Grief.

I revisited a village yesterday, the 6th of March, 2023. I traveled quite a distance on the slowest road I’ve ever been on. I didn’t stay in Kumarigama for too long. Kumarigama had remained with me, I learned. For decades. It still does. Isuru too. Forever a child. 

['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:

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