Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Sri Lanka Without War

On Monday, when I first woke up and heard about the complete end to the war and cessation of fighting, I honestly did not know what to feel. In a population which erupted into a cry of joy, there were a few such as I, who remained quiet. I felt this victory was not ours on that day. It was that of the brave men and women who left their homes to fight a war that has never in 30 years been won. 

Over the past couple of months, the war fervour had intensified in Colombo. Those that previously had no opinion, suddenly developed one and partitions were created between people who had never before had cause for argument due to this war. 

I was born in 1984. Apparently, when the riots erupted in 1983, my mother was pregnant with me and she helped her Tamil neighbours seek refuge in 'our' house. Brave. I can't remember when I first heard of the L.T.T.E but I do remember one day we were driving somewhere, and on a wall some sentence was graffitied and it contained the word 'L.T.T.E'. This was as soon as I learned to read so for the first time I remember becoming aware that there was an E at the end of that 'word'. All that while I had called it L.T.T. To get an idea of the timeline, I believe the then Prime Minister Premadasa was speaking at a rally close by to that wall. So let's say 1988/89. 

Which means my entire life, I have been aware of the LTTE.

I was approximately 9/10 years old when the Orugodawatte Oil Refinery LTTE attack took place. I vividly remember waking up in the middle of the night and facing an orange flaming sky. People were on the roads and I remember hearing of stories where people had run for their lives in the neighbouring areas. The next few days motorcyclists white shirts were black when it rained. Because it rained oil. 

I was 9 years old when my mother and I went to the Book Exhibition and Sale near Independent Square on May 1st, 1993 and on our way home, there was a huge traffic and this gentleman stopped our car and told us to take another route home. Because a suicide cadre had just killed President Premadasa as he took part in the UNP May Day rally. Of course, there is still speculation as to who really committed that murder. But popular belief was the LTTE. 

I was 11/12 when one day in school we heard a noise and thought that someone had dropped a massive aluminium sheet on to the ground (don't ask, we were young). Then we learnt that the Central Bank had been bombed by a truck laden with explosive driven by suicide LTTE cadres. My friend's father walked all the way to school to pick us up and made us walk back home because there was too much traffic to go by car. Over a 100 people died that day. I made it a habit to look at the obituary page in the newspaper every January 31st after that. But with time, even that practice was forgotten.

I was 15 when I got a call from a friend who said that as President Kumaratunga was leaving a rally (for the Presidential Elections in 1999) that a suicide bomber had exploded. The President was lucky enough to escape but lost an eye. 

As part of the generation of war, this is just a handful of experiences I have had to live through in Sri Lanka over the past 26 years. With the passing of time, you become immune to hearing about deaths on tv. As a nation, we don't shout out in horror that there was a bomb on a bus that killed two people and injured 30 others. We have become apathetic. The LTTE has time and again invented new ways to overcome this apathy. 

I was 23 when all our friends gathered together to watch the Cricket World Cup where after 11 years Sri Lanka was finally playing in a Final. The LTTE flies jets over the city and sparks off anti aircraft fire, power cuts, search lights heralding in a new era of fear. Since then the LTTE flew aircraft twice more over our city. The last time which was this year, we were on the road and had the closest experience to war that I have seen in my life.

Through all this, I have but suffered NOTHING compared to what some people who live in this country have suffered. I have merely seen the dead sprewn across streets, dismembered limbs sprawled across pavements. But these dead had families who must bear the sorrow of their loss regardless of whether the war is won or not. 

So now, you tell me that the war is over and the LTTE is no more and question me as to why I cannot dance in the street? Because I am numb. I am rendered speechless and immovable. By the horrors that I have witnessed in this country over my entire lifetime, by the number of people who have died to bring us to this point and by the immense task we have ahead of us to ensure that my children do not grow up to realise that LTT has an E at the end. 


Scrumpulicious said...

Awesome post! :)

Rine said...

Thank you Scrumpilicious!! Been a while! :)

Anonymous said...

Very evocative post.

I was born in 1979. I shared your experience of finding out that the LTTE had an 'E' at the end after seeing it grafittied on a wall. I couldn't help wondering if it was the same wall.

Rine said...

Thanks Ravana!

Could have been! Sadly though, the number of children who read the graffiti and learnt that wouldn't have stopped with us. There must have been a large number who learnt of that this year!