19 November, 2017

Afloat On The Lagoon

By Mano Ratwatte – 

Mano Ratwatte

A loosely translated Sinhala original from a Veteran.

“Mother, I hope you will get the letter I sent you with my Wesak card.

Around me, my brothers marooned; I still hear the screams. and the explosions but I cannot help. Soon they too will end up like me; afloat on the gentle waves of the lagoon at Elephant pass.

The sounds of the gentle waves lapping against the shore were once music to our ears; in the scorching dry heat, the simplest of breezes was our solace.

Escaped from the heat; enjoyed a swim with our comrades. Today the waters will cool my body before the Crows pick it clean. The Crows attack in unceasing waves feeding with relish like the enemy who blew themselves up amongst us.

I had parippu, maalu and paan when the world shattered in loud noises of Mortars and 50 calibres. They hit us before the sun came up. We hoped against hope that the enemy will not strike with such cunning; he cut off our water and poisoned the well. We had no choice.

We had no water mother, but I had no time to complain to you nor my Sergeant whose shouts still reverberate. Commander fell before me; and he did not complain. He gave his last canteen to us before he breathed his last.

Why should I complain mother? No water for over two beautiful cloudless star filled nights; we gazed at them and laughed. 

We fight for our brothers besides us and nothing more. Those were laughs of nerves but we kept thinking of coming home soon on furlough Mother.

We did not give up mother; we did not; we fought to the last bullet and last grenade but were overrun and the last drop of water; they did not stop they did not stop.

I hope you get the money order mother; that is all I could do.

Hope it helps you buy the Pohora for next season.  I am sorry I will not be able to help you harvest bean fields this Wesak.

Don’t waste your tears on me mother; it was my choice to be a soldier.

I am sorry mother I am sorry. At least the crows will have a daaney today.

Afloat on the lagoon, I am sorry mother, I am.

I had no time before today to share my thoughts with you mother.

Now I lie in the lagoon; the crows picking my flesh in the scorching burning sun mother afloat on the lagoon with my brother afloat on the lagoon.

I am sorry mother”

Thoughts

At the 11th hour on the 11th day of 1918, the Armistice was signed silencing the guns of the “war to end all wars”. The number of  casualties in World War I, was around 40 million. There were 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded. The total number of deaths includes 9.7 million military personnel and about 10 million civilians. Two decades later, the old protagonists started another war.

In both cases one must make a note, that the ethnicity of the people engaging in this sort of savage war of conquests were White and predominantly Christian and in the other lovely war also included Eastern Japanese predominantly Shinto and Buddhist people who too committed unspeakable savagery. Thus destroying the argument Islam or some other religion is the one causing global mayhem. During World War II,  sacrifices of people from Colonial nations were collateral in support of the nations that ruled over them. The Indians, the Ceylonese, the Algerians and other French Africans(whose sacrifices were denied for decades by the white Christian French) didn’t count or were ignored in post war accolades.

That war of conquests, Lebensraum, conquests, and counter conquests resulted in over 60 million dead; about 3% of the 1940 world population (est. 2.3 billion at that time). The estimates aren’t even accurate; the number is closer to 80 million.

Claims of Aryan German superiority, Fascism and Japanese imperialism (who conveniently try to rewrite their history books to cover up and hide their savagery in the Eastern theatre of war) were defeated at the end at tremendous cost by a coalition of Capitalist imperialist nations and a Communist nation: which in turn butchered millions of their own in their fanatical Stalinist-Communist search for an utopian society. From Mao’s China, to the peasant communists in Cambodia millions more were killed, executed or tortured to establish the superiority of Communist dictatorships of the proletariat; for it to collapse into a heap of also-been in 1989. But millions slaughtered in the name of the Communist god were ignored by the people who profess a love for this ideological Deity. So religion isn’t always to blame.

Since then, Man has, created and deployed better technology to wipe the human race out if needed. Once again we stand with growing rhetoric and war mongering and fears of a nuclear war. What prevented s a nuclear holocaust after the 2 Bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the fear of mutually assured self-destruction. Suddenly in 2017, that assurance has been replaced by fear and uncertainty. Who between two crazy narcissistic persons threatening war and nuclear holocaust will be the first to press the button? Will a narcissistic man who used bone spurs an excuse to avoid serving, start a war? Or will a murderous paranoid tyrant who inherited his family seat in a dictatorship begin first?

In Sri Lanka, the guns of a protracted civil war, lasting  for nearly 30 years ended when the guns finally felt silent on May 18, 2009. There was no armistice. A stubborn and tenacious enemy also of brave men and women refused to surrender even when the writing was on the wall after Kilinochchi fell on January 8, 2009.

There was no dramatic surrender as on September 2, 1945, when the the land of the rising sun was humiliated into surrendering on the decks of the mighty battleship USS Missouri. That war ended only and only because “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th and “Fat man” on August 9, 1945.

In honor of Armistice day, these thoughts are shared originally written in Sinhalese translated within my limited Singlish capacity. It is by a Sri Lankan Veteran who saw comrades die in that war. May the guns forever be silent in Sri Lanka and may that be the last war to curse Sri Lanka.

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Latest comments

  • 2
    0

    Thanks, Mano Ratwatte,

    It reminded me of Wilfred Owen’s “Strange Meeting”.

    I can’t paste a link to one of the many Youtube readings.

    It doesn’t matter how one does it; we’ve got to get this message of the
    Futility of War across to all people.

  • 3
    0

    There is a lot of feeling there.Most of the time we harbour imaginary fears of being swamped by cultures with which we have no affinity, and those fears tend to hit the core of the soul.one cannot say it is totally baseless either. When the Madras famine happened in early 20 th C the British rather than providing relief were exporting grain from India. The original labour which helped to found the coffee plantations and later tea, was from labour that came from South India willing to work for little or no money as long as they received one meal a day. We have seen within living memory how people who came such a manner are now laying down terms to indigenous SRI Lankans. Forbears of People like Thondaman and recently Ganesan came over as virtual paupers and are now insisting on what kind of construction SL should have! Those are the vulnerabilities of an island nation always fertile and prosperous, but living next to a giant neighbour incessantly prone to famine,drought, and other natural disasters.As Nation SRI Lanka has to close ranks and work unitedly, forget about past perceived injustices,and forge ahead.For that we need strong leadership and unfortunately the present lot is only concerned with robbing the country.We need strong leadership.

    • 0
      0

      Thanks, Percy, for a comment which is good in parts.

      *

      Inaccuracy: No huge influx from South India “within living memory”, however. I think that they all would have got here by around 1930 (I haven’t checked). Our 1950s prosperity was owed to them.

      *

      I live amongst them in the hills. A bit frustrating not to be able to communicate fluently with them, although most younger guys can speak Sinhala.

      *

      I agree on the need for strong leadership; but for what? Those Tamils are now part of our Nation. We repatriated some about 1970 (Sirima- Shasthri). These guys are NOT laying down conditions. They are still backward in most spheres.

      *

      I know that you and I can claim that ALL our ancestors came a thousand or more years ago – but don’t Native Vedda and Amarasiri keep telling us, that we too are, ultimately, invaders. I don’t want to go in to my ancestry in detail in an open forum. Not just bad taste, it is unhealthy and is bound to cause REAL problems. Resentment doesn’t matter much – it’s I who will suffer.

      *

      You’ve started your comment OK, but then it becomes an attack on Upcountry Tamils. I’ve only HEARD Mano Ganesan. Wonderful command of Sinhalese. What more can we ask of him? Let’s forge ahead WITH them.

      • 2
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        Upcountry Tamils as we refer to them are SRI LANKAN people too. For no fault of their own, their ancestors were brought as serfs. But almost everyone now was born in SL. And they are still the backbone of the plantation economy. Their problems including severe alcohol abuse, gambling, incest are ignored by planners and politicians. Their own Union Political leaders use them to feather their nests and use them as chattel to vote for them to enrich themselves. They are Sri Lankans now. Take them out of the equation and SL will lose their Tea economy which still contributes about 10% of the export income. Why would we assault them and insult them? Mano Ganeshan is a leader for the future. They are backward because SL takes them for granted.

      • 0
        0

        Sinhala_Man,

        In every other country of the world, one’s race and its many mixtures are a cause for celebration, rather than kept in hush. Race is not “taste” (figuratively or literally). Guess you got the “taste” of the race-notion from the Anglican niche, as they wanted to stay one step above the general population – it has rubbed onto the general Lankan population. It is certainly not the innocent and unassuming Sinhalese who started this trend. Buddhists have a far higher view of human existence.

        In certain social-niches, some of our Lankans run around in crazed frenzy, with their hands on their heads, on race issues. Or they perfect the art of small-talk, inspersed with phrases of “taste” and “complex” with a quiver of smugness on who is who, and what is what.

        Dare yourself to stop these disgraceful parlour-room trends! Go Public! Tell the world in good grace who, and what your are. What better way is there to end the social-niche race-psychosis of our land. Eventually, as in the pre-colonial past, all will, and should, become Sinhalese (and Buddhist).

  • 3
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    I too agree that putting two atomics bobs in Japan ended the war. But how come USA become most respected and loved country by Japanese public and politicians today?? (I studied and worked in Japan for 10 years , that was in the peak time of Japan, early 90s.. so you have to trust me here)…
    Books like “Made in Japan, & ” Japan that can say NO” by Akira Morita, co-founder of Sony discuss about how Japanese started from scratch after the war and what role USA played then.. According to Morita, one of the earliest low-tech manufacturing they started was making “folks & spoons” (Japanese don’t use folk & spoons).. Using spacial quota system USA provided them, Japanese manufacturers were managed to completely bankrupt “folks & spoons” manufacturers in the USA by the end of 50s… They were tolerated and in my memory, this special Japanese quota system was functional till the mid or late 80s….. I guess this is how, by helping them to rebuild, US gained back the respect and love from Japanese after dropping two atomics bombs..
    The “Wish” you made at the end of your article won’t have any positive impact..Just Wishing is not enough.. Majority of the country should gain the respect & love, by doing things or acting on it, from the minority they govern… In my view, more than the USA after the WWII, SL majority government has larger responsibility here..

  • 4
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    Did Sri Lanka fought a Civil War with Tamils in the North? Are we not getting confused by using the word war to a fight our Defence Forces were ordered to stop. If we fought a Civil war to anihilate Tamils how come majority of Tamils still live in the South. Also, if we fought a Civil war how come people of Tamil origins held position e Secrateris, AG,, Police Inspector General and many served as Doctors and Engineers also as Ministers of the Government. Sri Lanka by mistake used the word War to a Terroristoutfit called LTTE. Did we called the killing of 12,000 Sinhala youth in 1971/1972, and approximately 88,000 Sinhala and few others in 1988/1999 as a Civil War. If we never had a Civil war in Sri Lanka how come Tamils are now falsely accusing our Defenxe members. If they like to charge Defence members then Sri Lankan government should charge KP, Paskaralingam, Karuna and all TNA members and each and everyone who contributed money to purchase weapons for the destruction of Tamils including Shivaji Ganeson. If not it is high time for Tamils to stop this circus. I must thank Mano for the good translation of a soldiers letter, as we lost 29,000 soldiers and Officers trying to stop this Terrorist outfit. Are we going to charge the Tamil Daispora for these war crimes?

  • 2
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    Gentlemen., the thoughts are mine but the poem was a loose translation from a trusted veteran who told me “Sir apith dhan honding innawa”.. I think this poem can be used for innocent Tamil Tiger girls and boys too. I am not making a value judgement. As for Japan, YES it is incredible. It is a huge success story for US diplomacy and democracy. I was just giving a snap shot in time. If Japan can reform then so can SL and India or even as of today Zimbabwe… Everyone can use their own interpretation. In Zimbabwe a man overlived his welcome using his so called revolutionary credentials and ruined his country. He wanted to hand power over to his wife Grace. I hope Zimbabwe can reform. In SL, MR should not have changed the constitution to run for power again. If he gracefully stepped down and retired there would have been a lot of thank yous . Japan indeed is a success story but it is also mostly monochromic because it is NOT a diverse nation. It does not have minorities and different ethnic groups. But it owes its success to the USA.

  • 1
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    Mano Ratwatte

    “May the guns for ever be silent in Sri Lanka”. A sincere thought by an honest writer. That is never to be.

    No sooner the Armistice was signed in 1918, Mao Tse Tung, leader of the Communist Party of China wrote a candid but virulent letter to the architects of the Armistice along these lines. You people think that you have done something great; war will break out in ten or twenty years. It happened. He was adverting to the humiliations heaped upon Germany, which were sure to bring about the inevitable backlash.

    The grating humiliations getting heaped upon the Tamils are sure to bring about an inevitable division. Lee Kwan Yew wisely and famously prophesied it after 2010.

    • 1
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      Good points to ponder. Each nation has to work out the dynamics and laws to protect ALL. Mindsets of individuals will not change but if LAWS change and LAWS Are ENFORCED in a more equanimous and fair way regardless to power or prestige or race or religion, nation may progress.

  • 1
    0

    Your wish will only come true the day all of us Sri Lankans are civilized enough to do away with arms and settle our differences through dialogue.

  • 1
    0

    Mano Ratwatte

    You are a man of peace, a decent man, a good Sinhalese (or is it a good Lankan)
    And so Tisaranee, Laksiri Fernando, Lionel Bopage, Native Veddah, Old Codger, the late Dr. Narendran – and who else??? I am sorry I cannot remember them all.

    It is the divisive, politically greedy yellow Mullahs who
    keep us divided. The late Ven. Madulwewe Sobitha Hamuduruwo got finally it – albeit late. But it was a start. Will Sri Lanka produce a Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela. With many faults Ranil may be the only one who can unite the
    divided nation. But will they allow him? They still call him a Christian
    I still recall the Bishop’s words “We were divided but now we are reconciled”
    When – or will we ever – go forward – hand in hand – towards that multi-coloured rainbow? Japan did, Germany did, Vietnam did. Why can’t we???

    Kettikaran

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