18 July, 2019

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When The Broken Lute Sings

By K. Navarasan –

Lodged somewhere in a crease between memory and forgetting is my stillborn Sri Lanka. I have it embalmed in a jar filled with nostalgia, faded photographs, and all the shattered verses in my heart that lament for the red earth and pouring rain in Jaffna. Every so often, I take out my jar and carefully study it under the dim moonlight of my emotions where reality and imagination dissolve each other.

navarasanThere is one memory so vivid that I no longer know if it is real or created in absentia. I am four years old sitting in a relative’s house along K.K.S. Road and the plaintive call of Ilaiyaraaja’s “ராசாத்தி உன்ன காணாத நெஞ்சு காத்தாடி போலாடுது” (My darling, the heart that has not seen you dances aimlessly as a kite) cools me in the heat of the mid-afternoon sun. I did not understand the words back then but the melody has buried itself deep in my memory. Years later, returning for the first time in 2003 and turning into my grandfather’s lane, I can barely hear the auto-rickshaw driver above the song pressing against the insides of my head. Even now, the slightest tune, accent and smell that reminds me of Jaffna uncloses me, perhaps much too easily according to some friends who I know are also hurting even if our reasons differ.

Tonight especially, my memory is like the moon, “…full and bright, so bright you can see all its scars.”

My remembering does not begin on May 18 when one man died or on May 19 when another man declared “victory”. 5 years and too many decades later, my own remembrance begins today instead, on May 20 – the first day after – when the crowds have dispersed, parades have ended, flags of all colours have been put away, banners rolled up again, the social media chatter has started to die down, galas and dinner-dances resume, and many in Sri Lanka have moved on ignoring the fact that while we may be a united country, we still remain a divided people despite the bright paint and smooth roads of the Northern Spring.

Today, I remember those lives lost on that damned beach and the tens of thousands of more lives lost over the years in lanes, fields, streets, lagoons, mosques, churches, trains and bus stations. I make myself remember even those who died still clothed in their skins of lions and tigers, and recall that it was also on this land that chivalrous kings once built lasting edifices commemorating the valour of the kings they defeated in battle. I do not have any words for the dead, only prayers that I offer in the Hindu kovils and Buddhist temples that I pass through in Southeast Asia, ironically during this of all months. I know words will not resurrect them but I hope my prayers will help their souls find some rest. I prostrate before the Buddha praying that He helps us conquer the many Maras that still run amok in our hearts and minds so that the Earth can bear witness to an empathetic, truthful, just and enlightened Sri Lanka in my lifetime.

Today, I also remember my responsibility towards the living – those survivors of a genocide – who continue to suffer grave injustices to their life, liberty and dignity. I remember the young men and women in Vavuniya and Kandy who have traded guns and capsules for pens and poems and struggle to pursue their dreams to get a university education; female heads of shattered households in Jaffna who drive auto-rickshaws to educate their children; widows in Kilinochchi who bravely organize themselves despite threats and surveillance; students in Mullaitivu whose smiles hide scars of war that are not always visible; the hardworking father living in a shack in Mullivaaikal who tells me with shining eyes that his daughter has taught him to finally read; former female rebel cadres, twice forsaken by those they fought against and those they fought for; illiterate and widowed sisters in Muttur prostituting themselves to support their children and their alcoholism; young wives looking for missing husbands; farmers who fight for rights to the land of their forefathers; and mothers, so many mothers from Point Pedro to Dondra still looking for missing sons and daughters.

In remembering those who are alive, I also catch the briefest glimpse of the dignified, autonomous future that is possible for them. I recognize that anything can be done to help them, no matter how small the gesture is or whatever labeling and pigeonholing that one is rewarded with in return, is needed now more so than ever before. I read somewhere once that a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members. To protect our most vulnerable citizens in Sri Lanka, then, is a duty that we have not only to them but also to each other. It is that duty that makes me a Muslim when mosques are attacked, a Sinhalese when disempowered citizens in the rural west lose their lives fighting big businesses and the state to simply access clean water, a Christian when churches are vandalized, and a student when poor students are arrested and taken away for demanding more financial aid.

It is this same duty that also makes all of us Tamils now regardless of where in Sri Lanka we were born, what language we speak, and what faith we practice. In the end, the legacy we leave behind for our children and our children’s children will be measured by how our generation answers the national question rightfully posed by our Tamil people. We have been granted a precious opportunity for our own redemption and regain that what we have lost – I hope we take it before it is too late.

The pouring rain over the years has not quite washed away your red earth, ராசாத்தி. One day, all our restless kites, frayed by factory jobs and long winters, mutated tongues in far-flung places too numerous to count, and voices hoarse from shouting in the streets and at each other, will come to rest in your lap. And on that day, I will break open the jar and breathe life into my stillborn Sri Lanka.

*Navarasan is a Canadian of Sri Lankan Tamil origin who has long had an interest in the places, people and politics of the country of his birth. He continues to support efforts that seek to provide justice, truth and peace for all the communities in Sri Lanka.

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Latest comments

  • 8
    0

    If if if ….

    If President Rajapaksa is a President for the whole country, for all its people

    Not motivated by considerations of consolidating power for the purpose of amassing illgotten wealth

    If he reads the thoughts expressed in this Article

    And realize the missed opportunities to do good

    And grasp the enormous damage he has done

    And above all if still inside his heart he is a decent human being holding himself responsible for his actions

    He will commit suicide.

  • 9
    1

    Nostalgia for the past, a deep understanding of the present and hopes for the future, encapsulated in words that wring my heart. Thanks.

    As to Indra’s ‘Ifs’. the biggest if would be for Mahendra, who calls himself Mahinda to become at heart a ‘MAHINDA’ (Emperor Asoka’s monk-son) and not aspire to become ‘ Dutu’Rajapakse.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 8
    1

    what is the Significance of the Tamil Comedian actor Nages’s picture, from the movie Thiruvilaiyadal. on this blog?

    • 1
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      He was the evergreen Navras Nayak of the Tamil film industry. Rajnikanth’s animation movie Kochadaiyan (else Kicchadiyan or Kachadayan) portrays him in nostalgics.

      • 0
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        Ah got it – the author is Narasan!
        Read the review of Kochadaiyan. Apparently disappointing technically

      • 0
        0

        I mean Author is Navarasan

  • 3
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    I think the whole of the Asia is 200 years behind the west in terms of respecting fellow citizen and human being, be it India or China or pakistan. We carry unwanted bags all the time and in the wreak self-havocs. The worst is the Srilankan.

    • 0
      0

      mani,
      If Sri Lanka is the worst stop being bothered about Sri Lanka. Nothing is going to change during your life time!

    • 0
      0

      Manispeakeran, you bloatedly nauseate much too, and is indeed in need of a paper bag.

      • 0
        0

        What else one can expect from a backward barbaric other than this BS

  • 3
    2

    .
    I remember the day last time I sang my national anthem in my mother tongue.

    R.I.P.

    :-)

    • 1
      0

      Thanks to the mother. But, at least do you remeber any part of the lyrics?

  • 4
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    manisekaran

    Why did Kaleinger lose?

    The reason for Congress party’s defeat according to some Tamils was its callous disregard for the life of innocent people who were cornered and killed in Mullivaaikkal.

    Do you agree with them?

    • 2
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      Yes, absolutely in the Veddish style.

    • 0
      0

      Kalaignar lost because your people (the Tamil Veddahs) & the Ahikuntiks betrayed him. Nauseatum, Abominatum, Veddum Gargantum.

    • 0
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      Yes, Congress was defeated in TN for its callous attitude towards Tamil in addition other auxilary reasons. Many think that Congress just lost in TN (which is 39 seat) but if one looks at larger picture, It was defeated in Many constituency where Tamils live in considerable size who could have been the difference to BJP victory. Example In Banglore atleast 3 -4 constituency, In Kerala Palakkad,Idukki and other areas. Mumabi Taravi, chemmanur and in AP, chitoor, Thirupathy. So my point atleast 60 seats congress lost due to Tamils aversion to Congress. There are 5 Million live outside TN and they too have influenced. Sure Congress would have done post-mortem and get to know this facts.

      For My Ph.D I have to spend time for next 3 months, amy not respond to you.

      Take care,

  • 1
    0

    A true and sad article;it was so touching;i wish we can all be soft hearted and be kind;simole and happy along with all communities.for a short time we live ;we are displaying our arrogance and hatred.why why is it ;;am sorry for all those who suffered;suffering and will suffer;may patience and gratitude be our criteria

  • 1
    0

    Thank you sir for this essay. I hope your memories live for ever, of a just Lanka where empathy flourished in every street corner – be it in the red earth of Jaffna or the green jungles of Rathnapura.

    May the diaspora Tamils get to hear memories of peaceful co-existence among Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others.

    May the Sinhalese of the deep South know of the times when tigers were four-legged and Tamils were friends they met in “chummeries” of the major cities and as their co-workers and friendly neigbours.

    May they yearn for the taste of thosai prepared as only a malai thamizh can, up in the hills of Nuwara eliya.

    May it be fashionable for Sinhala girls to learn bharatanatyam and Tamizh boys to learn Kandyan.

    May the bus passengers hurrying to work see the significance of the juxtaposed images of the Buddha, Saraswathi and Jesus sitting side by side above the windshield, emanating divine blessings on all – regardless of race or religion.

    • 4
      1

      sinhalese buddhist

      May the Sinhala/Buddhists unlearn what they learned over the past 100 or so years which they effectively put into practice remembering that:

      This land is not exclusively theirs.

      This is not a Sinhala/Buddhist one nation.

      Periodic violence against minorities is unacceptable and willing to say sorry.

      Looting, destroying their properties is wrong.

      Burning down Library is wrong

      War crime is wrong and should be independently investigated.

      Tyranny of the majority is wrong and unacceptable.

      ………..
      ………
      ……..
      Law and order is more important than kiri bath and kavun.

    • 0
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      Amen.

    • 0
      0

      …and the blessings of the 330 million uncounted deities of the fortune yearning Sinhala Buddhists.

  • 1
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    Native veddah

    I just gave you a thumbs up! You are right – this land is just an island in the middle of a major ancient sea route, and as such has been the host of many many races since millenia. Thus it does not belong to any one or two particular races. It belongs to ALL who live there.

    Kuveni cast a damning spell on Vijaya and his descendants for having forsaken her, his first wife and the rightful heir to the land, for an imported bride. Perhaps that’s the beginning of all our problems!

    Her two children are supposedly the ancestors of the Veddhas, whom you seem to identify as your race.

    My prayer is that all of us peacefully co-exist on this Lanka, without any intimidation or violence. No one should fear for their lives in the land of their birth, regardless of what we call it Ilangai, Sri Lanka or Ealam.

    Nahi verena verani – sammanti’dha kudacancam
    Averenacasammanti – esa dhammo sanantano – Dhammapada

    translation: Hatred never ceases through hatred in this world; through love alone does it cease. This is an eternal law.

    The Jathaka Story:
    A husband had two wives, one barren, the other fruitful. The former, actuated by jealousy, mixed a drug in the latter’s food and caused two successive abortions. On the third occasion the potion
    killed both the mother and fetus. The dying woman willed vengeance on her killer and her offspring, and she carried out her resolve. The other too did likewise. Thus both women avenged themselves in the course of two successive births. In their third birth circumstances, however, compelled both to meet the Buddha, who pacified them by advising them not to retaliate.

    • 1
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      Singbodista,

      “Kuveni cast a damning spell on Vijaya and his descendants for having forsaken her, his first wife and the rightful heir to the land, for an imported bride. Perhaps that’s the beginning of all our problems!”

      Vijaya has been womanizing since the last un-updated records of Dweebawangisa. The bugger had several notorious concubines along the Deccans trek, until he ended up with a tart in the Mandalay living a futile life till he sublimed to death.

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