Nanda Wanninayaka – (Column 02 on November 10, 2018 – From Palmyra Peninsula) (This was originally written a couple of months ago but I was deliberately waiting till a General Election or a Presidential Election was called to publish this piece. Now that the first option has come into effect, here I publish it.)
I am not trying to explain how the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka happened and the different perspectives to its root causes. I am only going to talk only about how I perceive it. I was born in 1972 in the village of Mahawilachchiya (in Anuradhapura District of Sri Lanka) bordering the Wilpattu National Park. Velupillai Prabhakaran, who went on to create and lead the Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – L. T. T. E.) and waged a bloody war on all communities of Sri Lanka) got his first human target late Mr. Alfred Duraiappah, an SLFP MP in 1975. I was just 3 years old by then. When the real Civil War in Sri Lanka broke out in 1983 I was a 11-year-old schoolboy. Therefore, I can remember most of the sequences and developments of the ethnic war after the infamous “Black July” in 1983 into a fully-fledged civil war, that hampered the development of Sri Lanka into a possible regional economic power by dragging the country down literally to the Stone Age.
I never expected this futile war to end during my lifetime or during that of my son’s for that matter. But, thanks to the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and the brave armed forces, the police force, the Civil Security Force and the citizens at large who sacrifices the unimaginable, the war ended for good on May 18, 2009, before my son celebrated his first birthday. What a relief? Endless attacks on civilians in so-called “border villages,” heinous acts of killing civilians in public transportation systems, constant bomb blasts inside almost all high security zones, suicide attacks on dignitaries, air raids on Colombo etc., kept the whole nation anxious and alert and the people were tormented for almost three decades. War was that horrendous and it was a welcome decision that the former President Rajapaksa took, to take the Tigers head on, not from the tail like the other ineffective and cowardly leaders did since 1975. Mr. Rajapaksa sent the Tigers to the right place, the dustbin of the “bloody” history. This is why former president commands a lot of respect – despite the fact that he was allegedly corrupt and violated human rights – from the people islandwide, especially the people who were directly affected by war. Me being a person who comes from a so called “border village” – Mahawilachchiya – a farming settlement inside the government controlled area but on the edge of LTTE’s haven, i.e., the sprawling Wilpattu National Park from three sides of the village, I have every reason to praise Mr. Rajapaksa for his daring act of taking a stern decision to finish the terrorists’ war with counter war, if not counter terrorism.
I know a lot of atrocities must have happened during the war, especially towards the last few days of the war. There could have been killing civilians, raping women, robbing valuables from fleeing civilians, etc. During the ancient wars, this was called “the spoils of war.” Killing men, raping women, enslaving children, looting treasure were part and parcel of war. It is true that the modern-day wars should be fought by keeping with the human rights accords, etc., with least damage to the civilians. But this is the last thing one could expect during a war. There are no such things called “war crimes” for what happens during a war. War itself is a crime and the smart thing to do was (and is) to take every effort to prevent a war, not to let a small misunderstanding to grow into a national issue and develop into a full-scale war like the late president Mr. J. R Jayewardene and his successors did. What I believe is there is nothing glorious about a winning a war, especially if it is fought with your own countrymen. The most glorious thing is to live in peace with every ethnic groups.
In fact, the 3-decade-long rancorous war was not Tamils’ war or Sri Lanka’s war. It was by no doubt India’s war. The hitherto peaceful, studious, hardworking Tamil boys and girls were dragged into a bloody civil war by India against their own fellow citizens in Sri Lanka. It was India’s disastrous foreign policy against her neighbors that was turned into an ethnic war during the late Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. With India’s secret spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW,) she misread the political situation in Sri Lanka and manipulated it into a full-scale civil war. As I see it, (I strongly believe I am right) Indira did not like the newly elected Sri Lankan president J. R. Jayewardene’s Open Economic Reforms that opened up the door for investors in the West that could create a rapid economic development in the island nation. The open economy could have easily made Sri Lanka the economic powerhouse in South Asia, just like Singapore did in the South East Asia. Mr. Jayewardene enjoyed a huge mandate of 5/6ths of enormous majority in the parliament and he only wanted a vicious Indira Gandhi to upset his apple cart and that of the country. And she was up to it and absolutely successful at that. (India would sarcastically brush off this claim stating that India was already a super power and Sri Lanka was not a significant player when it comes to the former’s economic realms to wash her hands-off Sri Lanka’s misfortunes.)
India, being a more leftist patriarchy with a soft corner to Soviet Union and the rest of the communist world, was a far slow economy with her ill-advised “License Raj” approach to domestic production of goods and services, was upset when she came to know that Sri Lanka had an open minded and a futuristic leader in the capacity of J. R. Jayewardene who had stronger links with the White House than with the Rastrapti Bhawan or Kremlin for that matter.
It is customary and “politically correct” to a Big Brother like India to harass a tiny island nation like Sri Lanka if the former takes the latter as a threat economically or otherwise. It happens elsewhere too. The USA – Cuba, Ukraine – Crimea, China – Hong Kong, etc. are the living examples to prove my point.) But being politically correct does not necessarily mean it is the right thing to do. Besides, fostering terrorists has been compared with nursing the serpents for the time immemorial by the visionaries and Mrs. Gandhi was so irrational not to understand that universal truth and decided to turn the Tamil boys who were very peaceful and committed to whatever work they took on to a terrifying terrorist outfit in the name of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE.) Let us not discuss how the LTTE crushed its brotherly terrorist outfits to be the so-called sole representative of the Tamils here.
Mrs. Gandhi used its southern powerhouse (Tamil Nadu) lead by M. G. Ramachandran (MGR) an actor-turned stupid politician who did not know much about politics than being the emblematic knife-wielding movie hero he was cracked up to be on the silver screen. He knew pretty well that it was easy to change the mindset of the Tamils in Tamil Nadu who were docile enough to treat their sly political leaders (especially actor turned politicians) as demigods.
The result, my friends, was MGR’s Tamil Nadu becoming the cradle of Tamil Tigers with the full blessings of Mrs. Gandhi. And the lambs to the slaughter were the poor Tamil boys in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. Later the whole Northern and Eastern Provinces were infected by the deadly terrorism. Sri Lanka, being such a promising country with a lot of economic and other developmental opportunities, went to the labyrinths of endless terrorism as a result.
If Mrs. Gandhi believed in self-governance and promoted it, she should have offered Khalistan, the de facto nation that the Sikhs fought for, on a platter. But she didn’t. Instead she spearheaded a brutal war that killed both the terrorists – yes, I call anyone who breathes the air of a country and drinks its water and eats its fruits and fights for parts of the same land terrorists – be it Tamil Tigers, Sikhs, Tamils, Talibans, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, ISIS, etc., whatever – and the civilians in Punjab saying that their claim for a Khalistan was illegitimate. How can she advocate self-determination for Tamils in the North and East of Sri Lanka and say no to the Sikh terrorists who claimed more or less the same for the same reasons? She went ahead with the controversial attack of reducing Amritsar’s Golden Temple, the holiest place of worship of Sikhs, almost to rubble (and finally paid for it by being brutally gunned down by two Sikh bodyguards of her own security cordon.)
Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination should have reduced the calamities in Sri Lanka if a smart and visionary leader succeeded her. Unfortunately, it was her own son, Rajiv Gandhi who had nothing but the being son of the slain Mrs. Gandhi and the grandson of late. Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru as the only qualifications to rise to the thrown – ascended to power in the aftermath of this avaricious woman’s death and later went on winning the General Election also by a big margin, mainly of sympathy votes, something the subcontinent is cursed with. Mr. Gandhi resumed from where his mother left and went onto reinforce the support RAW, India’s notorious secret service was providing for the Tamil boys in the North and East of Sri Lanka. (For documentary and pictorial evidence just read Professor Rohan Gunaratna’s Indian intervention in Sri Lanka: The role of India’s intelligence and Shenali Waduge‘s articles on the subject. Just rummage through the web and you would find scores of them). If you think these two authors are biased for the fact that they are Sinhalese and Sri Lankans, read the books written by some of the Indian journalists, ex-diplomats assigned to Sri Lanka, ex-RAW personnel, ex-military high ranking officers, etc. and those of the independent sources to see how foxily Mr. Gandhi manipulated and escalated Sri Lanka’s cursed civil war.)
Proving the theory of proverbial nursing serpents, Rajiv Gandhi was paid with what he richly deserved, being blown into pieces by a Tamil woman who was allegedly gang-raped by India’s forcibly-sent Indian Peace Keeping Force – (IPKF,) on the former’s way to make it to the PM’s chair once again at a victorious election rally in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu. (Don’t think I am happy to hear that these unscrupulous politicians paid for what nasty things they supported. I feel for every human soul, but one should be human enough to deserve such a sympathy. Being part of or masterminding massacres of civilians or even soldiers or terrorists for that matter, is no trivial matter. There are better ways to solve regional politics without resorting to the devastating terrorism.)
See what happened to the then internally stable Pakistan after creating Talibans to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan with the US money. See what happened to Afghanistan after the creation of Al Qaeda by the United States who also fought for American interests in Afghanistan. See what happened to Iraq, Libya and Syria after the advent of the ISIS terrorist outfit that was allegedly created by the United States. They all turned back and waged war on their very creators.
So, after a lengthy explanation, let me come back to the title of this essay. “Does Sri Lanka Really Need a Federal Solution?” A big NO, is my one and only answer and I won’t change this for any reason. Why? I am no political analyst or an expert on political science. The only academic qualification I have to talk about political science is the mere “C” pass I obtained for Political Science at high school level. All the rest comes from my own experiences and extensive reading about politics.
Sri Lanka does not meet any of the criteria that a federal state requires. We are a small island nation with enough access to any part of the island within a couple of hours. We don’t have the divisions some other countries have within ourselves, i.e., Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. We were living peacefully and our cultural heritage and religious beliefs are very close to each other and we share the same faith or reverence to places like the Adam’s Peak, Kataragama and Nallur rather than fighting each other to claim the ownership of those holy places to each ethnic groups like it happens with Jerusalem in the Middle East. Christians, Jews and followers of Islam are fighting for it while we harmoniously climb Adam’s Peak holding hands with each other respecting each other’s beliefs that it is their respective holy messengers’ footmark that lies up there.
I have seen how so-called intellectuals, both local and international, bring about various logic to prove that Sri Lanka needs a federal solution to solve its “nonexistent” ethnic issue. All three communities in Sri Lanka suffer because of the corrupt governments and corrupt politicians we keep electing. We are discriminated not because of our race. All three communities suffer because of the dirty politicians’ shortsighted decisions. Rich becomes richer and the poor becomes poorer. Rather than treating each other enemies, we should understand that it is our poverty and ignorance that these politicians manipulate and we should unite and fight them, not ourselves. All three races are equally ill-treated by successive governments since the Independence in 1948. Those governments included politicians from all three communities and they held high offices in them. The only thing they did was looking after their own welfare rather than that of the citizens’ whom they were voted in by.
There are talks of how bags of dollars changing hands in the process of advocating a federal solution to Sri Lanka but I have no proof. At least nobody paid me to write this piece. I am not a big fan of Professor Nalin de Silva. But I do believe in at least two of the many theories he kept advocating. What he said long before the things got worse and complicated in Sri Lankan polity was
He said something to the effect of,
There is no solution other than a military solution to fight the terrorism and the military can definitely defeat the terrorists in Sri Lanka.
If the government kneels down before the terrorists and agrees to create a separate state for Tamils (Eelam,) from the next day onward, there would be an endless border war.
He was (and is) correct. Without an official state, the Tamil Tigers had an almost conventional army, a sizable navy and a tiny air force, something that no other terrorist organization in the rest of the world ever had. Imagine what could have happened if they had a federal state that would definitely upgrade itself to a legitimate sovereign nation, how strongly the Tamil Diaspora and the West pumped money and technology to initiate and sustain an unending border war. Sri Lanka would have been the “Israel of the Indian Ocean” and the chaos would have kept going in Sri Lanka till humans started civilizations in Mars!
On August 11, 2016, Meer Ali and I woke up early and headed to Yala National Park. We hired a safari jeep and traversed the park. Didn’t see as many wild animals as I used to see in Wilpattu National Park which is close to my village, Mahawilachchiya. A couple of wild elephants, wild boar, wild buffaloes, deer, crocodiles, big and small types of lizards, birds, etc. were seen but, to be honest, I wasn’t impressed with what Yala had to offer me. Maybe because of my first love is with Wilpattu.
Kirinda beach was beautiful and so were the makeshift huts that sold seashells, etc. We spent quite a time on the beach taking pictures. We left Kirinda around 11.30 am and again it was riding on dead straight newly repaired roads and a rider is naturally tempted to break the speed barrier despite the highway patrol present or rather hiding in ambush in hidden spots every 10 km or so.
There was this place which a lady sold kirala juice (kirala – Sonneratia caseolaris) and I stopped the bike just out of curiosity. It was found to be a very tasty drink and I had two glassfuls while Meer was contented with one. It was cheap and organic too. I do not know why we don’t promote coconuts, wood apple, kirala, orange, etc. juices instead of carbonated drinks. I can understand people drinking the carbonated drinks in the countries where there are less local fruits but in Sri Lanka, you get seasonal fruits from different terrains of the island no matter what season. Unfortunately, soda makers have been able to advertise in a way that the youth indulge in these unhealthy carbonated drinks.
On the way through the Galle Road we spent some time at a naval monument at Tangalle. I first thought this was a monument to remember the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami but it was not to be.
Meer Ali was excited when I took him to Matara beach as he was a fan of the legendary cricketer, Sanath Jayasuriya who was christened as “Matara Mauler” by the sportswriters and cricket commentators due to his hard-hitting batting style which made Sri Lankan team a formidable unit that could beat any cricketing nation during his time. Once, former Pakistani cricketer and the present cricket commentator, Rameez Raja used the word “carnage” to describe Jayasuriya’s batting. Whenever he went for a big score, it was just a ritual for the rest of the match to end up Sri Lanka winning. Jayasuriya was a product of Matara. Meer paused for a few shots on my motorbike on Matara beach.
When I passed Weligama, it was impossible not to remember Rekha, a pretty Nightingale whom I worked with at Asiri Hospital, Colombo 05. Hers was the sweetest smile I had ever seen. I could remember that she was from Weligama, this small coastal town but didn’t know any contact details of her. Besides, I had last seen her some 20 years ago.
It was around six in the evening when we passed Weligama and riding at night through Gall Road was not fun as most Sri Lankan motorists don’t use the dipped beam or the traffic beam of their head lamps and in an inconsiderate manner, almost always use their country beams to dazzle any oncoming fellow motorist. They simply drive with headlights on and you get mad when you get those high flash lights directly on your face. This is not considered as a serious traffic offence by the police, too. I get very irritated when the people do so but it will take eons for the Lankan motorists to learn this and become cultured motorists.
We stopped several times on the way to have tea, but my favorite was coffee. Coffee is my cup of tea 😊.
Riding some monotonous 150 km bracing myriads of non-dipping main beams of oncoming traffic, along the island’s south western coast we reached the metropolitan Mount Lavinia and were put up in a small hotel for the night. Usually riding such a long distance on a motorbike could be strenuous to a rider but when you have a companion like Meer who was a rare sort of guys when compared with most Indians, you don’t feel the discomfort of the journey. We both sang Hindi songs on the way and he was surprised that I knew more Hindi songs than he did. He said he never felt that he is away from India with Hindi songs being played in almost all small towns we passed. I find both Hindi and Spanish languages are very lyrical and this is why I love them. I had a chance of securing a lucrative job opportunity in Japan if I were ready to learn Japanese but if I will have to learn a second language other than English, it would be Hindi or Spanish. Not Japanese and not French at all even if I am to contest for the post of General Secretary of the United Nations!
Nanda Wanninayaka on Bajaj Pulsar 200 (A file photo)
I have been riding motorbikes for over 30 years now. It is the most fascinating pastime for me, maybe next to horse-riding. (It is too early to take horse-riding a pastime because I don’t own one, not yet.) I started motorbike riding with a Honda C70 model motorbike my eldest brother bought for the family and then went into riding other models the friends use too. I bought my first motorbike, a stunning Bajaj Pulsar 200, made in India, the talk of the town those days and then kind of downshifted it to Bajaj Pulsar 150 in a folly without a valid reason. That unlucky Bajaj Pulsar 150 is now rusting away in a garage after it faced its second terrible accident. (First one happened by my brother-in-law.) I am hoping to salvage it by spending another 30,000 (195 USD) to 40,000 LKR (260 USD.) Let’s see how it goes.
What follows is the narrative of the five major bike accidents I met with still lived to tell the five successive stories.
The first mishap took place when I was still in my teens and had not even been licensed to ride a motorbike. I was riding my eldest brother’s Honda C70 with my younger brother, Aruna as pillion. We were riding on the Suriyadamana Road. I was as thrilled and free as a bird as this was a time I could enjoy daredevil things away from the watchful eyes of my other elder brother (Upali Aiya) who was hot-tempered and would be mad if he saw how fast I rode. With both Aruna and I frenzied with the new-found freedom, I was on the top speed and was singing “Zindagi Ek Safar” (the famous Bollywood song superstar Rajesh Khanna sang while riding the bike with his screen sweetheart on the pillion in the movie Andaz) as this was the song that surrounded my mind whenever I sped on a motorbike. The Sinhala language song of the same tune was also popular with charismatic Sri Lankan superstar Vijaya Kumaranatunga as the lead role.
The frenzy did not last that long. There was a sharp bend when you passed the public cemetery and I had no control at all when I tried to negotiate the corner and the bike got almost airborne and the rider and his pillion unceremoniously landed up on a heap of coconut leave decorations that had been used for decorations in a cemetery ceremony a few days earlier. I knew I was unharmed and was not sure if my younger brother was. He was not to be seen. It was then he, too, emerged from the heap of coconut thatches decorations and found to be unhurt. Maybe we both were saved because the heap of coconut thatches absorbed the impact and cushioned us. The bike’s front was damaged a lot and we could still manage to ride home the disfigured bike. I was waiting to see my elder brother going into a rage and barge at me but au de contraire, a calm elder brother told us just to be careful next time. This was the first big accident I had with a motorbike.
I was newly married and the nuptial couple were proceeding from the hilly and cool Badulla, or in other words, my better-half, a small-time beauty if I may classify her so, and I were on my younger brother Aruna’s Bajaj Pulsar 180 bike. Road from Badulla via Mahiyanganaya and Polonnaruwa was not in an acceptable state of repair those days but we so far had no problem even though I rode at top speed. We stopped several times on the way for snacks and meals and it was a beautiful sunny day with a gentle breeze – ideal condition for biking. Road was long yet I wasn’t tired and my better-half, too, enjoyed the ride in the pillion. I had been advised by several people not to take such long bike rides and instead use the public transport which was less expensive and less risky. But I was (and am) not the one who pays heed to others, especially in things related to my favorite hobbies. We started early from Badulla’s salubrious hills and it was around afternoon when we reached Habarana, the lush monsoon jungles. From Habarana to Anuradhapura, the marvel of ancient civilizations besides being my native territory, we came even faster because the desired destination, Mahawilachchiya, my native village, was closing in. We thought of taking the road passing Anuradhapura Air Force Camp (aka Northern Camp) and there was a bend of which no notice was taken by me as the corner materializing ahead seemed insignificant compared to the large number of bends we had just been negotiating all along the winding stretches I took from the mountainous Badulla to Loggal Oya on the plains. So, I misjudged that this was something very simple and too small to be treated as a noteworthy bend but the bend thought otherwise. It gave such a resistance and bike took its own control as gravity dictated, and not my frantic anti-gravity inputs to control the machine. It somewhat veered and a kind of careened and dragged itself on the tarmac and my precious cargo, the pillion passenger was thrown asunder from the bike first and me next. When I collected my senses in a rather dizzy way, I first looked at my wife to see if she were unharmed and beheld she was sedentary on the middle of the road and laughing out loud as she used to be. We both were all right saving some bruises in me and the bike was only slightly damaged. One has to be really in the good books of the providence above, to be able to walk away unharmed from such a grave mishap caused by sheer disrespect for Sir Isaak Newton’s laws of gravity.
The other day, in 2010 I was riding my own Bajaj Pulsar 200 Rocket and I was impatient as I was to see our one and only son, Abhilash after some time. My being emotionally overly eager to be with the child eclipsed my thoughts focusing solely on the bike’s controls and the traffic on the road from Isurupaya, Battaramulla in the metropolis to sub-urban Ja -Ela where my son lived with his mother. I was day-dreaming how to take the child in my arms, take him on the bike, tell him bedside stories at night, and so on. But I was still riding between Borella Junction, a principal roundabout in Colombo city, and the Welikada signal lights. All of a sudden, the bike back-ended a car and it was all my fault as I was behind the car and lucky for the car, nothing much happened as it had a strong buffer. I fell off the bike and could not get up till the driver in the car stopped it and came and gave me a helping hand. I explained to the driver my reason to speed and he being a, considerate man let me go without making a big fuzz out of it. It was a drizzly evening and I should have known better how to ride in such a wet weather condition. Besides, roads in Colombo are perennially greasy due to constantly leaking fuel from vehicles and one should be extremely cautious when riding or driving on Colombo’s metropolitan roads.
Real Michael Jackson, till I find a photograph of my friend “Local Jackson” I will use this for this post.
This was the most bizarre accident I met with. It happened in 2016. To begin with this episode, I could safely say that the great greedy Greek divine, Bacchus has failed to impose a bacchanalian lifestyle upon me. I partake in intoxicating spirits very rarely, and only if a good company is found at that, and I possess enough courage to say no to any drinking party if I am not in the right mood or if I think the company incompatible with me as far as imbibing is concerned. But on this particular day I was silly enough to drink with Sampath (aka Michael Jackson, due to his Jackson mania and Jackson imitations in his youth) during the bright day light, and that is a thing I never do. He brought some strong alcohol and I am a person who hardly get drunk even with the toughest stuff. I hear this is not something to brag about when it comes to drinking and the ones who do not get intoxicated easily have stronger livers and kidneys to filter away the toxic material that is alcohol various denominations of which were apparently invented and made use of among warring peoples. Despite its somniferous medicinal quality of inducing sleep, its misuse can make imbibers go berserk with its narcotic characteristic anesthetizing the drinker to commit inhuman acts, and it is what the wise say and I, am one such. (Once, at my nephew’s wedding I drank a little more than half of a bottle of hard liquor at Ranorawa, a small hamlet in Anuradhapura, and had a lavish meal and followed by a good shower to cool down the stuff running in my circulation and rode my Bajaj Pulsar 200 up to Kahathuduwa, Piliyandala via Puttalam road, some 220 kilometers and did not have any hiccup on the long ride since I was as fit as a fiddle even after gulping down such a big amount of tough stuff.) However, after the drinking session with ‘Jackson’ he implored me to have lunch with him but I declined and started to ride back home, Mahawilachchiya. It is said that one should not drive without having a meal and get exposed to the wind after a drink as both the acts catalyze the intoxicating process. I brushed off such talks and continued riding. I started feeling sleepy while riding but was okay till Oyamaduwa Junction and took the roundabout properly and all I could remember from there was that the speedometer marked a lot more than 100 kmph and I was on a daze. Bang! I heard I was hitting something big and hard and I was thrown off onto the right side of the road and the bike was on the left side of the road. To make things a comedy of errors, I fell asleep soundly just after the accident. Then I could remember a Buddhist monk coming and helping me to stand up and asking if I needed any medical attention. I said no and thanked the monk for helping. In fact, what had happened was that there was a used-up barrel of tar, filled with soil and placed on the middle of the road to prevent vehicles getting into trouble by falling into the big pot hole created in the middle of the road, during floods. It had been marked with yellow stripes but I was in a differently luminous world by that time and did not have the sobriety sense to see it. I broke my collarbone (which had already been fractured by another silly fall while riding inside a garden at a speed less than 5 kmph) and still I am deprived of playing cricket, my favorite game, for two consecutive years due to this fracture.) After this, I decided never to drive drunk even if I feel totally comfortable. It is putting others’ lives in danger than that of mine. Moreover, I decided not to drink alcohol except Wild Apple beer, which was introduced to me by a foreign friend of mine which is quite harmless and not bitter like other brands of beer. Thus, I have said goodbye all other alcoholic beverages.
Nanda Wanninayaka on Bajaj Pulsar 150 (A file photo)
The fifth and the most recent accident was inevitable and it happened on October 22, 2017. I knew it even before I mounted the iron horse that fateful day. I wanted to go to Colombo to submit my visa application for the then impending trip to Ecuador. But I was never ready for this as I did not feel fit enough for such a ride. You could say that I should have taken public transport if I was not comfortable with it but even if I did, I would still have knocked down by a vehicle even while walking that day as I was never fit or ready for this day. I wanted a good night’s sleep but my elder sister, who worries about me much more than I or anyone else on earth does, kept nagging me that I should come back from Ranorawa the previous evening and go to Colombo the next day. I was annoyed as I wanted to rest at Ranorawa with my other sister and her children and the cute grandchild but it was not to be due to constant coaxing from my sister. So, I had to forget everything and retrun to Anuradhapura the same evening and without a good rest or sleep had to ride to Colombo, 200 km far down, early morning the next day. I passed Dambulla (64 km), Kurunegala (110 km), Alawwa (132 km), and I was surprised why I didn’t still have the inevitable accident! Because I knew it would happen and it was inevitable. Passed Warakapola (147 km,) Weweldeniya (148 km) and Nittambuwa (157 km), still I was riding but knew it was imminent. Opposite Imbulgoda (168 km) fuel station, I saw a small sign board on the road side saying that they sell Katu Anoda (Prickly Custard Apple) juice and I went ahead, turned to the other side of the road and came back to the fruit juice stall by turning the bike the proper way. Bang!!! That was all what I heard and the thud was so strong it made me deaf for a while and I felt I was rolling with the bike several times round by round and then it stopped right on my chest. (While I was rolling, all that came to my mind was if I died or got crippled, what would happen to my son?) I could not move a muscle as the whole weight of the iron horse was on my body. People around later said that they thought I was done for! Anyway, I gathered the strength and tried to move the bike off my chest and then a few people who gathered there helped me. They were furious about the school bus driver who hit me from behind for the simple reason that he could not control his speeding and they were trying to harass him. I told the people to see if the kids in the school bus were hurt first. Luckily, they had survived the jerk and were unhurt. Having heard the news, the owner of the bus also came to the spot and asked if I should be taken to a hospital. I told him that I was not that hurt at that moment and there was less pain but the pains would increase by the evening for sure. Scruples notwithstanding, I rather let them leave the scene of accident or rather a traffic crime (where in fact both parties were guilty) because if this case were to be reported to the police the poor bus driver (his wife had just delivered a baby a few days back according to the driver) would have to lose work for a few days. Besides, I was to go to Ecuador and the last thing we both wanted was a court case dragging sine die. Therefore, we settled the case amicably and the bus owner gave me 20,000 LKR as damage – that was all what he could muster and I accepted it even though I knew already this would cost me a little fortune when I go to the repairer. A real gentleman, a Grama Sewaka (a village headman) called Mr. Wipula Jayawardhana who was extra helpful in assisting me after the accident took me to his home and gave me food and accommodation for the night. This is the typical Sri Lankan hospitality that is displayed anywhere in Sri Lanka. My condition worsened by the evening and I had to return home the next day and the bills of medical checkups alone cost me around 15,000 LKR (97 USD.) And the cost of replacing the digital meter of the bike alone costs 15,000 LKR (97 USD) and I am not sure when I would be able to afford to repair the bike.
The bike after the accident
The Sixth Misadventure – hopefully the final … … …
This is yet to happen and let’s hope that I would stay alive at least till I report it. Anyway, I am extra careful in riding motorbikes mainly because I either borrow or hire bikes now. I had to sell my last bike for a song and waiting to buy the next iron-horse, this magnificent Bajaj Pulsar 200 NS. I am not too sure if I would have the same patience once I mount my own bike though.
Bajaj Pulsar 200 NS
A selection of motorcycle safety URLs (Thanks Sunil Rutnayake for these links and editing my post.)
Ernesto Che Guevara, the Argentine revolutionary (fondly named as Che) was a big inspiration to me while I was a teenager. Though I was born into a family of conventional socialist communist values, I also admired Che more than I did Lenin. My late father being a member of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka from its inception, our home was full of Soviet communist literature translated into Sinhala that were directly sent from the former Soviet Union. I grew up reading Soviet fairy tales as a kid and then I had the capacity of reading and comprehending hardcore communist doctrines that were sent in huge volumes as I was an avid omnivorous reader ever since I could read the Sinhala alphabet. (I could not read a decent English book till I was 25.) I had the luck of reading much-loved Soviet revolutionary novels and short stories at a very young age. Oh, I cherish those good old days. Being an inexperienced and immature kid in 80’s, I believed that all those propaganda literatures was 100% true and the Soviet Union was the Heaven on Earth. But within the next decade (to be exact between 1990 – 1991) I saw the great Soviet Empire collapsing and reducing into rubbles and a cake baked into the real size and the shape of the Founding Father of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin was cut into slices and eaten by the Russians themselves. My dad was lucky enough not to be alive to see such horrific scenes as he left the planet in 1989, a year before the great collapse of the Soviet Union started.
Coming back to Che, I read about him from some (mostly hidden) books my eldest brother Nayanasena Wanninayaka used to bring when he came home during his vacations from his higher studies. For me, Che was more attractive, charismatic and sexier than any of the other revolutionaries, be it Lenin, Mao or Fidel. But I did not find much to read about Che except for the few weekend newspapers articles published during his birth and death anniversaries. Che was not a welcome word in my village, Mahawilachchiya, where a big-time massacre of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) cadres said to have taken place in 1971, a year before I was born. The dead bodies of the JVP cadres were dragged by police jeeps in ropes and put into public display during Rohana Wijeweera’s failed rebellion in 1971. The JVP cadres were commonly known as “Che Guevara guys” (චෙගුරා කාරයෝ) those days by the people. So, people were that scared of Che, whom Wijeweera (blindly) followed. The books about both the Argentine and the Sri Lankan revolutionaries (Che and Wijeweera) were usually burnt as soon as they were read since it could always invite troubles. To make things worse, late Rohana Wijeweera again attempted to topple the government during 1988-89 and the whole country came into a standstill when his then banned party, the JVP imposed “a curfew” in the country and Wijeweera was only a few steps away from overthrowing the government. So, me being a teenager during that time meant a lot of risks and I had to hide my admiration to Che, the revolutionary. Besides hundreds of both military and government sponsored paramilitary troops were haunting at night everywhere in the country and in the morning, one could see slaughtered young men and women by the roadside. Rohana Wijeweera was apprehended by the government security forces and killed and burnt -some say alive – in 1989. The then President Late Ranasinghe Premadasa brutally annihilated the rebels after the invitation for peace talks by the former was completely rejected and ignored by the latter.
I read Malini Govinnage’s Che Guevara (මාලිනී ගෝවින්නගේ – චේ ගුවේරා,) a Sinhala language biography of Che in 2006 which was short and sweet. Then I read Ernesto Che Guevara’s The Bolivian Diary in a year or two later which gave me more insight into this amazing man’s life. I also could watch the movie The Motorcycle Diaries during the same period which depicts as to how Che’s sympathy with the downtrodden people started. Much later, I watched the two-part 2008 biopic named “Che” by the director Steven Soderbergh. This gave me much insight into the man than any of the aforesaid publications I mentioned. I fell in love with this as it used both feature and documentary style that did not end with a “suckumentary” as it happens with most of the hero-worshipping genres.
I am yet to read the other books written by and about Che and hopefully I would get the chance within the next couple of months as I too am eagerly getting ready to go to volunteer in some South American countries during the next 5 years. No, I will not try to imitate him as I cannot make up my mind even to kill a venomous serpent creeps into my house and mostly, I would make it go peacefully. So, killing is not my kind of revolution. It is more into educating the children and youth to make a difference in themselves and eventually, the rest of the world.
I am not in the right position to evaluate the place Che has been given in the history as I am not informed enough for getting into such a daunting task. All I can do as of now is to explore into the legacy the “Comrade Che” has left behind for me and the rest of the world.
Many adults in Sri Lanka are against the use of social media, especially Facebook, as they see only the negative sides of it. Public school principals and teachers are the most vociferous among them. But today I am going to talk about a public school principal who does a yeoman service for the students and the community in Mahawilachchiya.
He is none other than Mr. Kularathna Rajapaksha, a social servant in Mahawilachchiya. He started his career as a science teacher since he was still a high school boy. I was one of his students while I was in Grade 11. We had no science teachers during that time as most of the teachers in my alma mater, Thakshila Public School in the village got transferred to their villages. So, we had no science teachers to prepare us for the Ordinary Level (OL) exam which is held to identify which students can go for high schools. Kularathna came to our rescue by teaching us every weekend. The best thing about his teaching was that he had this special talent to teach most complicated areas in science like physics and chemistry in a very interesting way. Usually experienced and trained regular science teachers dreaded to teach those parts in science and only taught biology parts of the subject while this schoolboy-teacher showed us how easy those subject areas were. Thanks to him, a lot of students in our classes got good results for Ordinary Level (OL) national level exams.
Kularathna is 50 now and recently was promoted to the post of principal in Seevali Primary School in Mahawilachchiya. I am not too sure if the promotion as a principal will hamper his talents as a teacher. Too much administrative work has affected many good teachers.
Kularathna started his Facebook account in 2014, much later than I did but mastered the craft in no time. I can still remember his first Facebook post which he posted about the need of library books for Thakshila Public School where he then taught. The post brought a lot of donors donating books to the school and today the school library boasts of having 4,000 odd books. He did not stop there and constructed a separate building to store and read the books with the help of his donors and the members of the Civil Defense Force who volunteered with their labor.
School Library at Thakshila Public School
Banana plantation around the library at Thakshila Public School
Kularathna spends about 3-4 hours with Facebook on a daily basis. He does all his work through his old desktop computer, recently acquired laptop and the smart phone while taveling. He spends around 3,000 LKR (20 USD) monthly with his own funding. But he works for the others in the village. This is a good example for most of the ICT teaches in the country who do not do much with government sponsored 24X7 internet facilities at their computer labs with 30-40 PCs connected to internet.
Kularathna does not stop his duty by just donating money or resources. He ensures that the money and the resources he collects and disseminates are properly used. He visits the people whom he helps and monitors if the money is spent on the intended purposes. He has to spend a lot for traveling too. (I think it is the high time his donors work on reimbursing his internet, phone and fuel expenses. Otherwise he will end up broke just like I did.)
RO filter installed in Thakshila Public School
Kularathna’s biggest achievements are building a school library, building houses for those who cannot afford them, providing scholarships for the needy students, and providing RO water filters to the village. He does all these through the funds donated by both local and overseas Sri Lankans whom he befriends through Facebook. He has won the trust and the respect from those donors as he spends the money frugally and monitors the result of these interventions.
A house being constructed
Some people the village live i houses like these
When asked how the teenagers and the youth should use Facebook, his answer was “Use Facebook in such a way you educate you and work for the social good.” This is easier said than done though. Teenagers and the youth tend to use Facebook mostly for time and money consuming fun and have romantic relationships.
Groceries donated by some donors
Kularathna also says that the other teachers who use Facebook should use it in such a way that they improve their knowledge by subscribing to educational Facebook feeds and also changing the negative attitudes towards the social media.
Ongoing drought in and around Mahawilachchiya disturbs the villagers’ lives as they either do not have or cannot afford drinking water. Kularathna shared this with his Facebook contacts and they promptly collected funds and sent to Kularathna so that he could hire a small tractor with a plastic barrel and distribute drinking water totally free of charge to the villagers. Such is the trust he has gained from his donors.
Distributing drinking water in Mahawilachchiya
When asked what were his biggest challenges with FB and his community work, his answer was, “Not yet.” That is the spirit.
Aleksandar Isailović from Serbia and I were woken up by Jayaweera Jayasundara in the morning of May 17, 2017 as we had asked him to do so to see how his “students” practiced physical exercises early hours of the day in the village playground. Jayaweera arranged a three wheeler for us and I felt bad as to why we can’t walk while others in the village just walk or jog to the playground. But he wanted us to be comfortable I guess.
Jayaweera Jayasundara at the playground while his followers are doing physical exercises.
I was ashamed of traveling to the playground by a vehicle as there were 50 odd people – young, middle aged and very old – were already there and they all had walked to the place before 5.00 am. How many things do we take for granted when there is an initiative like this? (I will write a lengthier blog post on this later to do the right justice to Jayaweera and his followers.)
Jayaweera’s family with Aleks
Jayaweera’s wife took the pain of cooking us Kiribath and Katta Sambola for breakfast. She was very caring for us and arranged two lunch packets also for us to have on the way. We said goodbye to the family and Koradekumbura.
Ricefields in Koradekumbura – Nuwara Eliya road
On the way to Nuwara Eliya we stopped at Seetha Amman Temple to take few pictures. This is a temple which the Indians value and respect more than the Sri Lankans. The temple is situated in Sita Eliya and is believed to be the place where the King Ravana, the all-powerful ancient Sri Lankan king kept the Indian princess Sita imprisoned to take revenge from her husband Rama who insulted Ravana’s sister Shurpanakha . Read Ramayana to learn more details. This is just a legend than history.
Seetha Amman Temple, Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya City from a distance
Road to Nuwara Eliya City
We went to Nuwara Eliya and spent some time at the Lake Gregory which was a very picturesque site. Water level was low as Nuwara Eliya does not get sufficient rain in the summer. I wanted to ride a horse here but we did not have enough time for it as we had a long way to go back to Mahawilachchiya.
Lake Gregory, Nuwara Eliya
Lake Gregory, Nuwara Eliya
At Lake Gregory in Nuwara Eliya
Aleksandar Isailović at Lake Gregory in Nuwara Eliya
A vegetable stall by the roadside
We spent some time to take pictures of spectacular extensive tea estates. The greenery and the intermittent fog with the mist made the place very romantic. I was lucky to spend the whole year 2006 surrounded by this type of stunning environment. I want to return to the hills for good. In fact, I was planning this since I was a kid and saw the beauty of Nuwara Eliya in Sarath Madhu’s comic ඉතිං ඊට පස්සේ (Ithin Eeta Passe) in the comic weekly සිත්තර (Siththara) where the story was wound around the hills in Sri Lanka. The only thing which prevented me settling down in here was my commitments to Horizon Lanka at Mahawilachchiya. But now I am planning to transfer the project to the safe hands of the youths in Mahawilachchiya who are being given responsibilities to run the place on their own. It will take time, but I am confident about them.
Route to Mahawilachchiya from Nuwara Eliya
A tea estate in Nuwara Eliya
Tea estates in Nuwara Eliya
in Nuwara Eliya
1 Aleksandar Isailović in Nuwara Eliya
We had some tea at a small tea shop in Pussellawa and it was not hot enough. I complained the shop keeper and he apologized and waved off the price of the two tea cups. We paid for bananas we had there though.
A fruit stall cum tea shop in Pussellawa
We did not want to go via Kandy City as Aleksandar had already visited Kandy the previous week. Kandy is a congested city with a lot of traffic and I didn’t like to get stuck in there. The only time I loved Kandy was when I was in love, a long time ago. I loved to walk along the Lake Nuwara Wewa holding hands with my sweet ex-girlfriend. Those were the days….. Aah….
A jackfruit stall in Matale – Dambulla road
We bypassed Kandy and directly reached Katugastota via Gannoruwa. Had our lunch by the roadside and proceeded to Anuradhapura. We had some delicious jackfruits in a small village between Matale and Dambulla. Aleks loved jackfruits. He had earlier eaten cooked raw jackfruit as a curry and it was here he ate the ripe ones first.
Jackfruits for sale on the Matale – Dambulla roadside
We reached Anuradhapura by the evening and had tea at my sister’s house. Then we proceeded to Mahawilachchiya around 6.30 pm. The whole journey was a fascinating ride for me. But my friend was exhausted as he had to be on the pillion of the bike throughout the whole bike hike as he was not comfortable riding my bike model (Bajaj Pulsar 150) despite having an international driving license. Thus we ended 630 km – 3 day- bike hike. The whole ride was a “chanceless” one. There was not a single බුදු අම්මෝ! (Oh My God!) moment throughout the ride. At least not for me. I don’t know about Aleks though.
Benjamin Pages (Ben) was the first French volunteer at Horizon Lanka. I went on a road trip with him to Badulla via Polonnaruwa. It was a great ride as both Ben and I could take turns in the ride. To be honest, I did not think I would be comfortable when he rode the bike as I doubted his riding in a country like ours where other drivers do not drive that safe. But Ben faded my doubts away as he convinced me he was the best foreign rider I had rode with. He was very careful despite being a fast rider like me.
Mahawilachchiya reservoir bund
Mahawilachchiya reservoir bund
We started the trip after 6.00 am on April 16, 2016. As usual, we posed for a few photos on the bund of the huge Mahawilachchiya reservoir as a memory. We rode to Anuradhapura, the first kingdom (377 BC–1017 AD) of Sri Lanka. Ride was very smooth as we started early and it was fun to ride through morning rays of the sun. We stopped at Basawakkulama wewa, aka Abhayawewa reservoir, to capture the glimpse of the great stupas (pagodas) Mirisawetiya, Ruwanweli Seya, Jethawanaramaya and Abhayagiriya over the tree canopies in our camera phones. It was such a beautiful sight to capture in your cameras in the morning (and in the evening too.) Since visiting the great Buddhist heritage of Anuradhapura was not in our plan, we continued the ride without listening to our hearts (to visit the kingdom.)
Next we proceeded to Polonnaruwa, the second kingdom (from the 11th century until 1310 CE) of Sri Lanka via Habarana, the small touristic town. We visited my good old friend, Jayantha in Unagala Wehera on the way to Polonnaruwa and he offered us a very good meal. (I had jokingly told him that we will bring a Tiara cake for 200 LKR and will eat a 2,000 LKR worth meal at his place. This is a nuisance Sri Lankan families welcome during Sri Lankan New Year. We too happened to visit him during the same period.)
king coconuts. a cheap yet a nutritious drink
Ben drinking a king coconut
Ben drinking a king coconut
Ben drinking a king coconut
Jayantha was a very good computer hardware technician and used to repair our computers at Horizon Lanka for a long time. In addition to that, he is a great tabla (a South Asian membranophone percussion instrument) player and a singer in village parties. I wish we could stay at his place for the night but our plans to proceed to Badulla could not be compromised. So, we said goodbye to Jayantha and his family and next proceeded to Mahaiyanganaya passing Polonnaruwa. Mahiyanganaya is a fabulous plateau surrounded by beautiful blue mountains.
With Jayantha’s family
Beautifully laid straight roads between Polonnaruwa and Mahiyanganaya. You can’t help speeding in this type of roads
A small tea shop in Dehiaththakandiya
Our next destination was Dambana, the village where aboriginal Vedda people , an indigenous tribe in Sri Lanka live. First we went to Vedda Museum and saw a lot of interesting items on display. Whoever took the decision to build this museum should be praised. If you go to Dambana, please ensure you spend at least an hour in the museum.
Road to Dambana
Road to Dambana
Road to Dambana
Road to Dambana
Mr. Uruwarige Wanniya, the Chief of Vedda tribe is a good friend of mine since 2005 and he recognized me instantly. I had visited him several times in the past and was instrumental in taking the students of the Gurukumbura Primary School in the Veddah village on an aeroplane from Colombo to Dambana and back. But my contribution here was very minute as it was my friend Gamini Akmeemana and Duncan Jayawardane, a friend of his who were actively involved in that. So, I do not want to get an undue credit here. (Read more at http://www.horizonlanka.org/en/blog/2003/12/20/mountains-flew-daily-mirror-december-20-2003/)
Entrance to Dambana
Entrance to Dambana
Entrance to Dambana
Entrance to Dambana
Exhibits at the museum
Exhibits at the museum
Exhibits at the museum
Exhibits at the museum
Exhibits at the museum
Exhibits at the museum
Exhibits at the museum
Exhibits at the museum
Exhibits at the museum
Ben was fascinated by Dambana and its indigenous people and wanted to communicate with the Chief of the tribe. I became the interpreter and what followed was a very interesting discussion. I was mesmerized with the way the Vedda Chief answered Ben’s queries. In fact, we recorded the discussion but lost the sound file later. Vedda chief is the most intelligent and the most diplomatic leader I have met in Sri Lanka. It is a shame that we do not have someone like him to rule Sri Lanka but confined to a chief of a few hundreds of people.
WIth Vedda Chief
WIth Vedda Chief
WIth Vedda Chief
WIth Vedda Chief
He had some indigenous medicine to sell at his hut. We asked if he has medicine for various illnesses and he answered in the affirmative. But when I asked him if he has anything for diabetes, his answer was negative. “We don’t have medicine for diabetes because we don’t get diabetes in this village life with the kind of lifestyle we live.” was his proud answer.
Ben with Vedda Chief
Ben with Vedda Chief
We proceeded to Badulla from Dambana and the more we rode to the mountains, the more beautiful the environment became and the cooler the weather. It was a very nice experience to stop wherever there was some scenic beauty and take pictures. Ben was a kind of annoyed when I stopped the bike to capture some minute things in my mobile phone camera as it disturbed the ride. But now I feel I should have annoyed him more.
By the time we reached the hills it was too dark hence we missed the Dunhinda waterfall, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Sri Lanka. Our yet-to-meet friend, Mr. Krishanasamy Khandeeban had prepared us a nice dinner and a motel room to stay at. We met him at night and after the dinner we went to the motel room by briefly discussing the next day’s work with Khandeeban.