Poetry, Post-War

The heartbeat of my country

The heartbeat of my country
Crashes as wave against rock
Bursts into spray and song,
It roars down monsoon-swollen rivers,
Drips one reluctant drop at a time
From the leaves of a bo tree.

My country’s heartbeat
Resonates as drumbeat and dance step,
Rolls off the udekki, the geta bera and thammatama,
Turns somersaults along the Street of Pageantry and Veneration.

The heartbeat of my country
Resides in every clod of earth turned at ploughing,
It rides the unwavering voice of the farmer coaxing his buffalo,
And dances in the harvest song,
Traces the contour of tank bund,
Rises with the rural dust of drought-heavy days,
Slows with nightfall and awakes at first light.

The heartbeat of my country
Has been captured in verse and prose,
Etched on rock and manuscript,
Carved on collective memory
Residenced in lives and livelihoods.

My country’s heartbeat is as much an epic
As that of any other land;
Made of triumph and defeat,
Theft and magnanimity,
Intrigue and passion,
Blood-letting and benevolence;
A chronicle of kings and queens and
People and events,
A gathering of stories
Of invasion, defence and recovery.

My country’s heartbeat is resilient.
It can be pushed against the wall,
Crushed under the jackboot of invader or tyrant,
But it is far too tender for destruction.

My country’s heartbeat is the resolve
To overcome tragedy
Bury it with a smile and move on.
It is the fuel
That turns an island into a dansala
Twice every year,
And conjures kiribath on the most humble table
Come the Aluth Avurudda.

My country’s heartbeat
Arrives as laughter and tear,
The steaming cup of tea
And the red of a betal chew,
It is the dance of the toddy-tapper,
The patience of stilt-fishermen,
The shrewdness of the Southern businessman,
The PR of the trader,
The thrift of the gentle folk from the Peninsula,
The faith of the devotee that walks on coals
Or is suspended on hooks from a Vel cart.

My country’s heartbeat is white
On Poya days and funerals,
red on May Day,
multi-coloured on polling days;
it has seen black days
and has known sunsets bathed in tears,
death, destruction and dismemberment,
and yet it is an unguent that sutures
the most terrible cuts,
a song that persuades embrace,
and a constant call to meditation.

I have heard the heartbeat of my country
In the tolling of the bell on Samanala Kana,
The healing drone of pirith weaving its way
Through tree and conversation,
In the call for prayer,
Allah O Akbar,
The church choir and the hymn
And the chanting of the Poosari.

My country’s heartbeat
Is, in fact, indescribable
And this gladdens me,
For I do not wish to see it traded
I do not wish to see it defined and bled,
Contoured and decimated.

I live in a country whose heartbeat sings to me
And perhaps others.
It gives me heart
It gives me life
And lets me breathe.
I am content.

  • punitham

    Please go and stop the army guards from demanding bribes for letting in sarongs and skirts throuth the barbed wire to people who have not changed clothes for weeks and months.

  • punitham

    The people who have been oppressed economically and politically have been fleeing the country over five decades.
    Those who are left behind have been oppressed in all possible ways including embargo on livelihood of fishing and farming and denial of access to aid agencies and media.
    Put them in camps behind barbed wires and make the diaspora feed the guards’ bank accounts to give a morsel of food and a shred of clothing through the wires.

  • punitham

    What the armed forces have been earning from the open prison of Northeast in the last thirty years would never be known.
    speed up the revenue and put them behind barbed waires and demand bribe for releasing the ‘inmates’.
    This will never be researched.
    This will die in the graves of Tamils.

    Asking for federalism gained 1956/8 riots and much more.
    Asking for separation gained PTA and much more.
    Fighting for Eelam gained Bloodbath on the Beach and bribes beside barbs.
    Bribes beside barbs will likely go on for a long time, judging by bursts from brigadiers.

  • malinda seneviratne

    got the point. thanks. by the way, are you saying that the ltte is blameless?

  • punitham

    LTTE made a large number of blunders.
    But the blunders of any group of ‘rebels’ would come to a dead end the moment the ‘sovereign’ state stops its structural violence.

  • malinda seneviratne

    ‘blunder’…’rebels’…..interesting choice of words punitham.

  • punitham

    Who, what, when and where determine the choice of words – just see Nelson Mandela was once called a terrorist.
    After getting squashed in the 1961 stayagraha, I shamelessly put my head in the sand till 2004 … … …

  • vivimarie

    I like the poem, Malinda, so heartfelt and powerful. Oh, the LTTE and its little blunders. Naught, naughty, boys werent they?

  • malinda seneviratne

    to each his/her choice of words then and glad the head is no longer in the sand punitham….allows one to breathe, doesn’t it?

  • Nicely put….

  • punitham

    people behind the barbed wires are not breathing
    as long as all are not breathing
    none are breathing

  • amelie

    the people behind the barbed wire fences are breathing. They are alive, arent they? and metaphorically speaking, with all the concern and kindness towards them by people in sri lanka and abroad pouring in, they will definitely breathe properly again. All the thousands of civilians and young soldiers killed by the LTTE are not breathing at all, since they are forever underground. So quit talking about “if all are not breathing, none are breathing” crap

  • Heshan

    <>

    That is a good analogy. One can say, the most prevalent emotion in the camps is fear. Whatever is going on in the people’s minds, they will not fully express it due to fear. On the other hand, they have been through too much to simply forget and move on. They need a way to voice their grief. It is a very artificial situation. You are talking about people who have survived months of war, and now they are taken from their homes and put in barb-wire camps. Even the worst of murderers and robbers are given better treatment than this.

  • Heshan

    “people behind the barbed wires are not breathing
    as long as all are not breathing
    none are breathing”

    That is a good analogy. One can say, the most prevalent emotion in the camps is fear. Whatever is going on in the people’s minds, they will not fully express it due to fear. On the other hand, they have been through too much to simply forget and move on. They need a way to voice their grief. It is a very artificial situation. You are talking about people who have survived months of war, and now they are taken from their homes and put in barb-wire camps. Even the worst of murderers and robbers are given better treatment than this.

  • malinda seneviratne

    i try to put myself in the shoes of the government. constrained on many fronts (including of course a culture prone to wastage) they have to worry about possible ltte cadres in these facilities, they can’t just let people loose and then be accused of not providing for them. try feeding and giving medical attention to 200,000 (300,000?) people who are scattered over 3 districts.

  • malinda seneviratne

    is someone suggesting that the alternative would have had these people ‘breathing’? i.e. being under ltte-control in a couple of square meters of land in the middle of a war??? come on, let’s have some perspective here.

  • Heshan

    “To some extent, sanity is a form of conformity”

    – John Nash, Nobel Prize Winner

  • Heshan

    I imagine I am the Sri Lankan Government… what do I see, how do I feel?

    My greatest fear is separatism.

    These innocent-looking Tamil people, surely they are the face of separatism. Are they not the one’s who bred and nurtured Tigers?

    Where I see Tamils, I see separatism. This is the song I sing day after day. This is the song my predecessors sang….

    Now I have taken the separatists and put them into camps. I must not let them get away. I must let my own Sinhalese people occupy their lands and hands…. this is how I can ease the fear in my mind.

    Because my mind is never at rest…. how can it be? Everywhere I see Tamils, I see separatists….!!! Oh the madness, when will it end?

  • Heshan

    *I must let my own Sinhalese people occupy their lands and hands….

    Slight grammatical mistake: should read as “lands and homes”

  • Manushi

    Where were all you bleeding heart, do gooders when the LTTE was busy killing Tamils, and recruiting child soldiers? We have no idea about the types of torture and deprivation these poor people must have faced under P’karan.

  • ethnichybrid

    but to get back to the poem. Malinda, you are a poet. I prefer you as a poet than a political commentator

  • davidson panabokke

    Is there any difference in the way the Tamils were treated by us in the three decades i.before the ‘BOYS’ were born, ii.while they have been around or iii.after they’re slaghtered.

    After all we were disturbed by some blasts now and then but the Tamils have been living under the yoke of Sinhala chauvinism for six decades -the end is not in sight.

    Killing Tamils in periodic pogroms was bad. Keeping IDPs starved of food, medicine and sanitation is worse. We’re getting better at oppressing others.

    Saying LTTE was brutal the government is being much more brutal.

    Any sense here?

  • Sesha

    A man offers a magnificent poem and the responses are on everything but the inspirational work. It attracts venom spewed over and over by the eternally venomous. Sad!

  • malinda seneviratne

    dear ethnichybrid,

    some like the poetry, some like the commentary. what to do?!

    malinda

  • davidson panabokke

    Malinda
    How about a poem about those destroyed by the last sixty years?
    Nice poem about the people who developed in the last sixty years.

  • davidson panabokke

    ”I live in a country whose heartbeat sings to me
    And perhaps others.
    It gives me heart
    It gives me life
    And lets me breathe.
    I am content.”

    I am pleased for those outside the Northeast of the country.

  • Manushi

    Malinda,

    What a lovely poem. I love the imagery ! The third stanza is my favourite.

  • malinda seneviratne

    davidson panabokke,

    perhaps my mistake was to send a poem i wrote to sanjana. the self-righteous arrogance of a lot of people who comment here astounds me, to be honest.

    cheers
    malinda

  • malinda seneviratne

    and thanks manushi.

  • killjulietinstead-lol

    the imagery is the same as seen in tv videos of national anthems and Bathiya n Santhush songs. I wish people saw beyond the ordinary goviya-stilt fisherman image of our country.

    that notwithstanding, funny how the heartbeat of your country doesn’t reach to the slums of colombo, the school-less in the streets, the shopowners of the east. shrug. people always find it easier to ignore the bitter, and romanticise the sweet when it comes to patriotism. but call me cynical.

    i think what some of the people are saying here is that the sweet concord of the poem is in isolation of most of the discord and injustice that some people are suffering right now. feeling patriotic is what a lot of sinhala people do these days, not without reason, i guess, but still, to say that we have victored, when some have clearly not, is negligent and indulgent.

    but i’m just nineteen, so i wouldn’t know.

  • SAM

    Must a poem always address the negatives of the subject? Can’t it be in that moment where one admires what is positive…

    If we must, always, address the negative, in any subject, wouldn’t we be a bitter lot of people?