Colombo, Poetry, Vavuniya, Writers Under Siege


What beauty in camps?

I sit in my favourite chair
listening to Beethoven’s last sonata,
slient breezes
in time.
to the music.
My world creates a sonata

The other shatters all possibility of one.

Guarded, malnourished;
the beauty of rescue: possible?
loudspeakers are silent.
Waiting for a pass, a nod,
family member to utter their name,
to go back home
to farm, toil, feed the earth
feel the breeze of their own

Beethoven calms me.
My children, near.
one dressed. Pretty.
Ready for her first ‘mixed’ party.
The smaller cuddles her father,
night air brings comfort.
Smells of food. Dinnertime.
Red wine.

No death here.
just beauty
and dignity.

Writers Under Siege

Part of the Writers Under Siege collection on Groundviews. For more information, click here.

  • Heshan

    Excellent analogy. The sonata is graceful, soothing, whisking one away from the mundane… the camps, on the other hand, strip their occupants of all dignity and invoke such fear that even the most routine task becomes petrifying. It is like heaven and hell. Both have a profound impact on the soul – the former replenishes it, and the latter provides a perpetual source of torment.

  • A country, society or a people reap what they sow. If they sow freedom to others they will harvest freedom for themselves. This is a spiritual truth.

    Any country that sows oppression will lose its independence is an undisputed truth, well substantiated by history.

    Last week, a part of Sri Lanka(SL) was parcelled off to China, when the government of SL(GOSL) announced that an exclusive investment zone was given to China at Mirigama. Also, a few weeks ago, after the war with Tamil Tigers, oil storage facility at Hambantota Port was given to China.

    The recent UN Security Council resolutions on SL would have initiated and brought peace and stability in the island between SL and Tamil Eelam(TE). But, China and Russia appear to have silently put fear and paranoia into the GOSL and traded secretly for concessions in SL and TE, before they voted against the UN resolutions calling for ceasefire and peace talks.

    The Sinhalese saw this “sell out” by Mahinda Rajapakse but did not perceive this betrayal. They were drunk with hatred and pursued the war to kill and displace many Tamil civilians.

    China, a one party state, drove armoured tanks over its own civilians in Tinnamen Square, and Russia massacred many civilians in Chechenya. They both are yet to account for their cruelty to humanity. With repressive history, both countries always manouvre their way and manipulate states to be oppressive.

    Chinese internet users gathered last week in large numbers in Beijing, demanding freedom of expression, after China imposed an iternet ban in their country; threatening free speech and violating international trade laws.

    Surely, the recipe of China for any solution to the political conflict in SL would not have been different.

    China supplied weapons and satelite intelligence information to SL, prevented SL from entering a peace making highway from the UN and opened a doorway for GOSL to commit war crimes.

    Whenever China or Russia supplied weapons in the past to liberation movements in African countries, they had strings of economic submissions firmly attached to them. Now, independent African countries are still being awfully exploited. They are paying back in “blood”.

    When the GOSL carried out repressive genocidal war against the people of TE, massacred more than 20,000 civilians in one week, displaced 300,000 people of TE and occupied the de facto state of TE that was in existence for 22 years; the Sinhalese never knew that their country would gradually lose its independence and sovereignty and rot in a corner in return. Now, it has started to happen.

  • Manushi

    I only wish the IDPs could get back to the routine of Cabernet Sauvignon – goes well with spicy food- and Beethoven’s piano sonatas they long enjoyed before arriving at the camps.

  • BohemianGypsy

    This is excellent creative writing. As I understand, this ground breaking poem reveals the stark contrast between the haves and have nots. Oh, yes, while the nouveau riche flaunt their new-life style – complete with expensive wines and flashy parties – and their pretensions to high art, middle-class Sri-Lankans (far away from IDP camps) have to satisfy themselves with a cup of tea. Yes my dear, you are damn right in showing us the vulgarity of conspicuous consumption in the face of abject poverty. Now, speaking of the IDPs – some in barb wired camps and others housed in open camps – their needs are provided by people who, many a times, have only one meal per day. This, to me, is the colossal tragedy.
    If the lady in the poem, getting ready for dinner with Beethoven’s sonata playing in the background, and sipping wine, represents “civilization”, the poor men and women in “Ceylon” drinking palmyrah/kithul /coconut toddy and arrack while listening to baila and kavadi music, and eating rice and curry must, according to a lesser poet, stand for barbarism (oh, dear, white man’s burden).
    I don’t know why, but, for some unknown reason, I’ve got the tune, “Sweet is the honey of the Kitul Tree” by our Lylie Godrige on my mind.

  • punitham

    What is Cabernet Sauvignon please?

  • punitham

    What a beauty!
    Thank you for the short but substantial poem, Nazreen.

  • ethnichybrid

    Bohemian Gypsy, you are harsh no? I dunno, the poem may not be wonderful but the sentiment is certainly justified. We cannot condemn the writer because she appreciates certain things in life – Beethovan, wine, and I think her use of civilized is tongue in cheek. Right now we bash anybody who is upper middle class urban and creative. You posers! we seem to say. Get back to the village, chew betel, drink toddy, hike up your sarong and do a baila – that is the authentic Sri Lanka for today. The rest are just white ass wannabes!
    So I say, good for you Ms Phillips! at least I am glad that you remember the IDPs at all, whether you are sipping wine, or listening to music, doesnt matter. What matters, is that you are concerned. And you voiced it!

  • BohemianGypsy

    Say what? You callin me harsh?

    I am afraid you’ve misunderstood me, Ethnicity bird. In my understanding of the poem, the poet is not criticizing the rich per se, but is subverting established notions of “barbarity” and “civilization” by giving us a glimpse of a class aspiring for upward mobility amidst a country engulfed in political change. By juxtaposing the crass flaunting of wealth with the dismal conditions of the IDP camps – whose occupants are, ironically, fed and clothed by other poor groups – the author is depicting the social anxiety of the new rich, particularly the fear of being ‘outed’, alongside the uncertainties of those in the camps.

    For your information Ethnicity bird, a woman, accustomed to Beethoven’s 5th symphony while doing mundane tasks like cutting vegetables – oh, boy, can she cut those onions fast – and drinking wine, has no problem dancing to baila and doing the kavadi at Kataragama because she has no hang ups. Such a woman would have no problem consuming toddy and chewing beetle because she is confident about her social background.

    Although the poet does not make an explicit comparison between old money and new money, there is a subtle indication that the poet is averse to social pretensions. Right???

    I think the poem is not a blanket criticism of the rich, but is critical of an attitude towards wealth. Hence this is my reason for hailing this as a great poem!!

  • BohemianGypsy


    I am sorry about the above typo. I called you ethnicity bird by mistaken when it was really ‘ethnichybrid’. Perhaps I was a tad tipsy.

  • devikadias

    i hope the author is doing something substantial towards the idps . not only writting poems

  • bigmouth

    If the poet wants to right a poem for IDPs that is something better than nothing for she is at least drawing attention to the problem right? It is not your duty to be judge what is substantial and what is not. NO?