Batticaloa, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

“Den munta sadda nethuwa inna wenawa Sir. Rata ape!”: News of KP’s arrest on a bus coming home

I settle into my seat for the ride from Kalmunai to Colombo. There is a fifty rupee premium for reserving it. I always want window seats, be it flying or riding along. In my head, I can hear Daniel Powter’s Bad Day, or She Will Be Loved by Maroon 5 being played when the scenery is just a blur. Ever since I first heard them, it’s always those two songs. Nothing else.

This time, I’ve got an aisle seat.

The person next to me says hello. I say hello back. In my head, this seems a lot like a late night flight to nowhere. Most of the passengers came to the bus stop alone. It was cold outside, and it’s colder inside. After the conductor does a headcount to make sure everybody is inside, we set off.

I pat myself on the back for remembering to fully charge my phone before I left. Hallelujah starts to play, Buckley, nor Wanwright. I somehow manage to sink into my unsinkable seat and cuddle the laptop bag for warmth. The lights inside the bus manage to keep me up. My brain wants me to sleep.

And then we stop.

Conductor announces something in Tamil. Everybody starts to get out of the bus. I follow suit. We all queue up outside the first checkpoint with our ID cards out. After what seems an eternity of having my very heavy notebook bag on my shoulder, my turn comes. I put on my glum face.

The man in uniform opens the middle compartment and shoves his hands into my dirty clothes. I giggle inside my head as I cherish the thought of the man’s fingers exploring around my dirty underwear. He looks at me to see what I’m giggling on about, proving to me once again that I am incapable of laughing by myself. “Kilutu Andum” I say. Dirty clothes.

Then he opens up the laptop compartment. Out comes the notebook. Out comes the charger. Out comes the camera. Nothing goes back in. I have no choice but to sit at a bench next to the check point and stuff things back in. Putting a reluctant laptop into a laptop bag can be a bit of a chore.

I’m the last one to get into the bus. And just like the passengers in an airplane stare daggers at the last one to board, the one who delayed take off by half an hour, visual daggers are thrown in my direction. Being the king of absolute ignorance, nothing hits.

The Nokia by this time has moved on to Alicia Keys. I make the mistake of assuming that I can finally settle down and sleep.

We stop again. The process is repeated. But this time, the person checking my bag dives into the small side pocket and pulls out the pack of Dunhill Lights, or rather, what’s left inside the now crumpled up packet. He stares at it like a sex deprived sailor staring at a cheap hooker, and hands it over to me. “Meka keeyada?” How much is this?

Packet eka thunsiya asuwai” The packet is three hundred and eighty, I say, as I go through the process of packing everything into my bag again. Anytime else, I would have offered. I have just six smokes to help me through the night. So, sharing is not even an option.

History has a knack for repeating itself, even when it’s in very small doses, and short gaps. Again, I’m the last to get in. When daggers rain, it fucking pours.

We set off again. I don’t bother with finding my music player in my phone and starting it up. Phone vibrates. Daily Mirror proudly announces that a top LTTE leader has been captured. Inside, I think, they have no idea who it is, just blindly groping around in the dark with something that came through the grapevine. My usual thought process of how pathetic media in this country is, kicks into motion. Breaking News has stooped to such low levels, that instead of being accurate and right, every Tom, Dick and Daily Mirror wants to be first.

Then the alerts start to pour. KP has been arrested. Radio news which is in Tamil says something about KP. I look around. Poker faces.

We stop again.

I stay in the queue. Text a friend. This queue is long. And seems frisking is going on. Person in front of me steps into the cubicle. Frisked up and down. He leaves. Old man next to me tries to overtake me. I give him a look, and then he lets me on.

I set my bag on the table and hand over my ID. “KP allala neda?” They’ve caught KP, no?, I ask the two who are manning the cubicle. Both look up, obvious signs of joy. “Sure da sir”? Are you sure sir?”. I confirm and smile.

Den munta sadda nethuwa inna wenawa sir. Rata ape!” Now they will have to put up and shut up, sir. The country is ours!

He smiles and walks with me to the bus. He waves goodbye to me.

The daggers are stronger this time. My defences don’t work. I succumb to them and try to find solace in Norah Jones. I fail.

  • suren

    Simple but brilliant
    bit like Arthur Rimbaud
    Laughing – painfully

  • myil selvan

    Perfect example of an ethnic problem in this country!
    The vast majority of Sinhalese (not to stereotype) think this country is their property and they are ‘accomodating’ the minorities. Hence minorities have to be satisfied with what they are given. This was also preached by Sarath Fonseka. If the majority of Sinhalese are of that view then there will always be an ethnic problem.
    What was said at the checkpoint is familiar to many Tamils but you won’t see it in the newspapers or TV. That’s the racially biased media for you, who are also part of the problem. So, when will they ever learn? For starters the false Sri Lankan history taught in schools, which is based on the Mahavamsa needs to be changed.

  • ‘Hallelujah’ must surely have been a sign of things (or news) to come!

    Cool post!

  • Manushi

    If I had been on that bus, I would’ve started singing Woody Guthrie’s “This land is your land”. Of course the line, “from California, to the New York Island”, I would reword as, “from Jaffna, to the Galle Fort”. Indeed, this land was made for you and me!

    Having sung this at the top of my lungs, I would, next, turn towards my fellow passengers and say: “KP allala neda? Sha…niyamai neda?”!

    Say ‘yes’ to Woody Guthrie, and ‘no’ to terrorism.

    Oh yeah, the next time you travel, please, be kind enough to carry your dirty underwear in a zip lock bag in order to spare those poor guys at the check point from having to go through this torturous task.

  • Atheist


    Please don’t get annoyed at us. The other day I was on a crowded bus, and I see people around me doing the same thing you describe: staring daggers at someone. This being the pastime of the Sinhalayas , I, too, took part in this. You know how we Sinhalayas are – no one in the world has staring problems like us. Don’t be surprised, aney, there was this young woman in western clothes, furiously typing away on her thing a ma jig (Laptop?) as if there’s no tomorrow. Not only that, while typing she was moving her head from side to side with two wires stuck in each of her ears (iPod?).

    Aney…this is ‘godayata magic, no’. You must consider what happened to you on our goday bus as your ‘celebrity moment’. Enjoy it while it lasts!

    From a goday bus rider with a staring problem! Ciao!

  • Aruna

    ““Den munta sadda nethuwa inna wenawa sir. Rata ape!”

    In return I would’ve said “hariyata hari” (exactly right!)

  • Pinhamy

    if you have got sophisticated items with you when travelling through lanken public buses, it is normal that they can stare at you inthat way. How many of average lankens do travell with those items like iPods, Laptops and the like? So this is common to every poor country be it in asia or africa. So why to be worried about those glances. This can happen to sinhalayas too. Not only towards tamils expatriates. And why to take that serious for what they have passed – ““Den munta sadda nethuwa inna wenawa sir. Rata ape!”? Those who are better aware of the problem that we have had for the last 3 decades, would never pass those words, but would love to be called as – we everyone as srilakens rather than tamils, sinhala, burgher, muslims or other minorities.

  • Pinhamy

    means not that you dont need to travell there with those sophisticated items, but if you travell on especially on those buses in developing countries like srilanka, it is common and – not at all a thing to be worried.

  • Duckie

    Pinhamy, the staring from the people in the bus was not because I was carrying a notebook, it was because the police officer came alongside me, and waved at me, and with the immediate association that was created between me and police officer by virtue of both of us being Sinhalese. I’m not a Tamil expatriate who came down, I’m a Sinhalese who was born and bred here.