Photography by Seshanka Samarajiwa / The Picture Press, courtesy 30 Years Ago
Groundviews offers a look from the bottom up, at the boot pressing you into earth, a shallow grave carved out by a shell. You dodged the shrapnel, almost escaped, but here you are caught in the final push, a soldier’s heel grinding you into a bit of dirt. The scene comes from dreams and news reports, I am near Lake Nandikadal and I have a few minutes left to live. The year is 2009.
Let me jump back to 2006 when this hip-hop, technologically-cool, site for the people to write went live. At that time I was finishing a residence in Monterrey, Mexico where I wrote about the wake of the tsunami wave in A Splintered Face: Tsunami Poems. I moved then to Vancouver, where I lived among Sri Lankans again, immigrants in that Western Canadian city.
I received an invitation to read from the book at the Galle Festival. I accepted with pleasure and went home in January 2008. There I attended a panel which included Sanjana Hattotuwa. We chatted. When I got back to Canada I sent him a poem for the site, a fruitful decision in hind-, fore- and other sights in-between.
While Tigers and government fought, as civilians were trapped into giving up first or second born children, as friends and family sent urgent reports from the capital city of Uncivil War. I wrote what turned into an avalanche of poems as the war roared to its bloody end. Groundviews became my marketplace, target of suicide bombers as well as aerial straffing, and my poems were scrolls I hung there from the stalls.
In the most recent year, after arrival of the Spring breeze from Prague, a new team in Temple Trees, the anthem sung in all languages, I let myself drift into other pursuits and tongues. But I must admit the old lesson: one cannot keep the eye off the ball if the goal is to score a century again, or even an unbeaten fifty. Sri Lanka does not allow for the distractions of exile. Nor does Groundviews. The invitation arrives to reflect on these ten years and to look again, to the next ten. Here is a new scroll.
I see a new city attached to the Colombo Harbor lined with high-tech kiosks, full of pre-paid plans, smart phones, and consumers.
I see saffron-robed monks from Kandy, Jaffna Tamils in dhothis, and some religious tourists from Europe, walking together from the North, past Elephant Pass, and down into the jungle and the temple of Kattaragama.
I see nephews and nieces, short-sleeved and smart suited, running accounts for the giant tour operators and hotel chains of South Asia’s most popular destination
Yet I see waves rising and washing away some prized beaches, and low-land coastal dwellers, the ones who refused to move inland, who said a tsunami comes round only once every hundred years, driven out to sea, buried by the man-made climate.
I do not find peace until killers are caught and punished.
I do not find peace until preventive laws designed to control subject populations, in the name of some greater good, are stricken forever from the annals.
I do not find enormous pleasure in the life of an exile, although I have learned to love again and my children belong to a new dawn, multi-flavored, many-hued, hardy fruit of the marriage of continents.
I hope to return to the island and visit my father’s and mother’s, my grandfathers’ and grand mothers’ birth places. My father is buried in a church cemetery in Rockville, Maryland. He taught me to become a Western Oriental Gentleman. I am at peace, as he was, with the choice of burial plot.
My mother is valiant still despite the brittle bones and falling down. She stands now and her vital signs are strong. She will see the island again, her sisters, her school, her friends
I will bring my children to the island. They will come themselves, curious perhaps to know the sources of their father’s poetry, the well that would always like to feed them.
Do we ever stop acting as parents or children, as home dwellers, or in longing for home, ears close to the ground, listening for water—cocked in the air, to better distinguish the whistling of bombs falling in nightmares, or to catch the whistle of the delivery boy riding a bicycle, milk bottles jangling in his basket?
Congratulations Groundviews on this 10 Year Anniversary. I wish you long life, happiness and constant invention.