A Series of Moments

by Na Kumaran; originally published October 7, 2003

“What remains?
Only the remembrance
Of a vanished history
And those portraits of your grandparents.”
 – Jean Arasanayagam

It is impossible to capture and contain my recent journey to Sri Lanka within one particular article or essay. Added to this, is the difficult task of deconstructing the various images, emotions and situations that one typically experiences, whether willingly or otherwise, on such a return. For the time being, however, here is a series of moments that are personal signposts to larger narratives. By way of disclaimer, this is not poetry by any stretch of the imagination.

after perfunctory prayers to pillayar

hugging amma goodbye and not looking behind

keep your mouth shut and eyes open

her motherly wisdom insistent in my ear

plane hopping from toronto to zurich to frankfurt to colombo

ayubowan and welcome to sri lanka

is this home

tired dragging myself onto a bed in wellawatte

time to leave

waiting endless hours for a red crossed jeep at omanthai

the sun rising ms subbulakshmi reassuring the waiting crowd

kowsalya supraja rama poorva sandhya pravarthathe

a child crying small boys selling smaller apples

and a woman squatting to piss on grassy british pride

a stone faced soldier taking it all in tapping at his weapon

the border opening and a convoy of vehicles bumping along dusty roads

returning the stares of curious soldiers

crossing no human land

vanakkam and welcome to tamil eelam

is this home

arriving in kilinochchi rs 1000 poorer

familiar but short lived faces accents and jokes again

alone settling into routines

teabun combo served with sarcasm on the house at cheran

air conditioned english in vannitech

teaching marking learning and joking

rice and curry at amudhasurabi and daily cycling around town

talking sharing discovering and snapping reality

teaching computers and learning guilt under sheds in chc

drowning rotis in fanta at ilamthendral

after dinner walks under a starry sky to a stifling room

mosquitoes frogs and boring insects for room mates

and a cobra threatening its return

unable to sleep in the heat

tossing turning and praying for dawn break

joking and learning marking teaching

routines interrupted

a mobile clinic in a bombed out theatre

sight seeing gurukulam

a wiggling jothika on a projector under another shed

a defied unmarked trip into the jungle

and finding only humans there

learning teaching and joking rewarded by

the recoil of an ak 47 on a firing range

hauling myself aboard a dora near the sea

back in town familiar faces accents and jokes

late night pineapple parties

visitors passing through from norway france australia germany america



under the scorching sun imagining myself in love

time to leave

a flurry of exchanging addresses signing autographs and snapping


dont forget us you will forget us you will forget us

the students tell me matter of factly

you will forget us you will forget us dont forget us

no no i protest guiltily getting into a peeling morris minor

passing destroyed houses lives and a chemical factory enroute to


why dont u join us the younger tiger cadre asks of me at his side

why you come to lanka the older army constable asks of me at his side

i am on vacation i mumble to both hurriedly zipping my bags

driving through palmyrah dotted landscapes

stopping a while at chemmani a lingering stench in the air

welcome to yarlpanam

is this home

armed soldiers at every corner staring my welcome

am i intruding

turning into kokuvil kokuvil east i remind myself

is this home

seems smaller in 21 year old eyes

falling into aunts hug shaking uncles hand and joking with cousins

catching up with sixteen years in two weeks

gossip rumors myths and legends

eating jackfruit climbing trees and drinking kool in leaves

catching up with sixteen years in two weeks

old tales of intrigue and scandal

on my grandfathers easy chair under the mango tree

the moon peeking through the leaves

cursory prayers at maththanai tellipalai vallipuram nellandai and


staring in wonderment at karthikai deepam in nallur

on a ferry to nagadeepaya nagabooshani amman and afterwards

the faint melody of chinna chinna aasai

chiming through navy barracks

the buddha in his vihara smiling serenely at complexities

retracing private and public histories

in town nallur kokuvil kondavil uduvil kantharodai and thumpalai

time to leave

at dawn break scooping a fistful of sand from my grandfathers land

hugging goodbyes and promising to keep in touch

landing in colombo and thrown into it

barristos coffees odel ice creams crescat clothes majestic movies and



a wedding here a birthday party there and visiting relatives

on a vijitha yapa shelf discovering muller under his jam fruit tree

swatting at mosquitoes listening to southern narratives

and amidst this heat frost on my arm

blasting eminem on galle face a pimp in a bandana throwing looks

tamil boys cracking jokes in sinhala over drinks

kathiresan in his kovil smiling serenely at complexities

escaping to kandy the wind on my face as i ride the railways

praying at dalada maligawa disturbed by tourists and

memories of the blast hanging on its walls

drinking in the beauty of the plains on the way

back to colombo but

time to leave


hugging phoning lunching and dining goodbyes

hopping planes from colombo to zurich to toronto

bonjour and welcome to canada

is this home

hugging amma hello and looking behind

from Tamil Circle, October 7, 2003, #3228

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