The winding narrow lanes with the Palmyra fences almost reaching the tar, ‘herds’ of cyclists (they ride five or six abreast and this I am told is a form of enjoyment)…….are still there. A recent visit to Jaffna after the first sprinklings of rain from the inter monsoonal showers showed us just how different and hauntingly beautiful the landscape could be. The ice cream is still spectacularly decadent and the Palmyra toddy sublime. A well cooked Jaffna crab curry far surpasses the "Singapore style crab curry" that Colombo thrives on today.
click for larger image ~ pic by indi.ca
The journey is not as tedious as I remember it. In these days of air conditioned, well sprung vehicles a metamorphosis from the days of the humble Morris traveller. The roads too are much better and improvements are being done as we speak. Ours was a first time experience for three children who had not been able to visit due to a war that had prevailed throughout. The traditional pilgrimage to Nagadipa, one of the three places that the Lord Buddha had visited and one of the reasons why this land is sometimes referred to as the thrice blessed land, was mandatory.
picture source: flickr feed
The designers of the boats carrying passengers to Nagadipa are I am sure, though long dead, would be laughing themselves hoarse in another world! The boat trip is like an act of revenge against Sinhala Buddhist pilgrims . It defeats logic as to why life jackets are worn in a mode of transport that would never allow the passenger to ever reach the open water should the boat happen to sink. As many as 80 passengers packed into a boat meant only for 30, with an entrance with two tiny doors and a clearance that doesn’t allow even a 5’1" medium sized man to stand up straight, are compelled to wear life belts by the armed forces. Ludicrous to say the least!
On the subject of the armed forces, their presence is marked from the time one enters the Peninsula or even before. Their presence is seen at every junction and it was rather amusing to see a Lance Corporal with a whistle controlling the crowd, very effectively at the sacred baths at Keerimale. One wonders what reaction the presence of soldiers at Kataragama (multi religious shrine) or even at the sacred Dalada Maligawa (Buddhist Shrine), carrying out this same function would evoke!
It costs Rs100/- ($1/-) for a vehicle to enter the beautiful Casuarina beach. When one gets there one is pleasantly surprised, as to how clean it is. it has only the stray cattle and aggressive crows who try to disturb those who happen to come there. The water is pristine and the beach is wonderful.
The point I am trying to stress is that the "control" enforced on the hordes of domestic tourists who visit the Peninsula by the armed forces is not at all bad. At the turn off to Kayts and Nagadipa each vehicle is politely told by a Policeman that they are forbidden from throwing their waste and polythene out of the window and are required to put it in designated bins. The bins are freely available and seem to be emptied regularly. As a result the horrible sight of scraps of polythene hanging from barbed wire fences like dead bats’ does not assail one and spoil the serene, and pristine landscape. Hundreds of thousands of noisy and impatient tourists from the South behave with a degree of discipline and orderliness which they should follow when they return to their home provinces.
Of course one is at the "mercy" of these uniformed worthies as they too are only human. At times one is virtually "ordered" to visit monuments and shrines built to honour war heroes that one doesn’t really want to see or has been to before. Other times needless searches that involve 10 year old children to get out of vehicles and carry their bags, for a cursory search at checkpoints happen. But one should realise that the presence of forces’ and their conduct in general is not very offensive , as far as this Sinhala visitor is concerned.
What do the "native" people feel? I was fortunate enough to meet a few intellectuals’ (University, professors, school teachers and educated people working for NGO’s like CARE) who felt that life in Jaffna itself was only slightly better but that life in the Wanni had improved dramatically. But there was one factor that needed to be addressed very urgently.
The IDPs living in camps and more specifically the school going age children apparently had lost at least one and in most cases up to 3 close family members, in the last few days of the bloody war of "liberation". These children are apparently traumatised to a degree that we people of the South would never understand. This combined with the suffering they still undergo in tents and temporary accommodation is, I am told, an area that is not being addressed adequately.
Those who face reality in Sri Lanka - let me tell you such people are few and far between in this land of lotus eaters - should know that psychiatric care given to them is not enough. There is a desperate need for qualified people to work with these children for they are the future of Jaffna and her people. If this generation grows up with fear and hatred, the consequences will be worse than what we have witnessed over the last few decades and will nullify the effects of the golden opportunity that we have now for a lasting peace.
The only peace we can hope to sustain is one based on mutual trust. Trust based on a deep and lasting knowledge of our cultures and their inherent values. This is something my Tamil friend who took me and my family to Jaffna and hosted us, shared during our many discussions.
This is what inspired me to make this humble attempt to write this piece. This is what I hope the rulers of this country, the intellectuals and the majority should realize before it is too late.
picture source: flickr feed