June 28, 2020
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Eelam Baila

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Eelam Baila
Peace is breaking out in Sri Lanka. Visitors poured in for the Champions Trophy, which India eventually shared with Sri Lanka, and it was hard to believe that less than a year ago large parts of downtown Colombo still constituted a ghost town, courtesy suicide bombers. When the Liberation Tigers made a surprise announcement in the first round of Norwegian-brokered peace talks in Thailand that a "homeland" does not necessarily mean independence, the mood turned positively euphoric. Between the semis I got on to Lionair’s inaugural flight to Jaffna. The service had been discontinued when their plane was shot down in September 1988. Chandran Rutnam, the owner, one of Sri Lanka’s leading film producer-directors, whose mother is Sinhalese and father Tamil, told us that "till then I kept the two cities connected through thick and thin". In Jaffna, the Tigers had declared a hartal to commemorate the 15th death anniversary of Thileepan, who died in a hunger strike to protest against the arrival of the ipkf. We stopped at a rally under the gopuram of Kandaswamy temple, where hundreds of youngsters in white school uniform being subjected to oratory milled around, wondering where we fitted into the peace dividend. As I squeezed back into my seat, my neighbour explained carefully that actually Thileepan swallowed cyanide after arrest. The journo on the other side started telling me how the Buddha visited Jaffna three times. Predictably, a long boozy lunch left us with just enough time to tear down the peninsula to take photos of what remains of Chavakachcheri, which bore the brunt of the last round of fighting in 2000. Appropriately enough, the stereo belted out Tamil versions of popular Sinhalese songs set to Portuguese Baila music and someone stood up to lead the singing as we sped back, cheered on by the returning kids as they raced past. I clearly had to come back alone after the final.
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