June 21, 2021
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Snippets from Sri Lanka

Colombo Capers

War, cricket and little in between

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Colombo Capers

Moving Images
It is hard to avoid the word war when you are in Sri Lanka. Regardless of the subject of your conservations —say with fruit-sellers on pavements of Colombo or owners of luxury villas in the lush central hill districts —the word will, at some point, creep in. And, in a country deeply lacking the space for liberal expression, two years after the end of war, a fresh series of pictorial narrations is seeking to break new ground. “Moving Images,” produced by one of Sri Lanka’s most followed citizen journalism initiative Groundviews, shows on one hand the island’s Eurasian community on the verge of extinction; largely due to migrations to western nations. On the other, it offers glimpses of the capital’s urban ghettoes such as Slave Island which while still retaining the unacceptable name is an interesting neighbourhood, in the vicinity of the President’s House. Particularly striking are three short documentaries made by Kannan Arunasalam, a Sri Lankan born in Jaffna and raised in the UK. Kannan returned to the country in 2005 and spent last year filming Koothu, Kerosene and Paper. The first ties to capture the revival of street theatre Koothu (sounds similar to Sri Lankan street delicacy Kottu). Exponents of the art live in the north’s rural areas where leprosy had once forced a community of fishermen underground. Kerosene reflects the implications of fuel sanctions on the north by governments in Colombo during the 90s, the earlier stages of war. Finally, Paper tells the story of Tamil newspaper Uthayan, published from Jaffna, surviving violence and newsprint shortage in last few years.

Cricket commotion
Ignoring the ethnic fault lines, most of Sri Lanka gathered under the national flag to cheer the cricket team for the world cup finals. On April 2, as the match from Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium played out on giant screens here, thousands of fans bowed to Mahela Jayawardene’s 103 not out. Inside houses, beer and baila (Sri Lankan folk music) abundance continued till the game was lost to India. Temporarily, cricket had become the tool of reconciliation. Erstwhile skipper Kumar Sangakkara’s visit to the north earlier won him high praise. Post-Mumbai, Sri Lankan players came home to a warm welcome. Pictures of Indian players being burnt in effigies by Indian fans after their failures in earlier world cups swept the web to emphasis the difference in “treatment” of cricketers. The “well done” party was however short-lived. Sangakkara quit citing age (33) and family commitments. His deputy Mahela followed. Coach Trevor Bayliss and the selectors too. New Captain and father-to-be TM Dilshan is 34-year-old. Now, with the Sports Minister M Aluthgamage stating “nation first, IPL later,” Sri Lankan players have been asked to return from India by May 5 so as to prepare for the tour of England later in May. New chief selector Duleep Mendis asked Lasith Malinga, playing for Mumbai Indians, to rest at home in Sri Lanka instead of playing the IPL, if he was “really injured”. Negotiations continue between the BCCI and Sri Lanka Cricket on the subject of the island’s players at IPL. Also, former team manager Brendon Kuruppu, who had mysteriously lost his job in 2009, returned to cricket administration as a selector. Interesting times are ahead.

On April 12, Sri Lanka’s mission in New York received a copy of the experts’ panel report, commissioned by UN secretary-general Ban ki-Moon, on war and accountability in Sri Lanka. The report, the UN claimed would be made public later but a Colombo-based local daily, perceived to be pro-government, printed parts of the executive summary. The UN called the “leaks” regrettable. Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister G L Peiris said, “We didn’t leak.” In the leaked report, the panel estimated that most civilians were killed in the final months of war – between January and mid-May of 2009 – due to indiscriminate shelling by the government. “Tens of thousands” were killed, according to the panel. The government now says it will lobby world capitals to ensure that the UN does not heed to the recommendations of the panel. At home, President Mahinda Rajapaksa will look at May-Day to organise protests. It remains to be seen who will blink first in this war between Moon's office and the Sri Lankan government. But, more importantly, at what cost.

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