“Peace begins with me.” That’s what I wrote a week back. In keeping with the spirit of my article I travelled to Jaffna and mingled with the people and visited four little schools. My mission was to represent CandleAid Lanka and gift books to start libraries. Another team went to Muttur and Thiriyaya. All In all there will be twenty seven such CandleAid libraries in the North and East helping children affected by the conflict.
The Expo Air aeroplane took the final turn over the Kankasanthurai coast to align with the Palali runway. I sat on a passenger seat with my eyes glued to the window, watching everything, noting the rain washed northern landscape in shades of green. It was thirty five years since I had last been here, landing aeroplanes in the same airfield. That was then, when peace reigned, where the days were soft and lazy and we picked gold skinned mangoes and kottakilangu to take home. It was another world.
The places I visited this time were in need of everything, ranging from rubber slippers to pens and pencils and desks and chairs. More than anything else they needed a bit of friendship and care from the south.
It’s not that CandleAid Lanka can move mountains, but we sure can take a few steps to level an anthill or two and pave a path for others to follow us to the north, just to say hello to our forgotten Sri Lankan brothers and sisters.
That developments will come in time is certain. However, this would be infrastructural. Banks will open, supermarkets would mushroom and the bill boards will be erected tall and broad showing Ajantha Mendis eating sausages. Roads would get tarred and the war ravaged roofless houses that stand dilapidated will find Rhino sheet coverings and Lankem Robialac paint will bring in the new looks in multicolour.
But the over-riding question is “would all that usher peace?” Isn’t there a factor of harmony too? Promises are good and plans are better and these will be handled by people who are supposed to take care of them. But we, you and me, can do so much more to add our little contribution to the consonance.
Go to Jaffna my dear friends, the A9 will open and travel to the north will get easier. It is time for us to get to know that part of the island and its people.
In the newspapers every day I see huge advertisements to holiday and see the world. Valley of Kings or safari in Kenya; maybe fly to the holy land and walk in Jerusalem or travel very far to study the Inca civilization in Machu Picchu. There is also China, India, Europe, USA and a host of other destinations well researched and packaged, all taken care of if you can afford. Great, but why not go to Jaffna too? Find a copy of Pathmanathan’s Kingdom of Jaffna or Early Tamils of Lanka by Parameswaran or any other book that gives details of the area. Devour the information and head north. The history alone is so vast there. The temples are a magnificent sight to see. There is the Nallur temple, Maviddapuram temple in Tellipalai or Naguleshwaram temple in Keeramalai, three among the many, all filled with legends and mythology that go way back to the early Dravidian civilization. The Naga Vihara stands serene in the heart of the city and Naga Deepa is just a boat ride away. Then there is the Dutch Fort built in 1680 -it is a beautiful place to relax and enjoy the clear blue sky that often spans the Jaffna peninsula. The Subramaniam Park is nice to walk and the British Royalty gifted clock tower stands now with digital clocks and Dialog advertisements. These represent just a few sights, there is so much more to see, including the renovated Jaffna Library that shadows a story of eternal shame. I am sure Gabo Travels and Superlink and the likes of them will do their arithmetic and come out with package tours for all of us to go north and say hello to the people of Jaffna.
The streets in the city are filled with school girls riding bicycles. The old too use this main mode of transport, sitting on the bar with the young pedalling. The food in Jaffna is great, very enjoyable, tasty and inexpensive, I relished every morsel. The people I met were the best, teachers in small schools, students who shook hands with me and common men. I chatted to all who welcomed me to their domain with open hearts.
This is the essence of what is needed in Jaffna today. It is for us to go and shake hands and become friends again.
Such were my thoughts as I watched the evening sun seated on the Panna Bridge that joins the road from Kayts to the mainland. The single sail long boats were searching for fish in the lagoon under white patches of cloud rolling in a vermillion sky. The entire locality for three decades had witnessed a lot of grief, both for man and place alike. The tell-tale marks are everywhere. Far away the Chelvanayagam memorial jutted up to the heavens silhouetting against the city of Jaffna, awakening in my mind the years of politics and promises and the sadness of lost peace, for both him and his people and for us from south of the Wanni.
Yes, peace begins with me. It begins with you and it begins with each individual who stakes a claim to a birthright in this island, irrespective of what race or religion he belongs to. CandleAid will open its libraries. We will go from Point Pedro to Kalmunai with hands extended in friendship. Books are a lovely way to reach children effected by the conflict, maybe a very small step in the direction of peace, but then, there is no place called far away if one decides to walk.
Yes, it is time to walk the talk.