Now and Then: The natural progression of things

 

In the year 500 AD the great sage Adishanya had a series of visions that he inscribed on fifty ola leaves. In the late forties an archaeology student discovered some of the writings in the tragic Pulatti expeditions. They foretold of dreadful times in store for the island now called Sri Lanka. Legend has it that once all the ola leaves have been recovered peace and prosperity shall reign once more. So far only 32 of them have been found.

 

Ola leaf Number 15

 

There will come a time when blood will flow.

The country will be split and Red will be the only colour.

For many years people will suffer

Mothers, Fathers, Brothers, Sisters,

Sons, Daughters, Husbands, Wives.

 

The ambulance wails down the road. It maps out a route with sound. A sound that begins near the Kollupitiya junction - a faint moan - that crescendos into a high scream outside my house and then a diminuendo towards the GeneralHospital. Over and over it continues throughout the night. Tonight is a bad night. I lie in bed straight as a ruler. My eyes are closed and I try to empty my mind. I try not to think of the airport in Ratmalana, each plane arriving hot upon the tail of the other. The tight line of ambulances with their doors swung open. The silent but steady emergence of wounded. An occasional moan, a sporadic shout but most often silence. I think in black and white. Except for the blood. The blood is red. What else can blood be but red? Gentlemen start your engines, I think and then I see the ambulances tear out of the tarmac and toward the city. They are going to the hospital; but it is so far away. Every second should count, I think, why the hell couldn't the hospital be closer to the airport. It makes sense, right? During times of war a hospital should be built close to the military airport. And then I think, I wouldn't hear these ambulances then. I wouldn't be reminded then that I live during a time of war.

 

I hear my husband whisper, "Let's go dancing, darling.''

 

I put on my dancing shoes and head off to the Blue Elephant. They are playing techno music and I dance as if in a frenzy.

 

"Come on baby," the newly imported English DJ wheedles. He is young. All of twenty two years and pimple craters.

 

"I said Come on baby!" He now screams. "Strut your stuff, darlin"

 

He jumps up and down and the crowd goes wild. I shake my head from side to side. I feel my hair slapping my cheeks. First one cheek, then the other. I lean back and bend my knees. I jump. I bend. I shiver. I am dancing and I forget.

 

Pilawoos at four in the morning

 

"Muttai Roti, Roast Chicken, Onion Sambol aanam oda," my husband orders, as we sit scrunched around a dirty marble table our knees jostling for space. The young Muslim boy dressed in a faded sarong and torn Mettalica T-shirt slaps plastic plates with a fork down in front of each of us, and then a jug of boiling water. The boiling water is ritually poured on each plate, the fork is swirled around a few times, and the water is swivelled around the plate then emptied onto a side. The food arrives and we eat. The boy stands on a side watching us as we wolf the roti. I catch a glimpse of him through the side of my eye and wonder what he thinks of us.

 

"Falooda kondu va,” Ravi shouts at the boy. He nervously comes forth with the faloodas two at a time. The last falooda spills on Ravi as the boy stumbles against the chair.

 

"Madayan," he screams. "Po da," he shouts at the apologetic boy who tries to explain.

 

"Sorry dorai..." the boy stammers out.

 

"Vai Pothu," he arrogantly tells the boy before storming out to sit in the Mercedes. We scramble up and I see Suresh talking to the boy and slip something into his hand. Five hundred rupees is left on the table.

 

"Hey! Boss, mitchum thanks." Then it's onto the dropping-off routine. Ravi sulks while the rest of us chatter nervously. He has drunk too much and we are thankful that he didn't get into a fight. I remember how the boy looked at Ravi. I close my eyes and let my head fall back onto Anjali's arm. My head swims. Too many gins and tonics, I think wearily.

 

The Merc belts along the Galle road.

 

"Avoid Bullers Road Machaan. Too many check points and I don't have my ID."

 

"Silly Bugger!" Suresh mutters under his breath as he steers the car deftly over the speed bumps.

 

"Halt!" the command ricochets around the Merc. A wary peer into the car and I stare brazenly back wondering what he can read in my eyes. Rich kids, he must think. "ID please."

 

Suresh proffers a driving license. They look at Ravi seated next to him.

 

"ID please sir."

 

 

 

 

 

They confer in a huddle. Then back again to us. "Get down please. And stand aside."

 

We stand arrogantly. Indifferently. Don't these fuckers know who we are? They search the vehicle casually. Then it's a polite, "Thank you. Good night."

 

On our way again, Ravi starts "You know why they did that don't you?" We don't reply.

 

"It’s because I'm a Tamil," he continues.

 

"But how do they know that machaan? Don't over react. Wilson could be a Burgher name. In fact you do look like a Burgher."

 

"My ID card is written in Tamil you idiot!"

 

"Seriously! Why on earth is that?"

 

"I don't know machaan. Some Thondaman bullshit I guess, that has come to bite us." We lapse into silence till we reach home. We crawl into bed and then the sun rises. Another day wasted. More lives lost.

 

Ola leaf number 27

 

Who is the ruining man?

The one of anger and wealth

The one of hate and division

The one of greed and

jealousy

Such is the ruining man.

 

 

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Ola leaf number 19

 

The city will explode.

Not once. Not twice. But

many times over.

There will be darkness that

descends on our children.

As if the sky will fall on

top of them.

The blood will travel from

the North to the South;

from East to West.

 

From where I was, it was only a medium sized boom! It could have been anything. But our instincts have now been trained towards only one direction. It had to be only one thing. A bomb! The question was where? The distance from Kynsey Road to Greenpath might only be two miles at most. It took me forty minutes to get home. Traffic was thick, a different kind of traffic. It was not the usual before-school, after-school, lunch time, before-work, after-work kind of jams. This was a panic-ridden, wretched and hopeless kind of traffic jam. This was a sitting-and-waiting-in-your-car, not-moving-for-minutes, not-knowing-what-was-going-on kind of jam. This was a watching-many-people-rushing-around and yet-not-moving kind of jam. This was a bomb jam!

 

 

"It was a flash of lightening that went through the house," he explained. "It came through the back and sped through the passage and erupted through the front door. Then came the sound. The windows broke," he said, looking at the pieces of stained rose pink glass at his feet. A line of blood leaked out from under his bandaged head and made the slow journey down to his chin. He sat down and cried.

 

"My daughter," he wept. "Where is my daughter?"

 

The children were safe. The roof had fallen on their heads and yet they were safe. They stood in rigid strict rows waiting for parents to pick them out and take them home. They stood in silence and all they heard over and over was the roar of fury in their ears. For many months afterwards, no lullaby lulled them to sleep, no song soothed their sorrow, no whispered speech touched their minds. All they heard was that roar.

 

Ola leaf number 33

 

This war is waged like

water

In no constant form

It flows in accordance

with the ground

And kills with the

merciless thunder

Of a waterfall

 

 

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Ola leaf number 35

 

The rains will fail and

darkness will be

imposed.

A Godless country

raped and plundered

those who lead will not

be worthy.

And the country's

wealth will flood away

from her.

She will be paralyzed

with apathy

 

The sweat creeps down my back. It inches its way to my buttocks. It clings and moves and gathers both momentum and mass. It leaves a spreading stain of misery on my clothes. I try not to move. Every shift in position makes it worse. I lie there staring out at the darkness waiting for the relief of dawn.

 

The sun leaks into the sky and under normal circumstances I would be appreciative of the gashes of violent colour that streak the canvas of sky, but now I can only take it as a legitimate sign that a new day must begin. I have now taken to sweating while having a shower. The sweat gushes out just as fast as the water. The fan hangs splayed impotently against the ceiling. The eau-de-cologne is poured down my body and yet in a few hours the stale smell of sweat will pervade my nostrils.

 

 

Life creeps along, the country is stilled. The vibrant hum of life, the neon lights, the blaring kadé music cannot be found. At night candles flicker ominous shadows in houses that stand silent and tragically in a city that has been forced into darkness. I snort in disbelief and think thank God my parents are dead, for they thought life would get better for us!

Ola leaf number 37

 

A shroud of Heaven and a

Coffin of Earth

A pearl-less oyster sleeps on

the ocean bed

Discarded and thrown

It tempts only the scavenger

Who rips it apart with

avarice

 

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Ola leaf number 43

 

The innocent will be

killed.

Death comes in the form

of other men.

Trust and honour will

mean nothing

Peace they say will come

through violence

It is a war that is fought

for others by those who

don't quite know what is.

 

The man waited at the corner under the cover of darkness. He watched. He absorbed every detail, every sense of the place. Then he went to his rented room and lay down and closed his eyes. He didn’t sleep; over and over again he replayed the event that was to come. He felt like God. The next day he woke up early, downed a cup of scalding tea. Dressed very carefully and two hours before he was, left for the corner.

 

The man waited at the corner under the cover of light. He watched. He absorbed every detail, every sense of the place. He walked little, he spoke not at all. He watched with a concentration that could only be suspect. People passed. Cars drove. Policemen guarded. I passed him by and gave him not a glance. He was ordinary like you and me. Then at the traffic light he called out to me.

 

"Hello," he said, "sexy disco!" Leaning down towards the car window, as he pushed the button, resting against the car, all he thought was it is so easy. I am God.

 

Ola leaf number 1

 

I see the gods in your body

You are eternity

Being and nonbeing and beyond

I am the rite, the sacrifice

The fire, the oblation.

 

 

 

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