Baby, look what peace has done to us

A post-war glimpse of the once beautiful beaches of Sri Lanka. First published in the Sunday Leader on 9th May 2010 – http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2010/05/09/baby-look-what-peace-has-done-to-us/

There’s something indescribably pristine about places rarely visited that does wonders for the soul of the unconventional traveler. 30 years of civil war kept nearly half this nation in such a state, making travel to Arugam Bay, Trincomalee, Jaffna and the lot unforgettably breathtaking and quiet. It seemed almost untouched by the classic Sri Lankan footprint of refuse thus far.

Peace opened many kilometers of travel to Sri Lankans living in the west, south and central parts of the island, letting them venture into territories that most have never had a chance to see in their lifetime until last May. A year down the line, these places have become wastelands for the adventurous soul who knows the world is his garbage dump.

Let’s go see Trinco beach they’d say, and venture higher into Fort Fredrick and worship at Koneswaram Kovil. Let us leave our mark in every place we visit in the form of sanitary napkins and plastic bottles. Let’s leave our children’s underwear behind, and biscuit wrappers strewn far and wide so everyman will know we have been here and laugh aloud at something our cousin just did in the midst of a sacred pooja.

Let us hire buses and go in hordes, let us sing songs along the way and randomly fling half eaten malu-paan out of the bus when we are stuffed and can eat no more.  Let us write our names and the names of our lovers along the walls of temples, immortalizing ourselves in the annals of history, for we will never find another way to be remembered after we are gone.  And so they would come and come and come. One year on, the untouched is interspersed with evidence of life everywhere; evidence that Sri Lankans love their country enough to see every corner of it now that it is finally opened up to them. These places are not merely stories told to us by our fathers and grandmothers anymore – these places are real and beautiful and we must know of them ourselves; walk every inch of ground and make note of how the ground beneath our feet feels different in these places and leave a part of ourselves behind so that we will be connected to these places always.

Come this mid-May, celebrations across the island will be astounding. Almost like the Obama inauguration, one might say. The powers that be will make sure that it is nothing less of a magnanimous affair, letting every Sri Lankan know that the corners of the land and everything in between belongs to each and everyone of us now – an affirmation that our lust for littering is merely a mark of overzealous travelers, letting us venture even further, leaving the mark of true Sri Lankan behaviour, permitting us to claim ownership of places we know nothing about, allowing us to think that every inch of ground is ours for the taking and the leaving behind.

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