Yes things have been a bit slow but...
I'm NOT the most rapid fire poster these days. Life demands more of my time. However the words still swirl in the brain and I do have to vomit them out here for the sake of sanity.
So far the record is 2 posts a month. I'm working on breaking that. Till then enjoy the archives or check out a random post.
This post is the result of suddenly deciding to take the photo below.
“The guy would take out bunkers with one shot” we were told. From the rest of the recollections you could practically see him taking aim, rock steady in the hell of jungle firefights. When we meet him, the calmness is still there. A fit man, on the way towards his late twenties. He is confidently independent with his white stick. Dark glasses and a beard do a good job of hiding the web of scars on his face.
The highlight of his life was being his unit’s RPG marksman. That ended as he matter-of-factly put it, somewhere near Paranthan. He was pushed backwards by a blast while running through a clearing. A distant helicopter in the Wanni sky was the last thing he saw before something struck his face and everything went black. “The doctors say there’s nothing that can be done” he adds without a change of tone. He insists he has adjusted to his new condition. Proven I suppose by producing two daughters after coming home permanently blind.
They all get by on his army pay for now. Yet he has his sights beyond survival on a pension. He wants both girls to make a living without “depending on a man”, a contact in the government or charity. It is a goal that calls for tuition classes to ensure high scholarship scores, leading to places in a “good Colombo school” and culminating in professional degrees (medicine ideally).
To make it happen he wants to start a small business. Sell snacks in town for a start. The main bus station and the two schools will ensure a steady market. Perhaps in the near distance, a shop. Further out, a willingness to be a blind Mudalali with more diversified concerns.
The investor among us is willing to put in an eye brow raising sum. There a terms and conditions of course. He is told to stay clear of anything that requires refrigeration (and the accompanying fuel costs for the generator). How to manage costs. Processes to avoid theft. A general discussion about investments, banking and loan options. His posture is of intense concentration, determined to absorb it all. The arc of the conversation gets ever wider. Yet it’s weighed down by a desire for specifics, concrete details, commitments that transform conversations over Thambili into actions.
There is no denying the commitment on his part. He wants to keep track of the accounts himself in Braille. Its surprises us all and smells of a familiar distrust of parasitic relatives. His Thambili serving wife seems more concerned about his Kassipu addicted “friends”. From the way she deftly chops the tops off, I don’t think they will have the courage to be a problem. “So many of the men here are passed out drunk by sunset because of that poison” she says. Almost as an explanation of the root of it all, she glances sideways at a fading election poster on a neighbour’s wall. There’s brief flare of contempt at the grinning pudgy face in the poster. Those of us who noticed that flicker get the message.
She’s been reading Sinhalen Business to him at night. It seems to have inspired them both with a spark of hope for making their future brighter. Her calm determined expression reminds me of another wife I’ve blogged about.
Eventually we pile into the van and bounce down the road. Out of a green Sri Lankan heartland, towards the A roads and Colombo’s madness.
In the back they are on the phones, voices raised due to the shaky signal. There’s a call about setting up a photocopy business in Kilinochchi. The guy in question was ex-LTTE. Recently released but still needs to get some documents cleared. Could you get your contacts in the army to take care of it? Meanwhile access to a distributor for a widow near Vavuniya with a new sewing machine is finalised. In Galle, somebody’s daughter will start accounting classes and the journey from a unfortunate past.
There are no organisations, titles, paperwork, grant writing, in this nameless activity. Just phone calls, and conversations among friends of several decades “someone I know wants to help this person in…”. A lot of weekends sacrificed for uncomfortable travel to see things for oneself. Money pulled out of hard earned personal savings. Disappointments shrugged off after lessons learnt. Wisdom acquired by surviving decades of this country’s history seems to keep cynicism at bay.
In the van’s rear view mirror, a blind rocket propelled grenade marksman is stroking the head of his baby daughter held by his wife. The white of his toothy smile is visible against sun blacked skin even from this distance. There is a final wave before the road (track of ruts) bends into the trees. I don’t know what writing all this was supposed to mean. The Voices can only take so much eavesdropping before they get insistent so here you are.
The road is named after a corporal. It carves its rutted way through a landscape bursting with lush greens. Lakes of paddy fields on either side of the road. Punctuated by dark green islands thick with coconut and trees planted by great grand parents. At the foot of the horizon, another band of green, then mountains rising in progressively cooler, paler shades of blue and purple. A land made for water colour, a world untouched by blogs, tweets or image streams. Hardly any outsiders come this far off the B roads. Certainly not journalists, activists, report writers, development types or anyone who can afford the latest smartphone. Even the local politician only swings by at election time with his empty promises and jeep load of goons.
See that new house ? The result of four sons (three army, one navy) who survived to send home enough combat pay. Further down: parents who can afford to use electricity (when ever the fickle moods of the Electricity Board makes it available). Their eldest made sergeant. The second son is doing something technical in the airforce. The daughter married well. Got a qualification and a Colombo job. They say she can speak English enough not to bother coming home often. Next door, a more common tale. The only son missing at Elephant Pass. The parents sold most of their fields to marry off the sisters.
The concrete bus stop is dedicated to the earliest casualty from the area. His moustached face stares blankly from under a beret in a faded, skewed photo. The first in his family to score a university spot but he was patriotic and paid the price. A land mine. There are similar photos in many houses. The price of new plumbing, concrete walls, dowries, a sibling’s education. Paid in years of sealed coffins, traumatic funerals, and silent guilt grinding endlessly into the years.
Absent family is an unspoken hereditary curse here. There are those that never came back from places with mispronounced Tamil names. Interspersing fathers, uncles, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins “disappeared” during both “JVP times“. For the blessed, there’s the remnants of funds from daughters in the middle east that survived the reach of alcoholic husbands. Or sons living illegally in cold places further away. Among those still around: aiyas’ with Jaipur feet, shrapnel, wheel chairs, white canes, a cheap looking prosthesis, or invisible wounds medicated nightly with kassippu. Of the majority who came back intact only a few plough the fields of their fathers. The rest away in places that have jobs.
This year things are looking good though. The boys still in the forces come home on leave at regular intervals. There will be a spate of weddings. Than new faces of women from other parts of the country shopping in the market. Later a next generation will be walking to what passes for a school across the paddy fields. Did you see all those new three wheelers and motorcycles at the junction next to the recently built shops ? The village stupa was repaired by a local prodigy who got a scholarship to America. He might visit one day. Till then he sends computers to the village school. Three still work.
I feel there are other heart lands like this to the North. Typically pictured with Palmyra trees. Places more extensively devastated (no papered over with infrastructure projects) by the traumas of our history. Their people trying just to live. Those heartlands are popularly viewed as far way places. Yet I sense fundamental link among such heartlands that reach beyond the superficiality of ethnicity and culture. Generally by the common aspirations of humans who have killed and wounded each other. It is a common bond that feudal rulers of various types have cloaked for generations. Their tools of carefully cultivated fears, myths, and ideologies still potent. This is a view I dare not talk about as my words will descend to the laziness of sweeping generalisations as evident in this paragraph. Resulting in arguments, rhetorical clumsiness, and ill feelings – the price for the futility of talking anything political in Sri Lanka.
In the back of the van they are mumbling about the heat and the dying air-conditioner. I crank down the window and savour the humidity. It has been a long ride and we not there yet. “Nearly there” is what our guide has been saying forever. Eventually we will meet our Mr Kurtz. After the meeting there’s the promise of a rest house lunch and perhaps a chilled Elephant House Ginger Beer (may it be ice free is my only prayer).
I accept that my presence is a frivolous addition to the purpose of this journey. I’m bouncing along because of a “free” weekend and a commitment made without probing for details. I’m obviously not smart enough even to be stupid. At least there should be a blog post in all this I think.
Kalusudda, an active, positive presence in the Sri Lankan blogosphere (2008-2009) has died in what appears to be a terrible mishap at sea. His wife has posted the sad news on his blog.
He died saving the life of his brother. Unaware that he was a father to be. I read his wife’s post with my infant son asleep on my shoulder. It made the tragedy of of his death seem utterly personal.
He was the only person I have known in a “purely digital” manner to have died. I “knew” Kalusudda only through his comments and posts in his blog. Both indicate a happy, intelligent, generous spirit with a very positive outlook on life. It made him stand out amidst the prettily vicious comment wars and blog fights of that era. His blog also brought an interesting perspective on blogging.
Most people currently active in the Sri Lankan blogosphere would not have heard of him – which is their loss. Yet the old farts like me can count themselves fortunate. His blog and digital presence went quiet just over four years ago. Yet he was the type whose absence could still be noticed 4 years later. Quite a feat in the Sri Lankan blogosphere. If you have any recollections, feel free to share them fittingly in the comment box below.
Yes, death is one of the few inevitables of life. It came too soon for Kalusudda. I feel world was robbed of the sort of positive spirit it desperately needs. Thankfully his positivity is alive in his son. For that we should be thankful. I hope that his family continues to heal. I’m sure you would feel the same.
We will continue to miss you man.
Thanks to Magerata for letting me know of the sad news
I find it impossible to “explain” anything Sri Lanka related to non Sri Lankans. Until recently, I never thought it was possible. My own failures and those of others I have seen were catastrophes of miscommunication. Thankfully I have found an exception. Before revealing it to you, its essential to appreciate the difficulties of “explaining” Sri Lanka related phenomena.
Practically anything Sri Lankan is smeared in unspoken complex cultural contradictions. Your education in their nuances and sensibilities occur through the mess called growing in Sri Lanka. Its very hard to unpack these subliminally learned awareness into structured comprehensible nuggets for non Sri Lankans.
Yet without such a childhood of absorbed awarenesses, nothing appears what it appears to be. Sri Lanka becomes
- just another brown peopled third world mess oversimplified by foreign correspondents
- the exotic, “charming” holiday destination of travel lit, teaming with boutique hotels, elephants and slick photos
During my eons in exile, having to “explain” Sri Lanka is the misfortune of successfully explaining that I am not an Indian. If the audience was a person from the US, the hill was steeper.
It seemed every sentence required a clarifying foot note. Each one spiralled off into further digressions of “background” or context related “explanations”. Inevitably you run out of time and leave your listener with a heap of confusing references, a blizzard of barely pronounceable names and a sense that its all too confusing to bother.
In the face of all this, Ru Freeman’s interview on the Diane Rehm radio show in the US stands out as a rare success. As you can listen for your self on streaming audio , the “explanation” has two key pillars of success:
- the tight focus of context: Ru Freeman’s novel On Sal Mal Lane
- the razor sharp listening skills of a world class interviewer who already seems to have a lot of good background knowledge to bridge the content gap for what is primary an US audience
Don’t take my word and listen to the interview on streaming audio. Don’t you think its a rather successful “explanation” of something Sri Lanka related? While you are at the comment box, share one of your experiences of explaining Sri Lanka to non Sri Lankans.
I’m not a nostalgic type. There are no “good old days”. Just figments of our deluded sense of linear time mixed with fuzzy granules of pleasant memories. Some of these are the posts put out by bloggers who are now inactive or sporadic. Most of them were highly active during the “pioneering” days of Sri Lankan blogging (2005-2009). I refer to this period as the “war years”. When Sri Lankan Blogosphere essentially swirled around. kottu.org. Digital archeologists may call it the middle to late period of early Sri Lankan blogging.
At the risk of appearing nostalgic this post is a sort of “memorial” to those blogs. Their bloggers I’m sure are leading far more productive happier lives.
- Gyppo The Bohemian Gypsy : Went quiet in November 2012 after writing a long post about home.
- His diasporic rhythmicness, London Lanka and Drums : Last post was in February 2013 about going the grind on a Monday. Must still be there.
- Kalusudda Comments : went to sea (literally) in mid 2009 and never returned to blogging. Hope he’s ok.
- Two bloggers I enjoyed have taken their blogs off line. Luckily the drummer has written a good post on both. These two are:
- Then there is the now retired The Missing Sandwich which is nicely obituaried by the drummer. At least we know that its blogger has gone on to higher creative realms.
There are of course more but in typical fashion I don’t have the time to keep on typing.
After all, blogging is hard. It involves writing something larger than a tweet or a Facebook comment. That takes time, and a prioritisation of life’s tasks to slot in the act of writing into the daily grind. The availability of lazier alternatives adds another layer of distraction. I suspect that some of these factors led at least one of these bloggers to go quiet. Or perhaps it’s the natural last stage of 7 – or is it 6? – ages of a blogging.
To end on a positive note, there are a few of the “old” masters still out there. The Court Jester continues to be terrifying in his nonchalant way. Brandishing the usual excuses, the grand old man of Sri Lankan blogging is back – in a blunter, briefer form. Venerable kottu.org steams on, revived and very much evolved. Things could be worse.
Do you have any blogs that have gone quiet? Feed free to share.
I owe the survival of my reading life to audio books, magazine audio editions and text to speech technology. Without them, my reading would be limited to tweets, skimming over web sites or pawing through abandoned waiting room magazines. I use the term “audio books” to refer to all three categories.
Being read to by a disembodied voice is a very different “reading” experience. Most of us are to ancient to remember being read to as kids. I do not claim that audio books are a replacement for “traditional” reading. Yet in a cultural famine, you can’t be too picky about the format of your intellectual nutrients.
It was an audio novel that made me realise the potential of audio books. An engaging story in a professionally recorded audio book has the immersive-ness of a radio play. I was surprised how vividly I could visualise the imagery, even while driving. I felt I was recalling something from memory. A particularly delightful aspect is the narrator’s “voice acting” of the dialogue. It gives a unique colouring to the characters which so far, has fitted precisely to my mental imagery. It gives the story and the overall experience a depth not found in silent reading.
Audio periodicals/magazines are a different experience. Audio editions of The Economist sound like a personalised news broadcast. I have become quite familiar with the very British but surprisingly un snobbish voices of the three narrators. Despite varying accents, their skilful use of tone and inflection carry the humour and irony that marinates everything The Economist prints. I don’t even miss the print magazine’s captions any more.
Text to speech features on the iPhone have allowed me to “read” online texts in depth when I’m off line. The convenience quite easily helped me forget the mechanical nature of the voice. Now its just another accent in a life time of filtering accents.
The greatest joy of audio books is the richness they bring to life’s mindless tasks. The drudgery of commuting (sitting in traffic), or cutting up the bodies are elevated to intellectual activities. The Economist audio edition replaced YFM as my companion on the morning commute long ago. On the evening grind back, I switch to one of my two audio novels (I have listened to them both countless times). It is perhaps the most enjoyable form of close reading ever invented. No doubt I alarmed the people in the chariots around me with bursts of laughter to Mohammed Hanif’s Exploding Mangos. Audio books have even freed up time in the toilet (more on that later) for writing blog posts like this one.
I value audio books the same way a passenger on The Titanic values a spot in a life boat. As in a lifeboat on an arctic night, there are some minor annoyances. The world of professional audio books is dominated by a company called Audible. Though I have no quibble with its products, it has strange geographic restrictions on what you can download. These nutty geo restrictions can even filter down to other resellers such as iTunes.
The restrictions are not very clearly stated on sales propaganda. You only slam into them when you try to make a purchase. This forum post sums up the user frustrations quite well.
The complete alternative to professionally recorded audio books is Librivox, which calls itself an
Extensive collection of free audio books read by volunteers; the goal is to record every book in the public domain.
I have have yet to dip into this pool though I may eventually have to. Audio books are more expensive than ebooks and “traditional books”. Both formats have been pushed out of my reach the priorities of survival. Priorities that become tasks and routines which shatter my days into fragments. Such fragments have made the time for immersing into books an unattainable luxury.
Before audio books rescued my reading life, I tried desperately to life hack some solutions. Toilet reading was an early effort. A later attempt was “snatch reading” a few lines off ebooks on the phone when I had a moment.
Both processes are unsatisfying disheartening. It feels as if I’m being jolted in and out of the book’s universe. The sensation is worse when it takes over a week to read 2 pages. Ultimately it creates a feeling of stretching mouthfuls of a good meal over the course of a few days.
Audio books (or should I say “Audio Texts”) are not a reading habit of this omni digital age. It harks backs to the reading traditions of the ancients when books were meant to be read aloud to the illiterate masses. Silent reading was a rare if not strange sight. Aside from the historic trivia, audio books have other education efficiencies as described by Denise Johnson, an assistant professor of reading education.
I understand that paper book/traditional reading purists would insist on the superiority of their experience. My “reading situation” has increased my appreciation for paper books and the private escape of silent reading. Certainly puts my oddly nosy interest in other people’s book shelves into perspective. I remain in awe of people who can gluttonously indulge in traditional books and have decadent shelf space to gloat about it to wretches like me.
The fact is that life is brutal. Its brutalities demands sacrifices of our time and attention. In the face of which, audio books are not a bad compromise to keep the flicker of reading alive.
What has your journey into audio books been like? Are you on the verge of crossing over? Has it shifted after you started listening to them?