Bitter Fruits of War and Sweet Dreams of Peace

Published in "Daily News" - on Sep. 25th, '99

It was a sunny day in November. When we passed a park in an Army-Jeep, the officer must have noticed my curious glance at the courting couples. As I don't go to movies or watch TV, and as this "lovely" sight is not seen in remote jungles, I was very inquisitive. The officer said with a cynical voice: "These Colombo people don't know what is really going on in the battle field." We had just left the Army-Hospital. What we had seen there and what we were seeing here seemed to be apart like hell and heaven; worldly suffering and happiness in their most extreme forms, yet so close together.

Ten years ago I had tasted similar "sweet hours" with my loved one. Now I'm walking a solitary path, but with the confidence that it's a more peaceful one. I wonder, somewhat critically perhaps, how much of the lovers' affection will still exist in their hearts, after another ten years have passed.

Let's go back to the other extreme--the bitter fruits of war that people are experiencing in this Island are in my country past, but not yet forgotten. Graveyards and family stories, such as my grandfather being killed in the front, are the reminders of similar historical disasters in Europe.

Since I have arrived on this Island, I have noticed the number of soldier-graves increasing; quietly but noticeably, day after day, year after year. Some gravestones have the shape of the Island: a falling drop which could be a drop of honey, but it's one of a bitter tear. Being aware of this unattractive aspect, the country's tourist-slogan "A Taste of Paradise" sounds hollow.

Curiosity and compassion, not politics, brought me to such an unusual place as the officer's ward in the Army-Hospital. These soldiers had just escaped death by a hair's breath; they hope that at least their bodily wounds will heal and therefore smiles appear again on their young faces. I spoke to them in a half serious, half joking way about war-stories in Europe. There, one time "enemies" got so close with each other that they became friends, and even exchanged presents for Christmas. But such fairy-tales happen rarely in reality.

My mood radically changed when I visited the ward of the "less important" soldiers. I was shocked to see that many had limbs missing, blown away by grenades. It was visiting hour. Families may had to come from remote poor villages to see again their somewhat disfigured father, husband or son. It is impossible for most of us to imagine how these relatives could manage the bus-fare for this journey, not to mention the unthinkable pain in their hearts. The officer who was leading me around asked me to talk to those whose hopes may have been blown away for ever; but what on earth could I ask, what on earth could I tell them.

Experiencing such a place and then looking at these young merry couples enjoying themselves on a sunny day in the park, healthy and drunk with love, a desperate "why?" may creep into ones heart and leave a bitter taste for a long time. However that could only happen if one hasn't developed enough wisdom to accept things as they are.

Having lived all that time in a country of war, I got used to barriers, barbwires, check-points, the army and police. I would like to mention here (with a thankful heart) that my experience with these so "deadly armed" men and women have been one of full respect and smiling friendliness. The reason could be the fortunate combination of a "brown robe and white skin"; as I am sure that they don't treat everybody in the same way.

What I still find difficult each time I see it, is the contrast between beautiful Sri Lankan ladies and their heavy machine guns. Once, two of these female soldiers checked my passport. Smiles, so at odds with their uniform, lightened up their faces, when they saw the picture, which was taken during my "hippie" days. Life-times seem to have past since then.

Some months ago, a soldier, on-leave, visited my cave. Seeing the simple way in which I was living with nature, he expressed how it was similar to his experiences of survival in the guerilla-war. He still had not recovered from a grenade-injury and yet this young fellow, just recently married, had to go back to the front the next day. Yes, we both struggle for peace; he against the enemies outside, I against those inside everyone of us.

More of such dark and bright experiences could be added, but they all show the same thing: we live in a crazy, strange world full of extremes where only we can create a peaceful paradise in ourselves.

One day Sri Lanka will be erased from the map!" Remembering these desperate words by a Sinhalese novice, I start dreaming of a warless future when all weapons will be thrown away. The monsoon rain will paint rust on their useless heavy metal. Weeds will weave a green carpet over them and flowers will add their colors and perfumes. Animals will transform these objects of fear and death into a place where safety can be found and life enjoyed. Birds and insects will create sounds so lovely and so opposite to the noise of shooting that this scenery, peacefully conquered by nature, will be like paradise. Somebody will erect a golden board with these eternal words of the Buddha: "Only through love hate can be overcome," and another one in bright pink for the young MTV- generation: "All we are saying is, Give Peace a Chance!"

... But this is just an unreal dream, a momentary escape from a real nightmare.