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Once upon a Foreign Country


‘Broken, beautifully broken,’
I thought
on the day Karuna broke away from the Tigers
and I read it on the Net

I wanted to call my friends
and enjoy the news with them
all the Sinhalese who gather to eat rice together
and brag about building the nation

My defeated, guilty
arrogant Sinhala heart.

My two year old son’s sleep
was broken
by the clatter of the computer
on the day Karuna broke away

Piggy-backed as usual
while I read the Net
looking over my head
at Karuna’s face on the monitor
my son said ‘Thatha’

In fact Karuna does look like me
no need of more proof
my wife thinks so too

Another day
when having risen early
I read in the BBC
about the assassination of Kaushalyan
an Eastern tiger leader
my son was in my lap
still a bit sleepy

‘Thatha,’ he said
leaning against my heart
looking at Kaushalyan
on the page I was reading

I had to agree with my son
at least to an extent
I looked like Kaushalyan too

To my son’s eyes
still not blinded by culture
still not bound by ideology
all three of us look alike
with no mark of ethnicity
carved on our foreheads

At the instant my son gifted me
with the third eye of insight
I saw Karuna, Kaushalyan and myself as one

If I was born in the North or East
if I had to run in that bitter black July
barely evading torches, knives, swords
and the clubs of Sinhala thugs
in ragged clothes, bleeding all over
carrying little brothers and sisters

but still not awakening the peacefully sleeping
Sinhala political conscience

in Colombo, Galle, Kurunegala,
and sacred Anuradhapura
if I had to grow up
under the world-destroying Ishwara gaze of the Sun God
tied in the chains of ideology
which polish fear with blood
into public opinion
I may well have been copied into Karuna
and tamed into Kaushalyan

Auden said of Yeats
‘Mad Ireland hurt him into poetry’
and this mad island
has hurt us all into the heart of madness

Which idiot says
‘There is no problem for Tamils
just because they are Tamils’
in this great lie that is Dharmadeepa?

But when I read how Kadirgamar’s heart
the heart of a man left alone between Sinhala and Tamil
was pierced by a bullet
when he was cleansing himself of the filth
that got to him hanging around with politicians all day
my heart was defeated

I was alone
without my son over my head
or in my lap by my heart

He doesn’t like it anymore
to look at the computer which shows him
other forms of his father

perhaps knowing by instinct
that it hurts the heart he leans against

I am afraid again
that my conscience might fall asleep
that I hurt reading the Internet
when living in a foreign country

Should I tell my son of the death of Uncle Kadir?
Why should I give him my Lankan sorrow?
No. I will tell him something good
about Lanka, Sinhala and Tamil

Let him sleep happily
in a foreign country


Dirge for Your Village and Mine


I do not know your village.
It may lie on a sea-shore where the waves beat,
or on the outskirts of a jungle;
I do not know the birds
that perch in spring on the boughs of the big koola trees
soaring aloft on the red-soiled paths
and sing.

I do not know the tiny flowers
that blossom along the streets in the rainy season;
or the songs you sang, accompanied
by the beat of the drum
or the tanks and the lakes
where the moon slumbers.


This night
when even the wind wounds,
you and I know one thing:

Our villages are like the heaped-up piles of ash,
large and small, in a crematorium.

Human blood has covered our sea,
whose waves sang.
The jungles where trees
rear high almost touching the sky,
resounded with wandering human voices,
and human flesh hanging from their boughs.
Scraggy dogs howl the whole night long, and
grass has covered the streets our forebears trod.

You and I know these;
We also know the flowers that have withered
the lines of abandoned songs,
and those moments the memory can no longer recreate.


do you know
that the withered flowers still have roots?
Do you know that the abandoned songs
lie steeped in the source of the words?
If, like them
you too do not know
that our history flames in silence,
in the deeps of the sea,
covered with blood,
know now that one day
it dawned and the sun rose
after a thousand years of rest and slumber

Translated by Lakshmi Holmstrom




It’s there

beneath the fallen fronds, dry crackling
piles of broken twigs abandoned wells of brackish
water lonely dunes

it’s there

the shadows of long bodies shrunk in death
the leeching sun has drunk their blood and
bloated swells the piling clouds.

It’s there

smell it in the air

its odour rank with sun and thickening blood
mingling with fragrance from the frothy toddy
pots mingling like lolling heads from
blackened gibbets

it’s there

amid the clangour of
the temple bells, the clapping hands, the
brassy clash of cymbals

the zing of bullets
cries of death
drowned in the roar
of voices calling Skanda
by his thousand names

Murugan, Kartikkeya
Arumugam ………….

“We pray, we cry, we clamour
oh Sri Kumaran, be not like the god
who does not hear, deaf Sandesvaran.”

Thirtham now no longer nectar of the gods
brims over but is bitter, bitter,
and at the entrance to Nallur
the silent guns are trained
upon a faceless terror


the landscape changes
the temples by the shore are smoking
ruins charred stone blackened,
on empty roads are strewn
the debris of warfare,
stained discarded dressings
a trial of blood
soon mopped up by the thirsty sun

Turned away from bloody skirmishes
of humankind the gods are blinded
by the rain of bullets
six faced Arumugam, all twelve eyes
close in darkness

The land is empty now
the pitted limestone
invaded by the sea
drowns, vanishes,
waves of rust swell and billow
beating into hollow caves and burial urns
filled with the ash of bodies
cremated by the fire of bullets.