I’m not Lighting a Candle Today

December 26, 2006

Its been two years since a friend called one morning, as we were studying for exams, to ask why lamp-posts were shaking. Two years since another friend called from Galle Hospital; tired, depressed, fiercely determined to see things through, utterly helpless. Two years since we heard that Tharini was missing; that the place we stayed at the last time we visited Unawatuna had disappeared along with the occupants.

Two years since the pride began. Two years since millions all over Sri Lanka suddenly began to gather and transport everything from pillows to medicines to dry rations, in lorries, vans, three-wheelers, even motorbikes. Collect goods, give their time; to people whom they never knew existed twenty-four hours ago. Two years since a man walked into a pharmacy in Kandy saying, “Give me everything they need”. Two years since the night when boys stood all along the Galle Road with makeshift hazard signs, giving directions, pointing out detours. Two years since one of us said, “Screw this exam. I’m going.” Two years since we ended up in a refugee camp past Karathivu, and heard an STF corporal describing to an LTTE cadre how he’d brought a small girl down from a palmyrah tree onto which she had got thrown, using an old saree. Two years since eight of us treated three hundred people in three hours, dressed wounds, gave out everything from antiasthmatics to scabies lotion. Two years since a small boy in LTTE uniform served us tea, and the mess seargent at the STF camp near Kalmunai gave a speech, after cooking us the greatest dish of noodles I have ever tasted.

Two years since the disgust began. Two years since men snatched chains from the necks of drowning women; since corpses were molested; since the forensics team at Galle found marks of strangulation on a cadaver. Two years since gangs looted shops; insurance companies refused to pay shopkeepers, and a stranded tourist paid a thousand rupees for a phone call. Two years since anxious families paid corpse-hunters many times as much for the recovery of their dead. Two years since there were refugee camps at Ampara divided by race, with countless sinhalese in supply trains trying unsuccesfully to get to Paanama – the only ‘sinhalese’ village affected in the far east – and refusing to hand over goods to the common depots. Two years since a mosque at Kalmunai began collecting unused clothing exclusively for muslims refugees. Two years since men would only give directions to storage depots in exchange for something; a twenty five litre water can; a tube of savlon… Two years since the day caretakers bgan to pilfer foodstuffs, officials began to pilfer money, and the government began to pilfer foreign donations.

So what will I remember if I light a candle? Two years later, I cant even recall my motives for doing what I did that week. Maybe I wanted to help. Maybe all I wanted was a change. Two years since, I find that I cannot judge anything, or anyone. The pictures are meaningless; the stories feel unreal.

Was anything real? When I sat down to write this, the first thing that came to mind was a child’s hand which I sewed up while he screamed, in a makeshift clinic near a row of wells – all that remained of a row of houses – on the east coast of our country. I have never been there since. I hope someone removed the sutures. I gave his father a piece of paper with the date on it to show the next medical team, but i’m not sure whether he understood me. Two years later, I’ll never know.

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7 Responses to “I’m not Lighting a Candle Today”

  1. vor Says:

    super post. interesting blog. you a medical student then? versatile bugger

  2. Haren Says:

    two years on, i lit a candle many ocean waves away, like i did then. i remembered… and a single tear rolled down… just like one did two years ago. the stories of courage and love spread much faster those days, than those of cowardice and brutality. you think you can make a difference with every wound you heal – and you do, and i wonder what the necrophiliacs think (if they do)… but at the end of the day, i think the scales of good and evil will always be balanced – no matter what we do or don’t do… and that’s why i lit a candle, because despite its light, the room still seemed dark, but the darkness in a little corner of the world was gone while it burned…

  3. Manshark Says:

    After reading 10 million sob-fest tsunami-memory write ups in the last few days..what a refreshing read this was!

    AND this is the only one which was so honestly beautiful and so beautifully honest 🙂

  4. Niroshan Says:

    Your post brought a tear to my eye.
    I don’t know whether it’s because I felt happy about the humanity people like you can so generously give to a fellow human being, a fellow countryman, or because I feel so sad about the way that,that same humanity can be raped and molested by some others.

    Anyways, It’s a fantastic post and wish you a very Happy New Year!

  5. Turtle Says:

    i heard you were disturbed by the non-elaborative nature of my comment. i meant “wow” about the subject matter; i didn’t really notice the writing, was too enthralled. now that i read it again, the writing was pretty good too hehe. so “wow” all around.

  6. Atticus Says:

    I had just had a depressing chat about career issues. And then I read this post. Suddenly remembered why I want to do what I do. Screw the promotions and screw the degrees.

    Thank you.


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