In transit in Amsterdam, on the way to New York for the opening of my show “Crossfire” on the 15th April 2012 at Queen’s Museum of Art. But late afternoon light is magical anywhere. It’s Biju in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and also the Sinhala and Tamil New Year:?Iniya Putthaandu?Vaalthukkal, as well as Budhdhist New Years Day (Thangran or Songkran)
DrikICT will LIVE-STREAM Chhayanaut BORSHO-BORON Program direct?Ramna Batamul on both Chhayanaut and drik site. Here are the two website links where you can ?view the Chhayanaut?Borsho-Boron programme live on Pahela Boishakh. ?Veisakhi, the first day of spring is celebrated in India and especially in the Punjab. http://www.chhayanaut.org/?and http://www.drik.tv/
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Earlier pictures and articles on Bangla New Year:
6th July 2005
?This man lying here, brought me to this world. He educated me, clothed and fed?me, stood by my own bed in hospitals, stood in the gap for me at school, prayed?for me unceasingly, blessed me, guided me and counseled me and gave me?strength to take the next step. Yet, I watch him lying here, and there is nothing I?can do to stop him from dying??These were my thoughts on a chilly morning in the last room on the left wing of?Lakeside Medical Centre in Kandy five years ago. I felt helpless and useless.
Here I was seated and watching his life ebb away and I could do nothing.?What use was I? Or anything else in this world, if it can?t save the life of a man?such as him ? my father. ?God, are you really there?? I asked a blank wall.?It was also Terryll?s birthday, so I had plans to go back to Colombo that day and?return the next day, to uselessly stand by him. Yet I wanted to be there, in my?desperation to share whatever he was going through. To let him know I was?there, because I believed that even in his comatose state, he heard our voices.
For only a week before, I had spent the whole day with him near his bedside and?sang all the old Tamil songs we used to sing as children. And I saw a smile and?a tear run down his cheek. So he heard me. And that tiny factor was comforting.?What was I trying to do? Ease my conscience? For all the time I did not spend?with him? For the trouble I put him through as a teenager? For the anxiety I gave?him as an adult? I didn?t know. Perhaps he knew. We bonded that day like never?before. Even in his state, we connected. Like we always did. My father and I.
I stood up to leave, my eyes never leaving the respirator and his one hand on?his belly moving up and down which was the only sign of life. And suddenly the?movement stopped. Just like that. I knew the end was here. I handed my baby?(Zoe was then nearly 2 years) to the nurse and although we were asked to leave?the room, I wanted to stay by his side. To make sure they did everything right.
Suddenly everything was clear to me. This was the end. It was time to let go.?This man lying here will no longer be my strength. I had to be his. I cradled his?head in my hands, I whispered ?Dada I love you. We all love you. Go in peace.??The medics turned him face up. He grimaced with his eyes closed. I put his?hands together, straightened his legs and once again held his head up so the?blood would flow out and not block his throat. I didn?t cry. I wanted him released.
His pulse had already stopped. The doctor asked if they could use the electric?shocks on him as a routine procedure. I told them to leave him alone. His face?relaxed, he looked so peaceful. I put my head down on his chest. There was?nothing. My everything was suddenly nothing. I still didn?t cry. I helped the nurses?take out the tubes and clean him up.
He looked so peaceful, in a long time. Yet through the 7 months since diagnosis,?he never once complained. Not even when they stuck needles in his stomach?to release the fluids. He would smile and thank the nurses and compliment on a?good job done. I turned around and held the doctor?s hands and thanked for the?efforts, I held the nurses hands one by one and thanked them too. That is what?he would have done. Blessed them and thanked them profusely. The pathologist?covered his face with his arm and sobbed against the wall. Dada had coaxed him?several years ago to pursue his studies and make a man of himself. There were?nurses in the room he had recommended for jobs.
I filled out the death certificate calmly. Everything was so clear and programmed.?Name of deceased: Walter Jonathan Sinniah. Time of death: 1.45pm. Cause of?death: General System Failure due to multifocal carcinoma of the liver. Parent?s?name: Peter Murugesu Sinniah and Mary Sinniah. Place of Birth: Deniyaya.?Place of burial: General Cemetery, Mahiyawa. Witness of death: Jeevani?Fernando. Relationship to deceased: Daughter. I couldn?t write anymore.?I wanted to remain a witness to his life rather than his death. I had witnessed 35?years of it that day. And even now, it is his extraordinary life that challenges me?on a daily basis. Not his death.
We sat nervously huddled on the wooden bench of the Haputale Railway Station at 8pm last night, clutching our precious collections from the trip – kithul jaggery from Badulla and jars of orange marmalade, guava jelly and Nelli syrup from Adhisham for the two grandmothers.? Partly shivering in the cold, partly wondering how we were ever going to make the 10-12 hour journey back home by getting in to a train from a midway station with no previous booking.? We had taken a break on the way back to Colombo to visit the beautiful monastry Adhisham and didn’t realise the train will be full by the time it comes to Haputale.
“I love all kinds of people mummy, but I just can’t travel 3rd class on the train” said Mishka. We had just that morning taken 3rd class tickets from Badulla to Haputale and it was quite an experience when, after having paid for 4 seats, we were down to one, when Samaritan love overtook us and we gave seats to mothers with babies and grandmothers, also with babies in the hope of getting a sympathetic seat in an already overcrowded train. Mishka was miffed that people could assume we would feel sorry.?Little realising we were going to need that same sympathy soon.
I said let’s pray. Zoe said let’s throw some people out. Kyle said ‘don’t worry mummy, something will work out’.?15 more minutes to go for the train to arrive. I looked at my 3 fellows and thought I must do something. They had been such good troopers, climbing up and down mountains, trekking nearly 2kms in Indian sandals (bad preparation by the mother) to see and touch the Dunhinda falls, that majestically fell 190ft down creating a mystical cloud of spray and awe.?They had eaten noodles for breakfast and fried rice with no meat as it was the Buddhist festival where no meat was cooked.? They had slept in a mud cabin in the woods and no neighbouring lights, with absolutely no fear at all.?They had been thrilled at every little thing, the train rides through tunnels and around the mountains, the fiery short-eats and even the ghastly toilet in the train where they could see the tracks while doing their ‘little jobs’.
So I plucked my courage and told my three, ‘let mummy go talk to the station master’. The man at the counter had refused to even issue 3rd class tickets to us as he wasn’t sure if there would be room even to stand ‘all other seats FULL madam’ he had said a while ago.? So I by-passed him and walked into the station master’s office.? I made polite introductions in English and he asked what I was doing in Haputale and what had I seen, etc, etc. Then he asked me the wrong question ‘Are you Tamil or Sinhala?’ ‘Oh no!’ says Mishka, because she knows the tirade her mother goes into when that question is asked.? So I let him have it – about how this country got into this state because of questions like that.?And I thought, there goes any chances of getting seats.? Yet,?he didn’t seem peeved. He was in fact making very good conversation.? It ended with his promise ‘I will somehow get you seats but first get yourself on the train with 3rd class tickets’.?I saw Mishka’s face fall.
The train came. It was a mad rush. We managed to scramble into 3rd class. It was packed. It smelled of alcohol and it had no room even on the floor.? I was dismayed but was determined to take it.?I had just managed to put the bags up on the rack when the station master, uniform, cap and all, came running to our compartment and hurried us to take our bags and get off the train. The children groaned. We got off.? He signaled to a man in uniform where the reserved seats were and held up 4 fingers.? We were like refugees now running to the front of the train with bags and jackets and Ivndian slippers flapping under our feet. Passengers poked their heads out to see what was going on with the station master who was also running along with us. The engine driver was getting impatient.? A quick exchange between the two men and we were bundled into 2nd class reserved compartments.? Reclining chairs and all. All I could do was jump back down and shake hands with the station master and thank him profusely.? And as the train pulled away, he shouted ‘I don’t know why I did this but certainly not because you are a Tamil!’
I fell back on my seat laughing. Apparently some others had to be re-arranged to another compartment to fit us in there.? The children were giving hi-five’s to each other. Mishka had found a new hero – a tall, smart station master in Haputale. She was all starry-eyed. I was speechless.? The kindness people show others, in any dimension, makes such a difference to an individual, a family.? Never should one shy from going that extra mile, lending a hand or seeing to the comfort of another, to a strange mother with three children who believed in miracles.? The children will never forget this experience and also the belief that people in their country are helpful, kind and generous no matter what ethnicity they belong to.
And as the knight in shining armour blew the whistle, and Zoe cuddled up to me on the seat, happy she didn?t have to throw anyone out the window, I looked forward to the future of my children.
Heading to my flat. It will be a night to reminisce.
10 years ago this time, I was lying on a hospital bed, being prepared for a C-Section, in a cold and sterile surgical unit.? Waiting for my son to be taken out. I didnt know it was going to be a boy. I only knew it was going to be hard on the finances. Hard on my time with my daughter who was only 1.8 yrs. So many thoughts running in my head. A lone tear ran the side of my face. I couldn’t brush it off as my hands were strapped on the side. A woman could never feel more vulnerable than when on strapped down on a surgical table, with a swollen belly and a surgical blouse that doesn’t meet at the front. No pins allowed in the OT.? Cold and shivering and and not just because of the airconditioner. Wishing hard for the anesthesia mask to be placed quickly over my face so that I just go into oblivion. But the nursing staff was taking their time.? It was a teaching hospital and I didnt have to pay for the theatre. Only for the medicines. Care is expensive.
Then I heard a woman sobbing on the other side of the curtain. She sounded young and she was crying asking for a man, in Sinhalese. I mentally wiped away my own tears and fears and started talking to her. It was her first pregnancy. She was 23.? I said you should be happy and proud that you have come all this way with no problems. No pressure, no diabetes, baby’s reports were good and I could hear the radio monitoring the heartbeat of the baby strong and rythmic. Maybe she was scared of the procedure. I told her men are not allowed in these hospitals as the surgical rooms have more than one at a time.? What she told me next stopped me dead.? She said the baby’s father will never come, not to this room, he wasn’t even standing outside, he wasn’t even waiting anxiously at home. He just wasn’t anywhere near.? At 26 years, he was buried somewhere in the north of country. Died only knowing he was going to be a father.? He had joined the army only a year ago before their marriage. They thought it will end.? This was 1999.? Caught in crossfire. She hated Tamils.
Dear God, I thought. Here we are two women lying in the same room with not just a curtain separating us and our lives and the lives of our children to be born, but a world of man-made differences.? She went into labour.? I was weeping.? Not for myself anymore.? The nurse chided me. How little she knew of what was happening at that moment.? She went into panic and stopped pushing. They gave her sedatives and baby was delivered by forceps. Swarna gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, fathered by a soldier who, perhaps died in vain.? Life for a life. I saw the bloodstained baby being taken away to be cleaned up. I prayed God help her to forget the hatred and pain by just holding that baby.? I never saw Swarna again because she had a normal birth and in a different section.? I was the woman whose pelvic bones never budge, said doctor. Hence the slice and cut open procedure.
? Terryll Fernando
Although I was tempted to ask the anesthetist if she was Sinhalese, I was happy to be knocked out. That’s the good thing about C-Sections. There is a baby next to you when you wake up. Hopefully it is yours!!? He was taken out a little after midnight. The moment I saw his big coconut head, I thanked God for whoever discovered c-sections.? He was such a good baby. Slept soundly all morning while the other brats were screaming for nothing.? But he is always like that.? Happy to cuddle up to me. All day and night.? Even till he was seven.? A very affectionate and concerned fellow.? Never likes to see me cry or be alone.? He would assure me a hundred times, ‘don’t worry mummy, I am just here’.? Always warned me of pending danger.??? He would check out the house before I could walk in. A dinasour could be behind every door. One day I opened my notebook in the boardroom while at a meeting with old cronies and a dinasour stared at me from my notebook and a caution ‘be careful mummy’ left by my son. Very timely.
He has promised not to marry but instead take care of me. But that was at 6 years. I said wait till you are 16 years and check again.? He is superman, he-man, batman, iron-man all rolled into one jumping off washing machines and table tops with an old cot sheet for a cape. Broke his heart when the sister quipped, ‘you look like a peacock’. Even Superman needs his mummy to rescue him at times like these.? To him, I am a star.
Every year my thoughts go back to Swarna. Wonder what her son must be like.? Maybe one day I could trace her from the hospital records.