Today, I will be speaking about ‘My Village’, she said, as she stood shyly before her class.
I love my village.
It is beautiful.
I know all my neighbours.
They are my good friends.
I wave good morning to them on my way to school each morning.
They look after me when amma or thaththa are sick.
We cooked meals and took it to Prema akka’s house when her mother passed away.
We don’t cook at home when a loved one has passed away, you know
It is part of our culture.
So we all get together in one house, and cook.
Even though it’s a sad occasion, us kids have a great time,
Scooting between the kitchen and the garden.
Helping to wash or cut the vegetables,
Or pluck karapincha (curry leaves) from the garden.
In our village we are all one.
We live next door to each other.
We shop from each other’s shops.
We go to school together.
We play together.
Our fathers fish together.
Our mothers harvest the home-gardens together.
In our village we are all one.
My father was the mover and shaker in our village.
If someone’s fishing net had been stolen….
Or if someone needed Grama Sevaka (local government) approval for a building…
Or if someone had met with an accident…or there was a family feud...
My father was the go-to person in my village.
People were always in and out of our house…
“Is Farook at home,” they’d ask,
“What time will Farook be home,” another would query,
“I need to speak to him urgently and I can’t get through to his phone.
Please ask him to call me as soon as he’s home,” others would insist.
And without fail, my father always called them back.
He would somehow solve the problem.
He was mediator, driver, confidante, detective….
all rolled into one.
Now, many years later, as an adult,
I look back at that speech I made in class as a child.
I look at my village.
I see mobs torching my cousin’s phone shop to the ground.
I see my mother, sisters, baby brother and I huddled on the floor
of my Sinhala neighbour’s bedroom.
We didn’t even know where my father was.
We heard that he was hiding in the forest nearby with his Muslim friends
watching over our homes.
Mobs ran through our neighbourhood.
Fire in their eyes. Blood on their minds.
“Give us your machete,” they called out to our Tamil neighbour.
“You set one foot into my house, and I’ll pour boiling water on you.
Get out of here,” replied my neighbour furiously.
They ran off.
“They are supposed to be ‘outsiders’,” people whispered.
“Our people would never do this to us,” others said.
“How did outsiders know where we lived though,” others asked.
“Why didn’t anyone come to protect us from the outsiders,” another said.
“Why didn’t anyone come to check up on Farook,” my mother said tears welling in her eyes.
“Where were our neighbours when Farook needed help,” she said sobbingly.
Our people may not have come bearing knifes and torches,
but, they did nothing to stop the outsiders.
That, to me was the real betrayal.
For the first time in my life.
I was afraid of my village.
It was not beautiful anymore.
I was afraid of my neighbours.
I was afraid of my friends.
No more did I feel that in my village we were all one.
Perhaps we never were…..
Image courtesy: Ishara Danasekara