Monday, March 26, 2007

8 films in one weekend!

Day 1

  1. 'The art of forgetting' by Lisa Kois
  2. 'Leila Khaled Hijacker' by Lina Makboul
  3. 'The Take' by Avi Lewis & Naomi Klein
  4. 'Women by the sea: Experiences of the Tsunami in Sri Lanka' by Robert Crusz
  5. ' Khamosh pani' by Sabiha Sumar
Day 2
  1. 'Return to Kandahar' by Nelofer Pazira & Paul Jay
  2. 'The Rockstar and the Mullahs' by Ruhi Hamid & Angus Macqueen
  3. 'Aksharaya (Letter of fire)' by Ashoka Handagama
Thanks to the guys at LST (Law Society Trust) and ICES (International Centre for Ethnic Studies)

Friday, March 23, 2007

A trip to heaven and back - part 3 (final)

Once we are back in Trinco, we sit around for dinner discussing our plans for the next day. In the meantime, catching bits and pieces of a ‘Man U vs Liverpool’ match. The dying minutes of the game and one of the guys decides he’s had enough and switches to Bollywood videos. Sri Lankans love Bollywood. They swear by it. They’ve got the latest tunes on their phones and many can be found singing them too. And believe me, they even get the lyrics and pronunciations right. Hats off to them.

After discussing various inane topics, we let our yawns out and head to sleep. It’s going to be a nice day when we wake up. At least that’s what my trusted Lonely Planet promises. It’s never let me down.

Breakfast time and we have a guest. A young SL Army Major. He’s the one who identified the needy village and gave us the opportunity to help them. He offers to join us to Koneshwaram Kovil, a Hindu temple perched atop the Swami Rock, a 130m high cliff with breathtaking views of the sea. White sand, blue sky, pristine white clouds, crystal clear aquamarine sea, and the hymns through the loudspeaker: it’s all so magical.

The oft talked about Lover’s Leap is nearby. The label comes from a story of a Dutch Official’s daughter who, watching her fiancĂ© sail away, decided to make the fatal leap.

People say death is guaranteed if you fall off that point. Either the landing kills you or the electric eels devour you. You choose your manner of death. So much for love!

I walk over, look down and see a school of fish, glistening through the water.

There are some people breaking coconuts as an offering. Behind them is a tree decorated with offerings: colored little pieces of cloth and miniature wooden cradles. Next to it is a lamp with lit camphor cubes. I sit down. Looking down, I see a fisherman in his bright colored fishing boat paddling his way towards the cliff. He takes something out of a bag and throws it at the base of the cliff. It’s a coconut! Talk about religious zeal.

The Army Major takes us to the SL Army Officers’ Mess at Fort Frederick.. There’s a whole wall documenting the history of how the Fort had been taken over by various European colonizers. In fact the Lonely Planet says “Trinco has the most convoluted colonial history”. The Officer’s Mess resembles a mini museum with all its prized possessions.

The Major points out the Trincomalee Harbor, considered Asia’s best natural deep harbor. It holds the capacity to conceal some 300 ships. Besides that it was a strategic location for various colonizers. Explains the ‘convoluted history’!

We walk out towards the beach and see a sign saying “For Officers only” and the Major says “Go ahead and soak yourselves up in the sea.”

The water is so clear that even without any snorkeling gear; Ralph spots a sting ray around him.

I make way to the water and soak up the sun, sand and the sea. Head above the turquoise water, feet sunk in the grainy white sand, I look around at all the natural splendor Trinco is blessed with and ponder “I wish everyone without thinking twice, could head to Trinco and enjoy ‘HEAVEN on earth’!”

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A trip to heaven and back - part 2

What’s that near the Urban council? Stray dogs? “Nah! They have spots on ‘em….and….and ANTLERS!”

No kidding. It’s spotted deer. While I’m clicking away at a couple of them with Ralph’s camera, everyone’s admiring a whole bunch of them on the other side.

We’ve got to get to the village soon. It’s 40 km away from Trinco. There’s only enough time to cross a few checkpoints and reach our hotel on Inner Harbor Road. We drop our bags off and head out only to be stopped at the same checkpoints all over again.

Off we go!

We head towards Gomarankadawela through miles and miles of dense jungle with no sign of human inhabitation except for the soldiers dressed up in combat uniforms. They smile at you in unison as you drive past them. Not unexpected. Sri Lankans always have these infectious smiles to greet you. No wonder, they are the most hospitable, friendly people I’ve come across.

The whole village seems from a different era altogether thanks to the absence of all signs of commercialization. Our van parks at the hospital. The staff is thrilled to see the beds. It’s apparent why. The existing maternity bed is a terrible sight.

After donating the beds, we head to a school where my friends are planning to donate bicycles. We learn from the headmaster that there are some students who travel from as far as 12 km to study. Hope those bicycles benefited a few of them at least.

We step out from the headmaster’s room to see all the kids lined up with baskets of fresh flowers in their hands. It’s a Saturday evening, its time for them to pray!

Dusk is nearing and we have to head back to Trinco. After taking a few pictures with the kids, we head out. The scenery is picturesque. The sun is setting at a distance and the sky is playing games with all the colors you can think of on a palette. Not far away, cutting their way through tall grass, I see weary soldiers in their combat uniforms returning from a patrol. Loaded guns in hand, watching each other’s backs, they head towards the road. Looks like a scene right out ‘Apocalypse Now’.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A trip to heaven and back - Part 1

“SHEK, PICK UP THAT PHONE!”

“Uhhh!!!!”

The cell phone’s ringing loud. And I mean LOUD. I didn’t tell you what the time is. Did I?

4:30AM. (I know what’s on your mind. “What sort of a time is that to receive a call on a Saturday morning??”)

“Hello! Hello”

Dang it! It’s not a call. It’s the alarm! (I obviously am not smart enough to set a different ring tone for it…grrrr!)

Getting my act together, I realize I am 30 mins away from being picked up to go to Trinco (yea, you heard that right! Trincomalee)

All cool.

I’m in the van, settled cozy on the last seat.

Having dozed off for the first quarter of the journey from Colombo to Trinco, I wake up to my van whizzing past lush green paddy fields and clear blue skies.

Awake and all charged up, I do what I do best: Stare (dumbfounded) at all that we are whizzing past.

When I was in high school, to keep myself awake to study for those dreadful board exams, all I needed was the aroma from a hot cup of fresh filter coffee. It used to get me all charged up. It still does.

But somehow, the sight of this natural splendor has a far superior effect in charging me up.

I’ve been in Sri Lanka for a year now and have traveled widely. Everywhere I’ve been, the country’s natural beauty has never failed to fascinate me. To be honest, I have waited for this day to come. The day when my patience and curiosity get rewarded with a weekend in the East of Sri Lanka.

Driving through Kaudulla National Park is refreshing. The wildlife is spectacular. (At work, all through the week, I see ‘wild life’ of another kind. The kind you come across in Advertising)

“Look left…..”

I swing my neck doing 180 degrees in 0.07 seconds. Never mind the crackling sound, what my eyes see is worth a thousand snapshots. A serene lake…blue…so BLUE it would put most paint manufacturers to shame.

My van slows down. Ralph, my Dutch friend, is busy clicking away with his 8 mega pixel camera, while I’m just soaking all this in. No pictures, no video…nothing can match the real experience (Also helps if your camera is conked and the best you can take away is the ‘experience’)

Anyways, the whole point of this trip is to donate a maternity bed and trolley to ahospital in Gomarankadawela, a needy village in the East.

My van’s following the truck carrying the beds.

The movement is ‘stop-and-go’ thanks to the frequent checkpoints (‘Stop-and-go’ traffic rang a bell, didn’t it?) But I appreciate it. It gives me more time to admire all the beauty around me.

We get to Trinco around 2 pm.