Friday, January 31, 2014

Memories of Terror

First there were gunshots, then a loud thunder, then the walls caved in and she fell to the ground. 

When she regained consciousness there were scores of dead people around her, all were her friends, co-workers, some with whom she had been speaking just a minute ago. She was bleeding from cuts to her face and body, scars which would remain for the rest of her life to remind her of that fateful day. She heard people screaming, some in fear and some in pain. The air was filled with smoke. She walked aimlessly towards the light where she was picked up by those who came to help.  

When my mother told me, days later, how she survived the Central Bank bombing, I could still sense the terror in her voice.  Those emotional scars too stayed with her for the rest of her life. She believed that it was due to our “pin balaya” that she survived. I wasn’t sure if she meant it gifted her life or if it gifted us our mother, probably she meant both. 

I had long forgotten which day of the year it happened. But to this day I vividly remember the moment, where I was and what I was doing, when I heard the news. I was fortunate enough to hear the good and the bad news together, but my family members weren’t so fortunate. They had to frantically search for her in the hospital, in the morgue among the dead, in the fragmented body parts, and back in the hospital before they could find her alive. We were of course a lucky family that day. 

Those who survived such terrorist attacks are still with us today. Many who had lost their loved ones to terror are also alive. Therefore we could say that the nation’s memory of terror is still alive. But thirty years from today those who will have the the power to change things in Sri Lanka will not have a living memory of the Central Bank bombing or any other terrorist attack, they would only have read about it.  What do we, as the keepers of this live memory want our future generations to know about the terrorist attacks that happened in this country?

Personally I want them to know that no matter how brutal it had been and no matter what the western governments and the Tamils living abroad would say, terrorism we experienced was not the outcome of an ethnic conflict in this country, but a mechanization of a wish to divide and rule. Ordinary Sinhalas had no animosity against the Tamils, their religions or their way of life and that all we wanted was to live as one nation in an independent country. 

The survival of Lanka matha will depend on the “pin balaya” of its children. But Sinahalas and Tamils must not reduce the memories of the past to facts and candle light vigils as not even the dead will benefit from such activities. Instead we should make sure that future generations know why it happened because in thirty years time, if we are still fighting against UN resolutions, economic sanctions, drone attacks and what not, our sons and daughters need to know exactly why their wish to remain in an undivided country is justified.

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