|Pic courtesy www.secretlanka.com|
About six months ago, I drove along one of the most scenic roads in the country — Palapathwala to Ibbagamuwa through Yatawatte. It was a desire to avoid Katugastota on my way from Elkaduwa to Kurunegala that took me down that road. I wondered several times if I had taken a wrong turn. Even if I had, there were no regrets. It was that beautiful!
On Monday, July 13, 2020, I took the same route. This time I was driving from Oruthota to Ibbagamuwa and had offered to drop off a friend in Matale. He advised me on the shortest route to Ibbagamuwa and it sounded familiar. I asked him if it went through Yatawatte.
‘That’s my village and yes, it does!’
After dropping him off at his place in Aluwihara, another friend and I proceeded towards Ibbagamuwa. It turned out that it wasn’t the first time he was taking this route and told me of a good place to have a cup of tea.
And so, not too far along the road after passing the Yatawatte Police Station, just before a sharp bend, we stopped. The view was just as I remembered it. It was around the same time of day too. Back in December 2019 this is how I described what I saw and did:
‘The sun was chasing the far off mountains. Mountain-blue grappling with sky-blue. Clouds, white and grey, in intercourse with the last rays of the sun. Gaze swept from mountain top to mountain top and down to the valley below, catching innumerable shades of grey.’
This time my thoughts went back to the year 1993 and a conversation with a friend. That’s probably because I had spoken with him at length a few days previously, recalling times spent together as colleagues at the Agrarian Research and Training Institute.
I remembered a trip to Bandarawela in 1993. It was a ‘faculty retreat’ for the research and training staff of the institute. As the editor, I was tasked to function as rapporteur. We were all traveling in a bus. There was merriment. I noticed Piyasiri Pelenda gazing into the distance as we approached Beragala. Piyasiri has a good sense of humor. I feigned intoxication and addressed him as ‘Jayasiri.’
He didn’t laugh. He didn’t seem annoyed either. He said softly, ‘machang, mama piyasiri…jayasiri kiyanne mage malli (I am Piyasiri — Jayasiri is my younger brother).’ And then he told me about his brother.
A few years earlier, while Piyasiri was reading for a doctorate in Russia, his brother had been abducted by one of the pro-government vigilante groups that roamed around the country. He was never seen again.
Piyasiri wasn’t a JVP sympathizer. He was ideologically closer to what was known then as ‘The Old Left’ (the JVP is now too old to be a ‘young’ counterpart of ‘The Left’) but he understood why young people like his brother were drawn to that movement.
It was mid-morning. Below us the land fell off into different shades of green before rising into green-grey blur conjured by mists thin and thick and eventually met an unblemished blue. The geography was very much like that which I would encounter in Yatawatte almost three decades later.
Piyasiri said something about all of this which I can’t recall exactly. He was moved by the landscape and saw it as layered metaphors, this I remember.
‘Un monavahari deyak dakinna athi machang…(they must have seen something)’ he said softly.
There was silence. ‘Saw something’ could be read in so many ways, but he was speaking of a kid brother who was ‘disappeared’ during the most violent and brutal period in post-Independence Sri Lanka (1988-89) referred to as ‘The Bheeshanaya’ or ‘The (period of) Terror,’ a movement made mostly of youth fighting a brutal regime with perhaps some notion of a better world.
We don’t know what exactly happened to Jayasiri. We know that landscapes such as that which roll like epic narratives visible from places like Beragala and Yatawatte have been splattered with blood.
Early this morning Piyasiri came to me in a dream. We were in a small hut. I corrected the mistake of having deliberately misnamed him.
‘You are Piyasiri!’ I said.
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