Random Clicks In Kilinochchi

 

Dancing girls Kilinochchi, 21 July 2010. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Dancing girls Kilinochchi, 21 July 2010. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Going up North for work was so interesting in 2010. North was reviving and there was this wonderful joyous exuberance – especialy among the young.

The only setback for me was that I often had to put my camera through the window and plead with the drivers to slow down as I tried to frame, focus and click.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But am so glad for the memories.

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7 Photos and stories within stories

“Shaken not stirred” was my first blog post in November 2007 — a result of getting copped in Bandarawela for photographing school children. It brought forth interesting advice from a very dear friend, writing as N.B.S. Silva ( this was his nom de plume and NBS stood for No Bull Shit Silva), who said if I had any sense I would take photos of old men and cattle.

I have taken his advice. 6 years later taking stock, I am reminded yet again how photos not only capture a transient moment but the untold stories behind the pixels. Then there are stories within stories, unseen actors of a landscape and fragments of conversations, tears, laughter and love embedded in a n image. This blog is an exercise to see if I can pick 7 all time favourite photos of mine. Not an easy task but the ones I have picked are significant ones which brings to my mind a bigger visual story of my wanderings in Sri Lanka.

An internally displaced mother carries her sleeping baby while attending a resettlement meeting in Jayapuram North, Sri Lanka. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

An internally displaced mother carries her sleeping baby while attending a resettlement meeting in Jayapuram North, Sri Lanka. 25 March 2010. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

On the tsunami affected but repaired coast road to Hikkaduwa 26 Dec.2008.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Sri Lanka builds back better after tsunami. The tsunami affected but repaired coast road to Hikkaduwa 26 Dec.2008.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The reclining Parinirvana statue of Buddha, Gal viharaya, Polonnauwa . AD 1153-86. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

For me the most beautiful Buddha statue in Sri Lanka. The reclining Parinirvana statue of Buddha, Gal viharaya, Polonnauwa . AD 1153-86. 12 March 2005. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

A man takes his morning bath at the Mahdangasweva tank. Mahadangasweva, Sri Lanka. 19 Oct 2007. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

All the beauty of rural Sri Lanka. A man takes his morning bath at the Mahadangasweva tank. Mahadangasweva, Sri Lanka. 19 Oct 2007. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Cattle sleep on the warm tarmcac of the A9 road at night and moves to the roadside in the morning. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Cattle moves to the roadside of the A9 in the morning after a nights sleep on the warm tarmac. 27 March 2010. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

14 yr old Konnes (14 yrs) the youngest of ten sons helps his farmer parents wto rear goats. North Sri Lanka. 14 Sep. 2008.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

14 yr old Konnes,  the youngest of ten sons helps his farmer parents to rear goats. North Sri Lanka. 14 Sep. 2008.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

After the sunset at Hikkaduwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

After the sunset at Hikkaduwa. Taken on a memorable reunion holiday with my elder son and wife. 20 Jan 2012. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Oxford Baths, Well Baths & GNT

A couple of my friends have asked me what’s an Oxford Bath after I mentioned it in my blog Benny’s Point. Very simply it is what these boys are doing in Dhaka — bathing in the nude.

Boys in Dhaka having Oxford baths in a city lake. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Boys in Dhaka having Oxford baths in a city lake. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

I had heard this term when I was a kid in the 1950s when indoor bathrooms with piped in water were not so common. My aunts would go to the front house “Mangala Giri” saying they are going for an Oxford Bath in the closed bathroom.

A year or so ago, my memory was refreshed when I saw it on the heading of an article by Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala titled “An Oxford bath for Sri Lankan Diplomacy.” In this article he gives probably the origin of the term “Oxford Bath.” “An old joke, shared between Oxford and Cambridge Universities, relates how an elderly Cambridge Professor visited his Professor friend in Oxford. It was a hot summer day and the two men decided to swim in the nude in a secluded spot along the Isis River. Suddenly a bevy of women undergraduates rode past on bicycles. The Cambridge Professor hastily grabbed his towel and wore it round his waist. The Oxford Professor, however, frantically wrapped his towel around his head hiding his face. As the giggling girls retreated the Cambridge Professor asked the Oxford don why he only covered his face. The reply he received was, “Well, in Oxford, some of us are better recognized by our faces”!

Boys  bath in a shallow stream, Kilinochchi. Bathing in the open is always more fun than in a closed bathroom. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Boys bath in a shallow stream, Kilinochchi. Bathing in the open is always more fun than in a closed bathroom. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Thus Amb. Dhanapala says throughout the English-speaking world, the “Oxford bath” has come to mean a bath in the nude. But only we oldies remember this term and it is now probably not in use now!. Even when we had bathrooms, a well bath in the sun, the cool refreshing water sans chlorine was my choice.

The well was an important water source and still is for many in Sri Lanka, who do not have piped water. Wells and access to water were also high in the priority for many people resettling after the ending of the war. Seeing this abandoned well in a property next to the hotel we stayed In Jaffna in 2009 was very poignant. I remembered my own childhood and many happy hours at the well, as children and then as teenagers with our neighbhour Dayanathi  and “girlie talks” amidst dousing ourselves with buckets of cold, refreshing water.

ffna., Sri Lanka  1 Sep 2009. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

An abandoned well in Jaffna., Sri Lanka 1 Sep 2009. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

My Great-grandma’s house had an inside bathroom but the domestics had to carry water from the well and fill huge vats inside for anyone who wanted to bathe inside. While we had baths inside when we were very small, as soon as we were old enough we would bath at the well. Even after a sea bath at Hikkaduwa, we’d rush to the well and pour buckets of fresh water to wash the sticky salt out.

In Pandura we were told to bath with only 20 buckets of water -10 first, soap your self and 10 more. Otherwise, we were warned we’ll catch our death with pneumonia. These dire warnings along with the directive was often totally ignored. Ceclin our maid/cook, the majordomo at that time was not averse to keeping an ear cocked while we were at the well. She knew me too well and would yell  from inside the kitchen, “Chulie Baby, are you bathing to soak your bones!” (In Sinhala — Ata pegennakang nanawada?). Many years later when I met her she still called me “baby” and had not lost her sense of humour.

Cecilin our maid, laughs remembering our childhood pranks. Panadura, Sri Lanka..Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Cecilin our maid, laughs remembering our childhood pranks. Panadura, Sri Lanka..Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Village life in some parts of Lanka has still not changed. For many, the trek to the river or stream or even a man made water tank is a daily ritual. This often happens mid-day, like the man in the photo above at Mahdangasweva. Or  the bath is at the end of the day, when all work is done.

A woman returns after an evening bath in a stream at Mahavillachiya, Sri Lanka. 22 April 2008. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

A woman returns after an evening bath in a stream at Mahavillachiya, Sri Lanka. 22 April 2008. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

My male friends would schedule trips to villagers around the times these women bathe and referred to these times as GNT — in Sinhalese meaning Ganu ( women) Nana ( bathing) Times.

You may as well ask Why? because the bathing costume was a sarong or a wide piece of cloth, called the “Diya Redda” ( literally the Water/wet Cloth).  This they wore covering the breasts and reaching to knee level. Once wet, the cloth clung to the body — need I say more?

A girl returns from a bath in the stream wearing a "diya redda" Heeloya, Sri Lanka. 16 April 2008. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

A girl returns from a bath in the stream wearing a “diya redda” Heeloya, Sri Lanka. 16 April 2008. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Salute to women on International Women’s Day

“Woman, in your laughter you have the music of the fountain of life.” — Tagore

All smiles after the welcome dance students. Killinochchi, Sri Lanka. They told me their names, which are in a book in Lanka but I remember the girlish giggles, the questions, and their interest in the camera. 21 July,2010. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

As International Women’s Day approached, I mused about what it has to been to be a woman born to the 20th century, now coping with living in the 21st century.  Briefly: Difficult but it’s been a good ride for me!

A mother, runs a smll shop to earn a living. Killinochchi, Sri Lanka. She showed me the little corner shop she runs, with the support of her parents. No mention was made of the absent father of the bonny child. No questions were asked, the pain was visible in the eyes. 21 July, 2010. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

But what about the others — As I looked back at the women I have photographed I see mine has not been at all difficult compared to many of these women.  Not that I had it all easy – yet we belong to the privileged few of the world.

Flower seller Sabrina. Another lass that followed me around, even offering free a rose for me. Great sales tactic. I probably paid her for that one free rose what it would have cost me to buy the whole bucket! 16 December, 2011. Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

I see them daily here mothers with young children, the old and the sick but the central figure is the woman. They soldier on — working as labourers on the road side, or like Sabrina trying to eke a living in a harsh and a difficult world.

He was one time a radio announcer at Sri Lanka Broadcasting Company SLBC. He spoke in fluent Sinhala about his days as an announcer. The wife's whole day revolves around caring for him tenderly. His pension is not enough to get him the nourishment he needs, she says. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

For many of the women I had the pleasure of meeting and the few I photographed in Killinochchi shown here, International Women’s day will not mean much.  Unless, of course out there in the North someone is cheering them and celebrating the lives of these courageous women. My notes are in Lanka, and I have forgotten the names, but the memories are still fresh, the lilting voices still surface as I look at the images.

With unshed tears in her eyes, a young girl particpates at a community meeting. Killinochchi, Sri Lanka. 21 July, 2010. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

For most of them it will be another day, another challenge. Another possible problem. Another lurking threat. Another confusing question. Another worrying drawback. The trauma of the war years is enough reason to feel daunted or depressed. Their problems were as plentiful as the grains of sand upon the shore of their sea of sorrow. But they found time to smile, hold back their tears, and accept me with smiles.

A recently Resettled Woman in Killinochchi, Sri Lanka. She followed me till I took the photo and when I showed it to her, she peered in to the digital camera said "Once I was considered a beauty in my community." She still is, I assured her but it is a beauty that is deeper -- not the bandbox image of Bollywood or Hollywood. 21 July 2012. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

I had hoped I would go back to see them in Killinochchi, but that opportunity has not come. it was an unforgettable interlude. I hope their lives have improved in the intervening years.

This blog is a salute to the courage of women – both in Killinochchi and Dhaka.

Don't you have earrings? she asked the little boy, on the fringe of the community meeting, showing off her earrings and bangles. Thank heaven for little girls!. 21 July Killinochchi, Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Deity of the ruined temple!

Abandoned Hindu temple on the road to Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Deity of the ruined temple! The broken strings of

Vina sing no more your praise. The bells in the

evening proclaim not your time of worship.  The air

is still and silent about you.

In your desolate dwelling comes the vagrant spring

breeze.  It brings the tidings of flowers-the flowers

that for your worship are offered no more.

Your worshipper of old wanders ever longing for favour

still refused. In the eventide, when the fires and

shadows mingle with the gloom of dust, he wearily

comes back to the ruined temple with hunger in

his heart.

Many a festival day comes to you in silence, deity of

ruined temple.  Many a night of worship goes

away with lamp unlit.

Many new images are built by masters of cunning art

and carried to the holy stream of oblivion when

their time is come.

Only the deity of the ruined temple remains

unworshipped in deathless neglect.

— Rabindranath Tagore