A charred forest whose song continues

sri-lankaIn Waking is Another Dream, published a year after the Sinhala–Buddhist Sri Lankan state declared victory over the LTTE and the Tamil people, Ravikumar, the editor of this volume of poems, had asked: What happened between 8 and 18 May 2009 in Eelam, Sri Lanka? Did no one write diaries? Did no one have cameras? Were there no poets there? Not a single artist? Whatever happened on that last day?

Ravikumar then highlighted the difficulty of remembrance for those far removed from the conflict zone:


What kept us busy on that day
Of their mass burial?
We were in theaters.
We dined in restaurants.
We were buried in TV shows.
We travelled, we smoked.
We got drunk, we fucked,
In the safety of our homes.

We only know of our own day,
We can remember only that.

Yet the poet-in-exile Cheran draws a vivid image of the violence he had escaped:

I may be across the seas
yet it rained blood
on my computer screen.

Eight years after the ‘end’ of the Tamil–Sinhalese War, we remember the genocide that the world has almost forgotten. The war officially came to an end, but the aftermath has made it seem interminable. The UN estimated around 40,000 deaths, and Amnesty International reported displacement of at least 200,000 people around the world.

When death is the consequence of speaking truth to power, silence became the language of the Tamils, and there is a long list of those silenced in Eelam. But the poets spoke. Poetry emerges from this wounded landmass and enunciates the anguish with the loss of one’s homeland. In Cheran’s poetry, one sees the drastic transformation of tone. Before the war, in 1981:

Beneath the sand, the land extends
where, two thousand years ago
my ancestors walked.
Our roots go deep:
one footstep, a thousand years.

I stand on a hundred thousand shoulders
and proclaim aloud: This is my land.


‘After Apocalypse’ (2009), this land becomes

in a few days,
a country
whose language is replaced.

The sea has drained away
Tamil has no territory
Kinships have no name.

Yet, the Tamils persevered ‘On submission,’ like Yesurasa, whose grief turns into a resolve to take back the homeland:

To begin with,
give me back
the land
the home
where I lived in contentment,
the life that blazed with brightness.

Eight years after the Great War, Tamils live under occupation as much as Kashmiris do. And, as Latha says:

If anyone tells you
that Time heals,
don’t trust them.


One can live without crying
One can live without thinking
One can train oneself to go sleepless.


The only thing
one cannot stop
is the dead
coming alive in your dreams.


Waking is Another Dream, featuring five Tamil poets translated into English by Meena Kandasamy and Ravi Shanker, and Cheran’s A Second Sunrise (translated by Lakshmi Holmström and Sascha Ebeling) will not be available in your nearest bookshop. Poetry does not sell easily though it wears well. Ravikumar had ended his introduction with this line: ‘This small anthology is just an effort to create faith in such voices.’ Let us restore faith to the voice of these poets.

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