When survival is the toughest call..

When survival is the toughest call..

Dedicated to all martyrs who gave their lives in the Easter Sunday bomb blast on 21st April 2019 – the victims in the hotels and the surviving family members…

He is a father who still misses the warmth, the presence and the love of his three children and wife – he lost them in the bomb attack on their church at Katuwapitiya on Easter Sunday two years ago.

On days when it rains with thunder flashing, he goes to the grave of his daughter and sits there – she used to be frightened of thunder. So he tries to keep her company. Even now.

Then there is the mother who lost her two lovely daughters and her husband in the same church. The memories are what keeps her going – the photos of her two beautiful girls smiling along with their father, echo the deep ache in her heart.

There were others who were on suicide watch in the aftermath of the attacks – they had lost almost everyone in the family and saw no reason to stay on.

Across Katuwapitiya, every family has tales of loved ones dead or incapacitated.

Two years on, the pain is still there, raw yet somehow, contained and comforted by the Master’s touch – healed as only He can, restored somewhat as only He can. It is indeed a process.

From St. Sebastian Church Katuwapitiya to St. Anthony’s in Colombo, Zion Church in Batticaloa, the hotels Shangri-La Colombo, The Kingsbury and The Cinnamon Grand – the death and destruction came unexpected on a day sacred to Christians, almost unbelievable that such a tragedy could happen.

From crowded pews resplendent with worshippers dressed in their Easter finery, to blood soaked body parts in a matter of seconds.

Today, as we remember them, we also remember that this nation grieved and reached out to those who suffered.

From the Buddhist monks who came and cleaned the church premises to the Moslem maulavis who offered their mosques to conduct services to Christians, the true heart of Sri Lanka bled as one.

The first responders, the ambulance crews, the doctors and nurses, medical personnel, armed forces and police officers gave their very best.

Once the dust settled on the burials and the funerals, it was a survivor’s nightmare to resume normal life.

That’s where we all fail – when it comes to doing the everyday little things without the loved ones.

The mother who had to accept that the school shoes her daughters wore, now lying on the rack, were never going to be worn again.

Or the young son who went straight to the graveyard where his father is buried, with his exam results – he kneeled and told his father the results with tears streaming down his face.

The children who must recover at home, shielded and kept from noises and light because parts of their injured brain have been stored in the hospital cell bank so that the cells could grow and be re-grafted later on – their trauma is real, their pain acute.

The bright child who got 99 out of 100 for maths every term and now has to deal with his arm and leg not working properly – his father tearfully says that his son thought the bomber with his heavy pack of bombs, was actually bringing milk rice for Easter celebrations.

It doesn’t stop there.

In some cases, entire families were ushered into the presence of God – their tea mugs, half drunk, still in the sinks that no one was going to wash.

Two years on, the pain is real but so is the knowledge that someday, we shall see them on that beautiful shore.

Hope is the only thing a Christian has.

Hope is the one thing that can keep us going.

Hope helps us to keep doing what we do against all odds.

As we move on, we have one singular focus as a nation, no matter whether the politicalrhetoric may sound hollow – we owe it to the victims and each other that it will not happen again.

That’s the best gift we can give those who are grieving and those who gave their lives.

That’s the best gift we can give the next generation.

May God bless and comfort everyone who suffered in the Easter Sunday attacks on 21st April 2019.

” I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me , though he may die, shall live.”

  • John 11:25 – The Holy Bible

Let the Sri Lankan in me rise up!

Let the Sri Lankan in me rise up!

One month ago, on Easter Sunday 2019, suicide bombers set themselves off in three churches in Sri Lanka and three hotels.

Amidst the mayhem, the confusion, they killed almost 300 innocents, injuring over 500.

Among the dead were mothers and fathers, children and teenagers.

Some lost all – the entire families perished. Others lost parents and parents lost children.

Many were the sole survivors of their once beautiful and much cherished families.

Before we looked for the perpetrators, we tried to find the answers.

I too had walked out of the Easter Sunday service – my family and I were looking forward to the traditional Easter meal.

The pork chops I had bought sat in the sink where I had left them in a dish to marinade before running off to the usually packed church service.

There were many others who too would have dashed off to service that day, hoping to come back to clear the dishes or the cups. They were from areas that traditionally celebrated Easter with festivity and pageantry. They were rejoicing in the Lord’s resurrection, following the 40 days of fasting since Ash Wednesday.

They never got the chance.

Somewhere in Katuwapitiya, the Negombo neighbourhood that had over 100 snatched from its community in the Katuwapitiya St. Sebastian Church blast, the closed up houses would remain closed up. Maybe empty tea cups still sat in the sink ;maybe the traditional Easter meal was to be cooked.

We would never know.

Why?

The question still reverberates in our hearts.

Our hearts continue to be broken as we seek answers – as the armed forces do their job, the questions remain. Why and how did such despicable acts become almost ordinary for the suicide bombers, not some desperados with nowhere to go, but educated young men from rich families, blinded by hatred, walking so calmly into the churches and the hotels, with their deadly backpacks?

Last night, I saw an image of a young father cradling his dead daughter’s body in his arms in the bombed Katuwapitiya church. His daughter and wife both perished in the attack. He lost his entire world.

That image broke my heart into a thousand pieces. As did the images of Anusha Kumari, who lost her husband and her two children. The two young girls who lost their doting father in the St. Anthony’s Church Kochchikade attack. The children whose skin burns and injuries sustained in the attack on the Zion Church in Batticaloa burn our hearts every time we them. The young mother who had to face life saving surgery on the spine last week – she lost her son and was blinded in the blast. The British man who lost his wife and the two children in the hotel blast. The list is long and every needless death, every injury, tears at our heart strings.

Sri Lanka had been through a 30 year war that was as merciless and vicious as it could be. Suicide bombers blew themselves up in trains and city centers. Until ten years ago, when the war was finally won, we lived with check points, identity checks and fear of another bomb going off. We were resilient – we knew we would overcome.

One month following the attacks, we are still numbed with pain. Not a day passes by when we don’t think of the victims, their lives so cruelly snatched, their memories let behind. The psychological scars are stronger than the physical ones ; some may never recover from the loss.

For us , resilience has become not just a choice but a key component in our ability to emerge from a dented national psyche. How do we come to terms with the new normal of searching bags and vehicles, check points and suspicious glances? Where do we find a common thread that binds all of us as Sri Lankans? Can we find it in us, who overcame a war of greater proportions ten years ago, the strength, the power, the will to learn the lessons and emerge stronger?

These are the questions that surround us as I write this one month on.

Of course there is a way out.

Firmly entrenched in our memories.

As a child growing up in the Seventies, I remember a Sri Lanka that was so unique in the way her different communities were connected yet each individually proud of its own distinctive mark. Christmas was everyone’s festive season – Vesak was the occasion to celebrate the lights, Ramadan meant a biriyani feast and the Hindu Vel festival brought everyone out on the streets to watch the parade.

The differences were celebrated – they were never meant to exclude but rather, include all.

The Muslims were embraced by the Christians and the Buddhists – the Hindus were too.

Some traditions were too hallowed not to continue into the 21st century.

The famous Majestic City Hotel Biriyani that continues its champion status to this day – thanks to Rifai’s commitment to maintaining the quality.

The Green Cabin cream buns – no matter how carb conscious you are , you cannot resist biting into the cream filled centre.

The Piccadilly Cafe ice cream and the Bake House milk shakes – the list of Seventies nostalgia is endless ; there is tremendous potential there to revive the Sri Lankan spirit.

Food of course brings communities together in more ways than one.

It can do the same again.

Somewhere down the line, the oneness gave way to walls going up around the community – suddenly, there was an us and a them.

From then to now, there had been nothing but erosion ; of the old old fashioned values that were held dear and common to all.

Let’s all rally around a common Sri Lankan identity – one etched in food. Good old Sri Lankan dishes we all loved and still do. That are waiting to be discovered by the young generation as well.

That road my friend is still wide open – we just have to discover it.