Thursday, December 25, 2014

Dealing with death

Death has always been something distant to me. During my short twenty years alive, a few relatives, teachers, people I’ve known and a few people I’ve worked with have passed away. However, I managed to put this great distance between myself and the dead person and by doing so, I managed to not feel sad about their death. It sometimes hit me how these people are no longer alive, I suddenly miss one or two people, but besides that, their deaths haven’t affected me in anyway.

I was happy with my way of dealing with death. I avoided funerals and I regarded death as an unavoidable thing. All those who are born, have to die. Deal with it.

Then Rukshan passed away, and everything changed.

Now I haven’t written a single blog post about Rukshan, and this isn’t because I didn’t love him or care about him. I did. I do. The reason I didn’t write about him is because I felt no word I could write would do justice to the person he is. As one of his relatives said, I didn’t know him for a long time. Just more than one and a half years. But during that time Rukshan made it so easy to be friends with. We have rarely spoken about personal matters, we weren’t those kind of friends. He was a photographer, and has accompanied me during assignments.

During these, he didn’t only do his job by taking pictures of the event. No, I remember him seated in the front seat of the van, with his camera on his lap, ready to take a picture as we traveled to our destination. In his soft voice, he would talk about recent incidents, people, various assignments he has been on and ideas he had about cover photographs. He pointed to where he lives and told me how it feels to live there, the environment and weather. He would bring his son to office, and he introduced me to the little boy as, ‘Shailee Aunty.’ I told him I was a bit too young to be an aunty, and Rukshan laughed and reintroduced me as Shailee Akka.

He advised me about how to deal with people. He warned me about certain people. He took care of me during assignments, making sure I was okay and had everything I needed. I haven’t worked with many photographers, but those I have worked with are not even close to being the person Rukshan was. He always kept in mind the pictures we would require.

We planned a two day trip to Galle. We had many assignments planned out and needed two photographers. On the first day, a Sunday, five of us went to Galle. We had a photographer with us. I had spoken to Rukshan on at least two days before the trip explaining why I needed two photographers. The other two at office weren’t available, it had to be Rukshan. And to be completely honest, I wanted it to be Rukshan. He was an amazing photographer.

We had an argument on Sunday. He had planned another assignment for Monday. I told him to do whatever he wanted but I needed another photographer. The next day, there he was. He never mentioned how angry or mean I had been. He couldn’t even recognize me, because of my new haircut. When he did recognize me, he smiled and said he had taken a good picture for the cover of Free. He unintentionally said something that just sounded wrong. We all laughed. The picture was amazing.

That day, we stopped at my place for dinner. The whole lot of us. This was in April.
Later, when I visited him in hospital in October, he recalled that day. And even though he was the one on a hospital bed and it was I who should have asked him how he was, Rukshan asked me how my mother and grandmother were. He was that kind of person. He cared about people.

He called me Sailee. He would walk to my desk and say something like, ‘ah Sailee.’ Every Tuesday, he would come to the editorial with his mug of tea or water, read the newspapers, read aloud the bits of news he found interesting, and discuss that week’s Free cover with me. He complained about how the color had changed, and promised some unique cover pictures.

He made jokes, he laughed, he smiled. He was Rukshan and no one will ever be as good, kind, gentle and soft-spoken as he was.

I don’t believe in god or some higher power or presence. I have never had a better reason than Rukshan’s death to completely erase whatever doubts I had about the possibility of the power of prayer. How could such a good man die? Karma, that explains it. The bad deeds of a previous birth, because in this life, Rukshan didn’t harm a fly. He was a good man.

So when he died, the bitter truth that is death hit me in full force. Close to a month since his death, I haven’t spent a single day without thinking about him. Having known him for such a short time, my heart clenches each time I think about him. So I can’t even begin to imagine the pain his family feels. And now, life seems so empty. It’s like living in a house that was burgled. There is this emptiness that cannot be filled.

People criticize us for laughing and having fun even though it hasn’t even been three months since Rukshan passed away. Three months, four years, a decade, the time since his death won’t reduce how much we miss him. We don’t laugh because we have already forgotten him. We don’t have a mourning period because we will never stop grieving his death. And the Rukshan I knew, was the kind of person who would manage to smile even on his worst days. His mother told us that we shouldn’t cry. If he is watching us from somewhere, he wouldn’t want to see us feeling so sad. I agree with her. Rukshan wouldn’t want that.

His son believes Rukshan went to heaven. I don’t doubt this. He was too good for this world, too good for heaven too.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

TweetupSL 5

Yesterday was one of those busy days for Tweeps and this wasn't because someone had come up with a funny hashtag or because of some sort of incident we could all tweet about. No, yesterday was meet in real life day. TweetupSL is an amazing event organized each year and it is basically a gathering of tweeps with games, music, competitions and of course, an awards ceremony.

I could still be considered a newbie 'cause I've been at just two Tweetups and mid-2013 I followed nearly no Sri Lankans and no one followed me. By mid-2014 though I had met so many tweeps and made many friends but not as many as so many other people have. I'm basically a nobody on Twitter and I'll say this now, this is my opinion and while you can have your own opinion about Twitter or TweetupSL, your insults won't really bother me. So if you don't agree with what I have to say, well, disagree/insult away.

What I liked about it


I met and spoke to some really nice people. There were people I've met before and people I've never spoken to before. I got and gave a few 'do I know you?' looks but with the people who actually introduced themselves to me (I'm socially awkward and don't introduce myself to people), I had some meaningful and lovely conversations.
I won't mention any names but I'm glad I spoke to all those people I did speak with. Especially during the last bit of Tweetup.
Also to all those I didn't talk much with, sorry. I'm too shy and awkward and scared of people to talk.


It was entertaining, mostly for the wrong reasons but I did laugh and enjoy the event. I'm more of a enjoy from a distance person, and I managed to do this yesterday. I would have liked it if there was grass I could sit on and play with while people had their conversations, took their selfies and were thrown off rodeo bulls. But the cement tiled floor was good enough and ya, I had fun.

Free food

Now, the story goes that there were people who attended just for the free tshirt. I didn't attend TweetupSL for the noodles, and as not-that-good as it may be, free food is still free food and should be appreciated. Plus the Nescafe coffee was good.


Twitter is a good place to be who you aren't. DPs and tweets can be deceiving. So Tweetup was a good place to learn about people and realize who is worth knowing and who should be just unfollowed. Not to be mean, but some people are just too pretentious and I have no time for such people.

What I disliked about it

The awards
I think that rather than how many tweets a person posts per day, awards should be given based on the content of the tweets. And also how interactive this tweep is. However, we are to blame for this 'cause  we voted for these people. I have no issue with the award winners and some of them actually post some good tweets. But some of them are just plain silly.
Now before anyone insults my tweets, I'll admit to posting silly stuff. I tweet about having lunch, random words that come to my mind and even senseless rants. But even if I have five thousand followers, I wouldn't consider myself award-worthy because I feel there are so many people whose tweets are useful, helpful and make sense but hell, they never even get nominated 'cause they aren't Twitter celebrities.

The accents
Okay, you go abroad and get back and this silly accent never leaves you. Everyone makes fun of it and you feel sad. But sometimes you haven't been abroad that much. Some haven't even left the country. And yet, some indistinguishable and difficult to understand accent has crept into your life. I find reading Sinhala and even Tamil words written in English a wee bit difficult. However, if you are reading out names at an awards ceremony, regardless of the magnitude or importance of this ceremony, please learn to read the names properly. And if you don't know how to pronounce a name, ask someone, before you make a fool of yourself.

The tshirts
I registered on time. I paid that 200 rupees. I got my noodles and coffee but I didn't get a tshirt because they ran out of tshirts even though they knew how many people had registered for the event. Now, unlike accusations made against certain people, I wasn't there for the tshirt. I rarely wear tshirts. But I would have loved to have something that would remind me of TweetupSL5 years after the event. The ticket won't do this, the already-digested coffee and noodles won't either.

Overall, I liked TweetupSL. There was the good, there was the bad, but the good outweighed the bad.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Minefields in Sri Lanka

Walking on roads and pavements in Sri Lanka, especially Colombo, specifically (for me) Maradana, is similar to walking on a minefield. I have never walked on a land hiding mines that would tear my body apart when stepped on. I’ve been lucky (for now). But minefields seem a little less hazardous than our roads and pavements, if movies portray minefields as they really are. In movies, you’ll see how if you walk into a minefield, retracing your steps could get you back to safe land in one piece. However, retracing your steps on roads and pavements won’t work because by then, there would already be spit, shit, cigarette butts or garbage where there was none before.

Question: why do you think the roads and pavements are garbage dumps?

Thanks to the presidential election that is just a few weeks away, everyone is talking about the faults of politicians and accusing them of crime and corruption. We talk as if we are saints. And yet, how many of us feel no guilt or shame when throwing paper, wrappers, food and various other things not into a garbage bin but on to the roads and pavements?

I’ve seen adults telling their kids to throw whatever garbage out of the vehicle window. What kind of an example are parents setting? Travel in a bus, and you’ll see people throwing the skin of peanuts or rata cadju on the floor of the bus or out of the window. Toffee wrappers, paper and bus tickets litter the bus floors and the roads. People throw cigarette butts on the road.

Garbage, recycle what you can and burn the rest. Or wait for the garbage truck, and if these don’t function well in your area, take your garbage to the public bins that are honestly not hard to find. Do not dump them at the sides of roads, empty lands or other people’s gardens. While the country is much cleaner than it used to be, it’s shocking that people still don’t know what to do with the garbage that is a result of their lifestyle and way of living.

Now to something that I find more disgusting than spoilt food, polythene and paper that litter the roads.

There was a time when our kind were covered in fur, and found the discovery of fire to be the most important discovery in the world. Since then, we have gone from living in caves, to huts to mansions. We have gone from walking around naked, to wearing edible clothes or those that are as expensive as a palace. Most of us use mobile phones and are connected to each other online. We would think these developments in technology are an indication of our own progression. However, sadly, while we know how to drive, text, go up and down elevators, we still don’t seem to be able to stop ourselves from spitting on the road.

People are disgusting. We believe animals lack intelligence because they shit everywhere. We laugh at certain communities for shitting in public. And yet, we can’t even hold our spit in, we can’t spit our phlegm into a drain or go to a washroom. There are all these organizations protesting against tobacco usage and alcohol consumption. But can we forget smoking in public and focus on something that is even more disgusting? Having to dodge blobs of spit, phlegm and betel juice is terrible and not something you can always successfully do.

So people, please grow up and be considerate. There is no use in a government spending millions to beautify a city or country, if the citizens can’t maintain it. Stop treating roads and pavements as garbage dumps and toilets. Be responsible. Be considerate.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Losing the battle (AFP pic)

“We lost… we lost,” she wails, api paraduna. The words build momentum from deep within this lady, who has lost her brother. She reminds everyone who is listening, how good a man her brother was. Each time it seems like she has emptied her heart of sorrow and has no more tears to shed, another wave of pain, realization, shock and even anger hits her. Those words, ‘api paraduna’ echo in that room, bouncing against the walls and settling between the curtain and the door-frame, the white cloth on the chairs and the tiled floor and the eyes that cry those tears and the tissue that soaks them up.

It is obvious that a battle has been fought and lost. And yet, one wonders who she has lost to. Did we lose to life, death, humans, or nature? When did this battle begin; when life was breathed into us or when we realized all life would leave us someday? Did we give our consent or do we have no choice, but to fight this battle against a much stronger force?

People are born, and just as they are born, they must die. However, it’s easier to be born than die, just as it is easier to start a race than end it. We lose enthusiasm midway, lose direction and lose our sense of time. So, we keep wandering in this empty field, where we have been given a plot of land, planting trees, watering the flowers, pulling out the weeds. This field can be beautified with plants, fruits, flowers, butterflies, ladybirds, dragonflies and even other people. They would visit our garden, praise it and comment on its beauty. They may even take with them a plant or two and some flowers. However, there are some gardens that are neglected. There is an owner, but he doesn’t bother with the land. There are weeds everywhere, the grass is overgrown, and it’s not what people would call a beautiful garden. However, it could still have visitors, still have a purpose.

As time goes on, we forget that these plots or gardens won’t last forever. We forget that no matter how hard we work on our fields, we would someday be given a different field. This other field depends on your beliefs; it could be in the human world, animal world, the heavens or the hells. The field we get isn’t only decided by how well we took care of a field, but also by what we did in this field.

We don’t know what we would end up doing with our fields; we don’t know what field we would get. The one thing we know for sure is that, our time in this field will end. And it is this end that marks the end of a battle or war. When doctors, firefighters, soldiers or heroes are praised for saving a life, no one realizes that no life has been saved; the person has only been given more time. We aren’t immortal. We are given a very short time in this world and it makes us wonder why some are given an even shorter time.

While death is death, and a life lost can’t be brought back, it is easier to accept the death of an old person. We know they have lived a long life and while it is still painful to lose someone, we can console ourselves saying they were old when they died. It is more difficult to understand and accept the death of someone young. While age isn’t something death even considers, we, as humans, can’t accept that a person can die when he is still young. And no matter what reasons are given, especially the how of an individual’s death, we can never understand the why of it.

This is made worse if the person was one of those rare good people. They tended their plot of land well. They made visitors never want to leave that garden. They were good without trying to impress.

When the world loses such people, it isn’t only he who has lost this war that is life. When the lady who lost her brother said “we lost,” she meant everyone who loves him, everyone who was family and loved one, everyone who fought to keep him alive. Losing the battle is painful. It makes one feel like someone is squeezing the blood out their heart. But what is even more difficult and painful than losing the battle is losing a person. The world stops being the same and there is an empty space that can never be filled.