Sri Lanka: Memories of War, Dreams of Peace

Sri Lanka: Island of suspended dreams has a second chance...

Sri Lanka: Island of suspended dreams has a second chance...

This is one of my favourite images. Showing southern part of India and my native Sri Lanka, it was captured by one of the early US space missions, nearly four decades ago.

Much has happened on the tear-drop shaped island since this image was taken: among other things, we’ve been through a civil war that lasted a generation, and robbed the dreams of at least two generations. That war officially ended on 18 May 2009.

The Day After, on 19 May 2009, I wrote a 1,500-word essay titled Memories of War, Dreams of Peace. The editor of Groundviews, Sri Lanka’s leading citizen journalism website, published it in full, and within minutes of my emailing the text to him.

I’m humbled and gratified that in the past few days, it has been widely read, commented on, quoted online and reproduced. Some have agreed with me; others have dismissed me as a naive dreamer. A writer cannot ask for more.

20 May 2009: (New York) reproduces the essay in full

24 May 2009: The Sunday Leader (Colombo) reprints the essay in full

I look back briefly on the brutal and tragic war – not in anger, but in great sadness. I then look forward in a wistful, dreamy mode. My premise was: “Now that the war is officially over, will this mark the beginning of real peace? I want to believe so. I want to audaciously dream of peace. The alternative is too dreadful to consider.”

This is not exactly what I’ve been trained to do. As a science writer and film-maker, I gather and analyse information, which I try to present in logical, coherent and accessible ways. In recent years, I’ve also been writing op ed essays in areas where I have some competence and experience. In writing this essay, I consciously departed from all that. I’m neither political scientist nor activist to engage in ideological or technocratic discussions, which others have already started in earnest. I wrote this at an emotional level, looking back and looking forward.

But my training did come in handy in framing the timely and necessary questions. My chosen ‘author intro’ for this essay thus reads: “Writer Nalaka Gunawardene has been a dreamer for all his 43 years. He asks more questions than he can answer.”

We've doused the flames of war, but much more needs to be done...

We've doused the flames of war, but much more needs to be done...

If my views come across as naive or idealistic, I shall plead guilty as charged. My emotions this week are best described as cautiously optimistic, but as some readers on Groundviews pointed out in their comments, our high hopes have been betrayed before. But can we afford not to dream privately and publicly at this juncture? I don’t think so. We have suspended our dreams for too long, and it’s time to start dreaming again.

There are as many kinds of dreamers as there are dreams. One of my favourite quotes comes from the British soldier and writer T E Lawrence (of Lawrence of Arabia fame): “All men dream, but not equally…the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.”

3 Responses to “Sri Lanka: Memories of War, Dreams of Peace”

  1. 21st Century Fox Says:

    Where were you all this time when the Sinhala Buddhist government of Sri Lanka was fighting against Tamil terrorism? Why are you coming out now with all this peacenik talk? Peaceniks tried to scuttle this glorious victory but they and their western backers could not trip our Sinhala Buddhist government. We have enough heroes in SriLanka and donot need you to suiddenly become one. We will deal with the likes of you now that we have dealt with the Tamil terrorists.

  2. Nalaka Gunawardene Says:

    At one level, I admire the persistence with which 21st Century Fox follows my output online and posts comments. This would have been fruitful engagement if not for his/her repetitious, single-tracked and by now predictable line: doggedly demanding to know my religious faith. (This same query was raised, for example, at and also at Clearly, this is one person who prefers not to react to each ’song’ and instead wants to probe the pedigree of its ’singer’….

    As for my religious faith, I simply can’t see how that is relevant at all to this or any other public discussion on peace, development or technology policy that I engage in. In the 21st Century, religion is not something to flash around as a calling card – as they did it in the Middle Ages – but something very personal. What I do in the strict privacy of the bed room and shrine room is my business and if I don’t choose to disclose these details, no amount of foxes have the right to demand it.

    I would like to think that Sri Lanka has not yet become an Absurdistan where every public and private act of individuals and institutions must have a religious basis, flavour and connotation. For purposes of this debate, I would declare myself a secular humanist. If that offends the narrow religious sensibilities of 21st Century Fox and his ilk, so be it.

  3. Ayesha Says:

    Labels, labels, labels. Why is it so important for 21st century fox to box Nalaka into some corner with a bunch of labels. Why do we so often look at the divisive factors and ignore the message or common factors.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: