Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The gentlemen's game

Win-win situation, originally uploaded by halwis.

Life is pretty good at Mid-Wicket… it’s not as boring as long-off, more respectable than third-man, not as depressing as gully (deep gully is usually worse) and a lot more comfortable than the square leg region. Some people assume that fine-leg must be a pretty sexy place to be, but batsmen tend to glance down fine leg quite often and it gets extremely wired down there. Mid-on and mid-off don’t offer a grand wide view of the whole pitch as midwicket does, and life in the cover region is just too tiring. Hard work put in by the sweeper cover and wicket keeper goes ignored and thankless on the best of days. How about the bowlers you ask? Well the bowlers get banged out of the park – and that’s not nearly as fun as it sounds. Forward short-leg gets bullied a lot and nothing really lasts at the slips.
Cricket terminology can be very subtle and therefore pretty difficult to catch, but the pressure usually never goes away because no one likes to be given out caught. The worst dismissal by far however, has to be getting out trapped with your “leg before the wicket”. So all else being equal, Midwicket is a nice place to be, even though it hardly offers too many chances to change the course of the game because only idiots get out caught at midwicket and every self-respecting batsman knows that a jab towards mid-wicket never really offers the chance to steal a quick one!
So when “the captain’s hand on your shoulder smote", you are left with little choice but to “play up, play up and play the game” or take up water polo… a game far less susceptible to seditious metaphors and euphemisms.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ordinary heroes

Bridged, originally uploaded by halwis.

Mother's day came and went last week and I barely took notice. It seemed almost vulgar that I should do something special on this day alone, for a person who has given me so much of her life; and I don't mean that lightly.

It's not the fact that I wake up to a rude bed-side alarm now, that I miss the days when I awoke to my mother's gentle voice and her fingers combing my hair. I mean, I would be so embarrassed if she did that now, but it's something else about those years and about a mother's touch that is missing in this big bright world that I have stepped into.

When I was still a small person, my father laboured even after coming home from a hard days work just to make sure that the little white shirt and blue shorts I wore to school many years ago didn't have a single wrinkle on them. I came home from school to little treats almost every day and whether it was in the afternoon or at dusk after cricket practice, my mother was always there to ask me about my day and listen to every detail in my stories. I suppose I just didn't want them to feel as if I was waiting for corporate events like Mothers' or Fathers' Day to tell them how much I appreciate what they have done for me.

As a teenager, I never saw in my mother the woman who gave up a promising career to devote every minute of the best years of her life for me and my siblings. I may never know the courage or logic of that decision which was taken at a time when a woman is expected to be nothing short of an astronaut or head of state for society to take notice and consider her successful.

It took me over two years to teach my mother how to send an email through a series of training sessions that I am sure were as traumatic for her as they were for me. When she finally learned how to send me an SMS, I celebrated and shared the good news with my friends – the same way my parents would have celebrated the day I paddled my first infant steps across the floor.

She gets frustrated sometimes when I joke about it, because she feels that all the knowledge she gained in her youth had gone to waste and sometimes there are regrets that she could have made a good career if she decided to balance that with her commitment to the family. I have often felt that she paid too heavy a price for us, because life should be about making use of all the faculties and senses that enable us to appreciate our existence. How can it be a good thing to sacrifice all that – whatever the cause may be?
Yet I realise something now; a thought that seeps through the sacrifices and social stigmas that my mother would have had to battle two and a half decades ago. I am sure she wouldn't have made that choice out of any qualms about being able to balance a career with family commitments. It is visible now when I notice her slightly greying hair, or hear her voice over the phone across the oceans every week and when I try to picture the bright young woman who had returned from her studies oversees before she got married.

As I look across the empty miles, from a world where everyone is expected to work hard and make countless sacrifices to earn what they need, I see that my parents never demanded anything in return for their unconditional love. Everything I did or made drew out their smiles, and words of encouragement and appreciation flowed out evenly at my success as well as failure.

I suppose it is up to us to try and remind our parents in as many ways and as often as we can, that their labours have not been in vain.

Maybe we owe it to them, to seek not only 'success' in life – but also integrity and honour. My parents showed me by their life's example that I don't have to be rich and famous to be considered successful. They are themselves a testament to the fact that most of the real heroes in our lives are ordinary people who have shown extraordinary commitment and love.

(published in The Sunday Times - Mirror Magazine (20/05/2007)

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Chinese just know these things...

I read sometime back that the Chinese term for “universe” was in fact made up of two words “Yu” (space) and “Zhou” (time). When Aristotle was building a primitive model of the universe with the stars hanging down from a crystal sphere, the Chinese had already known for hundreds of years that the universe was the unification of space and time. It was only a couple of thousand years later that Albert Einstein managed to demonstrate this in the west (albeit in clear mathematical terms).

I thought I knew what love is. Perhaps I did… perhaps I didn’t… At least I knew what it was like to be infatuated about someone to the point that it consumed every other care and reason for existence. Years have past since. I can no longer remember or imagine such an uncontrollable fire of passion. My senses have been numbed even to the desire of an incomplete soul yearning to be made whole or the desperation of a shrivelled space in an isolated corner of the universe. So I instinctively turned to the all knowing Chinese (and of course - Google) to find the meaning of love…
I wasn’t disappointed! :-D

Friday, December 12, 2008


Retirement, originally uploaded by halwis.

This was one of the enduring images that I found detained in my camera after the drive down Great Ocean Road a couple of weeks back...

Monday, November 03, 2008

A land like no other

With a civil war raging within its jungles and isolated by International and local travel bans to the region, the northern region of Sri Lanka offer great views and adventure to those who dare cross the Forward Defence Lines (FDLs). This week, our special correspondent Sonnet goes behind enemy lines to discover the stories of those who have been caught in the crossfire for many years.

To say that 'Sri Lanka is a land of contrasts' would be an understatement that could get you thrashed in a night-club or run over by a three-wheeler. From the shacks of tea estate workers in its cool hills, to the luxury condominiums in the capital Colombo, it is a country that shouts out myriad life stories, but perhaps none as forcefully as the stories of those who live in or near the war zone in the North and East of the country. Their stories are more elusive, so I went searching for them.

Starting off on my trail, I met Kandasami (36) a local winemaker and his family of five who welcomed me to their 'earthy' villa. The terracotta path through their courtyard is flanked by a tastefully designed rock garden on the furthest edge of their one hundred acre vineyard, which coincidentally is also a minefield.
Only last night, they were trapped in the middle of an exchange of heavy artillery fire, followed by Ariel bombardment. Despite the sleepless night, Kandasami and his family woke up early morning to start another peaceful day in Kodikulluppu, a small town just 236 kilometres north of the capital Colombo. The family had spent the night underground, tasting the latest batch of Sauvignon Blanc in their cellar, which doubles up as a safe refuge during heavy fighting.

Despite the smoky morning sky and smell of gunpowder in the air, Kandasami – one of the handful of winemakers in the country – is optimistic about the future, even though he sometimes worries about the minor possibility that a 'bunker-buster' might damage his collection of precious wines. "Sauvignon Blanc has done exceptionally well in this land. The soil and weather is just ideal" he says with a 'Champaign' smile that is iconic of the people of this tiny island off the southern tip of India. The hundreds of anti-personal mines buried centimetres below the ground has been a blessing in (mighty) disguise for Kandasami. "I think the mines on my fields are what make my wines special. Apart from making life (and the possibility of death) a touch more exciting during the harvest season, they add an 'explosive' undertone to the taste, which compliment the melon taste of Sauvignon Blanc," grins the brave entrepreneur.

His family, like any other in this paradise isle, has the same concerns and anxieties; what will happen in the next episode of "Batti"? Will Surendra get fed up with Batti's family? Who will be the next Super Star? They; like everybody else who voted last time, are thrilled that Pradeep won, but are a bit upset that the SMS cost more than what they thought it would.

As I bid goodbye to Kandasami and his family and make my way on a cratered landscape, I am greeted by Periadorai who has just opened a coffee shop near the esplanade. Its large French windows offer stunning views across the large man-made lake and what remains of the main highway. Periadorai's coffee shop is a popular hang-out for the social elite of Kodikulluppu, including the teenage boys and girls of the International Weapons and Suicide Training School in the area, who invade the place soon after school hours for their favourite Hot Chocolate served with a marshmallow in a tall glass. Periadorai, who received his barista training while living in exile in South India, offers me his speciality – a sublime Macchiato and a delightful bacon and egg sandwich, toasted, with Swiss cheese on freshly baked Italian Herb bread. It leaves me wondering how good his lemon cheesecake or cinnamon doughnut would have been under a sky lit up by anti-aircraft fire, if I could be back in time for afternoon tea.

If business is the lifeblood of Kodikulluppu, then art would surely be its heart. My next stop is at the house of a young and promising painter. Sivagi, a child prodigy who began drawing on the dusty floor when she could barely crawl, had already sold her first crayon painting at the age of 6. Even though the first buyer was her uncle who bought his uncanny portrait for a mere Rs. 5, she (was) literally 'shot' to fame when she lost her arms to an unexploded shell. She miraculously escaped death and so did her love of art. Now she draws with a paint brush held between her toes and has since inspired hundreds, if not thousands of children like her, who has also lost their limbs in similar circumstances.

Despite the rare claymore mine explosion, slightly more frequent kidnappings and just above average murder-rate, the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka are a tourist paradise waiting to be discovered. It is a must-see destination for everyone who lives in the south of the country and pretends to care. As anyone who visits this part of the world would soon find out, the flat arid space and wide cloudless horizons that cradle the stars at night, the white sandy beaches that stretch for miles and the tall palms are only a fraction as delightful or fascinating as the people who live there and their warm embracing smiles.

(published in The Sunday Times - Mirror Magazine (25/11/2007)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

No need to compromise

I mean... if Americans are so torn apart by having to choose between a young black man or an old white man, why don't they just elect Michael Jackson as president?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Snippet (5)

(c) Harendra Alwis

Time... has stolen another bright morning from us. I didn’t hear the birdsongs that you may have heard and perhaps you didn’t feel the soft, soothing breeze that wrapped me as I lazed away in bed. The exhilarating exhaustions and pain of my battered sinews on this warm day has dipped below the distant horizon with the crimson sun. A heart that once ran with the wind and danced in the rain now sleeps like a little child who has momentarily overspent his ration of energy and animated inquisitions.

Time is about to thieve away another night as my dreams seep out into the cool starlit darkness. I wonder whether the stars are dreaming with me. I dream of you... of the moments, doubts and promises, the smiles, laughter, pain and tears, the music, clamour and silence, the wonders, mysteries and magic I want to share with you. A lifetime is all I have to share with you, and yet I am poorer by another day as the cool breeze and stars fold away into an incomplete memory...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


When words return from their long voyage
And my heart is ready to touch the sky
You will feel this empty, lifeless page
Breathe, sing, dance and come alive
Bear with me till that betokened day
Yonder it lies, beyond a crystal eye
The sun and moon shall light my way
Forever, though dreams sway far and nigh

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Born to a visionless darkness
Without valid reason to live or die
Caressed by violent harshness
Led by many a candid lie
The world stares back in starkness
As they walk through fields unsown
To live lives of buried sadness
Drift through years of joy unknown

Friday, August 29, 2008

Spring shall wait...

The sun is shedding its winter veil
And clouds are melting in the warmer air.
Birds will fly back on their yearly trail
When trees are adorned in summer flair
Yet my world is still trapped in winter’s gloom
Bare branches point heavenward as if in prayer
Wild flowers are waiting in their buds to bloom
Because spring cannot come until you're there

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I saw your eyes o little one
Yet unborn, unconceived, unperceived
I felt their warm dark glow
Pierce this cold dark night
Like a distant nameless star
A tear seeped through mine
Like a winter raindrop; lifeless, soulless
And gripped these helpless arms
That may not always shield you
From a merciless world
Yet I hold this flickering candle in the rain
A little fountain of starlight in my hand
Rising up to take its place in the night sky
To shine down on your world
On a distant tomorrow

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


There is a little dream
Drifting across my scruffy heart
As I sit by this little stream
Trapped in a crystal smile
And listening to a crescent moon
Whose words my mind beguile

A little drop of starlight
Scurries across the Milky Way
On a dark, cold, deserted night
To breach my sleepy eyes
As I awake from my little dream
Stronger and more wise

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Nowhere to go...

The world rushes past me at a constant 70 kilometres per hour, occasionally punctuated by screeching brakes and melting burns. The never ceasing monotone of tires battling asphalt drains my empty ears. Smoke and burning rubber are the only smells I can remember as they move in and out of the inner cavities of my body with impunity. Every single organ in my body seems to have given up – except the mind which still occasionally sets out on expeditions to the remotest corners of the ocean in search of silence and treks its way to the top of a snow-capped mountain for a breath of fresh air; and carries back with it, their barren isolation.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I don't remember

I have forgotten what it feels like to be in love - to feel the infatuation, the anxiety, the thrill of making eye-contact while trying to steal a glance and then noticing her lips part in a half concealed smile, the utter laziness you feel when you wake up in the morning that makes you lie in bed thinking about her for hours without getting up, poetic thoughts gushing through the mind with every single thought of her, the intoxicating mix of urge, pain, jealousy, hope, fear and apprehension, the blind optimism…
And with it, I seem to have forgotten, for a brief moment, how to write.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Before I left the shores of home, everything I knew about the lives of new migrants was based on an article I read in a National Geographic magazine that I sneaked out of my grandfather’s old book shelf for some light reading over a dull weekend. Until I saw that article, I had never even spared a moment’s thought about it, little knowing that I was only a couple of years away from actually living through it myself.

When I did finally migrate across the oceans as a student, it was to the officially most liveable city in the world. Of course those over-paid UN observers who made that claim weren’t “international students” but Melbourne is indeed a wonderfully accommodating city. I was just blissfully unaware however that there was a limit as to how ‘accommodating’ any place other than ‘home’ could ever be, especially when I was suddenly surrounded by terrestrial beings that nevertheless seemed alien – not because of their accent or the colour of their skin, but because I was yet to find friends among them.

Perhaps the harshest aspect of the life of a migrant is that it almost makes you forget what it feels like to be recognized by others, as their son, sibling, cousin, nephew or friend. Life, especially in big cities, becomes a touch more difficult to cope with sometimes, when you don’t easily find any familiar faces in the crowd. It’s a feeling of alienation rather than of helplessness. In all fairness though, it’s not a bad thing to be insignificant and invisible in society – it can be a lot of fun too – but it is not something that a person can be expected to live with for too long.

Perhaps one of the first lessons that new migrants learn – often in their painful isolation in the midst of a multitude of strangers – is that our lives are weaved into a mesh of family and friends – whether we like it or not. We can’t survive without knowing that somewhere not so far away, perhaps lost in the crowd, are people who care about us, and we care about. I have since made many friends from many shores, some of whom also share my own experience as a migrant - of sudden isolation among a multitude - in my new home away from home. It makes me wonder whether my story is actually unique to migrants alone. Perhaps all of humanity is bound by this secret knowledge that lies unexposed within each of us, that one of the fundamental desires of life is to be recognised, known, cared for and loved.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Instinctive play?

War and violence in general is bad because it is destructive and hurtful. Most of us have an awareness of that fact either intellectually, experientially or at some level of our consciousness. Yet it is too easy to justify violence as a means for controlling personal, political and social conflicts because if nothing else we can claim we are the victims of violence and that we have a right to defend ourselves. The attacking party can always claim that they were forced to use violence pre-emptively to deter an anticipated threat.

You don’t have to be a pacifist to think that war and violence is a poor strategy for resolving conflicts. Economists and sociologists will be the first to point out that it is always costly and inefficient and rarely effective. If it was really an effective and economical strategy for resolving conflicts, most businessmen and lawyers will go into trade and contract negotiations armed with assault rifles and grenades - and I am being serious, because some underworld business negotiations are in fact done that way as it is a cost effective and efficient mode of conflict resolution in that environment!

So why do we instinctively justify the use of violence as a conflict resolution strategy in certain scenarios when it can be – and it has been - proven mathematically and experimentally that in the ‘non-zero-sum game’ of war, all parties loose more than they gain. It is an established fact that non-violent ways of resolving conflicts are at least less costly and often rewarding in almost every conflict scenario – especially when the less tangible but critically important human factors are also considered.

Yet we not only instinctively turn to violence, but honour those who perpetrate and face violence on our behalf and with our sanction. So why do nations train and maintain professional armies even at peacetime? Why do men and women voluntarily enlist as soldiers? Why do we venerate and honour those who kill (and die) on the battlefield even as we condemn murderers in civil society? If everyone could understand the fact that violence was a poor method of conflict resolution, we would find no rational reason to attack, to go to war or even consider it and we will realise that these are but irrational needs and traits of the human instinct.

The problem may lie in our biological or cultural memory.

Evolutionary game theory has been used to explain many seemingly incongruous phenomena in nature. One such phenomenon is known as biological altruism. This is a situation where an organism appears to act in a way that benefits other organisms and is detrimental to itself. This is distinct from traditional notions of altruism because such actions are not conscious, but appear to be evolutionary adaptations to increase overall fitness. Examples can be found in species ranging from vampire bats that regurgitate blood they have obtained from a night’s hunting and give it to group members who have failed to feed, to worker bees that care for the queen bee for their entire lives and never mate, to Vervet monkeys that warn group members of a predator’s approach, even when it endangers that individual’s chance of survival.

All of these actions increase the overall fitness of a group, but occur at a cost to the individual. Perhaps we too as a species have ingrained in us a 'memory' of a pre-historic moment in time at which our very existence depended on individuals who sacrificed their own lives under violent circumstances, for the survival of others.

Perhaps it is because of that memory which ensured the survival of the entire species and even thus determined that everyone who survived had the same ‘brave gene’ in them, that a parent will almost always do whatever they can to ensure the survival of their offspring even at the cost of their own lives. Violence becomes a more bearable – if not natural – response, when the glory of bravery and self sacrifice are ingrained into our core being – perhaps casting the instinct of self preservation down to a lower level as cowardice.

Perhaps it is embedded and perpetuated in biological memory – in our genes – but human cultures have also retained and venerated this self sacrificial instinct to honour those who bare arms - to perpetrate and face violence on behalf of others. This veneration has even spilled into the realm of the spiritual especially as evident in the Christian belief that even God sacrificed himself under violent circumstances for the salvation of mankind.

Therein lies the paradox – that even though science, economics and mathematics may have proven the futility of war with calculable and verifiable results, we will continue to be inclined to romanticise violence; as long as and as surely as our genes and many millennia of cultural evolution have programmed us to do.

Friday, February 29, 2008


Summer seems to have left silently without even saying goodbye... and autumn has not yet come. The wind is cold and empty, clouds are distant and the sun is no longer warm. The trees seem unsure whether it is time to farewell the greenery of summer and put on their crimson autumn leaves. My mind is parched and my heart is bland. I know this autumn is going to be different. Perhaps it will be happier than previous times. I think it will be.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Cry of the living

To the fallen combatant:

Awaken us oh brave voice, now silent;
Command thee our hearts and minds, to serve
The land that bore thee; which after a salient
Battle; thy lifeless corpse still doth preserve.

Oh eyes, from the glow of life now fastened;
Release ours to the brilliant and unhindered insight
Of thy soul; that awful violence hath hastened
To the realm of eternal peace and wisdom's light

Move us oh burly sinew, now unmoving;
Into the dark and empty gorges of our fractured wit;
Where we may find more adverse cause for grieving,
Beyond thy fiery crematorium and marble lined pit.

Redeem us, oh courageous soul unyielding;
From the cruelty that hath denied us thy golden years.
Douse the fire that burns within us unceasing;
Fueling the furnace of endless ruin with our own tears.

Dawn on living souls, oh peace of the departed;
With thy gentle hands, remove the thorns of spite
from wounded hearts, and reunite brethren once parted,
And lift our hearts to love's unassailable hight.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Elitism - Litarally!

Living oceans away, I have never had the chance to savour the Galle Literary Festival (GLF) which has become a significant feature in the Sri Lankan event calendar. Like many other expats with a keen interest in literature, I relied on the Sri Lankan bloggers for updates on the features, issues discussed and debated that arose out of the proceedings in Galle. One common denominator of all the meaningful reviews of GLF was the fact that this year – perhaps thanks to Rajpal Abenayake – it has given rise to a discussion about “elitism”. I hope that continues and matures into a constructive and self critical discourse about Sri Lankan social dynamics.

It has apparently been sparked off by a comment that Rajpal made – I am sure from a philosophical view pint – that literature is for the elite. The type of ‘elitism’ that has come into focus more often in these discussions however, is one that is inherited rather than achieved. This has inaccurately been branded as ‘elitism’ when it is actually a primitive form of ‘tribalism’. It is tribalism that judges and predisposes people based on their surnames or their net worth. Elitism is or needs to be a term that is used more positively.

My point is that the opportunity and privilege of attending events such as the GLF should not be confined to the few who are fortunate enough to be able to afford it. The joy of literature; reading and writing has too long been afforded only to a privileged few who had the fortune to be able to go to school, to afford books and the time to read. Blogs too are still primarily the playthings of an elite few in Sri Lanka who not only are lucky enough to be computer literate, but have the luxury of a computer and the added benefit of an internet connection – among a majority of the population who cannot afford but a 50g sachet of milk powder to feed their children. This is a ground reality that a significant number of the attendees and almost all the organisers seem to have been oblivious to.

Elitism as a concept has earned a bad reputation as a result of being confused with tribalism and also being unjustly associated with racism. It is the elite who has to attend events like the GLF, but they should not be chosen on the basis of their ability to afford a ticket priced at (perhaps also worth) Rs 10,000 or those who claim a right to it by a secret heritage. Instead, the GLF and society in general should strive to open up opportunities to the 'elite' who have earned that title with hard work and talent.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

snippet (4)

(c) Harendra Alwis

...The bus serenely waited for the command of an old clock that was precariously tilted on the depot wall, to set off on the last leg of a tiresome day’s exertions. A dented front bumper, gashed grill, smoky lights and rusted wipers that drooped across the scratched windshields, sculpted a look of profound sadness on its face, which was accentuated by occasional wails and shrieks of invisible body parts. Passengers, who sat themselves on its rigid seats or prepared to endure the rocking journey with the aid of a steady metal pole fixed to its roof, rarely expected the ride to be comfortable or fast. Engineered unintentionally into the body of this lifeless machine, by design as much as incidence; was an eerie reflection of the sadness that some of its passengers also bore deep in themselves. The hollow metal chassis afforded them a space in which they were free to take off masks of stern looks and tight lips that they had worn through the day. It silently offered them comfort and empathy; perhaps because they found it is easier to embrace their sadness in the belly of this sad lifeless beast which they felt; could understand and empathize with them in their misery. Perhaps their unobserved thoughts knew that the burden of misery is amplified in the company of others who are happy, whose happiness would enforce itself on them and compel them to smile out of fear and guilt, that any hint of sadness on their faces might rob their elated friends of their fleeting moment of bliss. Even though the metal heart of the bus was too rigid to melt and dissolve with tears of a despondent soul, it was often sensitive enough to dry those tears with a murky breeze or hide them among stray raindrops that sometimes flew in through its open shutters...