After a week of rambling from the central coastal plains to the highlands of Sri Lanka, I had come to the conclusion that Sri Lanka today stands where India was twenty five years back; a little worse perhaps.
All over I had seen boards of aid organisations. The spanking new Bandaranaike International Airport, I was told, has been built by China. A good bit of the rolling stock on Sri Lanka Railways, impressive coaches, has been a gift of Canada; I saw some of them, still with their polythene wrappers on, in the yard of the Colombo Station. The ultra-modern Bus Terminal at Negombo is a striking contrast to the colonial railway station, only metres away; again a gifted by some country, I could not get which. But, sitting there on the bench by the canal, I could see innumerable Suzukis, Nissans, Toyotas, Chevrolets, Fords, Isuzus, Renaults, BMWs zip past in glory – much more than I have ever seen in Chennai, Mumbai or Delhi.
That was my human encounter with Sri Lanka. I was primarily drawn to that country by a long cherished dream to visit the lands where two of my fellow Goans had toiled some five centuries back, one to serve the Christians and the other to learn Budhism. Beyond that my picture of Sri Lanka was just as the land where Rama went to retrieve Sita. But the country I encountered was far more heart rending. The overwhelming feeling that I got was that of a people wanting to leave behind their recent past. The man who drove us from the airport to the seaside hotel in Negombo was himself a Tamil. But he seemed to have consciously decided to forget the bitterness and get back to the process of development. The same story repeated with little variations in Kandy, NuwaraEliya and Colombo.
I thought, it’s probably the rest of us, India, China, US, and the rest, who would like to keep the wounds festering; for Sri Lanka is a pawn we would like to play to our own gain. That country has probably little choice, caught in the vicious cycle of underdevelopment.