In This Chapter

Are You Alright?

Authored by: Jayatilaka Kammallaweera

The Routledge Companion to Sinhala Fiction from Post-War Sri Lanka

Print publication date:  September  2022
Online publication date:  September  2022

Print ISBN: 9780367554682
eBook ISBN: 9781003094708
Adobe ISBN:




This is taken from the short story collection As 1 (Eyes) and deals with the lives of the Tamil people after the war – the ending of whole villages and a life style, the disappearance of love and the loss of hope that cannot be compensated in anyway – and the narrator, who had been allowed life through escape by the kindness of others helping him to get away (though they were then killed themselves), realizes that at the end. The title of this story is in English in the original Sinhala story as well.

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Are You Alright?

Loganathan got into the airplane from London’s Heathrow Airport to come to the village he was born and brought up in, in Sri Lanka, feeling like an astronaut setting off into space for the first time. After twenty-five years of being away, he couldn’t even guess what his village would be looking like now. What was inside him, was a bundle of emotions made up of fear, joy, thrill, doubt and much more that couldn’t even be identified. He knew that the village he had walked about, run around and played in, was no more. He knew this land would have become some other land, not because of the inevitable changes that would have come with the passing of twenty-eight years, but because it had been nearly overturned, twice or thrice, because of the war. The exodus of men and women of his village, staggering for miles and miles, carrying whatever they could of their possessions, had been a sight he had been seeing for many years on the television screen. It wasn’t very easy for Loganathan now, to weed out from his memories, even the images of his childhood’s village. During these twenty-five years when he had lived thousands of miles away from his homeland, what he had seen on the television screen, had shredded, pounded and warped his memories, covering them with blood, dust and ash. But still Loganathan occasionally dreamt of a Palm grove, hill or aandi 2 well that had been in the beautiful village of his birth, proving that those who destroyed villages and towns in an effort to take away the memories of one’s childhood, do not really succeed.

Even though he had no idea which relation or friend he still had alive to go and see first when his feet would again touch his motherland after the twelve-hour flight, Loganathan’s mind was impatient to see the earth where he was born. Because of that, he couldn’t fall asleep on the comfortable seat of the airplane. He knew that the house in which his father, mother, sister, and he too, till he was a young man, had been in, was no more. He had got the news that those three lives had got destroyed along with the walls and the roof of that house, about twenty years ago. Even though he had no idea which relatives were still alive, the small carry-on luggage bag at his feet was filled with toys he had bought in London. His conscience must have asked – if one was going to one’s village after twenty-five years, how can one do that without carrying gifts? For whom was he taking the battery-operated red-haired doll who said, “You are lucky. I love you”?

His English friend, Bob, who had accompanied Loganathan on this trip, was in deep sleep on the seat next to him. Loganathan knew that Bob had come on this trip not because of the primal desire people had of witnessing tragedy. Bob was a man with a warm heart living in a mechanized society. For Bob, familiar with air travel, the sky with its white clouds wrapping themselves around the body of the plane, brought no wonder. So the sleepless Loganathan thought that Bob would be sleeping like this till he would be woken up by Loganathan saying, there, that’s my country, and pointing towards the top of coconut trees visible from the sky. Looking at the face of his sleeping friend, Loganathan thought again, that this man who angered quickly at injustice, who could hug long and warmly to show his friendship, had a set of behaviours that did not make him suitable for an industrialized world. With that came the question as to what society Loganathan himself belonged to. Even though he had lived in London for twenty-five years, he was still a stranger to that world. The moment he stepped into a crowded metro, he got this feeling. It enveloped him when he occasionally stepped into a pub to sip a beer. When he walked about in a department store to choose clothes, this feeling accompanied him. Even though he had got citizenship there, his feet touched the London earth only with uncertainty. No matter how attractive, he still hesitated touching or inhaling the fragrance of a flower in a garden in London.

He began thinking again, who he should meet when he returned to his motherland. It was in his fifth year in London that he had seen, in a list of names of disappeared people, the name of the Pastor who had helped him escape to London twenty-five years ago, when they had felt that Loganathan had been among those marked for death by his own kind. His heart began to ache as he recalled that the Pastor was being threatened by both sides during the time he had helped Loganathan escape. Since the newspaper editor who had published his poems in his newspaper when Loganathan was young, was still in the custody of the Army even after the war was over, Loganathan began to think next, of who might still be left alive among his relations. In the eleventh hour in the plane, he recalled, as if in a dream one would see near daybreak, a distant relative who used to work at a jewelry shop in Chetti Street 3 in Colombo. Loganathan remembered that though this man had come to Colombo when he was young, and settled down there after marriage, his family members had continued to live in the village. If he was alive, he would be about seventy years old now, Loganathan thought, and knew that if he wanted to meet him, where he should go was to the municipal flats in Kotehena and not to the shop on Main Street. Loganathan got off the plane with the thought that his first effort should be to get to Kotahena.

Kotehena, of course, was where it had normally been, without much change having come over it. Even though it had got dilapidated to the point of not being suitable for human habitation, and even though he had only set foot in it once before, Loganathan was able to search for the building and find it. He could also recognize his relative’s face, even though it was now wrinkled with suspicion and covered with unevenly-cut white stubble. The elderly relative, however, had to spend a long time stroking his beard and scratching his head, before he could place the stranger who had suddenly appeared at his door. If not for the white man who was hugging a large backpack to his stomach and giving him a friendly grin, Loganathan would probably never have succeeded in convincing this elder that he was not from the CID.

Once that suspicion was laid to rest, the old relation took them in, seated them on chairs, and began to talk non-stop. He had information of twenty years with him. Bob, who didn’t know Tamil, could observe quite well how the wife, covered by the curtain that marked off the inner parts of the house, tried to stop him with her hands, eyes, clearing of throat and coughs, as he set out upon a description that included information about the constant and continuous fear of death felt when a bomb went off, or one of his kind was taken and killed for being a traitor, the taking of whole families to the police or the army after sudden invasions into houses at night, or the taking of people in white vans to question and then leave on the roads.

Bob waited impatiently till they could leave the house, so he could get a chance to ask his friend, “Why does he talk too much?”

“According to the news I am hearing now, it seems that some families have returned back to the village. Our own people, of course, are still in camps. Do you remember Jesudasan who used to live near your house? One of his daughters is also said to have come back with her children.”

“His work now is to find these things out, and speak of them. Now what’s the point of thinking about these things?” When he couldn’t be stopped with silent gestures, the wife let go of the curtain and said in a loud voice, as she walked further in. Then she came back with a broom and began sweeping, disregarding the visitors there.

The relative became quiet. Loganathan leant well back in the chair and closed his eyes for a moment, to experience the joy he was feeling. Getting that news made him feel like someone – mining thirty or forty fathoms below to the earth in search of gems – finding a blue sapphire. He took that gem out, washed it, and began to admire it, turning it this way and that. He recalled that Jesudasan, who had worked as a railway guard, had had only one daughter; that she had been good at dancing from around the age of three; and that her name was Shyama. So it must be that mischievous, talkative, and pretty Shyama who was be there. Thangachchi 4 Shyama, who used to sit on the bonnet of her father’s black Morris Minor and sing.

With the help of the elderly relative, he could rent a car, and he set out on the journey to his village, having agreed to the driver’s fee without arguing.

The extent of the destruction that they could see through the car windows, as they went over the land where the battles had taken place, was not unfamiliar to Loganathan, and even to Bob too. They had seen it enough in newspapers and television. Even the fine sight of the row of Army bunkers, made to the same design with new roof tiles and lawn grass, didn’t seem strange to their eyes.

It wasn’t easy to find the place he was born in. Grass had grown in places in that flat land where bulldozers had swept aside the ruins. When they came across a brand-new sign board signaling their entrance to the city of Paranthan, realizing that they had travelled six miles past the village, Loganathan asked the driver to turn the vehicle around and go back slowly, while he carefully scrutinized everything that passed. Then he was able to spot the stumps, located close to each other, of the Tamarind and the Banyan tree, that he had been keeping an eye out for all this time. Getting off with great uncertainty, he managed to find the gravel road that had gone across the village, which had started from near here.

The land where he was born was there. But the village was no more. Because this was a journey Loganathan had made knowing that the village had ceased to be, he was not surprised. Two mango trees that had survived and a row of headless Palmyrah trees, were staring at the empty sky. A village that had contained a stretch of land full of houses with sparkling white walls, was now only earth containing their ruins and three or four sheds with half-built clay walls and roofs only half-covered with metal sheets. He got out and walked towards one shed, keeping the bag in the car. He saw that the shed was actually a small shop. The biscuit packets hanging by the door were yellowed and discoloured by the sun. On a slip of a table were four or five bottles of soft drinks. A comb of plantains with just two bunches, was hanging from the roof.

The floor of the shed was only the dusty earth. Peeping inside to see if there was any one there he could get information from, Loganathan saw on a small bench, two old suitcases with their lids open, and some rags of clothing on a line. A small child, wearing a pair of shorts the same colour as his dusty body, sat on two cement bags kept one on top of the other, and stared at the half open back door made of metal sheets. Another child could be seen outside, holding a rope tied around a puppy, trying to pull him out from the shed. The puppy, his neck becoming strangled, was crying out in a weak voice.

“That creature will die,” Loganathan heard a woman’s voice say in Tamil. It came from behind the shed.

“Anyone here?” he asked in the same language, as a thin woman came limping around the shed.

No matter how blurred, his memory was correct. Shyama?

… .

“You are Shyama, aren’t you?” Those few words left Loganathan’s mouth only after they had looked at each other’s faces, as if turned to stone, for some time.

The woman said nothing and stared at his face. The eyes said nothing either, as if they were gazing at the horizon of a far-off sea. There was no surprise, suspicion, or joy in that face. Fear. No. Not even fear. There was nothing there.

“Do you remember me?”

The woman said nothing and stared at his face. The eyes said nothing either, as if they were gazing at the horizon of a far-off sea. There was no surprise, suspicion, or joy in that face. Fear. No. Not even fear. There was nothing there.

“I am Loganathan. Loganathan who fled to England and saved his life.”

The woman said nothing and stared at his face. The eyes said nothing either, as if they were gazing at the horizon of a far-off sea. There was no surprise, suspicion or joy in that face. Fear. No. Not even fear. There was nothing there.

He didn’t say, “I remember you danced very well when you were small.”

He didn’t ask, “Where is your husband?”

He didn’t even ask, “How do you get food now?”

The question, “Do these biscuits, toffees and things, get sold?” didn’t get asked either.

Turning suddenly to go to the car, Loganathan saw his friend behind him, with his camera in his hands.

“Don’t take photographs.”

Going back to the car, Loganathan unzipped his bag and took out the jeans, T-shirts of different colours, and scarves, one by one, slowly. He was careful not to take out the red-haired doll. Looking for some time at the London-smelling items of clothing, he then put them all back. He got down from the car, took out his wallet from his pocket, and, with that in his hands, stood in thought for some moments. Then he put that too, back in his pockets.

Loganathan walked back to the shed, slowly.

“We are leaving,” he said to Shyama, very softly.

The woman said nothing and stared at his face. The eyes still said nothing even then, as if they were gazing at the horizon of a far-off sea. There was no surprise, suspicion, or joy in that face. Fear. No. Not even fear. There was nothing there.

The rented car began to jerk back to Colombo, on the pot-holed road. After it had travelled a great distance, Loganathan was surprised to see his English friend sitting next to him, and stared at him with his eyes wide open, as if he had just got up, frightened, from a nightmare.

The friend tapped him softly on the back.

“Loga, are you alright?”


“Are You Alright?” – Kammallaweera, Jayatileke. 2011. As. Punchi Boralla, Sri Lanka: Wijesooriya Grantha Kendraya.

A well that has a wooden lever taking down the pail so that it becomes easier to pull it up.

This is a street famous for gold jewelry shops.

Younger sister in Tamil.

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