The Civil War has made Sri Lankans shock-proof

WITH India still recovering from the shock exit at the 2007 Cricket World Cup being played in the Caribbean islands, the game’s fanatic fans in Sri Lanka scoff at their Indian counterparts for the manner in which they expressed their anger after Rahul Dravid’s team’s pathetic performance against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

By Ameen Izzaddeen

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Published: Tue 27 Mar 2007, 8:49 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 1:22 AM

Would Sri Lankans have behaved in a similar manner, if they had been eliminated in the first round? The loss would have been as intense as the one that has visited the Indians. But we would not have burnt effigies of our cricketing heroes or smashed up their homes. Though it is only a minute minority in a country of more than one billion who behaved angrily, the story goes that Indian cricket fans are unable to accept defeat in the right spirit.

We are as fanatic as the Indians as far as cricket is concerned. It’s our de facto national game though we do not count internationally when it comes to our de jure national game —Volleyball. A survey will show that cricket dominates much of our conversation, followed by the war, politics, the economy and gossip. Of course, I am talking about men. But women are not far behind. Most of them are ardent fans. Some are good statisticians, too. A female relative of mine offers ‘sunnat’ prayers for the success of the Sri Lankan team. When live telecast of a Sri Lanka is on, the traffic on Colombo roads eases. The usually ubiquitous three-wheelers on Colombo roads dwindle in numbers with most of the drivers preferring cricket to their daily bread.

At the 1999 World Cup, Sri Lanka, the then defending champs, were unceremoniously eliminated in the early stage. We were upset but we came to terms with the shock. It is not because any genes that make Sri Lankans to react sedately to failures.

I think it is the 25-year war that has moulded us to accept defeat in our stride and spring back. Don’t they say failures are pillars of success? Yes, we are a nation which believes in its ability to rise again. Resilience is our plus point that keeps us going. It is this factor along with our good track record of debt servicing that the international lending agencies often cite when they sanction loans to Sri Lanka despite the war.

The war has given enough shocks. Since shocks are commonplace, they no longer shock us or have that special effect. When the LTTE carried out its first massacre of Sinhala villagers in the 1980s, it shocked us. But subsequent raids on villages did not bring any shocks. Similarly, the first LTTE suicide attack, the first attack on a military camp, the display of it sea power for the first time and the first attack on the Colombo harbour, on the airport and inside the highly fortified Army headquarters shocked us.

We wait in anticipation that these things could happen again and therefore when it happens again, we are not shocked.

The latest shock to shake us was LTTE’s air raid on Monday on the Air Force’s main airbase adjoining Sri Lanka’s only international airport. We were shocked and now we know the Tiger planes will come again. When it happens again, we won’t be shocked.

The perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks go down in history as the first terrorist group to use passenger aircraft to hit enemy targets. But the Tigers made history on Monday as the first terrorist group to use its own aircraft in a civil war.

What are we going to do now? This was the question many Sri Lankans who were coming to terms with the air attack asked on Monday. To prevent a terror attack on land, we can set up road blocks and carry out cordon-and-search operations. Now we have to install air defence systems all over the country and air raid sirens to warn the public. There were a few anti-aircraft guns in Colombo protecting likely targets. These guns were installed when in the mid 1990s intelligence reports indicated that the Tigers would use hang-gliders or light aircraft to attack VIP targets. But we don’t know what the next target would be or where. It may not be Colombo. Probably, it may be a public ceremony attended by a VIP in an outstation village.

Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, Life goes on, bra La la how the life goes on. That’s Beetle’s version of the song. Our song is O bloody, O bloody life goes on, bra La la how the life goes on.

Life is full of uncertainties. This takes us back to cricket, which is known for its glorious uncertainties. Cricket helps us forget hardships and the misery the war has brought upon us. Many prefer to watch a game of cricket in company —with friends over a bottle of beer or arrack. Those who don’t drink also join the party, partaking in soft drinks and bites on offer.

Colloquially, we call this ritual "getting set". I got set when India was playing Sri Lanka. Politics, the war, the economy, the disappearances and the government’s failure to cope with all these issues dominated our conversation. The mood was one of despair. Suddenly we were cheerful: A Dilhara Fernando delivery had dislodged India’s star batsman Sachin Tendulkar. We knew we are on the path to victory. Cricket, at least, provides us with something to cheer about at a time when politicians have failed to deliver.

Ameen Izzadeen is a Sri Lankan journalist based in Colombo


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