Counting and Cracking – Story of Sri Lanka

Australia Day, 26/01/19….we went to see a Theatre production called ” Counting and Cracking” at Town Hall in Sydney. This day weirdly became symbolic, as it allowed me to embrace my nationality as an Australian- Srilankan. It was a reunion of both aspects of me, while healing my origins. This play is the story of most displaced people, who left their homeland seeking refuge in countries like Australia. It told the story of The Sri Lanka that was, before the civil war and how politics and politicians divided a country which co-existed with different languages and religion before hand, celebrating life on a small island.

It presented the story and the facts in an unbiased light for Tamils and Sinhalese. Being a story about a Tamil person, will naturally lead to far more concentration on the tamil story.

I have not been to a production till now, where the whole theatre was converted to bring essense of a country within its small space. Even one step further in capturing the ambiance of a Srilankan home, the fragrances and aroma.

As the story travelled between Australia and Sri Lanka. The props and the actors moved flawlessly on and off the stage as one unit. The writer used words so powerfully and cleverly to capture audience attention. Speaking in Tamil and Sinhala, while translated at the same time in english not by a background voice, but by a character on the side of the stage, but part of the scene. The direction of the play in this and many aspects was amazing. Use of props so minimalistically, as it allowed the audience to be fully captured by the actors.

The story in a few lines is about 21 year old uni student called Siddartha. He is of Srilankan descent, living in Coogee and his reconnection with his roots. Through the story of how and why his pregnant mum, Radha, left Srilanka to settle in Australia in 1983. He is quite unaware of his past till his father, who he and his mum had assumed died in Sri Lanka, resurfaces in 2004.

For those who may not be aware of the Srilankan story, the 1983 riots was the beginning of a civil war that plagued the country for over 30 years. After this riot many began to leave Sri Lanka, including my family in 1985. Unlike the many unlucky souls in the years that followed, we were lucky to have come to this land by plane and to be sponsored by my Aunty avoiding the treacherous journey of seeking asylum as refugees.

Similar to the main character Radha, my parents left purely for our future and safety. The major scene of the play is the frontyard of her ancestral home in Sri Lanka, with typical wooden, thatch-worked furniture. This setting transported me back to our ancestral home built by my great grandfather. Leaving this place broke my mum’s heart, just as it did for Radha.

There is a line in the play where the Radha says “my country broke my heart”. That resonated so deeply within my heart and jolted the hidden pain, which I had not dealt with properly for over 20 years. The trauma so deep within, too complex to resolve, that shutting myself down to it was easier.

A few years ago, I began to realise the pain was linked to my grandfather to some extent. As I never got to see him again after we left Sri Lanka in 1985. He raised me for a few years while my parents were working overseas. He is my first parent, a man of great character who sacrificed much in his life for his family. In 1985, for the welfare of his family, he said goodbye and watched us board a bus to Colombo from Jaffna and sadly it became forever. I carried that guilt of abandoning him for years.

In 2003, we were finally able to visit Sri Lanka during the brief cease fire. I so longed to see my homeland that held so many sweet memories. By then my grandfather had passed away, but even still i felt like i was going home.

Our family home was precious… memories of my childhood, extended family and a link to my roots. Sadly in the interim for a period it was used as a prison by the Tigers movement, after they had kicked out my grandfather in the middle of the night. Being back in our house left me torn as it no longer felt like the home that was ours. It was as if our family’s memories of love were ripped out and replaced with pain and torture. A home no longer alive, but gutted.

Unknown to me this broke my heart …..the heart of the 11-year old child who left Sri Lanka. Along with my grandfather, this house was the other precious part of my childhood and it was also gone. As a 11-year old child I left Sri Lanka with sadness and excitment for the future. My head filled with notions of a life overseas seen in TV shows and movies.

Sadly Australia in 1985 was not embracing of multi-culturism and differences as it is now. So my hopes were marred and I knew I was different and didn’t belong in this new land.

So in 2003, as an adult I travelled to Sri Lanka carrying the hopes of that 11- year old child, wanting so deeply to belong again. Thus my heart broke, as I felt rejected by my motherland, which told me I do not belong there as well…. So where did I belong? I came back confused and sad.

This play after so many years let me cry for Sri Lanka. What it was before the civil war, for my grandfather, for that simple life. We were neither poor nor rich but as a child I don’t remember wanting more.

As I watched the play I was back in my childhood Sri Lanka. I saw the joys of the Radha’s family unfold just as mine did. I saw my grandfather in Radha’s grand-parents. At that moment the pain surfaced. Part of me wondered if I wanted to stay any longer as I knew the story will soon become sad. Tears flowed down my face. I stayed half knowingly the events which led to the civil war, which unveiled itself on stage before me. I walked the journey with them…the widely known story of Sri Lanka and its politics was told so refreshingly with minimum biasness as it could have been. Finally, a Srilankan story that told of a life that was led by people of different backgrounds and status but with the commonality that they loved being a Srilankan.

Radha’s character was central to this thinking and she voiced My views on the topic. Among the squabling and political greed, others forgot about the beautiful life that most Srilankans had the privillige to be part of before the war. Generations connected by their family home… sharing and partaking in a life where you were part of a community.

So I cried more, unleashing that pain deep within and unknowingly a healing began. I am no longer so angry and hurt about Sri Lanka. I now look at my birthland with gratefulness for the deep roots, identity and life it gave me. The person who visited Sri Lanka in 2003 returned more of an Australian partly for the wrong reasons. Now I feel I have made peace with my motherland… I embrace the Australian and the Srilankan in me whole heartedly and so proudly with love.

For this I am thankful that I went to see this play on Australia Day 2019. I really hope this play travels the world and heals the hidden wounds of many like me.

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