When I realize the 31st of January 2013 was 18 years ago, I find myself disoriented. Disbelief.
Had it really been that long since that turning point morning that those of us who grew up in Colombo under the bleak shadow of a stalemate war can still vividly recall. We still talk about that morning sometimes, that particular war story, which brought everything that Sri Lanka had endured for over a decade before that close to our cosseted homes. I was in Grade 4, in the middle of a singing lesson, sprawled on the black and white marble floors of my primary school hall with the rest of my class when the 19th century building shuddered.
‘Surely something fell down upstairs…’ The piano teacher is unconvincing.
The rest of the afternoon is a blur as we are shepherded from building to building, girls weeping in fear of the possibilities contained in that prolonged tremble and fragments of news from the flurry of anxious parents who pressed against the gates to be checked and let in.
We had been prepared for this; bomb drills- take cover under the table when the bell is rung- and extended and unexplained weeks off from school marked by tiresome photocopied study packs. All those worst-case whispers culminated that morning, 18 years ago, heralding a new tide of precautions- a disrupted school year, bag checks- but most of all, the devastating aftermath crumpling those who lost friends and family when a truck carrying 440 pounds of explosives crashed through the main gates of Sri Lanka’s Central Bank in Fort, crushing the heart of Colombo’s financial district. It was reported that 91 persons were killed and nearly 1400 others were injured. Central Colombo was soon rendered largely inaccessible for well over a decade by hurdles of security men and barricades. Several months later in July, the Dehiwela train bombing reportedly resulted in 64 deaths, and injuries to 400 others when multiple bombs exploded in four carriages in a commuter train.
Nearly 2 decades later and the estimated deaths of 80,000-100,000 people between 1982 – 2009, I wonder what these numbers mean to us now, especially those many thousand contested casualties that mark the horrific final phase of the armed conflict.
Perhaps we are weary of knowing little else but loss for so long, or have we forgotten or chosen to move on?