“Api Yannadha Malli ” — A Poetic Reflection from July 1983

Niranjan Selvadurai, a poem composed within a context derived from a personal experience in the streets Colombo, on Monday 25 July 1983

 Pic at Borella Junction 24 July 1983 –taken by Chnadragupta Amarasinghe **

May we pass brother?

But are you one of us!

Or someone other?

Roving eyes survey thus

Taking girls home from work

Assuredly I mutter

Don’t you have sisters too

That I dare not utter


Rod in hand he twirls

Peers down at the girls

They of diverse race and creed

But united in the hour of need


Girls huddled in the car

All similar pensive faces

None with Pottu or Thaali,

Those give away traces


See bro, they come from far

Buses not running… blah, blah!

Fluency and tone matter

So, I keep-up the chatter


Got petrol in a tin can?

No there’s some in tank

No time to syphon, man

Says Tarzan at my flank


Now that I’ve passed his test

Tarzan is my friend best

Clear from the road you!

This car must go through


Shops ablaze and shattered glass

Tarzan back at the helm yelling

Unruffled mates loading hand carts

Charred remnants of a once dwelling


Although you made your call

As if we be of the same feather

May you gain merit and stand tall

For letting us pass my brother

  • Niranjan Selvadurai … in a context derived from a personal experience in the streets Colombo, on Monday 25 July 1983.

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අපි යන්නද මල්ලි?


“මෙහෙන් දාල යන්නද අපි?”

කොහෙන් ආව කව්රුද තොපි?

පිට වරිගෙන් ගත්තද වෙස?

මෙසේ අසයි විපරම් ඇස


“මේ නංගිල ගෙදරින් ඇර ලන්ටයි

අපි යන්නද මල්ලි, රෑ බෝ වෙන්ටයි”

හිංගළ කතාව මම ගෙනියන්නං

තව තව හොඳ පද ගලපල දෙන්නං


අසලා මගෙ බස

බැලී ඔහු රථය දෙස

නැඟනියන් පිටුපස

වෙතට යොමු වුනි ඇස


නැතිව පොට්ටු පැළඳිල්ලක්

මූණු අතරේ කුමණ වෙනසක්!

“මේ නංගිල දුර ඉඳලයි එන්නේ

කලබල හින්දයි බස් නොදුවන්නේ”


“පෙට්‍රල් තව නැද්ද දෙන්ට?”

“ටැංකියෙ ඇති, මල්ලි ගන්ට”

“වැඩ බොහොමයි අද කරන්ට

කාලය නෑ තෙල් උරන්ට”



අසලා මාගේ පිළිතුරු

ටාසන් මා හා සුමිතුරු

“පාරෙන් ඔක්කොම මාරු වෙයල්ලා

කාරය දාන්ට ඉඩක් දියල්ලා”


ගිනි ගත් නිවෙසක්

අසලින් දකිමි පිරිසක්

පෙට්ටි උසුලන් යති

කරත්තෙට පටවති


මග දිග දැවෙන කඩ

වීදුරුද, සී සී කඩ

මේ ටාසන්ලගෙ වැඩ

ජාතියක මර හඬ!


රථයෙන් මෙසේ යන විට

යම් සිතක් පල විය මට

ටාසන් කලත් මේ නොහොඳ

අපට නම් කලේ හොඳ


මං නම් නුඹලගෙ වරිගෙන් නූනට

වෙරදිල හරි මට යන්නට දුන්නට

මතු ජාති ජාති වල නල්ලම් ඉන්නට

එල්ලාම් පින් ලබෙවා! අපෙ මල්ලිට


  • නිරන්ජන් සෙල්වදුරේ

Context: Based on a personal experience in the streets Colombo, on Monday 25 July 1983.

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This image appeared first — on grainy form –in the Tamil Times and I incorporated a copy in an essay written in literary vein which was placed in my anthology Exploring Confrontation with the title “The Agony and the Ecstasy of a Pogrom, July 1983” (Reading, Harwood, 1994). In this version, I entitled the scene as “Dancing the Killing.” This was an erroneous interpretation. About then, in mid-1995, either Charles Abeysekera or Victor Ivan directed me to the photographer Chandragupta Amarasinghe whom I contacted via Victor. Chandragupta came to my sister’s place in Wellawatte and gave me negatives of the two striking moments from that terrible spot on that terrible night . Both are reproduced in my web sites now. 

But, more vitally, he clarified the specifics. The bloke who I thought was “dancing”was actually swiveling to administer a karate kick.

I stress here that Chandragupta was taking flash shots and was being extremely courageous in those specific circumstances. He was also inventive; he had a sidekick alongside with a broad canvas carry bag into which he dropped the camera after each selective and occasional shot.

Though appreciating Gamini Akmeemana’s essay on this topic in 2011 he is incorrect when he asserts that “”I have never seen him [Chandragupta] given credit in print.” That noted, let me endorse Akmeemana’s commentary. “This is a remarkable photograph because, as far as I know, no other such bleak photographic evidence of man’s inhumanity to man during Black July exists. Pictures only showed gutted buildings and vehicles. This is because photographers themselves were prime targets of the mobs, and inconspicuous devices such as mobile phone cameras were unknown. This black and white photo was taken in fading light with a flash gun The man who took it was Chandragupta Amarasinghe, an obscure photographer working for the Communist Party newspaper Aththa at the time.”

In doing so, and writing from within circumstances where I myself have participated with other scholars in detailing the horrors of other instances of ethnic violence in Sri Lanka (1915, 1958) and India, let me note that the scholarly literature has rarely dwelt extensively or systematically on the many and widespread instances of protective humane action on the part of personnel from the ethnic group involved in the assaults (whether Sinhalese, or Hindus)  in protecting neighbours, friends and even strangers at the height of the violence –action that marked humaneness and, not infrequently, courage as well.

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