A Trip to Jaffna – a Travelogue of a Difference

By Shani Calyaneratne – Karunaratne

 This is a story of a trip to Jaffna – a travelogue of a difference. The writer visited Jaffna for the first time to participate in a birthday celebrations of a friend Dr. N.Sivarajah, an important personality, well respected and honored. She narrates her experiences – which is something different.Dr. N. Sivarajah, an illustrious son of Sri Lanka is the Consultant /co-ordinator to the WHO office in Jaffna. He is an old boy of Ananda College Colombo and graduated from the University of Ceylon, faculty of Medicine.

He had a distinguished career, but remains quiet, dignified and a true son of multi ethnic multi religious Sri Lanka. He is the eldest of 7 children to his parents.

I address Dr. Sivarajah as ‘Aiya,’ as he is the eldest brother of my good friend N. Sriskandarajah who lives in Oslo, Norway. In Sinhala language ‘Aiya’ is ‘Older Brother’ and in Tamil it is ‘Gentleman’. Both suit him well and he is one very much loved and admired.

Last 12th of April 2013, we had the birthday celebration of this unassuming great guy. Organizing a birthday was not a thing that was likened by Dr. Sivarajah. It was his siblings, the two daughters and Mrs. Sivarajah who quietly made arrangements and virtually took him by surprise!

His latest publication is ‘Health in Wartime North of Sri Lanka,’ – a collection of his essays and speeches, compiled and edited by his brother N. Selvarajah and daughter Kalpana Chandrasekar. It was published by Ayothy Library Service, Kumaran Book House, (ISBN 978-955-659-384-6), and is a book that might interest the general readers, as well as scholars. It is sold for £15 in the UK and available worldwide.

In fact, one day, not so in the distant future, researchers and students studying Community Medicine, Anthropology or Sociology will refer this book in similar intensity as that of Edmond R Leachs’ /Pul Eliya, a Village in Ceylon: A Study of Land Tenure and Kinship.

Dr. Sivarajah runs an orphanage for disabled girls in his spare time, in a small facility next to his house.Funding comes from his family and friends. This is a nonprofit organization. Girls are taught to sew and they take orders to supplement their expenditures. I went there to see it all and found their determination to survive, bringing tears on ones’ eyes.

Going to Jaffna by’ Avro’ bus was an interesting experience. Those who opt to fly, in fact, don’t know what they are missing! Bus is better as it goes through towns, villages, and jungle lands on both side of the road – a different travel experience. I recommend anyone who generally opts to fly – bus travel.

I was the sole Sinhalese in that bus, all others were Tamils, and they made my journey interesting and went out of their way to make me feel welcome, kept on offering me food and water – that was indeed the beauty of Jaffna hospitality, which touched my heart.

I stayed with my friend Wasantha Gemma James at her house (recently retrieved from intruders, repaired and refurbished) near the former rail crossing on the Temple Road, located in the heart of Jaffna city.

Wasantha went to France in 1978 and now only she managed to retrieve her parents’ house. In fact, I heard that many houses were occupied by all kinds of people and it was difficult  trying to get rid of them – illegal occupants.

Wasantha who has been away for well over 30 years, was also a visitor to Jaffna as much as I was. So we learnt by experience. We made Kiribath and fed Wasantha’s visitors, her long lost relatives. I was so happy that they enjoyed it. They called it ‘Sinhala paal soru’ – ‘Sinhalese milk rice’. They were all in the kitchen watching me cook, asking questions in Tamil and me answering in Sinhala language.

Roads were perfectly renovated, paved and laid, markets were thriving and the beaches clean and beautiful.

I went with my friend to the famous Nallur Kandasamy Temple. Took glimpses of few churches and worshipped at the Nagadeepa and the Shiva Temple at Naga Deepa islet. The Sri Lanka Navy very graciously helped us with boat to the islet. We being vegetarian, Nelli drink, fruit juices and vegetarian cookies were available for us without any problem. In case if we didn’t cook at our friend’s house on some day, we had our meals at the Mango Vegetarian Restaurant. It is on Temple Road itself. Do not miss it as they make the world’s best’ Rasam’.

Going to the market was also a very nice experience. The vegetables and fruits were cheaper than in Colombo. Grapes are a bit tart, but I would not call it ‘sour’ grapes. Do not miss visiting the famous Rio Ice Cream parlor.

You can sit inside in the air conditioned ice cream parlor and have a go at it. Remember to skip two three meals afterwards to prevent weight gain, as the ice cream was sweeter than any other ice cream sold in Sri Lanka. They do not make sorbets and all ice cream were milk based.

 If you go for Sari shopping, check them on the Power House Road. I found a very nice Sari Shop called – ‘Irajeswary’. The owner and the staff were courteous and helpful.

For a first time traveler, or a person going after a long absence, there can be some pitfalls. I have, by bitter experience made some Rules of thumb.

Rule number 1: Do not start to dole out money. We learnt the hard way, there was a never ending line of people in front of the house and they will not leave without any handouts. They demand more and more.

Rule number 2: Ladies with smiling faces like mine and eye contact can be misunderstood by men. One has to be direct in speech and if you do not say, ‘No”, people will literary carry your furniture out. This did happen to us. The gas cooker that we were using, a guy who volunteered to help, carried it away one morning right in front of us. In an instance like this, confrontation seems futile and all one could do is to prevent it happening the next time.

Rule number 3: Keep the gate closed to prevent tresspassers. If you can’t do these, stay in a hotel where there is security and order. The saris I took to Jaffna, were admired by village ladies, so I quietly gave one to a lady. They were given in friendship and in sisterhood and as much as I was happy to give, they were also happy to receive. It was something like sisters exchanging clothes.

This girl invited me to her house too, and when I went, she ran to make tea for me and was looking for things to give me to take home. She gave ‘kottakilangu; , Thulasi (Basil) seeds to plant, nelli drink because I did not want tea. They practiced Sinhala words and were happy when we understood the Tamil that was spoken. I was so touched and humbled by this experience.

I took so many photos and they were happy to pose. (If you have nice saris worn for wedding and parties that are in good condition, take them to Jaffna and you can make another lady happy by giving. You can donate new material to the disabled girls’ orphanage and they will make clothes out of the materials and sell them to supplement their orphanage upkeep expenses.)

Roads are repaired, bridges built, public transport is functioning, and rail track is already laid up to Paranthan.

And there is hope for reconciliation and peace. Through friendship and dialogue the country unites. The value of peace is immeasurable. I hope our beautiful country stay that way. We all should pray to remain united forever.

– Asian Tribune –


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