I do fall asleep over long movies and mostly somewhere between the seventeenth and the twentieth minutes, but then there are those that challenge you, and move you. Over 90 minutes of gruelling truth about a war – a war with thousands displaced, hundreds dead and missing, and uncountable wounded – could make anyone want to run for the caffeine kick.
The film brought back memories of my last visit to Colombo. I have visited Sri Lanka twice, once when I was younger and naïve and on a second occasion when I was more aware – last year in August 2012. It was also the time I had spent my longest at the visa counter: close to thirty minutes. I did not fathom that me being an Indian Tamil would pose a problem in Sri Lanka. I was thrice asked my purpose of visit at the Indian side, though my visa clearly stated tourism. Even as an Indian Tamil, I could feel the tension in the air in Colombo; not knowing whether I was offending the Sinhala autowallah by speaking to him in Tamil or offending the Tamil autowallah by speaking to him English. In any case, my Indian *Brahmin* tamil was of very little use in Sri Lanka as the Sri Lankan Tamil is distinct and uses many different words and sounds from its Indian cousin.
A northern Sri Lankan Tamil I met was very firm in dissuading me (repeatedly but very subtly) from visiting Jaffna. I could almost feel him wanting to protect whatever little was left of his hometown from the outsider in me. He took me along to a public lecture titled, “Human Rights: Theirs or Ours?” My host considered the talk rather progressive while I came out not so impressed. This was me being stupid and not realising that talking publicly about human rights in a country accused of war crimes against its civilians, was bold without a doubt.
Callum Macrae’s No Fire Zone is more than brave in recounting the horrors of the war as it played out – using footage documenting the final days of the more than two-decades long Sri Lankan civil war. It is indeed, the most disturbing footage of the war to have surfaced and continues to remain so. I distinctly remember feeling disturbed, when the images first surfaced after the film’s release in March 2013: no matter what the crimes of an adult; no twelve-year old warrantees being shot in a cold blooded murder, no woman deserves to be stripped of her dignity and no one person deserved to die the way they did.
You can also read my piece on a Northern Muslims memory project in Sri Lanka, ‘Redemption not Vengeance’ here.