Panchenko 100220/06/09 - Chalai

The Bay of Bengal. Dawn. I swat a fly away from my face and feel the surf slice the sands from under my feet. There is something brutal about this beauty. The waves seem to tear sideways ripping the beach like a bullet. It leaves this cutting wake that laps the sand crabs with an unfriendly tide. The remnants of a warzone remain among the serenity. This tranquility, I thought, was fought for with violence and bloodshed. Beauty through barbarity. And now all that’s left is this, some perverse paradise.

The End Of The Road

There had been a burgeoning cynicism that was growing in me since Vavuniya. By the time I was staring out at the Indian Ocean at Chalai Beach that morning, my sanguine optimism, my youthful affectations of the promise and hope was but a dull murmur at the back of a bewildered mind. My journey up here made sure of that. I had experienced a slow degradation, I had slept in my clothes the previous night, I had thought my unshaven, crumpled appearance could be washed away by the gentle waters of a mythic beach.

You see one year ago, my cousin had come to me, excited and fidgety, jabbering about such things as promise and hope. He had told me that one year from now Sri Lanka would be free. What does that mean, I had asked, to be free? He told me that his home, his country would be unified again, that the North would be liberated and Sri Lanka would become one again. Yes, I said, but what about you? What does that freedom exist for you? What difference does it make to your life?

You live in Colombo, Not Jaffna.

But don’t you see? Came the reply, Haven't you heard about the beauty of the North?  The beaches of Chalai, the lagoons of Mullativu? They are meant to be the most beautiful places in the country. But I have never been, he said. I have never seen that or felt the sands under my feet. And it’s my country, my home.

A year later I stood with my soles upon the sands, the surf sweeping my toes. But whatever beauty I saw before me was stained by the images I had seen the day before.


When Kilinochchi was captured on January 2nd 2009, the significance was felt around the world. The town held a resonance that went beyond its seemingly strategic insignificance. It was a symbol, of a greater aspiration. It was the hidden Tiger fortress, the myth built on bricks and mortar, the capital of Tamil Eelam. When it fell, the shudders were felt in  the hearts of the diaspora.

We were driving through what was left of Kilinochchi on the way to rendezvous with Brigadier Prasanna De Silva. He had been in touch with us throughout and had asked us to come to Mullaitivu before it got dark. We were trying -  the road to Mullaitivu was unkind and unkempt. Along the way flashes of roofless houses and seared farmland passed us by. Nothing was left untouched, no building had been left un-hammered with shells and bullet fire. There were gates to houses but no houses. Graffiti was spray painted on some of the remaining walls, numbers and letters denoting the insignia of the troop brigade that had first swept the area.

There were patches of charred land along the road, the SLA had started fires to light the area during night. There were trees that had been felled by shelling to clear the land, less the jungle, less the places for the Tigers to hide, they told us. There were one-man outposts along the way where lonely soldiers slept in their ragged army issues. They would peer into our cars with their hardened eyes more out of rare curiosity than of duty. Every so often, I would see houses, homes that were still intact for the best part. I asked the Major if we could stop by one of them - I felt far to distant from these fleeting images. I wanted to walk into a house, touch the walls and feel the abandonment. He agreed and we stopped at a small white house by the road. It had been cleared, there was a sentry guarding an outpost by it's gate. The Major led us in.

The path was charred, matted grass and dusty. Somewhere inside me, I was anxious. Hoping for good pictures,  Phil had already begun snapping. Broken windows, crumbling walls. It must have been a beautiful house before it was hollowed. A large family perhaps, had owned it, if the acreage of farm land around it was anything to go by, it would have been a wealthy family. I wondered what lay in the ruins, what would I see? I imagined black and white images of house full of discarded scraps and scattered memories. Broken ornaments and torn clothing. That's what I was expecting. I stepped through what used to be a door frame into the house and immediately my eyes were drawn downward to the cracked red painted floor. There was something there, lying on it's side, eerily familiar. I knelt down to pick it up.

A single, small tub of Marmite. The same round black bottle, yellow cap.

Of all the places in Sri Lanka, of all the times on this journey, I never thought I'd find familiarity in surroundings that felt so alien. I was knelt in an abandoned ruined home in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka, turning a tub of Marmite over in my hands. The very same silly looking bottle I had sitting in my kitchen cupboard a million miles away in North London. It's a strange thing when reality makes something so intimately meaningless and renders it infinitely meaningful. These walls suddenly felt lived in and living. My mind was being rushed with bright colourful images. I looked at the walls and I no longer saw the cracks, I saw children and school runs, breakfast and pack lunches. I saw sandwiches and bedtime. The silence as I was walking through these walls disappeared too,  instead I heard laughter and intimacy, arguments and music. A family with children, doting mothers and adored fathers lived and breathed in this home. Yes, home, it was a home not a simply a ruined building passing us by on the road, it was a home. It could be my home, it felt that real.

I step into what used to be a kitchen, an empty picture frame lies near a blackened stove. Everything for me gains significance, I pick up the picture frame and place it delicately atop a shelf - out of respect, I thought, or something like it.

I walk into what used to be a bedroom, whose I wondered? I knelt down to inspect something hidden, a treasure that would help me value a life lived in this room. It was a cassette tape, still intact but without label. I looked further, a record player, vinyl, broken now, and rusted. Music must have filled this house at some point in the past. Some distant past that now only exists in some lost families memory and now in my own imagined history of this place. I continued to walk into every room and look out every window. There was an eerie feeling following me everywhere I went as if my steps were being followed by sad lost souls.

Even now, I look back on my entry on that day and feel the words live at the base of my skull:

19/06/09 - On The Road – Kilinochchi

The light here is harsher, the sun more intense. The ground is baked, cracked and broken.  Either side of me echoes with lives and livelihoods abandoned. There are advertising billboards and bus stops. Bullet holes in car windows, scorched earth around us. Shelled homes, no souls. A parched breeze drifts in through the windows. I feel like I’m in a crypt.

As we left I imagined the family standing by the broken doorway watching us drive away. I imagined a child waving goodbye, bright eyed and smiling. That imaginary face made me think of the children we left at Manik Farm. The world rushed back and I became sobered to the realities of now. We drove on.

The Playful Brigadier

We came upon Mullaitvu that evening trading unkempt roads for jungle detours. The narrow roads made us feel as if we were cutting through the Amazon with machetes for tyres. The natives of this secluded village however were only young men - soldiers, most of them younger than either Heidi, Phil or I. The further the road went the more of them we had to jostle past. They all seemed to be heading the same direction. I asked Major Kumara where we were going to meet the Brigadier, 'It's a kind of a party they are having'. He said. I looked out the window at the faces of the soldiers walking past. They were faces painted with only two things; scars and smiles. What kind of party exists in a place like this? They were all congregating around the one building left standing in Mullaitivu. It was a lime green house surrounded by a palm leaf fence. This was the former-headquarters of the LTTE. A veritable palace at the heart of darkness. We had arrived to celebration, an anniversary apparently. We hadn't known it but it was a month to the day since the last bullet was fired and the last body fell in this bloody war. Tradition held that celebrations were to start a month after the auspicious day - today was the birthday of Free Sri Lanka and the atmosphere was one of relief, pride and privilege. This was their moment, a bubble in time where they could finally cut loose, drink and be merry. And my, were they. The war was over and they were heroes.

We were led inside past hooting calls directed at Heidi, inquisitive eyes watching us walk by them. 'Gayan!' came a yell. The Brigadier met me with a friendly slap on my back and a knowing smile. 'You made it!'. The short, stocky man was dressed head to tow in his decorated uniform, his mustache curling over an ever easy smile. It was a characteristic I would grow fond of over the coming day, his smile always on the edge of cheerful laughter. There was something of a childlike curiosity about the Brigadier. An energetic playfulness that seemed instantly likable, disarming and genuine. It's interesting to note that when I first met him in that dark room on the second floor of our hotel, he was anything but. He had been curt and guarded but now within his element - among his troops, amongst the fragrance of sweet victory - he was a friend.

The Penny Drops

We mingled. Among us were the top brass of the Sri Lankan Army all sharing the spoils on the grounds of their defeated enemy. The image that still lingers is of a General, a heavy set man sat on a wicker chair by the entrance of the compound. I had compared the sight in my minds eye to an old black and white still of Churchill sat outside Hitler's bunker in relaxed triumph after WWII. Champagne flowed. Among the party we stumbled across three Sri Lankan journalists who had been embedded with the army for 6 months. They all refused to be interviewed and seemed to be on the defensive from the moment we met. They were suspicious of our foreign presence among the festivities. What were we doing there? Our foreign cameras and foreign questions rendered us spoilers and made them uncomfortable. One journalist in particular took the opportunity to set the record straight about Western interference, of our 'insistence' over human rights violations carried out by the army during the war. It seemed six months of ducking shells and dodging bullets on the front lines had made them feel rather protective over the army- to accuse the SLA of excessive force was to brand them liars, since they were the ones who reported the opposite was true. It was clear to whom their loyalties lay.

It occurred to me then that these three defence journalists, for that was what they were; in pay of the defence department of the government, were the only voices permitted to report on this war first hand. All we truly knew of what happened during those last few months would be the stories they told. Their words were all we had to go by. Yet, in our brief exchange it became apparent that theirs were voices that had been handpicked. They spoke of their hurt and anger at the 'bias' news reporting of the foreign press. Ulterior motives they said, were behind the accusations upon their military. But more than anything else they spoke about their pride and honour having been chosen to bear witness to the end the war. To them their roles were that of allies in the cause, custodians of the army soap-box, the mouthpieces from the front line. This was the game changer for me. This was the moment when I saw what the reality of journalism really was in Sri Lanka. As I heard the words, and listened to the stories, I realized that the passion in their voices were zealous and fervent. This passion was nationalistic, unashamedly and though I believed that they believed in what they were saying, I had secretly thought - did they not follow some sort of journalistic creed? Should not partisanship be a dirty word to them as journalists? No, it seemed. Whatever the details, whatever the ugly truths, for them a higher truth existed and that was that whatever happened was necessary and should be reported as such. Journalism had it's place, sure, but their trade was propaganda.

All of us, Heidi, Phil and I were all left unnerved. These were too many contradictions to grasp. When we left the festivities it was much darker, we would have to hurry if we wanted to reach Mullaitivu and Chalai before midnight. We walked out and the first thing I noticed about the Brigadier's jeep was the huge bullet hole in the windshield. This battered and bruised jalopy would be taking us through to the Brigadier's base. We jumped in reluctantly. An alien landscape was what blurred past us on this road. The twilight brought red skies to match the orange sands. Perhaps in my mind I had always linked Mullitivu to the colour red. What with all those news reports back home with flashy graphics depicting where the area LTTE controlled - the map was always symbolized as red, the LTTE colour. Now I was looking out the window at a blood red world.

The Beast Is Dead Long Live The King

My left hand clutching the frame of the passenger seat door, my right hand desperately holding my camera steady, our jeep careened through jungle and rocky roads. There were no seat belts on these savage plains. Slamming the dirt path to Muillaitivu, flying over craters and crashing through boulders, Brigadier Prasanna De Silva drove in a way that complimented his personality; with carefree abandonment and maniacal glee. 'I drive kind of crazy huh?' he laughed. We laughed too, nervously. It was an hour or so to Chalai, the Brigadiers homebase for the last few months. He had promised us some 'sights' along the way. What these 'sights' were, we had no idea. The insanity of this whole saga was beginning to fry our senses. As jungle reeds and soldier sentries shot past us, there was little time to name check our faculties. Looking back I feel we lost some part of our sound minds along the way, the rational, logical parts. The cogs that make sense of ourselves, of where we were and what the hell we were doing. The cogs that were essential to make our way in the civilized world, all left scattered along that dirt path trail as we tumbled deeper down the rabbit hole. Gone, our sane selves, lost like Kurtz down the rivers of Congo or Coppolla in the jungles of the Apocalypse. What horrors lay await for us in these jungles?

19/06/09 - On The Road – Mullaitivu

Dark now. We move fast, the light is failing us. The stench of death is apparent in its absence. An eerie beauty here. The sky is a shade of purple and the lagoons an inky blue. There a stalks flying together with vultures in the sky, birth and death circling above. There are ripped leaves on the trees. We are in a dark corner of a world that has not seen virgin eyes for decades. People have been born here, and died here. Generations have come and gone, caged and hidden from the rest of the world. Only now has Mullaitivu been opened, our lenses capturing the first images of a new primal kingdom. Our lungs breathing old world air and seeing old world vestiges. We are back a hundred years, foreign explorers in the land of Kong. The savage natives wear army issues and we are in the chieftains carriage, gasoline spewing out behind us.

I look around at the others behind me, trying to grasp the images of bestial beauty fleeting past us. Our skins had hardened to the dust, Phil's face was furry and Heidi had her hair pulled back in a bunch. They both had gained sandy tans by now and it made their eyes look brighter and wider, some heady trip this was. As it got darker I snatched some back story from the Brigadier who would joke and laugh with us in equal measure as talking somberly about his hellish experiences. He told me how the LTTE were formidable in their ingenuity but he and his troops had matched them in wits and resourcefulness. At one point we stopped our vehicles and crossed a lagoon on a makeshift bridge that was constructed with about twenty boats lined up one after the other from one shore to the next and as we hopped over them our jeep was toed over on a wooden raft by a single tug boat in the dark. Beyond that was the final battleground. We drove slowly, the whirring of our cameras the only sounds amongst the crickets and compacted sand under our heavy tyres. The dirt path was littered with cars, bullet riddled shells, blow apart, buses and trucks used by the LTTE as makeshift armour. A white Fiat lay on its side, the passenger door blown wide open, 'That one had a mounted gun,' the Brigadier told me. When the civilians were rounded up and taken to Mullaitivu they had taken their possessions with them, he explained, clothes were scattered about the place, civilian bikes and other vehicles too. The LTTE had comandeered them and used them as weapons. As the SLA moved through this area the civilians were pushed further north, chaos must have reined down upon them as they - forcibly or not - fled the fighting to the land locked area of Mullaitivu. It was a haunting sight, a thin strip of road with hollow shells of charred wrecks of cars either side. The mangled grills of vehicles would appear out of the pitch black darkness as if demons in the night as our headlamps flashed passed them.

Later we came across the spoils of war. We stopped by a captured LTTE suicide boat. A blue green sculpted barge with a diffused charge at one end that was designed to blow on contact with the target. A feat of engineering in itself. The Brigadier explained that the LTTE had huge factories to develop them. The diaspora would supply the engineers and expertise, he said, and boats, planes and mines would be constructed here in the jungle. The discovery of factories in Vavuniya had been one of the early coups for the military until then the extent of the LTTE's arsenal was just legend. They were said to be the most technically developed armed group in the world, they had their very own navy, air force and more financial resources than some small countries, but how much of this was propaganda was never clear. It was only once the territories were re-captured that the myths of Tigers were uncovered. We stopped by a beach where the Brigadier unveiled a small submarine that had been discovered in the aftermath. A submarine. Here, in the jungle. None of us could quite believe that a guerrilla outfit had a submarine among its weaponry. But there it was, dragged onto the sands, a rusted beast of a thing. Over thirty years of barricading themselves into the North East, it seemed the LTTE had been busy. They were building, designing, developing weapons, finding new ingenious ways to kill and maim. As the Brigadier began explaining the contraption, I couldn't help thinking of the reasons behind the existence of such a thing. Almost fifty years ago a nationalistic identity was being forced upon a nation of many faces. Prime Minister S.W.R.D Bandranaike had issued the decree that Sri Lanka was to become Sinhala only, all others were to conform and submit to a centralist majority. The very worst kind of short-sighted, ill-conceived, malicious, violent and racist policy that has ever been put forward by any national government. From that 'Sinhala Only' politic was borne a monster. A snarling, hideous monster that prowled these jungles, scarring the psyche of this country irrevocably, consuming itself from within. Finally now, the beast had been silenced. Rotten and dead under the boots of the SLA.

Goodnight, Goodmorning

The jeep had acquired an entourage by now snailing behind us as we slowly crept up to the final strip of land between us and Chalai base. It was a large sandy expanse that the Brigadier informed us was a minefield. Homemade LTTE landmines were scattered about the entire place, a single track dissecting it down the middle. To get across, the SLA had created a track made out of metal sheets of flattened barrels, a tight road that we slowly made our way over. I was grinning the entire way. Here we were, driving through a minefield, all three of us, having lost our minds somewhere between the submarine and Marmite. What if something blew, what if one our tyres strayed past the lines and triggered a mine? Was that how this story ends? Phil's camera clicking away, Heidi's camera spinning around capturing the moment and me sat next to Brigadier Prasanna De Silva grinning ridiculously. There are moments you don't soon forget, this was one of them.

It was pitch black by the time we arrived at Chalai. The sound of heavy surf hitting the shore was apparent but in this darkness all that could be made out was the singular light of the Brigadier's quarters. We made our way there fumbling in the dark, tired and worn out but still filming, always filming. We were under the Brigadier's stewardship now, Major Kumara had slunken off with our driver to get some sleep. We too were exhausted but on the Brigadier's insistence we sat and ate a final hearty meal, he had promised us an interview in the morning but before any of that we ate. Fish, lentils, ocra and leaves - in this humble cabin, such luxuries were scarce and we were ravenous. We thanked the Brigadier and tucked in, he simply watched while we ate smiling. Over dinner Phil told him of his experiences in Laos, India and Thailand, how he had scuba dived and jumped out of a plane in New Zealand. These boys own escapades captured the Brigadiers imagination, he told of how he loved scuba diving himself, the training he had gone through required it. Heidi spoke of how she felt in the camps among the children and the poor, how she wished she could do something to help. The Brigadier nodded gravely, and spoke of his own concerns. There was a trust being built, a mutual understanding. Journalists were one thing, but a couple of kids from abroad at the dinner table was quite another. Here the Brigadier was at ease and with the camera off, the man behind the uniform confided in us. He spoke softly when it came to matters of the heart and hard and forthright when speaking to me about battle and sacrifice. He spoke of the 'full scale war' that had been raging among these bushes just a few weeks ago, of the dislocation. Relentless chasing the LTTE cadres through punishing jungles. How they had stopped themselves from using heavy artillery because of the human shields. Casualties, he said were at the forefront of every decision. He spoke then of the moment that brought him most praise; the much reported 'humanitarian operation' in the final days of the war to free the hostages from the clutches of the LTTE. He spoke of sacrifice and the struggle. He told us in every detail how they managed to rescue mostly all of the civilians in a single night and the scarring images that precipitated it. He spoke of the horror on the faces of the Tamils fleeing from across the lagoon to the relative safety of their side. Some, he said, did not make it of course, and crossed over to the army lines with their last breath. Not once, did I feel that he was trying to convince us, there was no insistence in his voice, he just had a story to tell and was prepared to tell it. We were speaking to a war hero, I realised. In the true sense of the word. Not the packaged patriot we had heard of, not the placard cut-out used for some patriotic headline and certainly not the international portrayal of a war mongering criminal. This was a man who had some hard decisions to make at a pivotal moment of a bloody war and had made them. He did it for his country sure, but more so for his children, for his wife and family.

What was more is that we believed him. Every sober word.

The cynic would ask whether we were just being charmed by this man? Had we been brainwashed now we were under the care of the SLA? I don't believe so. The truth is -  myself, Heidi and Phil were sat listening to this man simply telling his story. His personal story, his feelings as well as the facts - as he saw them. It was a side to the conflict never told, not in this rare, precious context, not over dinner, not like this. The camera was never on and his words were never recorded. I believe the Brigadier's story to be true but what I believe doesn't matter. As a journalist this story could never be considered a proper account of those final days, Brigadier Prasanna De Silva could never be considered a impartial source no matter how genuine we considered him to be. In the end the only truths left are scattered among the memories, craters, bulletholes, settled dust and the carcasses of young men.

We never did get an interview with Brigadier Prasanna De Silva. Not a formal on camera set-up. Somehow I felt that it wouldn't have made a difference, he couldn't have told us what he felt on camera. A moonlit dinner conversation over bottled water and caravella curry was too precious a moment to recreate. Before we went to bed, I asked him not to go to any trouble and that were fine sleeping on the floor outside his cabin. He offered us his bunk, and when we refused he told us he must insist. Why was he so insistent? When I asked he gave us a knowing smile; Anil, our hotel manager and he had been friends for a lifetime. Anil had taken care of his family while he was away at war. His children had gotten sick unbeknown to him and it was Anil that had taken care of them. For Anil he said, he would do anything, for Anil he owed everything. So when he had asked whether he could pull some strings for some kids from London, the Brigadier had obliged happily.

We slept outside with the crickets and dragonflies that night. He had done enough for us, we thought, and in the morning we would end our search for the truth.

The Truth That Wasn't There

We woke at sunrise to a gentle breeze and the distant sound of of waves. I turned scanning the horizon and there just behind me, the glint of water on the horizon. We got up eager to see this mythic beach, the edge of the world we had spend days traveling across. The sea breeze had done our lungs the world of good, we felt refreshed and revitalized. The Brigadier came out to meet us outside his cabin. 'Sleep well?' He asked. 'Like a baby,' I said. He smiled, 'Would you all like some tea?' The idea of us sipping tea on the sand in what had been a warzone was an experience I was not eager to let by me. We said yes and he went back into his cabin. Heidi and Phil meanwhile wandered off toward the beach and I stood there looking up at the clear blue sky. I watched as the others traversed the sand, laughing and joking toward the beach, our journey had ended. Why not take in the serenity. It was almost dreamlike, so calm, so peaceful. The Brigadier came up behind me with a tray and some pristine teacups. 'Where are your friends?' he asked. I laughed, 'Oh they wandered off toward the beach.

His face dropped suddenly.

'NO!' He began yelling at them, hands, waving in the air. 'Wait!' 'Wait!' I was confused, 'What's the matter' I asked. 'Tell them to come back! The whole area is full of mines!' My eyes shot back to them, they were still laughing, still joking. 'Guys!' I yelled. My hands waving frantically. 'Mines! There are mines everywhere! Come back' In the distance Phil turned and yelled back stopping in his tracks. Time stood still for a few seconds as I saw my friends in the middle of a minefield frozen in fright. Again, it was one of those moments you don't soon forget. The absurd, the horrifying, the insanity of it all distilled in moments like these. The Brigadier got a young soldier to make his way over and show them the safe way back. They did so tracing each of his steps back to us. 'You come all this way to lose you legs on the mines?' He said, only half joking. We laughed too, nervously.

After we eventually had our tea, Me, Heidi and Phil were led by the young soldier across the minefield safely. The sand was littered with craters and splinters, tiny remnants of what had happened here. There was a stillness in the air as we made our way past bunkers made out of felled trees and corrugated iron. Stray dogs would hop around sniffing charred wood. Beyond that however, there was no sign of war here and when our eyes saw the beach for the first time we glazed over enchanted. We all stood there facing the waves and watching the sunrise coat the sands below our feet with an orange haze. We looked around at the resplendent, pure waters and the fine sparkling sand. A month and a day had passed since tanks had rolled over these sands, bodies had fallen into this sea, smoke must have filled this entire area as bullets rained over paradise but no-one was here to see it. Even we, the first here since the end of the war, even we were too late.

In some attempt to infuse this beauty with blood I attempted to write my thoughts down on paper;

20/06/09 - Chalai

The Bay of Bengal. Dawn. I swat a fly away from my face and feel the surf slice the sands from under my feet. There is something brutal about this beauty. The waves seem to tear sideways ripping the beach like a bullet. It leaves this cutting wake that laps the sand crabs with an unfriendly tide. The remnants of a warzone remain among the serenity. This tranquility was fought for with violence and bloodshed. Beauty through barbarity. And now all that’s left is this, some perverse paradise.

In the end then, my friends would have stories to tell too. My own however, began in London with my cousin telling me a tale of the most beautiful beach in Sri Lanka. But standing there on it, deep down inside I wished it wasn't everything he had described. Somewhere inside I had willed it to be ugly, for this beach to be drenched with blood, for this sea to be washing limbs up against my feet, I would have done anything for this story to end with some idea of the horrors of what had happened here.

But in the years to come when this country looks back to see how much their peace had cost, of the suffering and the bloodshed of what it took to get there. There will be nothing to see except just another beach. My fear is that this may prove to be the most violent truth of all.

We are all back in London now. Older, wiser, changed. This meandering journey that took us from the dusty heat of Colombo, through the rich paddy fields of Kandy up to the patch-work prairies of Vavuniya and beyond. Months after we had gotten back we took stock of what we saw. We had accumulated over 30 hours of footage and thousands of photographs. Something in us had all changed since then. Heidi had enrolled into doing a Masters degree in Human Rights hoping to change the world with papers. Phil meanwhile was hoping to do the same but with his camera, his lens and his focus. As for me, I'll use words. Although I left journalism behind the barbed wire fences of Manik Farm I have told this story many times. I've told them about our Anandian machang, Nanayakkarra's proposition of our travel north where the cattle graze rubble. I told them of the smiles among children in Manik Farm, of the rusted submarine and the tub of Marmite in the ruins of a family home. And the most beautiful beach in Sri Lanka, and of the truth that wasn't there.