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Poem / Reflections


A poet-anthropologist from India recalls a checkpoint encounter in Sri Lanka, just months after the Easter Sunday bombings.
A person wearing a long-sleeved black maxi dress and a red headscarf holding a green umbrella walks on a public street with a silver truck and several people in black hats, helmets, and khaki uniforms in the background.

A Sri Lankan Muslim woman walks past a military checkpoint in Colombo in 2019.

Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images

“08.03.2019” is part of the collection Poems of Witness and Possibility: Inside Zones of Conflict. Read the introduction to the collection here.

Check post breaks reverie
of a lulling, serpentine journey
entwined with tea hills.
An armed guard’s voice
asks for identification—
I freeze. I do not have any.

I have naively believed
that all tension
has been dissolved
like kithul jaggery in milk.
No ghosts swim in hot tea.
Peace is lotuses
set afloat on seafoam
always at risk
of drowning
in scattered uncertainty.

We are a motley crew:
aunty, uncle, and two young women.
The vermillion marks on our foreheads
dispel assumptions about our ancestry,
I draw stares as we stand next to aunty.
Head cocooned in a cream sari
she insists on taking us to the Sita temple
although she and uncle cannot enter.
When we return, she is eager to know
how the temple moves
to the sound of the river.
Uncle stares quietly
out of the car window.

At the post,
the guard’s eyes bore into aunty’s ID.
Her piece of paper absorbs
suspicion gracefully.
When he walks over to me,
Not Sri Lankan, aunty explains.
I fumble and hold up
an expired university card,
the only plastic explanation
of my existence here.
Silence fuses with the afternoon.

The check post finally opens
its bladed lips, we pass.
Maybe we look like terrorists,
aunty says with a soft laugh.
Her words settle on swirls of mist
I try to catch between my fingertips—
my only souvenir from our trip.

Nobody sleeps for the rest of the journey.

Under a blue sky, a lush green landscape features a road at the base of a steep hill.

A road winds through the verdant hills of Nuwara in Sri Lanka, as photographed during the author’s fieldwork in August 2019.

Sanjna Yechareddy

Sanjna Girish Yechareddy is a poet, anthropologist, and archivist from Bangalore, India. She is a masters candidate in anthropology and sociology at the Graduate Institute of Geneva. Her research revolves around questions of memory and institutions of memory and violence, and draws from work with archives. Previously, her work explored the aftermath of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission in Sri Lanka. Her current project revolves around an ethnographic exploration of the archives of humanitarian organizations in Geneva.


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