Warzone Tourism in Sri Lanka: Tales from Darker Places in Paradise: Review

Warzone Tourism in Sri Lanka: Tales from Darker Places in Paradise

Author: Sasanka Parera

Publicsher: SAGE

Pages: 231; Price: Rs. 750

If monsoon is the centripetal force that holds together the Indian subcontinent, the human dimensions of monsoon — race, ethnicity, religion, language, culture etc. act as centrifugal forces. Hence, barring small countries like Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives no country in South Asia has successfully resolved the issue of nationality.

Pakistan is considered to be a failed state as Islam hardly contributed in accommodating linguistic or ethnic identities like Baloch, Sindhi, Punjabi, Pashtuns and Bengalis. India although tried its best to address the issue in Secular and Democratic frame it did witness separatist movement in Tamil Nadu and later armed insurgencies in North East, Punjab and now in Kashmir. Sri Lanka went through the ordeal of civil war for decades.

It is in this context, I found Sasanka Parera’s book — “Warzone Tourism in Sri Lanka: Tales from Darker Places in Paradise”, quite thought provoking as it gives lots of insights in the construction, deconstruction and reconstruction of national identity.

“It is about war and memory, and about the people who seek to make sense of their upside-down worlds through the haunting memory and the need to restore connections, make sense of the past, and also restore a remembered, imagined earlier past, so as to make a present socio-cultural identity that is not fragmented,” rightly observed by Meenakshi Thapan of Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics in her forward.

The book is concerned with travel and its implications in cultural and socio-political terms. Sometimes in 2002, the southern Sinhala travellers started touring Jaffna and the trend continued till 2005, when there was cease fire between Sri Lanka government and Liberation Tiger of Tamil Elam.

Although in the interior the skirmishes were going on and travellers would go around the areas permitted by the Sri Lankan military or LTTE.  The travels to Jaffna and more extended parts of former warzones continued after the war ended in 2009 and the main road was opened in 2010.

This phenomenon was the trigger of this work. Who are these people or travellers? Why they are going to the active warzone in the region which was foreign to them? Why do people travel as tourists? To get the glimpses of landscape, people and their practices, culture? Sasanka Parera, Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences in South Asian University, New Delhi raised such questions and opened up a whole new chapter in the studies of tourism.

Sasanka Parera is also a poet and lyrist in Sinhala language. His research interests are varied and he is interested in contemporary social theory with emphasis on the idea of culture and its politics. I also came across his book on history through monuments.

He has worked on politics of refugee proliferation, political violence, nationalism and post-violence trauma, transformation of culture and the politics of visual arts, and the significance of biased interpretations of history and myth.

There are very few intellectuals in South Asia, who are engaged in knowledge production and Sasanka Parera is one of them. He raises some fundamental questions in the realm social sciences and explores the problem.

“On one level, these travels were undertaken within a meaning of pilgrimage in the Buddhist scheme of things, which itself had undergone tremendous transformation over hundreds of years. The traditional sense of pilgrimage is usually brought to contemporary Sinhala consciousness through long-term practice as well as via narratives from ancient historical texts written in Pali such as the wamsas, temple paintings and images crystallized in the Sinhala language verse literature of the 1400s written during Kotte Period known as sandesakavya,” notes the author while clinically dissecting the logic and structure of Warzone Travels.

The Past is always Present and the anthropological writing traces this Past through enquiring the everyday life in an effort to make the sense of the world as it has been. I found it quite interesting that just like India, pilgrimages have played critical role in development of national identity (not in terms of western concept of nation-state) in Sri Lanka as well.

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