Remembering Neelan Tiruchelvam

By Sydney Knight

If the design of the person(s) who masterminded the suicide bombing of Neelan on July 29, 1999 had not taken place, Neelan would have celebrated his 63rd birthday on January 31, this year.

However, we did celebrate his birthday. The celebration was in the form of what was aesthetically close to the life of Neelan, a concert. A concert with a difference, a unique fusion of Indian and African dance and also Ranjith Ratnasiri’s traditional Low Country dance: mask and ritual.

For those of us who remembered Neelan and gathered at the Bishop’s College Auditorium, it was a celebration of remembrance in the context of Neelan’s life-long pursuit of peace and reconciliation.

As I sat at the concert and saw and heard what was communicated, it was a genuine tribute to Neelan. For the Concert displaying South Africa’s Dance Theatre conveyed the possibility of two cultures working together.

It was so wonderful to see those men and women from South Africa; some of them the original Africans and the others of Indian descent, in concert. They demonstrated through their art form the fusion of classical African dance form and the Indian. Reflecting on the work of the South African Dance Theatre, it is abundantly clear that what we saw and heard as part of Neelan’s celebration was what South Africa has achieved over the decades in the context of their struggles as a people.

What is possible in South Africa is also happening in Sri Lanka. We have witnessed in Colombo the fusion of the Kandyan dance form and the Indian.

However it is Neelan’s contemporaries in the area of party politics who are refusing to see this in the body politic of Sri Lanka.

In the context of my planning to go for Neelan’s concert, I had a dream. In the dream I heard Neelan having a good laugh. The typical Neelan laugh. He was very amused with the drama, Sri Lanka, that took place on Sunday January 28, 2007 when there was a Cabinet reshuffle and there was a crossover. Neelan knew them all and their intentions. While the Neros in Colombo continue to fiddle when Sri Lanka is burning, those of us who knew Neelan, in Neelan’s name continue to work for peace with justice for all our people in Sri Lanka. That indeed is our celebration and a Memorial.

From South Africa we learn that forgiveness is a must for peace and justice. Can we therefore pray “Father, forgive…”

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