I peered in to the darkness and saw giant shapes moving slowly. They were prowling wild elephants beyond the perimeter fires I lit that evening. I was lying in my little hut with a thatched roof and no walls. The jungle was all round me
That was then – 1966 to be precise. I was still in school but had joined the Government’s “Grow More Food Campaign” during the school holidays and was in the Seruwawila Jungle in north eastern Sri Lanka, 300 kilometers from my home in Colombo. There were ten others with me, clearing the jungle and trying to grow cash crops just a short distance from the revered Seruwawila temple, built in the second century BC.
I left not only the jungle but the country itself in 1967 and hoped that my ten companions would continue the farm project we started. I never had an opprtunity to returned to Seruwawila and have had no contact with the ten friends I left behind.
It is October 2019 now and after 52 years, I am at last back in Seruwawila.
There is a new road to Seuwawila from Kantale but most of the jungle along the road is gone. In what was left, there were scattered herds of wild elephants feeding in the tall grass and uncaring about the passing traffic.
Seruwawila was unrecognisable. The ancient jungle temple which was in ruins but had a charm of its own had become a flourishing modern establishment surrounded by an ever expanding township. Our jungle camp used to be within walking distance of the temple but I could see no race of it. Now there is a long paved walkaway where wild elephants used to roam. Women tried to sell us lotus flowers to take to the shining white stupa and the new image houses. A saffron robed monk took photographs using a mobile phone.
It was interesting to see how Seruwawila had developed but I did not feel any joy. The disappointment and sadness that was enveloping me was probably unreasonable. I felt no desire to search for our farm or try to trace my old companions, if they were still there. I just wanted to get away.
I drove through Toppur- the little hamlet I used to walk to for fresh bread, and took the new Kinniya Bridge – there was only a ferry years ago from the mainland to Muttur, to Trincomalee and found a deserted beach to sit and gaze at waves dashing against rocks as the evening advanced and shadows lengthened and it was time for me to seek for a place to spend the night.