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‘The two sisters among the mourners, whose voices had till now lacked their usual intensity, rose and rent the air with their shrill cries, quite unconcerned about the fate of the Master of Ceremonies. The four mourners now worked in unison, their bodies swaying like reeds in the wind, and lamented in chorus:

‘The poor will miss you, oh, you charitable one!

Who is going to feed us on festival days?

Your grandson has come, wake up, my beloved!

Your grandson has come, wake up, my darling!’’

From Alagu Subramaniam, ‘Professional Mourners’


Sarala Fernando

Some years back, in compiling an Anthology of Sri Lankan short stories entitled ‘Bridging Connections’, I included a sharp satire by Alagu Subramaniam entitled ‘Professional Mourners’. Though the main subject of satire was the upper caste family which took ruthless advantage of the poor women who were paid to mourn at funerals, I was reminded of that chorus of women when I saw a recent piece by Sarala Fernando, described as ‘a retired diplomat…served as Ambassador in Geneva from 2004-2007’, which is supposed to be about what she describes as ‘the race that is being run between the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission in Sri Lanka and the Panel appointed by the UN Secretary General in New York.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

February 2011
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