Like the concentration camps in Germany one can’t ignore these memorials as we drive along the road to Elephant pass and onto Jaffna. Like the Cuchi tunnels in Vietnam, Cambodia’s ground zero, the German concentration camps it is clear that Elephant Pass, Mullaitivu and Killinochichi will join the ranks of war tourist attractions that bring millions of people to places where crimes against humanity are never really brought to trial. Here war artists have made their mark in bronze and stone on the landscape and soldiers recount the terrifying last days in a short film against a drum roll and the Sri Lankan flag is raised on arrival. It is an extraordinary lunar like area, with its gallery of memorials scattered across a place, where elephants once roamed, until they too were obliterated in their thousands, and where life was once rich in every sense of the word.
The painterly blue of the infamous Elephant Pass sky, emboldened with the raffish whites of the flagellating mushroom clouds, augur a fragile truce with the larger than life war monument below, penetrating the aerosphere – a muddy bronze country, the shape of Sri Lanka, a teardrop cloaked in the idiom of conquest and ideology atop a three tiered green atoll with the first tier being occupied by the four mute lions doing their solitary penance in dogmatic poise while the second tier has the sombre embrace of the open petals of four lotuses harking back to the country’s great kings and the third tier with hands upholding this structure of pride.
Adding to the monotonous prosody of pathos is another monument further along with its splintered wall shattered by the golden bullet piercing its grey epidermis and the lively vigil of the two soldiers hovering about on one side. The elephant has truly come to pass. These are just glimpses of the multifarious war memorials stretching across the blitzed entirety of Elephant Pass only a short drive from the hustle and bustle of Jaffna town and yet a life time away from the civilised world. From wall sculptures showing members of the army, full of brazen machismo in jubilation with all their accumulated braggadocio on display, to wall etchings with darker overtones and undertones, like the one of prancing and stealthily skulking soldiers with their guns pointed like bayonets and muskets at a bloated hag and a burling hulk of a woman, her skull dressed with a magistrate’s wig, holding a soldier’s hand and a mother clutching her child tightly to her breast while a wounded man is being carried on a stretcher to his grave.
Proceed to the spikey, barbed wire riddled war machines, lying sloth like in permanent hibernation, sitting next to weather-beaten camouflage jeeps, which are alleged to have carried senior high ranking terrorist officials, but now a heap of rusting bicycle wheels with spokes and the odd flower pot signifying the whited romance that is war, at least for some. There are several tributes to fallen heroes whose legendary bad luck is immortalised on billboards and hoardings while dame victory chooses its victors out of the usual suspects, conveniently forgetting history, something made very evident by the plaque that piques with its omission of certain general names – an honest mistake one supposes.
“The Road to Elephant pass is indeed a place that incurs in the viewer a series of visitations in the form of futile philosophical questions all revolving around that much maligned three-letter word – war, Asia’s longest one at three decades.”