the sri lankan way of death

Until yesterday I had never seen a dead body. A fact that a few days previously had come up in conversation with a friend who spends a lot of time here in Sri Lanka.  “Just you wait” he said, “it won’t be long before you are invited to a Sri Lankan funeral”

Fast forward two days and I find myself in the sitting room of a Sri Lankan village house near Talpe wearing white – the buddhist mourning colour – and, along with about thirty other people, gazing upon the corpse of a 41 year old ex-soldier dressed in a tuxedo, white gloves and white socks. He was laid out on a plushy cushioned bed of white satin, body ringed with fairy lights and under an ornate gold plastic four poster type affair. Above his chest was a huge pair of crossed elephant tusks which I choose to believe were not real.

His brother, who was a friend of the people who had taken me there, came and greeted me, totally unphased that a complete stranger should be present at such an intimate and personal event.  He talked about his dead brother and showed me photographs of him as a very handsome eighteen year old in his army uniform. I looked at the young man staring back at me in black and white. Bright eyed, excited and full of hope little knowing the horrors that he would witness up in the north during the Civil War through his 12 years of service, the trauma of which would eventually lead him to take his own life ten years after being discharged.

No pictures to accompany this post however if I had wished the offer was there to take  photographs of the corpse. I didn’t because at the time it felt disrespectful and crass to even contemplate it, especially as I was only there as a friend of a friend. In hindsight I wish I had left my Western sensibilities at the door and behaved just a little bit more like a local.

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