The idea for this website comes from an episode from Chefs Table, the award-winning TV series on Netflix. In Season 3, Episode 6, the series focussed on Peruvian chef Virgilio Martínez. His Michelin starred restaurant, Central, in Lima, serves cuisine from the topographically diverse Peru in an innovative way - organised, and named, by elevation.
What is Sri Lanka's stories around independence could also be captured thus? Being an island, the country's history of colonisation by the Portuguese, the Dutch and finally, the British, starts from littoral regions and works its way inward. From the first Portuguese fort in 1517 to the final capture of Kandy in 1815 and the subsequent rule of the British over the entire island, Sri Lanka's experience of and tryst with colonialism, with its attendant socio-political, cultural and linguistic legacy, is etched into elevation, pass, land, water-body and geography.
From sea-level to Pidurutalagala at 2,524m, the island's topography is varied for a land-mass its size and features three distinct zones - the Central Highlands, the plains and the coastal belt.
This website attempts to capture narratives from all three zones, and locations therein both well-known and rarely travelled to. The unique design and navigation of the site is based on the elevation of the locations featured, which over the course of 2018, will evolve to virtually dissect the country in two ways. One line will run from North to South, and the other from East to West. The visitor can hop from one location to another on either axis, or choose to directly go to a place anchored to its accurate election and geographic location.
In each place, audio-visual, photographic, immersive and interactive content will capture what its inhabitants think and feel about 70 years of independence. Through this content, and the location to which the stories are pegged to, visitors are encouraged to interrogate the country's rich, varied, violent, contested histories and encounters with colonisation across centuries, and the rule of the British in particular. The voices will speak to the past, but also with indifference towards independence from the British, occupied still by existential concerns that endure for ordinary citizens no matter who rules over them, and how. Here we find nostalgia, and perspectives on the past, but also, perhaps more importantly, snapshots and perspectives on the present, and aspirations for the future.
The navigation and presentation of the content, anchored to elevation, is a conscious aesthetic choice, forcing the visitor to engage with these stories conscious that the higher the elevation, the lesser and more different the interactions with colonialism are in Sri Lanka. But it is an invitation also to something more. In these stories, that will over 2018 define the lines that intersect the country, we will see a diversity often taken for granted, and indeed, sometimes even violently erased. 70 years after independence from the British, we struggle with a national identity as a singular construct. We are many, and there are many of us in just over 65,000 square kilometres of land. But we are also few, as Sri Lankans. We may love our neighbour, we may have killed our neighbours. We may know those a few hours away by road, or we may never venture farther than where we grew up and project in our imagination the rest of the country to be, and must be. We may be intrepid adventurers who seek new horizons even as we know we cannot ever conquer the Indian Ocean's embrace, or we may be content to know only what makes us earn a livelihood. We may like being part of a national identity, we may not. The stories here make no attempt to represent anything other than where they are from, who they are anchored to, the locations to which they are featured from and the manner in which they were captured. But in the sum of the content here, the hope and expectation behind this site is that we are able to see something of a country, as award-winning novelist V.V. Ganeshananthan says, is for so many of us, loved first and the most.
As Nicholas Laughlin notes in his Foreword to 'So Many Islands: Stories from the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian and Pacific Oceans',
To belong to an island is to look outwards, understanding that the horizon is not simply a boundary between what is visible and what is invisible, what is known and unknown, but a challenge: to imagine, to yearn, to leave, to search, to return.
Please explore and engage with, over 2018 and beyond, what this site offers. We hope through the content featured here, you too will be inspired to record narratives that matter to you and capture in your own way, what 70 or more years after independence, this country means to you.