Big Match by Yasmine Gooneratne Explained

Big Match by Yasmine Gooneratne is a poem based on real life incidents occurred during the period of July 1983 which is called Black July. 

Big Match,1983

Big Matchirony, word pun, the title is apparently suggesting school big matches which are annually held between two schools. It also suggests a big match stick which can be used to light fire. The title is ironically suggesting the gravity of the outbreak of violence occurred in 1983 racial violence.

Glimpsing the headlines in the newspapers,
tourists scuttle for cover, cancel their options
on rooms with views of temple and holy mountain.
‘Flash point in Paradise.’ ‘Racial pot boils over.’
And even the gone away boy
who had hoped to find lost roots, lost lovers,
lost talent even, out among the palms,
makes timely return giving thanks
that Toronto is quite romantic enough
for his purposes.

Temple and holy mountain: May be referring to the tourist attractions with religious value
Flash point in Paradise: paradox referring Sri Lanka has transformed into a violent place
Racial pot: metaphor the racial dispute which has been growing hot since 1948.
gone away boy: someone who had found refuge in Canada due to racial violence occurred before; returned safely after visiting Sri Lanka to find his lost roots. By looking at the newspaper headlines, he is happy that he has returned on time.

Powerless this time to shelter or to share
we strive to be objective, try to trace
the match that lit this sacrificial fire
the steps by which we reached this ravaged place.
We talk of ‘Forty Eight ‘and ‘Fifty Six’,
of freedom and the treacherous politics
of language; see the first sparks of this hate
fanned into flame in Nineteen Fifty Eight,
yet find no comfort in our neat solution,
no calm abstraction, and no absolution.

We – referred to the moderate people who sees the reality of the situation without colored glasses on. Although they see the reality, they cannot act as they have no power.
Treacherous politics of languagemetaphor,  refers to the politicians taking advantage of language based racism to acquire power.
Forty Eight, Fifty six – refers to the first sparks of fire that were fanned up to this point of disaster called ‘Black July’.  in 1948 Sri Lanka was given freedom and in 1956 ‘Sinhala Only’ act was introduced. Read more
Fifty Eight – in 1958 first communal riots out broke. Readmore.

The game’s in other hands in any case.
These fires ring factory, and hovel,
and Big Match fever, flaring high and fast,
has both sides in its grip and promises
dizzier scores than any at the oval.

The game in other hands – refers to the fact that although the out broke of violence is a spontaneous act, it was continued by an organized thugs who were backed by certain people who had influenced power. Readthe end part of the article ‘Black July’
Big Match, Oval – are words related to game of cricket. Oval is a famous cricket ground in UK. Sri Lankans are a cricket loving country; here, their enthusiasm for cricket is contrasted to their violence on the Tamil community.
Promises dizzier scores – ironically suggests the mass and rapid destruction happened to both parties; Killing and property loss.

In a tall house dim with old books and pictures
calm hands quit the clamouring telephone.
‘It’s a strange life we’re leading here just now,
not a dull moment. No one can complain
of boredom, that’s for sure. Up all night keeping watch,
and then as curfew ends and your brave lasds
dash out at dawn to start another day
of fun, and games, and general jollity,
I send Padmini and the girls to a neighbor’s house.

old books, calm hands – represents the knowledge and educated people who try to safeguard their knowledge knowing their vulnerability.
not a dull moment – ironically suggests that the violent activities are happening everywhere.
brave ladsirony, suggests mobs
another day of fun and gamesirony, suggests the violent activities which has become a mad joy for the mobs who exciting them without any feeling of sympathy.

Who, me? - Oh I’m doing fine. I always was
a drinking man you know and nowadays
I’m stepping up my intake quite a bit,
the general idea being that when those torches
come within fifty feet of this house don’t you see
it won’t be my books that go up first, but me.’

stepping up intake – suggests seeking the refuge of alcohol to stay calm. The person is trying to be brave knowing that his life and his books are at definite danger.
general idea, torches – refers mobs coming with torches and burning down the properties and killing the victims.

A pause. Then, steady and every bit as clear
as though we are neighbors still as we had been
In Fifty Eight. ‘Thanks, by the way for ringing.
There’s nothing you can do to help us but
it’s good to know some lines haven’t yet been cut.’

A pause – the pause is loaded with meaning. That may be the unspoken words for requesting help and the excuse of the caller for not being able to help.
Though we are neighbors still as we had been in fifty-eight – suggests the broken yet not healed relationship between two races; still the caller nor the receiver are not ready to grant or request help. Which suggests the mistrust and inability to move as one nation.
Some lines haven’t yet been cut – refers to the telecommunication system. During the riot, most telephone services were not in service either destroyed or cut.

Out of the palmyrah fences of Jaffna
bristle a hundred guns.
Shopfronts in the Pettah, landmarks of our childhood
Curl like old photographs in the flames.
Blood on their khaki uniforms, three boys lie dying;
a crowd looks silently the other way.
Near the wheels of his smashed bicycle
at the corner of Duplication Road a child lies dead
and two policemen look the other way
as a stout man, sweating with fear, falls to his knees
beneath a bo-tree in a shower of sticks and stones
flung by his neighbor’s hands.
The joys of childhood, friendships of our youth
ravaged by pieties and politics
screaming across our screens her agony
at last exposed, Sri Lanka burns alive.

Jaffna and Pettah – parallels are drawn between two major cities in the country. Whatever happens in Jaffna enraged Colombo and other parts of the country. Those days, the rumors that Tamil people attack army and captured Jaffna have increased the intensity of violence in the Southern part of the country. Some rumors said that LTTE comes to capture Colombo had made a chaotic effect on people in Colombo and some people were armed to fight against them. Thy had never come so the gathered mobs turned into the fleeing victims and burnt them alive on the streets. (source: Wikipedia)
Landmarks of childhood – homes that were set on fire.
Blood on Khaki uniforms – criticizes the behavior of policemen during the cause of riots. Most victims alleged that they did not do anything to stop the riots and in some cases they supported the mobs.
Three boys dead – points out the nature of victims. Children have too been killed which shows real face of raged inhumanity which even did not spare children who have no connection to any of the causes.
Crowd looks silently other way – suggests that either support the inhumanity demonstrated or were powerless to speak against it.
Two policemen look the other way – criticizes the behavior of the people who enforce power.

bo-tree – Bo-tree is a symbol of Buddhist religion, although Sri Lankan people had been under the shade of merciful religion, most of their behavior still puzzle by anyone. The lines questions and eye opens people on how they practice religion.
neighbor’s handmetaphor, suggests the people who lived closely but yet they throw stones at their neighbors to kill them? Which shows the long engraved enmity although lived as neighbors.

pieties and politics – criticizes the behavior of religious and political leaders amid of the chaos. Reports shows how some religious leaders supported and ask mobs to continue killing and some political leaders named mobs as heroes. As finally revealed, it is not common people who continue the violence but pre planned political agenda used mobs and thugs to execute an orderly plan. (source: Wikipedia)
Sri Lanka burns alive – suggests physically there had been a billion of property set on fire including people, factories and houses. On the other hand, it has burned the long held cultural values and the acceptance of Sri Lankans. Some foreign medias introduced the country as the land of cannibals. Still the fire that set is there, there are sparks beneath the ashes. This poem urges the people in this time and the future to think before taking measures.

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  1. Some lines haven't yet been cut suggests that the relationship between two races have not completely destroyed
    Isn't it@@

    1. Yes, it is. Thanks for sharing that useful info. with our readers. We really need this kind of constructive comments which immensely enriches the posts.

  2. Nice .I am studying English Literture for G.C.E for Ordinary Exam. This blog is helpful to me. Thanks a lot.

    1. Glad to hear. Do your studies well in this hard times. Good luck!


  3. This was really helpful for my studies. Thank you.