Not your everyday ride, this!
Some of the happier images that emerged from our coverage of natural disaster in the Kalutara district were of novice monks having fun on the armoured personnel carriers (APMs) deployed to reach marooned families and distribute aid.
On June 1, the Kalutara district was still in the throes of natural disaster. Heavy showers that pelted down remorselessly over a period of a few hours caused floods and landslides. People were devastated and fearful.
The government called out the military. Among them was the armoured regiment of the Sri Lanka army which deployed its APMs in the Matara, Rantapura and Kalutara districts. Some of these were stationed in a plot belonging to the historic Kekulandara Raja Maha Vihara in Agalawatta. Like many other Buddhist monks, the chief priest there had worked day and night to help those hit by disaster.
The temple has a school for novice monks. For these small people, having the APMs parked in their backyard was the best thing since sliced bread. As the floods receded and the roads were cleared, the APMs were needed less and less; so men and machinery spent a lot more time at the temple.
Every day, after lessons and lunch, the young monks bounded over to where the hardware was parked. They clambered up with incredible nimbleness. And they did not leave till around 6pm, the latest deadline set by their superiors.
Twice, they badgered the commanding officer to give them a ride through the narrow roads. This was a well-organised operation. They lay in wait till he returned from fieldwork and surrounded him. Then they pleaded, cajoled, bargained and nagged. There was quite a racket. And there was no giving up till he agreed.
Off they went atop the APMs, the cynosure of many eyes.They looked self-satisfied and slightly smug, but who could blame them. It isn’t everyday that little monks get chauffeured through the streets of Agalawatta on APMs, chaperoned by uniformed soldiers.