For the Sri Lankan contingent of the South Asian Symphony Orchestra (SASO), which debuted in Mumbai on Friday, the last few days have been a rather rough ride. Many of them arrived in the city on Easter Sunday, the day the horrific terror attack left their country reeling, and rehearsed for Friday’s show with their hearts and minds anxious for their country, family and friends.
“Our country, people are on our minds all the time but we cannot go back… it does not make sense to abandon what we are here for. In fact, it is of some consolation that we are in Mumbai to perform a concert that stands for peace and harmony in the region. So we might as well stay back and make this count,” said Colombo-based violinist Nilupul Silva.
Silva is among the 15 musicians from Sri Lanka who was on stage at the NCPA, Nariman Point, as part of SASO, which was conceived and put together by India’s former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao. The orchestra, with members from Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India, is aimed at furthering cultural exchanges between South Asian countries to promote peace and harmony in the region.
The 90-minute performance featured Asian pieces such as ‘Lal meri pat rakhiyo’ and ‘Allah megh de’, rendered to orchestral music, apart from classics by Beethoven among others. Indian-origin American Viswa Subbaraman conducted the orchestra. Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu was the chief guest of the evening and Maharashtra Governor C Vidyasagar Rao was also in attendance. Nirupama Rao and Naidu dedicated the concert to the victims of the Sri Lankan bombings, which killed more than 250 people on April 21.
Addressing the audience, Naidu said, “Terror has no religion, it is not confined to a region. But it needs to be curbed. We should curb it by, one, collective action and, two, peace-making efforts like this orchestra.” Some of the Sri Lankan musicians of SASO said that their participation in the concert probably saved their lives. “Some of us could have possibly been at those churches for the Easter mass. We missed it by a few hours because most of us flew in early Sunday morning,” said Dilrukshi Wiratunga, a member of the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka (SOSL).
Some of the members, including Wiratunga, were at Colaba’s Cathedral of the Holy Name when they first heard about the bombings. “There was very little information filtering in and then the mass started, so we could check our phones only after an hour or so. By then, there was news of devastation all around,” she recalled. To Sharmini Wettimuny, who heads SOSL, the bombings were a bitter reminder of the decades of civil war that their country suffered. “Peace returned to us 10 years ago and lives had assumed a sense of normalcy. But this feels like it takes us back to square one,” she said.
The soprano Tharanga Goonetilleke seconded Wettimuny. “At such a time, this concert, where we have made friends from across the region, gives me hope. I hope our music can help further the idea of peace and love and heal the ones who have been hurt,” she said.