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Footloose in Sri Lanka: Fire walking and poisoned arrows - Part III
In Part 1 and 2 of my adventures in Sri Lanka, I was bewitched by the serenity of the Emerald Isle, the magnificence of Buddhist sculptures, the lush green tea estates and golf courses and the frenzy of the fire-walkers at the Katargama temple complex.

Now, I take a leap to the world of modern satellite communication! Today we take communication satellites for granted. Orbiting in outer space, without them modern communication would not have been possible. Arthur C. Clarke, the father of communication satellites had postulated such a possibility in 1945, in an article titled "Extraterrestrial relays" in an English magazine Wireless World. He proposed a network of artificial satellites in geostationary orbits, to relay radio signals. A much honoured and sought after man, Clarke, of all places decided to settle down in Sri Lanka. He played a major role in promoting the education of science for Sri Lankan youth. A passionate skin diver, he promoted underwater safaris, one of which I also undertook. 

In the popular mind, Arthur Clarke is better known as the co-writer of landmark science fiction movie '2001: A Space Odyssey', considered to be one of the most influential films of all time. 

Jumping from modern day communication satellites, to a hostile stone-age tribe in Sri Lanka, is not what I had planned in my itinerary. I did not even know of the existence of this ferocious Vedda tribe. It was a chance discovery. It happened this way:

I returned quite tired after my trip and involvement with the fire-walkers of Katargama. Back at the hotel, I had a hot shower and started planning the next day's trip. I was thumbing through my unique guide book, 'India, Nepal and Sri Lanka on $5.00 and $10.00 a day'. My eyes fell on mention of the existence of a rather hostile tribe, the Veddas, who lived in a forest a motor-able distance away. 

The British had described the Veddas as 'wild men' or 'forest barbarians'. (See inset). Anthropologists believe that the Veddas were the very original settlers on the island.

Next morning when I told my driver, to head for the forest to see the Veddas, he thought I had gone crazy. 'Sir, you want to go there? Nobody goes there. It's dangerous. Government permission is required!' 

When I insisted, he reluctantly drove to the edge of the forest. On arrival, when we got off the car, he politely refused to accompany me further. 'I have to look after the car, sir'. 

So all alone and unarmed, I ventured into the thicket, parting the tall grass with my hands. For quite some time nothing eventful happened. Then I heard some whistling sounds and two young naked boys rushed across me, with bows and arrows. This gave me a foretaste of things to come! The boys were enticing birds with their whistles and then bringing them down with their arrows. Later, I learned that they were poisoned arrows. 

Now I became more cautious as I advanced. Suddenly, as I parted the tall grass I saw a circular clearing with womenfolk sitting outside their grass huts. On the periphery, awesome tall men with curly hair, armed with bows and poisoned arrows were intently hunting birds. The sight was certainly frightening. The grass must have rustled, for suddenly I saw the chief turning and growling towards me with his bow. I almost froze with fear and ducked in the tall grass. Covered by grass, I crawled my way for quite a while, till I had the courage to stand up and walk. 

I caught my breath, and proceeded to reach the edge of the forest, where the car was parked. En route, I met a man entering the forest. He must have been a forest official. "Who are you? Where are you coming from?' he accosted me.  'I went to see the Veddas', I replied. He must have been stung by my audacity. 'No one comes back alive. Who gave you the permission?' he asked.  Mercifully, he let me off with a warning. 

Oh, was I relieved to have come out unscathed, after my encounter with the ferocious lot!

In my quest for exotica and adventure, I have done many a foolhardy thing! Venturing to glimpse the Veddas was one such near-misadventure.

Anyway, I was happy to be back home and alive! 

PS: The recent death of an American priest, who wanted to venture into the territory inhabited by the Sentinelese tribe of Andaman and Nicobar islands, is an example of how some tribes violently resist external contact.

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