Firecrackers and Fractures:

A Sapugaskanda Feast Gone Wrong

Denzil Jayasinghe
3 min readFeb 24, 2024

The air vibrated like a tabla drum, tight with the nervous anticipation of a hundred fireflies awaiting dusk. The feast at Sapugaskanda, a dusty jewel nestled between mango trees and memories, was a yearly pilgrimage. Here, amidst the garish plastic decorations and smoke that clung like incense to forgotten gods, we found a fleeting haven of family. Aunts, uncles, cousins, a tapestry woven from threads of shared laughter and the bittersweet tang of longing.

Mary Margaret, my mother’s cousin, a woman with eyes that held more stories than the wrinkles on her face, lived a stone’s throw from the church. Her daughter, Nimali, was a whirlwind of laughter and mischief, their house a warm chaos amid the organised festivities. Nimali’s father, Alfred Jayawardane, a man whose booming laughter could silence even the cicadas, regaled the adults with tales washed down with generous offerings of arrack. We, children, left to our own devices, were free to roam the feast grounds, a kaleidoscope of sights, smells, and sounds.

The sweetness of cotton candy hung heavy in the air, competing with the hypnotic thrum of the drums. Trinkets and toys, glittering promises of joy, vied for our meagre pocket money. The air crackled with a shared excitement, a collective yearning for a moment of pure, unadulterated joy. The procession, a vibrant tapestry of flowers and silk, snaked through the streets, the patron saint's statue a beacon of hope in the twilight. Parishioners, their voices raised in song, followed, their faces etched with the same yearning we all felt.

And then, the fireworks. The morning sky, a canvas of blue sky, became a riot of colours — a fleeting glimpse of a world untouched by the harsh realities of our lives. Rockets soared like defiant wishes, comets streaked across the sky, leaving trails of hope. The ground trembled with the percussive boom of bursting shells, a symphony of destruction and creation. It was a spectacle designed to dazzle and awe, a sensory overload that left us breathless, our hearts pounding in unison with the explosions.

But amidst the revelry, a discordant note shattered the fragile harmony. A commotion erupted, devastating the festive mood. Shouts and panicked screams pierced the air. With a sickening thud, the news landed: Ba-Amma’s eldest son, the fearless one I admired, had picked up an unexploded firecracker. The consequences were horrifying; his fingers, mangled beyond repair, became a stark reminder of the fragile line between joy and tragedy. The sweet echoes of laughter curdled into a heavy silence, replaced by the sombre murmurs of loss.

We returned home that night, the image of Ba-Amma’s son etched onto our minds like a charcoal sketch on rough paper. The sweetness of the feast lingered on our tongues, but the bitter tang of loss overshadowed it. Sapugaskanda, once a place of joyous abandon, now held a memory of pain, a constant reminder of the fragility of life in a land where shadows always lurked, waiting to snatch away fleeting moments of happiness.

Years later, the memory of that fateful festival would resurface in a foreign land when fireworks went off. The sight of children playing, their fingers complete, would bring back the phantom pain of a loss that transcended borders and time. It was a reminder of the bittersweet beauty of the home. its joys and sorrows danced hand in hand, leaving an indelible mark on the soul long after the firecrackers had faded and the night sky returned to its indifferent tapestry of stars.

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Denzil Jayasinghe

Lifelong learner, tech enthusiast, photographer, occasional artist, servant leader, avid reader, storyteller and more recently a budding writer