By Rajes Balasubramaniam
December 18th 1985 at Kolavil.(A small village in Batticaloa-East of Sri Lanka)
It is only a week before Christmas. The Christian family next door seems to have begun making short eats and sweetmeats. Activities in their house attracted Kumar’s attention. They paid no attention to their neighbours. Neither did he have time to notice them.
It must be one hour since the Srilankan Army had finished their patrolling. It is only now that the people are going to attend to their daily activities. This is because two or three Sri lankan soldiers had died in a bombing incident, a mile or two away from the village. As a result, there has been a manhunt going on throughout the village.
The Tamil youths, having known half an hour earlier of the Srilankan Army’s entrance into the village, would either hide or jump and run away as the military demanded. The Army’s camp was beyond the river. The people across the river would know of the Army’s setting out from there. Though they would not know which village the army was going to enter, or houses that would enter one or two villages and ransack them..
Today the weather has been dull and dreary. It was raining the whole of last week. This whole week, it has worn a sad look. The sky was dark, like the face of a wife who has had a row with her husband. Like the husband who had angry with his wife, there was thunder and lightning in the sky.
In the Thillai River, flowing with its fully swollen waters, due to last week’s rain, buffaloes were lying lazily. The red-footed flamingos were bending their long necks determinedly, trying to catch some prey among the fish that were hiding and running through the weeds that were overflown with the flood waters. At one point of time, you would not see the flowing waters of Thillai River clearly, because thousands of red-footed flamingos would be moving above and in the waters, hiding the clear depths with their long legs. However, after the arrival of the military force, the number of flamingos have dwindled. In fear of gunshots, even the flamingos have run away as refugees.
In normal times, when new floods set in, thousands of small boys and girls would be swimming and playing in the Thillai River. Now, people’s movements, way of life, religious customs, funeral rites and rituals and wedding processions all have to be coordinated according to the limits of the military force, who have their army camps only one mile away.
Kumar is repairing and mending punctured tyres. He has to go to the market and buy medicine for his mother. Mother was not well due to the constant round ups in the area and she is very worried about her son. There is a recurring headache. The heart beats rapidly and sometimes she lies down, saying she feels giddy.
She has been crying and not entirely well since her husband’s death. Loosing him after forty years of marriage and the sadness of loneliness has engulfed her. Father had been trudging to and from the hospital, being ill for a long time. Mother had been living for father for two or three years, forgetting herself.
Last year, almost during the same time as this, lying with a woollen cover for the cold, he has been holding his chest with difficulty for breathing.
-Karrupan,, the dog that always lay at his feet, seeing his situation whined and wagged his tail. Mother rubbed father’s chest. Once one or two neighbours started to arrive, within half an hour a large number of the people of the village had surrounded him. There was not much necessity in asking the whys and the wherefores, father had been ill for a long time. Now the situation had worsened. It is said that good people feel instinctively it is his departure from this Earthly world into the heavens above. The people of the village respected Father as a good man.
Mother, father’s sister in-law , and others were around him. It was 8 o’clock in the morning. The temple bell was ringing in the distance. You could hear the sound of ‘Thiruvembavai’ of the month of December.
Father’s lips shuddered: “Has the time to go to God arrived?” His eyes went past the circle of those around him and gazed at the cosmos. Mother wept with her sari’s knot in her mouth.
“Kumar… Kumar.” These were said to be father’s last words. Kumar was at the temple at that time.
A whole year had gone now.
“What, preparing to go out somewhere ” Kumar looked up from repairing the cycle. Arul, Kumar’s friend, the boy from the neighbouring Christian family, was standing there.
Arul, whose full name was Arulnathan, was of the same age as Kumar. They were both close friends. Arul is now working in the town; he does not see Kumar frequently. Kumar has been selected for teacher training. Both are only twenty years old. “Have to go to the market”, said Kumar, wiping the cycle.
You could see that he wanted to say something. Kumar’s elder sister was washing clothes at the well. The other sister was feeding the hens at the foot of the papaya tree. Arul glanced all around. Rajkumar, called Kumar, appeared not to notice. Arul came near the cycle and sat down on his haunches. The ground was wet. Arul’s hands were doodling in the wet sand.
“Rathy…” Arul mumbled slowly. Now Kumar straightened and looked up. It seemed Arul wanted to say something about Rathy. It was Arul who always brought news about Rathy.
Kumar loves Rathy dearly. From as long as he could remember, Rathy had been occupying a place in his heart. She was a distant relative. A very rich girl, she was the sole heiress to hundreds of acres of land. She was her father’s pet. She was Kumar’s dearest love. She was town-educated. She could speak easily two more languages than Kumar. She was a luminous girl who goes to India on holiday to buy silk saris. She was also one who wished passionately to merge herself into Kumar’s life. But, it was two months since he last talked to her. There was some lovers’ quarrel, some misunderstanding, some mental distress.
“Rathy wants to see you it seems”, Arul muttered quickly. The elder sister was beating the clothes with a loud sound. Arul was speaking in a low voice so that the sisters would not hear anything. The younger sister’s son was passing stools in a corner of the courtyard. There was thunder in the sky. A stray dog was howling somewhere. Rain would come at any moment.
Rathy’s name was sweet in Kumar’s mind. He had not met her for two months. It seemed like two millenniums. Many a time he has seen her while he was cycling. She had stared at him and he had stared back at her. They had not been on talking terms before, but never for two months. Her abstinence made him angry at times.
“Are you coming to the market?” Kumar asked his friend.
“Not now”, Arul shook his head.
“Have to cut some firewood. Grandma wants to stir some flour”, replied Arul.
“In the evening…” Kumar hesitated,
One has to go immediately on hearing from her?
“What to tell…” Arul mumbled.
In the hall, Kumar’s niece was trying on the radio repeatedly to get the correct station. Kumar turned and looked. Mother was doing something in the kitchen. Have to go and get the medicines. Amma had been moaning all night.
Arul stood up, folding his sarong. There was incessant thunder in the sky. Raindrops fell one by one with a ‘dok-dok’ sound, and hissed as they hit the ground.
“What to tell Rathy?” asked Arul.
“As usual…” Kumar looked up at his friend.
Arul’s eyes were happy to see the brightness that spread over his friend’s face. Kumar bowed his head down in embarrassment.
The determination, which he had held onto for the last two months, was blown to pieces in the message she had sent.
“Okay, okay. Tell her I’ll meet her”, Kumar finished saying in a hurry.
The old woman, Parvathy, was coming in the distance. In her toothless mouth, the well ground mixture of betel leaves and betel nuts was moving. Raindrops were sounding music on her grey hairs. She was coming running, covering her head with the top of her sari. A few days back, the Army had killed this old woman’s grandson.
Like now, they had rounded up the villagers one morning. The old woman’s grandson had started to run. They had shot him down like a dog. While the whole village looked on in shock, with children screaming, and mothers shivering, that youth fell down curled up, in front of all.
The old woman had gone off her mind with that incident. She is still screaming for her grandson. The old woman’s grandson was one of Kumar’s friends.
Seeing Kumar, the old woman opened her toothless mouth and laughed out loudly. “Where are you going? Are you dressed up for going out? My grandson will come now,” said the old woman, standing under a tree, seeking shelter from the rain.
Kumar leaned his cycle on the tree, and looked at Arul. He could see that Arul was in a hurry to leave.
“To Rathy…” Arul wanted to say something but stopped speaking when he saw the elder sister coming.
Suddenly, with a big whirring noise, a helicopter flew lowly. The heavy guns of the government soldiers were flying, targeting the houses below.
“Something is going to happen.” There was tension in the elder sister’s voice.
“They are searching for someone.” The younger sister came running. With their eyes wide open, the children were looking up at the helicopter in fear. The hens were fluttering their wings and running in search of their sheds. Dogs were running about, howling.
Grandma came running in a hurry, and shouted at Kumar to go inside. Amma who was wringing her hands in the kitchen with the top of her sari, also shouted at Kumar. Looking at the armies and screaming “Dogs, dogs, crazy dogs”. The elder sister was shaking her head and cursing at the helicopter.
The helicopter flew over the Tamil village. The mad old woman laughed with a cackling sound. She laughed for a long time without stopping. The helicopter had gone out of sight. The coconut trees shuddered in the wind. The cuckoos on the mango trees observed silence. The dog went into a corner and curled itself up, moaning.
The hens bent their necks, and looked up at the sky. The children looked up at the sky with fright.
Arul had forgotten what he had wanted to say about Rathy. Kumar changed into shorts, under cover of his sarong. Arul had gone home, scratching his head. A mad old woman Parvathy was still standing and blabbering something.
Kumar has to buy medicine for Amma. “The situation is not good. Why don’t you go later?” asked grandma, scratching her blouse-less bare breast.
“Yes, try to go later”, the elder sister accompanied grandma. His sister was forty years old, her hair had turned grey. One or two teeth have fallen. Her sons, fourteen and eighteen, are living constantly in fear of the Soldiers. This sad plight has ruined the elder sister.
“What is the guarantee that the situation would be better in the evening?” asked Kumar, pushing his cycle.
When he came onto the road, shopkeeper uncle Shanmugam put his head out and said, “The army might be in the market, be careful.” He did not hear what uncle Shanmugam had told him. He flew on his bicycle.
Somebody was speaking out loudly in Rathy’s house. Might be her uncle. Her uncle Sithamparn was well to do. He had a shop in the next town. He shows off his status by speaking in a loud voice.
Kumar’s eyes were searching for Rathy over the fence. The fact that he was going to meet her tonight brought rising heat to his body.
For two months, he had not met her. He himself did not know how he had been so patient for so long.
It might be one reason that the military’s crackdown had left the people of the village in disarray, and they had themselves cringed into hiding for protection.
He knows how much Kumar loves Rathy. It is only Kumar who so lovingly calls Rathy by her full name, Pakeerathy. She calls him only by the name of Rajkumar. Family and friends call him Kumar.
Tonight, this Rajkumar is going to meet Pakeerathy who shoots arrows from her eyes from across the fence. He had forgotten about what grandma and Amma told him about not going out. The thought of Rathy was sweet in his mind.
Standing on his cycle, he leaned over the fence and looked. She was standing near a banana tree. She was wearing a faded yellow skirt and red blouse. Pakeerathy looked like a parrot among the green banana trees. Her lean movements played drums on his feelings. What artful grace there was in her movement!
When he rang cycle bell, she straightened up and looked at him. There was a mischievous smile on her lips. He suddenly got down from the bike. She knew the meaning of that action.
He was bending down and pretending to repair something on a tyre. People and vehicles were going along the road. There was a rustling noise across the fence. Through a hole in the fence, the yellow skirt could be seen.
“Must be thinking big”. There was a sweet lilt in her voice. Was it two years? It was only two months since they had last met. His eyes pierced through the hole in the fence, and embraced her eyes. “Couldn’t even write a line, it seems?” She was shooting questions at him from across the fence.
“If one falls in surrender at the feet, are they happy?” He was a witty fellow. He has staged many comedies in the village. Her laughter rang out. That musical sound moved softly over his heart.
“Two months… how could you turn into a stone like this?” she sighed heavily.
“It is your wicked mouth that chases me further and further away,” he laughed. “Well I have to go now” she whined.
“At the usual place to night…” What he was about to say was drowned in the noise of the tractor coming down the road.
He sped fast towards the market. While his feet rolled the tyres, his mind rolled with thoughts of Pakeerathy. Kumar laughed in joy. The sound of the helicopter returning could be heard, Kumar had reached the market. Business must have just started there. Because of the military activity of the Army in the morning, people from the villages who brought vegetables, milk and fruits had arrived late.
Fish seller Ahamed was going past. The fish bought from the seashore were tied up in boxes and travelling on a bicycle. “What Kumar, is the helicopter going another time?” Ahamed asked Kumar. The sound of the helicopter appeared to come closer.
Before he could think whether it was wise to have gone out even when grandma and amma had tried to prevent him from doing so, all his thoughts were rumbled when he saw military vehicles coming from behind him with a great noise.
All was confusion and disturbance. Those who had spread their vegetables on sacks and tarpaulins moved them aside in a great hurry. The helicopter was flying low, circling the market. One does not know from where the many hundreds of soldiers have congregated.
Kumar, holding the cycle in his hands, crouched under a tree. Many youths like him looked with fear at the approaching Sinhalese soldiers with their guns.
“Everyone, do not move. If you move, we will shoot you like dogs,” the Sinhalese commander shouted out threateningly. Kumar felt afraid to lift his head up and look at the army. He was one of those youths who had, at this time, not been caught in the clutches of the army, and escaped death. Today he does not know his fate.
The army was rounding up the market. All those suspected of being Tamils were ordered into the quadrangle of the market.
The soldiers shouted out at Kumar also to go into the quadrangle. One of the soldiers took his cycle and banged it against a tree. The cycle broke. Another kicked on Kumar’s back. Still another, running to Kumar’s side, spat in his face, shouting out “Tamil pariah!”
One does not know which instigated his madness, the kick on his back or the spit on his face. For a moment, Kumar thought it would be better to run and be shot than to suffer insult like that. But then they were going to inquire after all those in the market, and when they found that he was innocent he would be allowed to go, he contented himself.
Whatever he thought, or whatever happened was all now in the hands of the Sinhalese Army. The quadrangle was packed with Tamil youths, caught and brought from all quarters of the town. The Sinhalese Army, with dangerous weapons, stood excitedly surrounding them. A helicopter was flying low round the market, making a lot of noise.
The sky was darkening clouds of rain. The scary figures of soldiers with their weapons were seen running here and there.
Inside an army vehicle, there was a man who was pointing out at the Tamil youths huddled together in the quadrangle. Clad men like the one in the vehicle were known in Tamil quarters as the ‘shaking head’. These shaking-heads might have once belonged to some Tamil militant group, but were now working for the Government.
The huddled shaking head was pointing out with his index finger. Those Tamil youths with sound physiques, those Tamils who appeared to look like ‘freedom-fighters’ were recognised and segregated from the crowd. One such recognised youth was hit with the butt of the gun, and pushed aside. Blood spilled out from his head and covered his face. The white shirt he wore was spotted with drops of blood.
A Tamil youth, watching this scene, got ready to run. Desperately breaking out from the crowd, he jumped. With the extreme fervour of saving his life, he started running.
Before you could bat an eyelid, the Sinhalese soldier standing nearby shot him down.
Up to now, Kumar had heard about such killings. He had heard the sound of gunshots in the middle of the night. But, until now, he had never seen such a killing with his own eyes. The body of the Tamil youth, who was shot, fell down like a rag doll on Mother Earth, wet with rainy drops. Blood burst out and wet those standing by. The last inklings of life in him subsided in a few moments. The legs that ran, the mouth that screamed, all lay lifeless on the ground.
Could he be twenty years old? A Tamil who, just a minute or two ago was a man was now just a corpse. His youth, feelings and life’s dreams were all demolished in a few moments by a Sinhalese soldier. Even the last minute ticking of life in him was smothered by the kicking and stamping of one or two soldiers standing near by.
Sheep, cattle, the birds in the sky, are all these preyed out like this? They run about in freedom. A Tamil’s life being snatched away in an instant like this was forced on Kumar’s comprehension, without his being consciously aware of it. There were many known and unknown panic-stricken faces all around Kumar.
By ones and twos, a whole crowd of people was being moved in accordance with the signs made by the ‘shaking head’. The youths who were being moved were assaulted ruthlessly. The animal strength of the soldiers was playing on the Tamils’ backs, stomachs and heads.
A Christian called David, a reporter for the town’s newspaper, was standing next to Kumar. The shaking head signalled David. Then a soldier hit David. David screamed. In front of thousands of people, the armed Sinhalese was torturing the unarmed Tamil.
One or two soldiers were mauling David’s hands ferociously. “Were these the hands that wrote about us?” The soldiers hit again and again. David’s hands were broken and maimed.
Like the flesh and bones seen on the body of a small animal, ferociously torn and pulled out by terrible animals in their hunger, there was blood and torn flesh on David’s hands. Blood and waste water spilled out from David’s body. Kumar’s head was spinning.
“If you could run away from their torture… they will shoot immediately.”
What Kumar had thought of must have been thought by another Tamil youth. The overpowering desire to hold onto dear life, once in danger, comes to everyone; shall I run? One man in the crowd started running. There was frenzy in his running to escape and save his life. Shots rang out in quick succession. Would they shoot birds and animals like this? How many fell down? The mouths of the guns spat out smoke. The sky was darkened with smoke. Those who were alive just a few moments ago lay now as lifeless corpses.
If there was a hell, then it must be like this. Kumar was feeling dizzy. If you stumbled and fell, even then, thinking that you were trying to run and escape, they would shoot you down. Wasn’t that also good in a way? David was still undergoing beating.
David fell down unconscious. With his face drawn a dreary pale, and his whole body bloodied, he fell down. Another was pulled out and brought on the ‘shaking head’s signal. An officer asked that youth some questions.
The youth did not respond. Perhaps he did not know Sinhala, or sometimes his ears might have been too numbed to hear the questions. Who knows how many people might have become deranged in mind owing to incidents similar to this happening all the time?
The Army officer then attacked the youth. He had a big baton in his hand. It broke the Tamil’s head.
They brought Kumar forward. The shaking head signalled. Kumar, too, was pushed into the group of ‘Tamil terrorists’.
Someone who was watching all this from a distance was shouting out in Sinhala. It was a face known to him, that of Summanathasa, who had once studied with Kumar, who was standing there and shouting, “He is not a terrorist”.
He could be heard shouting. But it did not seem to have fallen on anybody’s ears. One or two persons standing next to Kumar were shot down. Like unwanted trees being cut down and thrown away, the lives of Tamils were being shot and felled.
Summanathasa burst through the crowd and came running. He was shouting in Sinhala. He pointed at Kumar, “He is not a terrorist”.
The raised guns of the army delayed for a minute. In those few moments, a charitable fairy must have been opening its eyes. Just a few moments between a life passing away and a life escaping. Because of Summanathasa’s help, Kumar escaped. Two or three Tamil lives that came behind Kumar fell down dead.
Kumar did not look up at Summanathasa. They had both studied together one time. Summanathasa’s mother was a poor Tamil woman and his father was Sinhalese. He had studied with Kumar in a Tamil school at a young age. Though he had later gone on to a Sinhalese school, whenever he met Kumar in the market or the street, he would speak a few words with him.
Kumar looked up at Summanathasa. When they were small, they had played and fought together.
When during the ‘Vesak’ festival at a Sinhalese Buddha village, some Sinhalese youths had teased Pakeerathy; Summanathasa had gone to fight with them. Summanathasa’s mother’s name was Theivamai; she earned her living by weaving mats. The father, Somaparla, was a Sinhalese who did odd jobs in the village. He had joined as a labourer at a bakery in the town, and then got into a relationship with the owner’s daughter, Podi Nona, whom he eventually married, having set aside Theivamai. Heartbroken at this, Theivamai fell ill and died. Summanathasa’s father had sent his son away to the Sinhala school in the south of Sri lanka.
Summanathasa was looking at the plight of his friend of the youthful days. The blood flowing in Summanathasa’s body was that of a Tamil mother. He could not bear to think of a Tamil who had played with him at one time, falling dead lifeless. His educated and bold-mannered appearance must have made the Sinhalese officers think twice.
It was dizzying. The sky darkened. The dead bodies of Tamil’s were bundled together. Old tyres were heaped on the rubbish dump in the market. The bodies were flung into them. Hundreds of soldiers with arms were excitedly running all around the market.
Many Tamil youths, who had been signalled out by the mercenary shaking head, who had betrayed his own Tamil race, were bundled like coconuts into lorries. Among these youths were those who had been hurt, those who were semi-conscious, those with blood streaming, and yet those who were weeping.
In the distance, on the rubbish dump in the market, the bodies of the Tamil youths who had been shot dead just hours before, burning in the heat of the tyres set on fire, were spreading black smoke and the putrid smell of death all around.
The lorries were leaving. The moaning of youths on the edge of death inside the lorries was heart rendering. Outside, the smell of the burning Tamil dead bodies was nauseating. After the lorries speeded away, Kumar felt his head spinning.
At the Karaitivu junction, some more Tamil youths were bundled into the lorries. Now, the rain was falling heavily.
The lorries were speeding towards Amparai. In the lorries, one or two Tamils who had been struggling for life breathed their last.
When Sampanthurai junction was reached, more people were pushed into the lorries. An old man and some youths along with him, all with serious injuries suffered from beatings were among them.
The old man was a bald-headed and bespectacled person. He had an attendance register book in one hand and a bell in the other. “I am telling them I am a headmaster. No fellow is listening to me.” The headmaster wiped the perspiration mixed with blood from his head.
The young students who had come with him let out a scream when they saw the dead bodies lying with gaping mouths.
“Hey boys, shut up your mouths!” the headmaster shouted at them in anger. The lorry suddenly halted. The military vehicle that was coming behind it also stopped. One by one, the Sinhalese soldiers jumped out from their vehicle and surrounded the lorry. “Bloody dogs! What are you shouting for?” One of them, who appeared to be the officer in charge, attacked them with the rifle butt. The headmaster pointed out at the corpses.
David’s plight was pitiful. He was getting drenched in the rain. Both his hands were terribly swollen.
The soldiers pulled out two or three bodies from the lorry and threw them in the street. Drenched in dried blood, and with bulging eyes, they presented a frightful sight. Perhaps these corpses may end up as good food for the wild foxes in the forest.
The Tamil who had risen in the morning to the devotional music of ‘Thiruvembavai’ is now in the evening a vulnerable prey to the wild animals. Kumar closed his eyes. His head was aching terribly. Because of the injury on his forehead, his eyelids were swollen.
It was only now that he felt the excruciating pain from the kick that had fallen on his stomach. Inside the lorry, the stinking smell of blood and perspiration, and that of the excreta and urine passed by those who had been beaten senseless, turned his stomach upside down.
What would be the time now? The rainy darkness, along with the surrounding environment of the forest, made it look like a dangerous period of time. When they reached the military camp at Amparai, it had grown very dark.
Those in the lorry were brought down. The soldiers hit them in the front and the back, with their arms, and their hands and legs.
A very tall Sinhalese military officer with a curled up moustache came walking down with conceit, and looked at the Tamil youths being unloaded from the lorry.
He looked at them as if looking at a horde of animals. “I have no idea of wasting time with you. If you tell me which of you belong to which militant group, it will be good for you. Otherwise, you have to suffer unnecessary trouble”, the military officer said, curling his moustache.
“Sir, I am a Tamil teacher. I have brought the school attendance register book with me as proof”, the schoolteacher said almost crying.
“Hey, bloody old man. Shut your mouth”.
The military officer’s fist made mincemeat of the Tamil teacher’s front teeth.
Those Tamil youths who had been beaten up were staggering, unable to stand. The soldiers kicked mercilessly those who staggered and fell. A blow from a baton fell on Kumar’s head too.
When he opened his eyes, the lorry was moving. He did not know how long it took before he opened his eyes.
Hundreds of Tamil youths were arranged in the military camp. It might be midnight, or it might have been early morning. There was no way of finding out the time. Some glimmering lights were getting wet in the rain.
One could see a row of military officers seated in a building. Every one of the prisoners was being subjected to interrogation.
David was standing staggeringly by in front of Kumar. His hands, which might have been blue in colour, looked black in the dim light of the darkness. His eyes looked scary and he appeared a deranged man. The man behind Kumar must have passed stools and urine in his clothes. The stench was overpowering.
The Tamil prisoners who had been brought before the present ones were sitting huddled in a corner. There were both men and women. The women seemed to be in a very bad position. Most of them appeared to be students. They were in their school uniforms. It was quite apparent that they had been subjected to terrible sexual violence, with their half-torn dresses, and with their exposed femininity.
Kumar felt his head spinning once again. He closed his eyes tightly. Would they have gone to the village and caught Rathy? Would she also have suffered a terrible fate like this? Kumar mumbled, “Rathy, Rathy.” His eyes filled with tears. His thoughts floundered. The sudden laughter from David in front brought Kumar back to reality.
Has David gone mad? He looked at both his hands and laughed. Kumar stood aghast. A military officer came and slapped David repeatedly. David kicked that officer with his leg.
In a minute, there was a stirring of movement all around. The officer, attacked by David in an animal frenzy, had fallen down. The next moment a bullet had ripped through David’s body and flew past, grazing Kumar’s shoulder. David fell down.
Two or three officers attacked him ruthlessly. David’s body was kicked around like a ball. After a short while, his body lay without any movement.
David had come to the temple festival last year, and was taking photographs. He, who had come to describe the festival, did not hesitate to imprison the damsels who were going past in a procession in temple chariots in his camera.
The enticing eyes of Rathy, caught in his camera, appeared in a national newspaper under the heading of ‘Spectacle in the festival’. David had also given a copy of that photograph to Kumar. Kumar kept it with him always, in memory of Rathy. David, who had artistically captured festivals and festivities in his camera, now lay dead.
From the time they had left their homes in the dizzying morning, until now, how many of the Tamil youths had been killed?
“Hey…you!” The Tamil youth Rajkumar, the lover of the pretty, intelligent girl Pakeerathy, the dearest son of his mother, the pet grandson of his grandma, the dear youngest brother of his sisters, was called by a bare and empty ‘Hey!’
“Is this fellow your friend?” they asked him, pointing out at David’s lifeless body. When immorality is in the ascendancy, what can morality do but bow down?
“In which movement were you?”
“In what secret militant activity did you deal?”
“How long have you been working against us?” Kumar could not imagine how one man could treat another man as cruelly as he had seen just now.
That night, the next day, the day after that… how many days? How many nights and days had passed? Are all these tortures dreams?
Have the devils – the asuras – from hell come in the name of the Sinhalese Army? By the time he realised that all that he had told of his being not a rebel, and that he had never participated in any anti-government activities would only fall on deaf ears, Kumar was hung upside down, and was severely beaten on his heels.
“Must buy medicine for Amma!”, his inner voice cried. “Grandma asked me not to go. Should I have listened to her word then and stayed back?” The elder sisters were always eyes and ears over his security. Now they would be very nervous. They would pray for their younger brother.
They splashed water on his face. “Hey how many Sinhalese soldiers did you kill?” One of the soldiers jumped on his stomach. Kumar must have some injury to his stomach; blood was coming out of his nose and mouth.
“You can only fight if you remain to be a man”, one soldier said maliciously and laughed. Kumar wondered how it was possible for men to behave like such animals. Men were stripped naked and then tortured while they twisted and twitched in pain. Sinhalese and Tamils are said to be enemies. Therefore, the other man avenged one man’s masculinity cruelly.
How many days is it now?
Between the nights he was brought to this camp and now, when he had lost his sense of feeling and was unable to recognise himself, how many days and nights would have moved on? What could have happened to those who were packed like animals into the lorry, along with him?
What could have happened to the Tamil teacher who had come with a school attendance register book, and had said that he was no rebel?
What could have happened to those girls who were huddled together, with their torn dresses, with tearful eyes, and with their dignity lost?
Even now, you could hear ear-piercing cries of girls from somewhere, cutting through the silence of the night. Are these too, cries of young virgin girls?
When Kumar was on the verge of losing consciousness, the world appeared to be enveloped in darkness. With broken hands and legs, swollen penis, blood-trickling nose and mouth, he could not retain his consciousness.
Is the Tamil race in the world being avenged? For all this, what has the Tamilian done? He could not continue this line of thinking, as his mind was weak.
Could one satisfy oneself by imagining that not all that has happened has occurred in real life? How would Amma be now? Would she have known that the son who had gone to buy medicine for her was now being tortured into half a man? Would she have been agitated thinking that he, along with the burning corpses in the market, would have been burnt to ashes?
“Where am I now?” He could not open his eyes properly. Was there no part of his body that had not been beaten, tortured?
“Rathy I told you that I would meet you, but will I be alive to see you?” They were dragging him to some vehicle. What is this, a stretcher? Why are they taking me to the hospital? Due to the torture they had carried out, already life is ebbing away slowly, is that not enough?
“There are plenty of matters to be known from this dog”, a man’s growling voice beat on his ears. They are going to keep him alive and elicit some information from him, it seems. They were finding it difficult to keep him alive.
The cold wind touched his body. He opened his swollen eyes, and looked at his surroundings. The blue sky was spotless. Like speckles of cotton wool thrown in the air, pieces of clouds were moving in the sky. The soldiers with arms were seen everywhere.
The military camp was in the heart of a big forest. Clouds were moving over the distant hilltops, like dancing damsels. The stretcher was being hurriedly carried into the ambulance. “Must listen to Rathy’s voice. How can I tell her that I am dying?” Kumar lost consciousness.
Every time he lost consciousness, it felt as if he had fallen into a dark cave. It would seem as if somebody was calling out his name from a very far distance. Were they the God of Death’s messengers? Were they holding the rope of death in their hands? No, they were only holding dangerous guns from the Western countries! Where was the waterfall passing down? The ambulance was going through a valley.
The memory of swimming and frolicking in the Thillai River when it was in its full flow came to Kumar. When the small causeway broke open, and the sea and the river mingled together, how the sight of the sea waves rising to the height of a coconut tree delights the mind!
Will his eyesight ever return? Would his legs walk? Could he do anything with his hands? The ambulance suddenly stopped. “Tamil pariah!” was it the man who was pulling the stretcher shouting out? They were throwing him like a rotten potato. His head was heavy. Somebody was pushing his shirt aside and putting something on his chest. It must have been a stethoscope; it felt cold on Kumar’s bare skin.
The doctor was saying something. Kumar was educated at a boy’s college.. He knew his English fairly well. “There seems to be a big wound in his stomach.” The unclear mumbling of the doctor was heard. “He has lost a lot of blood.” The doctor took Kumar’s pulse. The rest of the conversation was in Sinhalese. They were discussing whether it was necessary to keep him alive.
The officer who had brought him was arguing empathetically that he was an important militant and there was a lot of information to be got out of him still. Kumar could not fully comprehend their argument.
“I have nothing worthy of telling you”, Kumar’s lips muttered. No sound issued from his mouth, his chest pained him and the next moment he had lost consciousness. What a peaceful world this is. Was not this the lotus pond in which Kumar and his friends had swam and frolicked? It is on the edge of the village, near a cemetery.
It was quite a pretty sight to see, ever so many red and white lotuses piercing through the water, raising their heads and dancing in the wind. The elders had ordered the children not to go near the lotus pond. There were many reasons for this. For one, the pond was full of water snakes. On the other hand, wild buffaloes used it as their sleeping place. It was also near the cemetery, there was a foolish superstition that if the children played near the cemetery, ghosts or demons would afflict them.
Kumar and his friends were not bound by these reasons. They played and swam in the lotus pond whenever they had the time. Some of the buffaloes lying there, munching with their mouths would stare at the boys. Though it was frightening to see the water snakes leap and climb over the lotuses that had not been touched by the water, nevertheless it was a remarkable sight.
Kumar who had lost consciousness is now swimming in the lotus pond. He is a fifteen-year-old boy swimming with his friends. The wild buffaloes are staring, but these animals do not attempt to kill him just because he is a Tamilian.
He dips into the water and rises up, crossing the water snakes that are circling the lotus stems. Even though Tamil breath issued from him, those snakes did not try to destroy him. Kumar was breathless. He felt breathless where there was no oxygen.
The eyes tried to open up, but there was some kind of pressure. He moaned, one does not know if he moaned because of the pain in his body, or because of the desperate feeling of being about to lose his life.
When he opened his eyes, he saw the doctor standing. He felt as if something was crawling on his head. “Am I still in the lotus pond?” A Sinhalese officer was looking sternly at Kumar. It took some time for Kumar to realise that what he had felt as a crawling on his head was the saline drip the doctor had injected.
There were two policemen standing round him. They muttered that he was a terrorist, and might try to escape at any time. Kumar’s head was clearing slowly. There seemed to be some strength in his body because of the medicine that had been injected into his head.
There was some furore around him. The ward nurse was speaking in a harsh tone. What was happening? Kumar could not understand anything. With great difficulty, he turned his head and looked. There was a big crowd outside looking intently at him through the window. They had a frightened look, as if beholding a tiger imprisoned in a cage.
Kumar, who was to enter the teacher training college next month, was now an exhibit like a caged animal. There were many young girls outside the window. There were eyes that brought Rathy’s eyes to memory. The mothers who carried their village’s innocence on their faces reminded him of his own mother. A very old woman, with her sagging old breast, reminded him of his grandma. Tears came down from his swollen eyes.
“Tamil pariah who killed our soldiers, cry well”, the old woman spat out from outside the window. A Tamilian who killed the soldiers?
In Kumar’s memory, the explosion of a landmine in the village one night came to mind. That night, he was talking with the Brahman priest regarding the temple festival.
“May your eyes become blind, your legs maimed. Lose your brains and become mad. Let all the Tamils perish. This is our land!” One woman shook the window bars and shrieked.
The Sinhalese policeman standing by Kumar laughed at him with derision. “Your male organ should be cut off and thrown to the dogs”, an old man shouted.
“Tamil demon, Tamil demon”, all of them started shouting out in unison.
He should be unconscious; he should go into the world he sees frequently. He should dream of the lotus pond also. The water snake and the wild buffalo were not going to harm him. Even if the dead bodies buried in the cemetery turned up as ghosts, he would not be frightened.
Was it imagination or a dream? His his brother in-law, has come, along with his friend. His brother in-law married his elder sister when Kumar was seven years old. He had shown him how to make a catapult and play with it. He was standing with tears in his eyes, and looking at Kumar.
“Ahamed Kaka came and told us about the army taking you in a lorry. It was Summanathasa who helped me to come here by giving money to a Sinhalese man known to him”, said brother in-law, weeping. Under the immense Sinhalese politics, such innocents would continue to weep. What is the time now, what would be the time today?
“How is Amma?” The imperativeness of bringing medicines for Amma was pricking Kumar’s mind.
“Amma, Amma…” brother in-law murmured. Kumar felt pain in the pit of his stomach. It was not pain from the beatings he had endured by the Army. The thought of Amma was the real pain.
“Without thinking about Amma, you take care of yourself”, brother in-law kissed him like a child. Summanathasa was standing at a distance. He did not come to Kumar; there was no necessity to come. He was looking at the rural Sinhalese people who were standing and shouting at the window. The nurse came and chased Kumar’s brother in-law. “We are praying for you”, he said, hurrying away.
Kumar’s brother in-law did not tell him about Amma becoming paralysed because of her agony over Kumar. He did not tell him of the Sinhalese Army asking Rathy whether Kumar was her lover, and then taking her and raping her, and Rathy committing suicide over it. He did not tell him of the many terrible incidents in the village.
Summanathasa looked at his old friend. The policemen were also looking acutely at their prisoner.
This Tamil terrorist should escape death. Additional matters have to be gleamed from him. Important military officers are waiting. In the Tamil parts of Sri Lanka, so many people like Kumar’s families are praying for the safety of their friends and relatives.
( This story based on a true event and ‘Kumar’ is a human right writer,lives in London, writing for the UNITY of the Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka)