Written by- K.S.Suthakar
Translation by – A .ThevaRajan (New Zealand)
A.Thevarajan - Born in Puloali West, Vadamaraadchi in Jaffna, and an old student of Hartley College, Point Pedro, Mr. A. Thevarajan moved to New Zealand in 1997. There he founded New Zealand Tamil Studies and Humanitarian Trust, which was in the forefront in helping the Eezham Tamil migrants in many ways, ranging from helping the migrant retirees in getting their entitled pensions to fighting for the rights of the migrants to swear on the religious text of their choice in legal situations.
His community service and contributions to Tamil language and culture span well over half a century. Leaving government administrative service in the police department after the language policy of the state in the island of Sri Lanka, Mr. Thevarajan, a prolific writer in English and Tamil, became a trade unionist and freelance journalist, and devoted his entire time to society and heritage.
Since 1960s Theva Rajan was associated with the organization of a number of societies such as the committee for the installation of the statue of Arumuga Navalar in 1969, society remembering a Tamil scholar Sathaavathaanam Kathiraivet Pillai and Fr. Thaninayagam Foundation.
Theva Rajan was one of the first to study the Brahmi inscriptions of Sri Lanka, bringing out the Tamil personal names and the other Dravidian elements in them to the attention of scholars in India and Sri Lanka.
In the early 1970s, associated with the Jaffna Archaeological Society, he brought to light a megalithic urn burial in Vallipuram.
His research presentations and publications were on wide-ranging topics: Murukan cult among the Sinhalese, Tamil language rights in Sri Lanka, public servants and legal remedies, human rights, children’s literature and many others.
Sivanayagam’s house became noisy that evening. Although disabled and disheartened after a stroke two years ago, a smile beamed over his face at the hive of activity in the house. He was a gentleman in his own way and was well respected in this small hamlet of Veemankamam. He was an honest and god – fearing farmer who tilled the soil in his three acre plot which was always green. He intelligently planted crops in one half so that when the yield ceases on that section, another variety of crops would begin to yield on the other section. He diversified crops in such a way that he always had a cash value for his yields. He also had ten Karuththa Kolumpu Mango trees and five lime trees besides some twenty coconut trees and ten Sevvilaneer and Vattavi types along the border of his plot. He also had an acre of rich yielding palmyrah palms interspersed with murunga trees. At home, he had two cows and there was continuous availability of milk at home. He was a vegetarian and there were enough of vegetables for cooking. He had a five acre paddy field at Tiruvai Aru in Kilinochchi which was managed by this younger brother along with his ten acres. So that Sivanayagam had a periodical supply of rice also. His toil always rewarded him and was a happy man with Saratha a devoted and able partner in life.
Their’s was a love marriage. Saratha was an active girl even from birth and was his maternal uncle’s only daughter. Sivanayagam as a young man of sixteen toiled in his father’s plot after schooling. He could not secure a Government job and he decided to till his father’s agricultural plot. As customary among peasant communities, he also helped his uncle in his farm. Saratha used to bring the breakfast and tea for her father and his team of workers.
Sivanayagam used to tease her by calling nick names and utter things that irritated Saratha. Sivanayagam enjoyed her anger. Saratha even threw stones at him and ran home. This eventually matured into love and with parental blessings they were married when he was twenty one and she was sixteen. They proved to be an ideal couple and a role model for the village. They had three boys and one girl. The girl Vennila was the one before the last.
Vennila was to be given in marriage to Indrakumar the storekeeper of the Tellippalai Multipurpose Co – operative Stores Union the next day. The marriage was to be solemnized at the famous Dhurga Temple of Tellippalai. The house was filled with close relatives and neighbours. A sense of satisfaction and a sense of gratitude to god swept through Sivanayagam when he realised that he was not a forgotten man. This added to the joy that his only daughter was getting married when he was yet alive. This was the cause of the beaming smile on his face. The women were busy preparing short – eats and men were doing all other jobs. Some were carrying vegetables and rice bags to the temple for lunch after wedding. Other’s were decorating the temple wedding hall. Sivanayagam was particularly happy that his younger brother Velnayagam and family and his only sister Mangai and family had also come from far off Kilinochchi. Her only daughter Selvi had also come with her two months old son travelling through Kilali – a frustrating journey. There were about ten toddlers, between the ages of three and five playing about. Sivanayagam was also filled with joy at this sight.
Sivanayagam’s house was still the typical Jaffna peasant house. The main house was with verandah type Thinnai outside the door. The women slept inside and men on the Thinnai. The Mahl is a rectangular hall with half walls serving also as seats for visitors. It is also the place where meals are served. Then there is the kottil where agriculture produce is stored. The fourth is the kitchen with a small shed nearby for pounding rice etc. There is also the cattle shed and the toilet. All are separate units spread over the compound.
In the night, they all had dinner. The neighbours returned to their homes. Only those who came from far off were left behind and by eight there was pin drop silence in typical village style. Sivanayagam and other males slept in the open. It was a moonlight night and the pleasant refreshing Cholakam wind was blowing. In view of the wedding the ground was spread with three tractor loads of Vallipuram white sand from Vadamaradchy. It gave a pleasant look. The men put palmyrah leaf mats on the ground and slept. Sivanayagam was sleeping on the broad bed of Margosa planks. He placed his crutches on the side of the bed. He was overjoyed and sleep was far away. He noticed somebody entering the house after opening the padalai, a wooden gate of the villages in Jaffna.
“Who is that? “asked Sivanayagam.
“It is me, Appa “said Barathan.
“Come sonna, come.”
“Saratha! Saratha! Come, see who has come.” – called out Sivanayagam.
Barathan sat beside his father leaving his T – 56 on the bed. Sivanayagam held Barathan’s hands in delight. Saratha came running. She exclaimed “Baratha! – My sonna “and hugged him and sobbed. This excitement brought Vennila also. She was overjoyed to see his brother, now a liberation fighter. She cried in joy. All others came to see Barathan. Selvi brought dinner for him. He had dinner. Before he left he said "“Vennila kutty -–come.” He hugged her and kissed her on her forehead. “Wish you a good future. Tell Indran that I will see you both soon. Amma, Appa, Anna, will see you again.” So saying Barathan vanished. All retired to bed again.
Sivanayagam was awake though he was lying in bed. Everyone was deep in sleep. Sleep overcame Sivanayagam too. He woke up and looking at a star in the eastern horizon he thought the time was past 4 AM close upon 5 AM. He noticed a reddish yellow shining object passing through the eastern sky swiftly. A while later, he heard a loud blast some distance away. He muttered “These devils have started again.“ and alerted the others. All got up. At intervals shells lobbed from the Palaly Camp began falling and blasts could be heard. As this has been the experience for several years they took it as a usual exercise. The women folk finished their morning ablutions and that was followed by the men.
“Let us not waste time with preparing breakfast. It is 6.30 now. We must be at the temple by 9 Am. The auspicious time is 11.30. ‘’ said Saratha.
“Yes – that is right. Can we get some bread? If we prepare sambol and tea we can manage.” endorsed Mangai.
“Yes yes – where is Suganthan? Suganthan!” Saratha beckoned her last son.
‘What amma? – I am here” So saying came Suganthan.
“Go and get 10 pounds of bread for all of us from the Union Bakery. Don’t waste time. Come soon. Here is Rs. 50.00” said Saratha.
Suganthan came running after leaving his bicycle near their padalai. He cried out to his mother –
“Amma! I don’t think we can have akka’s (sister’s) wedding. People are moving in hundreds with whatever they could take. They say Army is moving from Palaly. Some houses damaged and some people killed and injured. Come and see how people are running. Even cattle and goats are being taken away. “
The entire people at home except Sivanayagam came to the road. They were shocked at the massive movement of people. Saratha tried to stop someone and ask for details. But no one was prepared as everyone was in a hurry. However she was able persuade an elderly man to stop. The old man said –
“Pillai! This is not the time to stop and talk. Everyone is running to save their lives. The Army is moving. They are a mile away from Maviddapuram Kandasamy temple. Our podiyans (boys) are resisting the advance. Don’t wait any more. Run away at least to Dhurga Temple.” So saying the old man moved on.
Everyone in Sivanayagam’s house came back and were in a hurry to move away to Dhurga Temple. Each of them moved out.
“Tharman! “shouted Saratha calling her eldest son.
“What Amma! “ Tharman came running.
“Take your bicycle. Mount your father on the bar and push him along to Dhurga Temple. You and Vennila can push him along.” Said Saratha.
“Vennila! walk Appa out to the road. I shall take the bicycle out” – said Tharman.
“Appa! Hold your crutches. I will help you to walk up to the road. Annai is waiting with the bicycle.” Vennila moved with her father as he limped his way to the road.
There, Vennila held the bicycle and Tharman and Suganthan tried to lift Sivanayagam on to the bar.Sivanayagam is now a disappointed man with sorrow visible on his face. As Tharman and Suganthan were struggling to raise him, the passers – by including Sivanayagam’s long time friend Kathiravelu also helped.But Vennila could not hold the bicycle firmly. The bicycle slipped down and Sivanayagam fell heavily. He could do no more. He shouted angrily in pain and disappointment and wanted to go back home. A man who was dashing – past shouted
“Army has come to Maviddapuram – don’t waste a minute. Run away. “
Sivanayagam was physically carried by Tharman, Suganthan, Kathiravelu, Vennila and Selvi and placed on the bed which was moved to a safe spot. Kathiravelu went out. Selvi carried her baby and was about to open the padalai. The child was crying in hunger and wanted to be fed. Selvi was moved by the child’s cry. She sat near the padalai and was feeding. Tharman went on his bicycle to bring a car to take his father. Saratha was adamant not to leave Sivanayagam behind. But Suganthan intervened. He pleaded –
“Amma! Please go. I will remain with Appa. When Anna comes with the car we will bring Appa.”
“Amma! I am taking the bag with our educational certificates, land deeds, jewellery, cash and valuables, and one bag of clothes. You take the other bag of clothes and come. Let us go” - begged Vennila.
Saratha took some steps forward with tears in her eyes. She then looked back at her husband. Their cow licked Saratha’s foot and she patted the cow. The cow went and slept by the side of Sivanayagam.
In a fraction of a second there was a loud blast outside the padalai of Sivanayagam with sounds of splinters falling on the ground and a fireball and smoke rising up. There were screams outside. What a tragedy! A shell had fallen and exploded seriously injuring Kathiravelu. When smoke vanished, Kathiravelu was lying on the ground with limbs and flesh strewn around. He was unconscious and groaning and blood was running out. They raised and kept him on the side of the road and people ran to a side expecting another shell to fall at the same spot. The people have so much experience. As expected, the next shell cruelly fell on Kathiravelu’s partly dismembered body. It brought an end to Kathiravelu’s life.But a sharpned from the cruel shell cut across the fence of Sivanayagam and pierced through the cheeks of Selvi’s child who was being fed and entered Selvi’s chest. She screamed and fell in a swoon on the ground. There was utter chaos in Sivanayagam’s house. Saratha, Vennila and Sivanayagam burst into a loud wail. Just then, two militants came armed on a motorcycle. They asked all the people to go away including Saratha and Vennila. They said they will look after Sivanayagam. They also promised to send Selvi and her child in a vehicle to the Hospital. As they were waiting having hidden the motorcycle under a shady tree, a car came towards Jaffna. They stopped it to see if they could send Selvi and child to hospital. But to their shock there was a pregnant woman whose stomach had been ripped open by a shell sharpnel. The woman’s mother was also there. They sent it away to the Hospital. They informed their medical unit on the Walkie – Talkie to send a vehicle to rush Selvi to Hospital. Within minutes, a vehicle arrived and Selvi was despatched to Hospital with the child along with her mother Mangai. The driver was instructed to come back to take Sivanayagam.
As Saratha and Vennila were going towards Dhurga Temple they saw Tharman coming with a double bullock – cart. Saratha shouted “Thamby Tharma!” The cart stopped. Tharman got down from the cart and came running towards his mother.
“What Amma? Where is Appa?”
“Appa is at home. Suganthan is waiting with him. They are waiting for you. “
She could not speak as she burst into uncontrollable tears. Her voice trembled.
“Amma, why are you crying? Tell me what happened?” asked Tharman.
“She is unconsolable. Kathiravelu mama died of shell blast. Selvi Akka and her baby are also seriously injured. They are unconscious. Movement boys have sent them to hospital with Mangai Mami.” -Intervened Vennila also in tears.
The carter went up the road a few yards. After speaking to some people on the move, he took a semicircle turn and drove back the bulls very fast. Tharman ran behind the cart but the carter refused to come back.
Tharman went to Dhurga temple where he left his bicycle to take it and run home to see his father and brother. He sped his way towards home on the bicycle. On the way, Suganthan who spotted him cried out “Anna! Anna! “
On hearing Suganthan’s voice, Tharman stopped and was surveying the still moving crowd to locate his brother. Suganthan came near –
“Where is Appa?” shouted Tharman.
“Army has come past Maviddapuram. There is intense shelling and gunfire. The movement boys have asked me to go away. They have called for a vehicle to send Appa. There are some boys at home. They will look after Appa.” explained Suganthan.
Then, Tharman got on to his bicycle and asked Suganthan to get on to the pillion. He sped off and the two reached Dhurga temple. In a few minutes Saratha and Vennila also arrived. There was a huge crowd of internally displaced persons – from milk fed babies to fragile old folk. The temple was very busy. On one side cooking was going on for lunch. The temple car was sent to Jaffna town to bring essential items from baby food, biscuits, bread and other things including feminine towels. Mothers with babies were asked to register to enable supply of milk food. Tharman and Suganthan were helping in cooking. Saratha and Vennila also arrived at the temple. On spotting Suganthan, Vennila ran to him and asked
“Where is Appa?”
He explained how he was asked to leave by the movement boys. With tears she cursed Suganthan and Tharman.
“Are you all manly? Are you humans?”
exploded Vennila. Saratha also joined in the chorus. Yet they were hopeful that Sivanayagam would come. They too began to help in cooking. The whole crowd came to know Vennila’s wedding was postponed due to the military operation, and felt sorry. The elderly women consoled her.
Near the main KKS road on the approach road to the temple, Indrakumar was playing with five toddlers between the ages of 3 and 5. As the temple car coming from Jaffna approached the temple, a shell fell at the intersection and burst killing Indrakumar and the toddlers. The car had a narrow shave and entered the temple. The driver left the car under a shady banyan tree and hurried towards the road followed by a large number of women and men. Indrakumar was lying dead in a pool of blood. Nothing was left of the toddlers. It was one lump of flesh, bones and blood. Even with all the pieces put together not one body of the toddler could be reconstructed. They all screamed not knowing who those toddlers are. They rushed back to check on their children.
In the meantime, Saratha and Vennila who saw Indrakumar’s body fell unconcious. They were physically carried to the temple. The temple car driver said that Selvi and her baby were pronounced dead on admission to hospital. Tharman and Suganthan were half dead.
Five young women were identified as mothers of the five toddlers killed. They fell unconcious. They were rushed to the hospital in the temple van.
The temple authorities also wanted to help Saratha’s family. Her family came to the temple regularly. They inquired from Tharman where they wished to go. He indicated he wished to go to Chankanai to his fellow teacher Gunaseelan’s house. They sent them in the temple car.
The body of Indrakumar was removed by Tellippalai Multipurpose Co – operative Stores Union staff in their lorry to the hospital. A pit was cut by the roadside and the remnants of the toddlers were buried unceremonially. The road was washed using the temple hose pipe. Thereafter lunch was served. It was a tearful lunch for all.
The temple car was nearing Manipay. Tharman wanted to check the condition of his mother and sister as they were still unconscious. The car was directed to the Manipay Green Memorial Hospital. The Doctor examined both. Saratha had high blood pressure and she was unstable. The Doctor advised them to admit her immediately and she was given saline. Vennila was given an injection and she regained consciousness. Tharman left Suganthan with his mother and went to Gunam’s house with Vennila. The temple car dropped them and returned.
Tharman explained all what happened and concluded –
“Gunam! This is my plight. Please help me. I do not know what to do.”
Realising the plight, Gunam’s wife Malar asked her mother Saraswathy –
“Amma – what a tragedy.Please go in Sinnathamby’s car to Manipay Hospital. I will come by 5PM.”
Having sent her mother immediately to Hospital, she prepared coffee and came with three cups of coffee –
“Tharma Annai – first have this coffee.” and gave a cup to Tharman and one to Gunam. She took one and called –
“Vennila kutty come. “
Vennila was still sobbing. She got hold of her hand, sat beside the wall and made Vennila sleep on her lap. She ran her fingers through her hair, consoled and managed to make her take the coffee. Then brought a mat and pillow and asked her to sleep, saying
“We can go to hospital in the evening. I have sent my mother there now. “
She got ready with meals for Suganthan and her mother a vegetable soup for Saratha and a flask full of coffee. Together with their 4 year old son Kapilan they were all at the Hospital.
Saratha was regaining consciousness at times. Each such time she murmured
“Where is Appa? Aiyo Indran! “
Her pressure was fluctuating. She was unstable. They left hospital.
Although night was falling it was not to be for Gunam’s family. By 8 PM Tharman told Gunam –
“Get me some string hoppers, and a small flask of tea. I will see my father and come. ”
“What? Are you mad? You know what happened today? You can try tomorrow.”- begged Gunam.
“Yes Anna – please Anna, please” - begged Vennila, Suganthan and Malar in a chorus.
Tharman was adamant. Malar gave what he wanted. Out he went with a torchlight saying he knew the short cuts, bylanes and safe spots.
Even by 8 AM Tharman didn’t come. But they can’t wait any more. They went to the Hospital. Saratha was now conscious. When she saw them she asked –
“Where is Tharman? “
Malar explained and Saratha screamed in panic and anxiety. She collapsed. The Doctor was called in. He pronounced she was dead. It was all a loud sobbing and screaming. Her body was taken to Gunam’s house.
Saratha’s funeral was over. Tharman did not come back. To this day he is one among the many hundreds gone missing , along with Sivanayagam.
On receipt of the message, Barathan came. He was late for the funeral.
And yet another day passed by in the war zone of North –
Eastern Sri Lanka.