Friday, 10 June 2016

His Royal Highness,The Tamil Tiger - FICTION

Chapter 9
Tiger Verdict

The Minister of Political Affairs stood up from his seat when Vasnatha Velautham was escorted before him. “Madam Vasantha Velautham, do come in. I’m very glad you decided to accept my invitation to come to Kilinochchi. Please,” he said, waving his hand at one of the chairs, “take a seat.”
The portly Principal heaved a sigh of relief at the Minister’s affable greeting. She sat down in her chair as hope rose up in her breast. She tried to ignore the soldiers who now stood behind the Smiling Minister glaring at her. At least the Minister was smiling—but then he always seemed to be smiling. Maybe he would apologize and admit that the entire affair had been a mistake. So hoping, a smile of her own rose to her lips.
“I’m sorry for having had to order you to come here, Madam. I also wish to apologize for the delay in meeting with you. I had a very urgent matter to attend to.”
“Thank you very much, Sir.” The Principal’s gaze was drawn to the huge portrait of His Royal Highness taken when he was a younger man. She had seen two others much like it in the hallway outside.

“Thank you, for coming. Your respect for us has been noted.”
“Could I have some water, please?”
The Minister looked over his shoulder at Paari. The soldier cleared her throat and put a smile on her lips. “Of course,” she said respectfully. “We are at your service.” She produced a bottle of mineral water and handed it to the parched Principal.
So thirsty was she, that Vasantha drank the entire bottle in one long gulp. She thanked them for the water and looked expectantly at the Smiling Minister. She hoped the business would not take too long as she needed to get her brother back home.
“Shall we discuss the regrettable incident that happened at your college?”
“Yes, Minister. I can tell you that—”
“Yo!” snapped the soldier named Tolli. “You address him as Honorable Minister!”
The girls growled like wild tigers. Their eyes glared dangerously and it was only then that the Principal noticed that one of the female soldiers had only one eye. The older woman jerked back at the growling sound and suddenly began to sweat. She began to pray to God to guide her. Suddenly, the friendly smile on the Minister’s face seemed to take on a much more sinister look. She envisioned herself tied to a light pole and then shot by a soldier. Oh Lord! Protect me!
The Minister’s smile never wavered, although he did wag his walking stick in front of the fearful Principal’s eyes. “Stand up, you—Principal! You don’t deserve to sit in my presence. It was your job to control your students, and in this, you failed miserably. No country on the planet would dare treat us as your students, your staff…and you did! Not even the US or the UK! And here, among our own people, I find a bunch of girls who disgrace us. The Tiger neither smiles nor apologizes…nor forgets or retreats. The Tiger only seeks revenge. You should know this, because you are a damned thing. Are you prepared to reap what you sowed?”
Tears sprung to her eyes and her body began to quake in fear. “Honorable Minister, you must understand. I had no way of knowing what would happen. I was as shocked as you! I’m innocent of any wrong doing. I would never participate in something so malicious. Never!”
“You should have stopped it then,” the Minister roared, as he slammed his hand down on his desk causing a glass of water to jump perilously near the edge of the desk. “You just leaned against the back wall the entire time…enjoying the show! You never even tried to keep your students in line!”
“I was trying to figure out who was behind it. I couldn’t stop it until I knew who was behind it! How could I stop it if the paramilitary or the army were the principle parties instigating the riot?”
“They weren’t,” the Minister hissed.
“They weren’t?”
“No they weren’t. We know this to be a fact.” He drummed his fingers on his desk. “Why didn’t you send your Vice Principal to keep the students in line?”
“I—I couldn’t’ find her…” She trailed off and then tried again, “The students respect her more than they do me. But I…I—”
“You really are a clueless idiot, aren’t you? Mrs. Shan was one of the individuals behind the riot!”
“We know this. You maybe did not. Priya acted as a coordinator and supervisor to the whole thing. You, you stupid woman, will hear soon that she won’t be available to supervise Vembady students or any other students any more. She deserves a punishment that brings glory to the Tamil Tigers. Even Al Qaeda will brag to the world about who the Tamil Tigers are.”
“I never dreamt Priya would do such a thing! And leave me to pay for her sin!”
“Leave that bloody conspirator, Priya, out of this. Why didn’t you send the Head Prefect to control the students? Isn’t she an influential figure among the girls?”
“Sir, I—I couldn’t find her either!”
“She was in on it too.”
“Truly?” Vasantha rubbed her hands over her mouth trying to think. “Then they set me up. They put the whole thing in my lap when I didn’t know anything at all about it. You must believe me, Sir!”
“Fool! An apology is too late and wouldn’t fix the problem anyway. You are the Principal, so it falls to you to bear the burden of making it right.”
“I’m sorry!”
“Not enough!”
“Please Sir—”
The Minister’s glare shut her up as effectively as a heavy fist swung at her head would have. “His Royal Highness has already justly heard your case and rendered a verdict.” He picked up a piece of paper and sat back to read:
“‘Mrs. Vasantha Velautham, Principal of Vembady Girls’ College, you being the head of the most renowned girls’ college in the northeastern provinces, I have decided to be gracious. Being innocent of and not being involved in the riot that began at your school, I have decided not to punish you too severely. However, a Principal should have her students under control at all times. Your inefficiency and incompetence along with your rather gullible personality does not reflect the professionalism expected from a Principal of such a prestigious college. If you had taken charge, the students would not have rioted and disgraced the Tamil Tigers.
“Though I have reduced your punishment drastically, we still find you culpable and fine you sixteen million rupees. You must pay this fine within the next five weeks. Until this debt is paid, you will be kept in a Class E prison. You will be allowed to have contact with anyone you want, but only once. If you fail to pay the amount after the date specified, you will be transferred to a Class Z prison facility. Your Honda is forfeit since you bought it with the bribes you obtained by unfairly admitting Year 6 students. The Honda cannot be used to pay down your fine.”
The words fell upon the miserable Principal as a crumbling brick building might. She swooned, her eyes rolled up in her head, and she fainted, falling heavily to the floor, unconscious. A loud thump echoed off the walls when she hit the floor.
Tolli jumped around the desk and delivered a tremendous kick to the Principal’s hip. “Get up!” she yelled. The one-eyed soldier shoved Tolli away, but the kick had its effect, and Vasantha opened her eyes, wincing in pain.
The Smiling Minster stood up from his desk and leaned over it to get a better view of the sprawling woman. She looked like a beached whale to his eyes. “Do you have any questions?”
Vasantha picked herself up and leaned against the chair for support. “What is an E class prison?” she asked weakly, fearing the answer.
“E class means you will be locked in isolation for eighteen hours. Afterwards, you will be given a cup of plain tea without sugar in the morning, two spoonfuls of rice and one curry for lunch, and for dinner, you get a loaf of bread with sambol but without salt. You will get a bucketful of water every three days—I suggest you be conservative with it. Once a day, you may visit the latrine though you must clean it when ordered.”
The Principal gripped the edge of her chair as hard as she could lest she faint again. She couldn’t believe the terrible conditions of an E class prison!
With an evil grin, the Smiling Minister continued, “I probably ought to explain what a Z Class prison is too. For one week, you will be treated well. You’ll get ten milk hoppers in the morning, one plantain, and a cup of milk or coffee with ample sugar. Non-vegetarians are entitled to mutton and fish curry. Being that you are a vegetarian, however, you will be given lots of rice and five different vegetable curries and fruit. Dinner will consist of ten stringhoppers, two curries, sothy, and sambol. You can have access to the well, have a daily bath, and use the latrine whenever you wish.”
The Principal blinked, thinking that she would rather go to the Z class prison instead! But the sudden feral grin that the Minister gave her quickly dispelled that notion.
The Minister continued, “On the final day, your eyes will be covered with a piece of black cloth. You will be taken to a prescribed location—one chosen by His Royal Highness—probably out front of your college. There you will be tied to a light pole and a board placed by your feet proclaiming you to be a Traitor to the Tamil Tigers’ freedom war. The specific sense never varies. Then we’ll shoot you twice in the forehead.”
Those words froze the terrified Principal to the chair. She could hardly breathe. She couldn’t think. Three words escaped her lips. Three words that she and every Hindu made use of thousands and thousands of times during their life time. Three words that prisoner after prisoner had uttered in this very room.
“It’s my fate!”
The Smiling Minister only smiled larger and waved for his guard detail to escort the Principal out. “And take her jewelry,” he snapped as they neared the door. Grinning, Tolli stripped the Principal of her precious jewelry. Vasantha suffered the indignation without protest.
The first thing she noticed once she exited the building, limping badly from the kick to her hip, was that her car was also gone. Her brother sat despondently on the same hard bench she had waited upon earlier. They gave her a few minutes to talk to him, although the soldiers hovered nearby keeping a wary eye on their prisoner.
Her brother wheezed sharply as she came up to him. Tears once again began to flow at the sight of him, and she couldn’t contain her sobs. “Why are you crying?” Haran asked as soon as she sat next to him.
“Everything is over for me. They are throwing me into prison.”
“What? What did you say?”
“They blame me for the incident at the college. They claim that my character is flawed and that it was the reason for the students’ turmoil.”
“There’s more to it than that, isn’t there?” he asked solemnly. “I know them. What else did they say?”
“I have to pay sixteen million rupees. I’ve got five weeks to come up with the money or they plan to execute me as a traitor.”
Haran’s wheezing grew worse, his eyes wide and angry. His labored breathing became so bad that he couldn’t speak past the phlegm in his throat. It was just as well, Vasantha didn’t think she could bear to hear him talk right now.
“Sell my house and everything in it,” she went on. “The shop we rent out, sell it too. Call Maithily and tell her everything. Maybe my daughter can do something from Australia. She’ll need to help raise the money.”
Her brother suddenly clutched at his chest, trying to breathe and fell off the bench, his eyes practically bulging from his head. Vasantha scrambled down beside him. “Get help!” she screeched. “We need a doctor!”
One of the soldiers laughed as if it were all a good joke. Paari, however, shook her head and flicked a finger at one of the other soldiers who scrambled away. Vasantha saw none of it. She kept yelling and trying to help her brother whose face she could see, even in the darkness, was turning blue.
Finally an ambulance, its siren screeching loudly, pulled to a stop nearby and the medical personnel shoved the Principal aside to work on her brother. Haran gasped and held a hand out towards her which one of the nurses promptly shoved back down.
Tolli came over and grabbed Vasantha by the arm. “It’s time to go.”
“But my brother—”
“There is nothing you can do. It’s time to go.”
“What trick is fate playing on me now,” she said, mostly to herself.
Tolli heard it and jerked the older woman around to face the female soldier. “The only trick is the one you created for yourself. You think you are the elite, better than the rest of us.” She nodded to Vasantha’s brother. “This is a result of how you lived your life.” She gave another vicious pull. “Come on!”
Helplessly, the Principal was dragged away. She kept looking over her shoulder until the medical personnel put Haran in the ambulance. She knew where they were taking him. The government run hospital in Kilinochchi was controlled by the Tamil Tigers although its funding came from the Sri Lanka government. Vasantha thought it ironic that the Sri Lankan government wanted to project an image of solidarity so badly that they sent money to the very people they were trying to eliminate.
She was thrown into the back of a black van with the windows similarly blacked out. She never saw the route that took her to the prison, but at one point the driver slammed on the breaks, nearly throwing the Principal against the wall of the van. She heard the driver whisper, “A herd of elephants is crossing the road.”
Disturbed by the van’s bright lights and upsetting sound of an engine, a young elephant stood in the middle of the road, put its trunk up in the air in the form of a question mark and trumpeted loudly, causing everyone except the driver to squirm uncomfortably. “Will that angry creature come and charge the van?” someone asked.
“No. Don’t be afraid. They’ll move to the other side eventually.”
After the massive animals moved aside, the van continued on its way, bouncing jarringly along the dirt road. The Principal could only guess at the water reservoirs and thick jungle they were passing through. When the back of the van did open, the incredibly bright lights from spotlights flooded the area, bringing sharp pain to her eyes.
“Yo! Get down, Principal,” ordered Paari. She snapped off a couple of other orders that had her squad scurrying around to fulfill her wishes.
A rather fat guard wearing dark clothing and with a handgun pointed in her direction pointed to the ground outside. The Principal hesitated until the fat man scowled deeply and his hand tightened on his pistol. Scared, she scrambled out of the van and stood shaking in the bright lights of the prison compound.
A ten foot high fence topped with barbed wire surrounded the twenty acre compound. Razor wire ran along the fence every six inches to discourage any climbing whatsoever. Giant rolls of the barbed wires were piled against the outside of the fence so even if someone could scale it, they would be forced to jump to their deaths. At every corner, a sentry tower rose from the ground to about seven feet in height.
Four distinct buildings lay in a neat pattern within the sandy courtyard. These were, she supposed, the cells. Indeed, the bright lights revealed to her some of the prisoners. Many of the dejected prisoners wore heavy iron rings around their ankles which in turn were welded to a short chain that ran between them. This made running incredibly difficult.
Tolli shoved the older woman ahead of her until they reached one of the buildings and an empty cell. Shoving her charge inside, Tolli slammed the door shut, locked it, and turned away with another disgusted snort.
Vasantha’s new home looked to be no bigger than a six by five foot cell. Three of the sides were simple cement walls without windows. An iron chain lay in a pile, fixed firmly to the back wall. The door itself had a small window with one inch thick iron bars running up and down. Small holes in the asbestos roof provided the only other source of ventilation.
The room itself gave off a foul odor of urine and human excrement. There was an ugly small plastic pan in a corner. The floor crawled with snails and long black leeches. Mosquitoes and flies buzzed constantly and covered much of the walls and floor.
Her heart sinking ever so lower, she looked for a place to sleep while slapping at the mosquitoes already biting her available flesh. Her hip ached, and she doubted she could even lie down comfortably.

Without warning, all the lights went off, plunging her into darkness. 

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