Haran Kandiah sat on the narrow bench that lay within the shadow of an ironwood tree, the Ministry of Political Affairs before him. He wanted to see his sister again.
He coughed once and then craned his neck to look down the road, hoping to see his niece’s rented car approaching from
the capital of Colombo .
had arrived in Dr. Maithily Rooban
from Sri Lanka
the previous day, so Australia
expected her along soon. Haran
Squad leader Paari and her troops marched by and the one named Tolli ran over to him smiling widely. “Good morning, sir! We know that you are here to take your sister home today! She’s fine and expecting your arrival eagerly.” Her smile got even wider, and
almost thought it looked a bit sardonic. “She is so happy that she is singing cinema
songs! Well, good bye, sir!” She threw one more mocking smile his way and
dashed off to rejoin her squad. Haran
arrived, the pair of them walked to the Ministry of Political Affairs. The
Smiling Minister was waiting for them with his patent smile and beady eyes that
scrutinized them minutely. “Haran Kandiah and Dr. Maithily ,
please come in and take a seat.” Dr. Maithily
“We’ve come to pay the fine for
Valautham ’s niece announced. “Here are two
certified checks totaling sixteen million rupees.” Haran
The Minister took the checks and scrutinized them for an agonizingly long time. “These seem to be in order,” he pronounced.
“Honorable Minister,” Maithily put in, “I just want to tell you that I am an ardent supporter of the Tamil Tigers. I contribute $300 US dollars every month and I always participate in all rallies and functions in
The Minister nodded without losing his smile. “Yes, Madam, we know this. You do your duty well, and we are indebted to you and the rest of the Tamil Diaspora. I pray that you will instruct your mother to follow a similar course.” The Smiling Minister turned to regard Paari. “Fetch
You know what to do.” Vasnatha
Paari left with her squad.
The Minister motioned towards the door. “You may wait outside. Squad Leader Paari will bring her to you.”
Four hours later, the worried pair was still waiting. They alternately paced around and sat on the narrow bench beneath the ironwood tree. Finally, Maithily threw her hands in the air. “Mama! What is the delay?”
“Maybe they have a long way to go to get her,”
answered softly, his gaze resting on some distant point. Haran
His niece turned to regard him curiously. “Mama, you look depressed. Is everything okay? Is auntie okay?”
“She’s fine,” he assured her. “She’s always looking out for me like I was a little child. She is such a wonderful, amazing woman.” He sighed and the little speech only created more confusion for his niece who didn’t know why he needed to say all that.
“You’re hiding something from me,” she accused him softly. She moved near and placed a hand on his arm. “Tell me what it is.”
“There is nothing. My sister is coming home. Why should I be depressed? Look at me. I’m as happy as a dancing peacock.”
Maithily looked doubtful, but in the face of her mother’s impending return, she let the matter drop.
Meanwhile, Paari’s squad of soldiers had reached the prison and drug the filthy and stinking Principal from her cell. They propped the woman up next to the well and began dumping buckets of water over her head—her first bath since her arrival. One of the female soldiers lathered shampoo into her matted and grimy hair, and another began applying soap to the rest of her naked body. Paari cut the Principal’s fingernails, and still another soldier went to look for some new clothing to put on the emaciated Principal.
After they finished, Paari stood back and looked over her handiwork. She nodded. “Good enough. Get her dressed.”
With a new set of clothes, washed hair and body, Vasantha was practically tossed into a new life.
They took the Principal to a waiting jeep where Paari sprayed jasmine perfume all over the silk sari and blouse. “Got to get you prettied up for your brother and daughter,” she said with a wink.
Back at the Ministry of Political Affairs,
had had enough. “Something went wrong,” he growled. “I suspect foul play.” Haran
Maithily gasped and shook her head. “Don’t even think of such things!” she scolded.
“You can’t trust the Tamil Tigers!”
“They’re not better than the filthy paramilitary soldiers—traitors all of them!”
“You are part of the Tamil Dispora”
argued. “You don’t know what is really going on around here. Your mother’s
Vice-Principal, Piriya Shan, was abducted by the Tamil Tigers. No one even
knows where she is now…or even if she is alive.” He decided not to tell her of
the rumors of the body found in a lagoon. Haran
The argument came to an abrupt end when a Pajero jeep pulled up about a hundred meters away. Maithily grabbed her uncle’s arm. “Mama! Look there!”
“Why are all the soldiers standing around her?”
“I don’t know.”
started to move
towards the jeep then. He needed to get to his sister. He needed to see that
she was okay. Haran
“Wait,” Maithily called after him. “It’s not mom. That is someone else. That woman has milk white hair. Mom’s hair is black, isn’t it?”
“It is,” he confirmed, staring towards the jeep.
Indeed, the woman looked nothing like his sister. This woman was skinny, where his sister was a sturdy woman—overweight even. The soldiers grabbed the woman’s arms and helped her to walk as they drew near to the waiting pair.
“Here is your mother,” Paari announced when they got close enough.
“My mother?” Maithily asked uncertainly.
“Yes. This is her.”
Maithily’s face darkened with anger. “What trick is this? Where is my mother! I demand you bring my mother to me right now!”
“Madam Doctor, this is your mother!”
This was her mother.
“Mother,” she breathed, moving very close and reaching out to touch the fragile creature before her. The broken woman didn’t even react to the touch. “Mother? Mother!” she began to wail brokenly, flinging herself upon her mother, trying to gather her in and protect her. She wailed and screamed her anger, and a flock of parrots, startled by the sudden noises, scattered from the trees.
The squad of soldiers, their work finished, left, congratulating themselves on a job well done.
Maithily had brought two drivers with her in the rented van. These two men helped to move the former Principal into the van and made her as comfortable as possible.
waved goodbye to
his sister, tears still streaming down his face. Haran
“Mama,” his niece called, her voice hoarse from crying. “Come with me to
Things are too bad here.” Australia
“You can’t take both me and your Auntie,” he said softly, shaking his head. “We’ll need to stay here. Don’t worry about us. Everything will be alright.”
“Are you sure?”
He hesitated. “Please take care of my sister and let her know that I love her very much.”
“I will,” she promised.
When Haran Kandiah arrived home later that evening, he carried a shopping bag in one hand. His wife playfully snuck a peek inside and stopped when she saw its contents, confusion filling her eyes.
“Why do you have a roll of nylon rope?” Malar asked.
“It’s a gift for
Lieutenant ,” he
answered seriously. “He will be coming tomorrow morning at to collect the taxes.” He smiled. “I plan
to tie him to the mango tree in the front yard.” Kannady
Malar frowned, and wrung her hands. “Don’t joke like that. Did you ask Maithily about helping with the taxes?”
“Of course I did,” he lied.
knew perfectly well that his niece had beggared herself to scrape up the rest
of the money to free her mother. Even if she had the money, it couldn’t
possibly get to them in time. “She’ll send us the full amount as soon as she
reaches Haran .” Sydney
“That’s a relief,” she said, and indeed a great weight seemed to lift off of his wife’s shoulders. “And the Lieutenant will wait until the money gets here?”
“He will. That’s why he’s coming tomorrow morning, to make arrangements.”
“Yes! I made your favorite dish—stringhoppers and sothy.”
They began having their meal happily. They talked of old times, reminisced about their dreams and plans for the future, and in general, just loved being around each other.
Soon enough, it was time for bed and his dear, sweet wife fell into a deep, peaceful sleep almost immediately. Her snores sounded like music to his ears.
He got up without disturbing her and stared down at her for a long time, tears once again pouring down his checks and blurring his vision. His heart ached and felt like it would burst at any moment.
Leaving home, he went down to the nearby temple and stood at the entrance for some time, sobbing and praying. He picked up jasmine flowers that worshipers had dropped on the steps and returned home, placing the fragrant flowers around the sleeping form of his wife. He stood there for another long time, praying for her, and praying for himself—but mostly for her.
Taking a deep breath, his eyes firming in determination, he went into the kitchen and retrieved a long knife. He returned to his wife, kissed her gently on the forehead for the last time, and aimed the knife at the soft skin around his wife’s neck.
That part of the job finished, he hurriedly grabbed the nylon rope from the bag and went out onto the veranda, a stool in hand. Throwing the rope over a sturdy branch, he tied it off to just the right height. Climbing onto his stool, he put his neck in the noose and pulled it tight against his adam’s-apple. Closing his eyes, he whispered one final prayer and then kicked the stool out from underneath him.
At sharp on
February 10th, 2006, Lieutenant opened
Haran Kandiah’s gate and let himself into the compound. He came prepared to
collect either the full amount in taxes or to take Kannady into custody. He really didn’t care
which. Either would satisfy him. Haran
One of the three soldiers flanking him spotted the hanging body first and cried out, pointing. Kannady came to an abrupt halt as he looked at the blackened and bloated face of
coursed through his veins, making his face turn red. “You devilish brute!” he
yelled, shaking his fist at the uncaring body. “You think you have cheated me?
I’ll get the tax money out of your wife even if I have to skin her and sell her
stinking hide to get it!” Haran
Kannady rushed into the house thinking to catch Malar before she could flee the house, but when he entered the bedroom he found that
had cheated him yet again. There, in a large pool of blood, lay Malar’s body,
her throat cut cleanly. A small smile on her still face, mocked the Tamil
Tiger’s impotent wrath. Haran
A call on his phone interrupted his musings. “Yes?” he demanded.
“Sir,” the voice replied, and Kannady recognized one-eyed Seetha’s voice. “There is bad news in today’s Uthayan newspaper.”
“What news?” he asked reluctantly, not really wanting to hear anything else.
“Sir, Perhaps it would be better if I read it to you,” she replied. Kannady could hear the anger in her voice.
“Vembady Girls’ College student, Mehala the Head Prefect, and a history teacher,
who were both involved in the uprising against the Minister of Political
Affairs—presumed to have drowned in the Kavitha Karunanithy Palk Strait—are
alive. The Indian Navy claims to have rescued a small boat struggling through
dangerous waves and a heavy north-east monsoon wind. The boat was being pursued
by the Tamil Tigers’ Navy, the Indian Navy reported, and the Tamil Tigers could
only watch as Indian sailors rescued the small crew. Both women have been taken
to one of the refugee camps in Tamil Nadu, a southern Indian state.”
“This is another disgrace,” Kannady complained, eyeing the cloudy sky and the many crows cawing gravely up in the air flying round the mango tree.
Just then the northeast monsoon torrential downpour started soaking him. Irritated all the more, he stomp
ed his way out of the compound and to his jeep where
his subordinates already huddled inside to avoid the rain.
About that same time,
, looked out the large
window of his luxurious hotel room. He studied the City of Professor
Rajaguru , the capital of Colombo ,
absently. A good portion of the ornate style window was taken up with the
endless Sri Lanka Indian Ocean. A tropical morning cool breeze from the open doors soothed his mind as he prepared to
take his leave. He would have gone to the previous week, had he paid
the amount he promised to the paramilitary group. He stayed until he got the necessary
money to settle their due. He moved into the guest room. Malaysia
“Sir, taxi is ready to go to the airport. Shall I take the suit cases down?” The room attendant enquired submissively.
nodded; he turned his
head and smiled at the paramilitary group leader and his subordinates waiting
there. They were the persons, wearing dark clothes and masks, kidnapped Sendhoory
Rajaguru ’s celebrated house to
take her to Colmbo via Sivathalam
Avarankal . Palay
Rajaguru took out a briefcase and handed it over to the grizzled, hard featured leader of the paramilitary group. “Six million rupees, as agreed—in cash. Sorry for the delay. I got it last night.” Rajaguru declared.
The black clad solider cracked the case and took a lengthy look inside. “This completes our agreement,” he said satisfied.
“Thank you,” Rajaguru said sincerely. “My daughter would be dead or worse now if you hadn’t rescued her.”
The man nodded shortly in agreement.
Sendhoory, wearing a strawberry pink salwar kameez dress and a brown hand bag hanging over one shoulder, stepped past her father and looked at the group leader in the eye. “Yes, thank you.” Her golden snowflake earrings caught the light just right making it look like her ears sparkled.
The group leader studied her, looking at her two long braids draped down the front of her dress, and the diamond studded pendant necklace, and saluted the girl. He admired this girl, not for her riches, but for her bravery in standing up to the Tamil Tigers at her school—The Vembady Girls’ College. “I pride myself on your fighting against the globe’s deadliest terrorist, His Royal Highness, the Tamil Tiger. Go with God,” he said. “Thank you, leader. I will ever be grateful to you. I'm lost for words right about now.” Turning, the group leader left the room with his team.
Sendhoory looked at her father and flashed him a dazzling smile. “I am ready to go to
With those words, the History Teacher’s brightest student, picked up her doll, Homer the stuffed beagle dog, and stepped forth into freedom.
CFA Cease Fire Agreement, 2002.
cadjan braided leaf of coconut used for thatching roofs and cover fences to obstruct
people peeping into house compounds
Class Low class and High class.
society is divided into low caste and high Jaffna
caste. Instead of the term caste, class is used in the novel.
College Schools that are famous and have classes up to Year 13 that prepare students
to enter universities. Colleges in
cannot be compared to colleges in the Jaffna
EPDP Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party—a paramilitary group/earlier insurgents
EPRLF Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front--- a paramilitary group/earlier
G.C.E. General Certificate of Education – Ordinary Level/ Advanced Level (
IPKF Indian Peace Keeping Force. An accord was made between the Prime
make peace in the North and East of Sri Lanka by bringing to a halt the Civil
War between the Sri Lankan forces and the Tamil insurgents, including the
KKS Kankesanthurai, a town on the north of
kondai bun like hair do
koorai It is a strip of unstitched expensive silk cloth draped over the body at
wedding. It is usually red in colour and 4 to 9 meters in length.
lacham: Measurement of lands.—16 lachams equals to 1 acre.
LTTE Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers)--- an insurgent/militant
Mama Tamil term for uncle.
Markandeyar One legend relates the story of how God Shiva protected sixteen years
old sage Markandeyar from the clutches of death, personified as Yama. He lived
M.P. Member of Parliament
PLOTE Peoples’ Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam--- a paramilitary group/earlier
Ponku Tamil – This is an annual celebration introduced by the Tamil Tigers in order
to promote their organization’s and their leader’s prestige.
pottu It is a dot of red/black/violet/tan color applied in the center of the forehead close to the upper part of the nose. Married ladies apply two violet pottus one between the eyebrows on the forehead and the other up on the edge of hair on head.
salwar kameez: It is a unisex dress similar in manner to shirt and pants worn by westerners.
Sangam: Sangam means assembly that was the cause for the rise of numerous
classical literature books in Tamil Nadu,
South India including Sri Lanka
from 3rd century
BCE to 3rd
sari A traditional garment--akin to Japanese kimono--worn by Tamil women. It is a strip of unstitched cloth draped over the body. It is usually 4 to 9 meters in length.
Tamil Eelam: The name given by the Tamil insurgents to the independent state
which they aspire to create in the north and east of Sri Lanka. It means Tamil
TELO Tamil Eelam Lineration Organisation--- a paramilitary group/earlier insurgents
thaali a golden necklace tied around the bride’s neck by the groom on the wedding
day. Until his demise the bride wears it.
TULF Tamil United Liberation Front. The main political party of which former
was the Secretary
umbilical cord relations – This is a phrase used by the leader of the Tamil Tiger
outfit to denote that Tamils are related to one another like brothers and sisters.
UTHR University Teachers Human Rights Organiasation (Jaffna). It is a local
organaisation that documented Human Rights violations in
. Sri Lanka
Vanni It is an administrative region. It was under control of the Tamil Tigers.
Kilinochchi wass the capital of Vanni.
there are unly 2
social classes called high caste and low-caste. Jaffna
Vellalar belongs to high caste.
verty traditional garment worn by Tamil men. A long unstitched white piece of cloth wrapped around the lower part of the body.
white sari – Tamil widows traditional garment. A cultural symbol showing they have