24 November 2011

'Kade Aiya' won the war for us

Actress and screenwriter Jenny Lumet, writing about her grandmother Lena Horne, made the following observation: ‘There are people who do their thing, and they pick up the nation. And when they’re done, we’re all in a different place. They move us along whether they know it or not.’

A year ago there was much agitation about who deserves credit for defeating the LTTE.  The focus of course was on the big names.  That’s natural.  Moments of victory spawn paternity suits.  Troops fight and they must fight for wars to be won.  They will not fight if they are not sent to battle and cannot win battles if not adequately prepared.  Politicians send men and women to the battlefield but that decision is significantly impacted on public will.  Public will does not fall from the sky. It is systematically nurtured. 

There was a time when it was believed the LTTE cannot be defeated. That notion was crafted by pro-LTTE, pro-federalist ideologues who managed to cosy up to the highest in the land at the time.  That erroneous and perniciously crafted view had to be defeated not with gun and bullet but superior ideas that were more effectively argued. Those fathers who brought forth idea and nurtured were not talked of at the time of grabbing bragging rights.  They did not claim nor complain.  They just did their thing.

Some fathers are known even if their roles are not acknowledged. Some did their thing without fanfare in the everydays of their lives.  They even watched the celebrations and cheered as though they are the happy recipients of the fruits of others’ labours.  ‘Kade Aiya’ was one such man.

Kade Aiya was not Kade Aiya before he set up his small retail store in Galkissa but we will come to that later.  I lived for a year and a half in Galkissa and Kade Aiya’s shop was at the top of the lane.  That’s where I went to get the newspaper, sugar, tea, eggs etc on most mornings.  Kade Aiya was made of smiles and good humour. He had opinions which he expressed without malice.  He knew what he had to sell and put profit after customer satisfaction. For example, he would forego the few rupees extra he might earn by selling Product 1 if he thought Product 2 was better value for the customer’s money.  He suggested, never insisted.

He was not a busybody or a gossip but he not only knew all his regular customers but put like-thinking people in touch with one another.  If someone complained of any ailment, he would recommend a doctor-customer, for example.  He knew their names and they got to know each others’ names. The man who did all this was always ‘Kade Aiya’, even to those who were much older to him and those young enough to be his grandchildren. 

Kade Aiya knew I wrote to newspapers.  He quickly figured out where I stood on important issues and finding a lot of commonality spoke freely about all kinds of matters, particularly political affairs.  ‘Mamath karanne maadya vedak!’ (I am also engaged in media work) he admitted once.

He argued very astutely that there is no such thing as neutrality in journalism.  He knew that there is politics in choice of lead story, the wording of the headline, privileging of certain columnists and opinions.  He was convinced that the LTTE should be and can be militarily defeated.  He knew which papers supported this position and which consciously tried to subvert it. He would market the newspapers that supported his position and even point to particular articles when handing over the paper to the customer.  He sold other newspapers, yes, but would on occasion suggest to the customer that other papers were better. He never had such papers on top of the pile.  He was being political in much the same way as most editors and media institutions are. He was a father, in much the same way that Dr. Nalin De Silva was a father of the military victory over the LTTE and the ideological triumph of Eelamists, some masquerading as rights advocates, political analysts and academics. 

Kade Aiya brought people together and he nurtured goodness by his generosity. Kade Akka told me last night that her husband was wont to collect all kinds of things (for example the tops of soda bottles) that school children may need.  She said that there were numerous occasions when people came to their house after he had closed shop to ask for something needed for some school project.  He always had something to give.  Kade Aiya was a solidarity builder who did his thing quietly. 

Kade Aiya died a few days ago.  His wife was amazed that a simple owner of a roadside shop (it was so tiny that few would notice it from a passing vehicle) was known and loved by so many.  He did his thing and in the process picked up the nation. We are all in a different place thanks to what he did.  Thanks to his tribe, he might have added. 

Kade Aiya’s name was Ratnasiri Gammanpila.  That’s a name no one who had the privilege of stopping at his shop to buy a newspaper or some sugar would know or remember. Kade Aiya would take some forgetting though.  Like the nation. Hard to let go. It is part of us.  Kade Aiya too.  Part of who I am.  And so many others too. He moved us all along. Towards victory.