07 March 2012

Facets of 'tragedy' in post-conflict Sri Lanka

These are days of self-righteous chest-beating and bleeding-heart humanitarianism about the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka and allegations about wrongs done them by Sri Lankan security forces.  These are days of selectivity and myopia, days of doubled-tongued rhetoric of those who never suffered but indeed funded, hurrahed, armed and in other ways were accessories after the facts of death, destruction, displacement and dismemberment.  These are therefore days to flip the proverbial coin.  'The other side', so to speak, looks like this.....

Blessed are the children, for they will not be snatched

Someone once proposed that when the first child smiled for the very first time, the smile would have broken into a thousand pieces, gone skipping along in a thousand different directions and that this was the beginning of fairies.  I am thinking today of a different ‘first child,’ a child whose first smile brought tears to the eyes of fond parents; happy tears and terrified ones too.  That was a smile, which in their eyes, would soon break into a thousand pieces that would never be put together again, a smile whose owner would be forced to carry gun and grenade, ordered to maim and kill and open him/herself to the real possibility of violent death. 

There are all kinds of children.  I know of 22 lucky children and two lucky teachers.  On December 18, 2006, LTTE cadres stormed into a tuition class in Thirukkovil and took these lucky people away. They were lucky because unlike the 23rd child, they were all released because the child-snatchers had slipped up.   

One of the teachers described the incident thus: ‘I was preparing these children for the O/L examination, which they had to sit the following day.  Three LTTE cadres forced themselves into the class and said they came for the children. When I objected, they slapped me in the face, put a grenade in my mouth and assaulted me like an animal with a club.  My fellow teacher was similarly assaulted. We were all bundled into a vehicle, the LTTE cadres beating the children, both boys and girls.’

They were tied in pairs and forced to march into the Kanjikaidichi Aru jungle.  They were lucky, because they were released.  Except that unfortunate Student No 23, to this day just a number with no name, like thousands of other children that the LTTE forcibly conscripted. 

That same day, though, the LTTE had accosted some 300 students in Kawanchikudi and Kaludewala, who were returning home after the exam. It was a ‘join us’ demand.  They were warned that refusal would result in reprisals. Many of the students had fled their homes in fear.  They were the lucky ones. 

Thousands upon thousands were unlucky. They were snatched from their adoring parents, trained to kill and expected to be killed.  Some lived long enough to reach 18 and official adulthood, many died without a childhood.  Even in the last stages of the battle, the LTTE strapped explosives to a child’s body and asked him to mingle with those who were fleeing LTTE-controlled areas. He was tasked to explode himself when he reached the Sri Lankan troops helping the fleeing civilians. 

Exams didn’t stop the LTTE.  Christmas was good for recruitment. Pongal too.  Children were kidnapped on the 1st of June every year, and it does not matter whether or not the kidnappers knew it was ‘International Children’s Day’.  They were abducted on the 20th of November every year. Yes, it doesn’t matter whether or not the abductors knew it was ‘Universal Children’s Day’, as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1954.

Every day was ‘children’s day’ as far as the LTTE’s child-snatching units were concerned. Every day was hell for both child and parent.  As of January 31, 2006, the UNICEF recorded a total of 5368 known cases of under-age recruitment.  In the first five years in which the Ceasefire Agreement was ‘in operation’ alone there were over 5000 such cases reported, some even as young as 7 years of age!  It is known that LTTE offices as well as the offices of the notorious TRO (Tamil Rehabilitation Organization) were used as recruitment centres; the TRO received a whopping US $ 6,850,000 to ‘rehabilitate child soldiers’.  .  It is known that only a fraction of the cases actually got reported.  It is known that refugee camps for the tsunami displaced were the happy hunting grounds as far as the child-snatchers were concerned.  When 300 LTTE combatants were found dead after the security forces overran the LTTE in Weli Oya, the vast majority were found to be children, mostly girls.  

Today children in the North and East of this country go to school.  They know they’ll go home after school and that their parents will be there to welcome them.  Their parents know that their sons and daughters will be home for lunch.  It’s ‘Universal Children’s Day’ in the formerly LTTE-controlled areas. Every day. 

Two years have passed since the LTTE was vanquished.  Had the outcome been different what kind of expression would we find in child and parent in these areas, have you wondered?  What kind of tear or smile would grace the countenance of a mother who has just given birth and upon a man who has just become a father?  Would smile and tear break into a thousand pieces and if they do would they turn into fairies or gargoyles, be lifted by angels or by thugs? What kind of cut-paste would follow, have you asked yourself? 

A child then was potential gun-toting killer, a cog in a military wheel, cannon fodder, and factored in the mindless equations of the ‘liberator’ as disposable.  A child today once epitomizes innocence, vulnerability, hope and the future. 

On February 22, 2007, the fifth anniversary of the CFA, I wrote, ‘[This] horror story demands closure; the monster that delivers nightmares to innocent children has to be laid to rest’.

There are thousands of children who would not be going to school or indeed going anywhere had a different outcome materialized.  They would be dead, most likely.  Thousands more would be on virtual death row, courtesy the LTTE.  Some were unlucky. 

Some are blessed and that’s cause for relief if not celebration.

Back then smiles broke into nightmares. Today, they can break into thousands and thousands of flowers. Back then, smiles were not associated with hope. Today they reflect a future. 

I know that thousands of parents in the North and East sleep better these days.  I do too.

Blessed are daughters who are not forced to bed with their fathers
Everyone living in Sri Lanka, including foreigners, be they tourists, business persons, professionals, volunteers, students, INGO employees, diplomats and other workers in foreign missions and UN personnel (and later, those working for the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission), from 1983 to May 2009 were potential victims to bomb explosions, suicide attacks and other crimes against humanity planned and executed by the LTTE.  Politicians, journalists, academics and artists opposed to the LTTE were high-value targets, as were senior officers in the security forces and the Police.  Needless to say, those in the security forces and Police were especially targeted by the terrorists. 

Those living in threatened villages and Sinhalese and Muslims living in areas that the LTTE believed were ‘exclusive traditional homelands of the Tamil community’ were in a constant state of apprehension. They expected violent death every moment at every turn. 

There was another ‘special’ category: the Tamil civilian.  All things considered, they were the most unfortunate. Hundreds of thousands in this category found themselves residence in the middle of a firefight, frilled with landmines, artillery fire, grenade-tossing and so on.  ‘Wrong place, wrong time’ was an ‘always’ thing and an ‘everywhere’ phenomenon. 

Only they would know; I can only surmise. Some may have identified with the ‘cause’, some not. Some may have seen ‘Sinhala soldier’. Some may have lamented loved ones killed by a soldier who was Sinhalese, never mind if the victim held a gun or carried a grenade. Some may have thought, ‘our boys, right or wrong’. Some not.  But all, not some, lived in a territory where terrorist could drop fatigues, wear sarong and transform from combatant to civilian in a matter of seconds. Most were part of the water which the ‘liberator-fish’ needed, and/or part of the human shield behind which the terrorist took cover, placed heavy weapons and threw grenades.  All, not some, if they were ‘able-bodied’ were fair-game for recruitment. ‘Choice’ was not their comparative advantage. 

Everyone, excluding the absolutely incapacitated, the senile, the infants and the pregnant, were put to use, one way or another.  Or at least sought after.  Some fled. Some could not.  And it got worse when the biggest myth created by the LTTE (invincible) began to come apart.  This was when the LTTE, severely handicapped in terms of human resources, decided that among the young, only pregnant women and women with infants would be spared.

Parents with young daughters of marriageable age were distraught.  There were no men around for them to marry off their daughters to.  No men even to get their daughters pregnant. This is how fathers, out of love for child and fear for her safety, were forced to impregnate their own daughters. 

No, not all such girls had to suffer the horror, humility and desecration of things held sacred from infancy, through childhood, growing up and looked forward to tomorrows.  They all knew, though.  They knew it could happen and they had to make a terrible choice.  Some opted to join the LTTE. 

Through it all, the LTTE claimed it was ‘the sole representatives of the Tamil community’.  Through it all, the LTTE’s proxies in the democratic mainstream, its supporters in the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora and its happy launderers in Colombo, played Ostrich. It was just ‘another of those things’ for such people.  Like the forcible conscription of children. Like ethnically cleansing the Peninsula of Muslims.  Like a thousand other terrible acts which were duly left out of the stories they blurted out to the world. 

For the young girls who never thought a father’s love would push him to commit acts unimaginable, these are all academic.  The resultant scars are invisible. Not recorded. 

That time is gone.  If there were any Tamil father and mother who prayed that such a fate would not befall them, then their prayers have been answered.  Life returns slowly.  Surviving reigns over living. There are men in the villages. Marriageable men. There is love and love-making.  Even under harsh circumstances.  Young girls do not have to look into their fathers eyes, ask from father and self the question that would not be voiced, and wonder whether within those circles made of and for love-gaze, there lurked fear, guilt, anxiety and self-condemnation.

Young girls do not have to worry whether there will come a time when they have to talk about paternity to their children. 

This was not so in May 2009. And had things not ended the way they did, then there is nothing to say that young girls and their parents and indeed an entire community would not have to contemplate or be horrified by the unthinkable. 

This is May 2011. It is a different country. Different villages. Families can be families, even in the midst of suspicion and doubt. There would be a thousand questions and a million wants for no human being is ever fully satisfied.  There is little to gain, after all, from the consideration of relative merits, one glass of rice-gruel given by the LTTE compared to three cooked meals a day away from gunfire and scream. There would be, I am sure, random moments of thanksgiving, if not uttered as shout or even whisper, echoing in heart and mind.  Not to anyone in particular, perhaps, but in appreciation of a time that is not the time that was. 

This is May 2011. A young girl is, as I write, looking at her father without any question marks hanging over mind and heart. A gaze is being returned, innocent as a new born babe. A wife and a mother is smiling or making a snide remark of someone being someone else’s favourite.  It is not the best of times, but these are better times than days gone by.

Blessed are the Tamil politicians for they can recover their tongues

Power imbalances make for two things: voice and echo.  The degree and nature of the imbalance determines the volume of voice and the throw back compulsion of wall and the distance the echo travels and of course its clarity. Complete servility or a monumental slant in favour of one entity over another gives us a ventriloquist and a dummy. 

For a long time, for all rhetorical claims of them representing the future and reference in fond terms such as ‘boys’, Tamil youth were seen by the Brahmins of Tamil politics, i.e. the Anglicised, mostly Christian, Vellala politicians who either lived in or hailed from Jaffna, as means to an end.  They were add-ons, the energy-givers, the ‘necessary numbers’.  As often happens, though, things did not unfold according to plan.  The baby that was fed with communal poison and whose nails were allowed to grow, clawed and stung the parent.  The creator, by and by, was overpowered by the created.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is the nutshell version of the rise and fall of the TULF and its later avatars, including the ITAK/TNA. 

From Amirthalingam to Sambandan and perhaps, in time, to Sumanthiran, not a whimper of condemnation did the world hear about the atrocities perpetrated by the LTTE.  Not even when key leaders of that party were killed in cold blood.  The perpetrators were referred to (at best) as unidentified gunmen.  There was of course condemnation, followed by a long wail about problems not being addressed and emphatic chest-beating about not being ready to give up the struggle.  It was a script they had to pull out regularly for decades. Until 2004, that is.

The year 2004 saw the formalization of reality; the power imbalance was recognized and acknowledged.  It was put in black and white. There was, thereafter, no need to indulge in shy making or take refuge in tortuous word-twist and punctuation rearrangement.  The Tamil National Alliance, in its election manifesto of 2004, made it abundantly clear that it was Prabhakaran’s mouthpiece. ‘Shame’ was duly abandoned.  Those were the shining days of ignominy. 

Dignity that is squandered takes time to be regained. Two years after the slave driver was taken out of the equation, not enough time seems to have passed for slave to convince himself that the relations of production have been transformed.  Having been echo for so long, it is perhaps difficult to think of ‘voice’ as option.  For tongue to bend to speak of duress, disagreement and articulate condemnation, echo needs to find tongue. The LTTE-echo is getting there and even though the confused sounds that comes out is a throwback to the Square One of the Chelvanayakam Doctrine, ‘A little now, more later’, and continues to treat myth as fact and regurgitates old lies. 

Most importantly, Tamil politicians can now speak the truth and lie of their choice without worrying about being shot dead the next moment.  The LTTE assassinated thousands of Tamils who opposed them.  These included politicians and academics.  Some had known names. Many were names known only to family and friends.  They were unarmed. They weren’t militants. They were not combatants.  They were just peaceful objectors who held different views. 

The TULF/TNA knew what the LTTE could do to the unarmed. They knew what they had done to those who were armed, those who had the guns and had undergone relevant training. The LTTE annihilated the TELO, and rendered ineffective the EPDP, the EPRLF and PLOTE.   It is in this context that the likes of Sambandan and Sumanthiran regularly touched Prabhakaran’s feet in veneration. 

That’s all gone now.  The ITAK/TNA is yet to admit that Prabhakaran was master and it was slave.  On the other hand, they are not interjecting ‘LTTE’ after every other word in the sentences they utter and write.  There is no need now to pay obeisance, no need to acknowledge and salaam, as they were wont to do not too long ago.

Those who have voice can articulate grievance. Those who have voice can confess to error.  The TNA is yet to get there of course, but that which had robbed them of humanity and dignity, the LTTE, is no longer around.  Their servility to anti-intellectualism and penchant for articulating myth belongs to them; they are not Prabhakaran’s proxies any more. 

When the monster spawned by the TULF found voice, the leadership of that party gradually lost their vocal chords. The TULF’s political offspring and heir, the ITAK/TNA was offered the echo-option when the LTTE was vanquished, and they took it.  Today that can legitimately dream of becoming ‘voice’ once again.  I am yet to hear them express appreciation to voice-giver or, let’s say, those who make it possible for echo to be replaced by voice.  Perhaps they lost integrity along with voice. Perhaps they were born without it, who knows? 

All we know is that voice is better than echo, and that those who are able to voice without being asked to voice are truly blessed.

Blessed are those who can walk and those on crutches too

It is now two years since the entire country was liberated from the threat of terrorism.  Slowly but surely, normalcy is returning to this land.  As is prudent in any society that is emerging from a 30-year long conflict the Government has adopted a strategy of phasing out security mechanisms.  ‘Prudent’ on account of the nature of the enemy and the fact that thousands of people associated with the terrorist outfit mingled with those who were not when the security forces finally rescued them. 

One by one, however, the barricades have gone, checkpoints have disappeared, and summary stops gave way to random checks which too became less and less frequent.  We are not completely free of these security measures, but there is certainly reason to feel freer than we were, less on account of the downgrading of these mechanisms than the removal of principal threat. 

Conflicts leave scars, some visible and some not.  There is greater scar-visibility in places where the fighting was most intense, in our case, the Northern and Eastern parts of the country.  This conflict, nevertheless, spilled over the relevant boundaries in many ways.  First, anything and anyone was ‘fair game’ to the LTTE.  The Central Bank was attacked, a President was assassinated, and therefore the point does not require elaboration.  It ‘spilled out’ because those who had to take out the enemy and save fellow-citizens came from all parts of the country.  Economies depended on the salaries of the troops, and their death or maiming caused grief. Yes, some scars are more visible than others. 

We move on, though. As so we should.  That which was damaged gets rebuilt.  The dead are remembered by those they left behind. Grief is not a collective thing. It is personal, regardless of the identity of the dead or the aggrieved; regardless of loyalties and preferred political outcomes.  If we lamented mass slaughter in greater degrees of collectiveness then, we now focus, if at all, on our individual losses.  Here in Colombo, as the city becomes more beautiful by the day, conflict-signs have all but disappeared.

Invisible, however, does not mean ‘non-existent’.  There are times, for example, that we remember, if something triggers reflection.  Today is a day like that, as the second anniversary of war-end is celebrated.  Remembrance came to me in a different way, though.  I saw a young man on crutches. I immediately thought, ‘Johnny Batta’, the name given to the anti-personnel mine that the LTTE buried in their thousands all over the Vanni and which cost hundreds of soldiers their legs. 

I remembered, then, the tireless and dangerous work carried out by the security forces to clear the Vanni of landmines, one square inch at a time, with no map or reliable information about location, those responsible for burying being dead or (naturally) averse to offered guide-services.  My thoughts also went to a day in either April or May 2009.

At that time, the LTTE leadership had decided that it could no longer depend on the support of Tamils living in areas under their control.  The days of volunteering were long gone.  The retreat that began when the LTTE lost Silavathura marked the beginning of comprehensive hostage taking. All civilians had to flee with the LTTE leadership.  As the troops moved relentlessly forward, the LTTE had to increase the speed of retreat. They were hampered by the slow. They knew they could only be as fast as the slowest in the group.  The slowest, naturally, were those who had lost their legs to the very devices the LTTE had planted to stop or delay their pursuers.  There was an easy solution. ‘Easy’ because it was the LTTE that had to come up with it and because the LTTE is what many always knew believed it was.

Some 40 women, all on crutches since they had all lost at least one leg, were ordered to get into a bus.  Then they blew it up.  They were all Tamils; Tamil civilians injured by devices set by terrorists in the name of liberating the Tamil people, terrorists supported by word, action and funds by sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora and whose crimes were regularly whitewashed or responded to with silence by the Tamil national Alliance.  They were all, in one massive flash of fire and brutality unburdened of all scars, visible and invisible. 

We are told to be grateful for small mercies. We are told not to complain about the lack of shoes, because some people don’t have feet.  These are ‘grin and bear’ recommendations. They are not always sourced to a will to subjugate though. 

Right now, I believe those who can walk and dance are blessed.  Thinking of the 40 plus women whose bodies were broken to pieces and who were instantly robbed of the right to dream, I think even those without legs, can feel blessed.   

Blessed are the resilient for they shall protect this land and our children

The days following the elimination of the LTTE leadership were justifiably joyous for a nation that had been plagued and held hostage by terrorism for three decades.  Joy, however, is relative to place and person.  I am thinking about the three hundred thousand plus who were in IDP facilities at the time. 

True, they were no longer being held hostage by a ruthless terrorist outfit that did not think twice about axing limbs of 5-year olds trying to flee or opening fire on the elderly, the pregnant and the sick as thousand (including LTTE cadres) saw perhaps for the first time the true face of the ‘liberator’ and crafted upon that terrible countenance megalomania, revenge-intent and self-preservation.  They had left a diet of one glass of rice gruel a day.  Their children would not be taken from them.  Even if what they arrived at did not have ‘Paradise’ written all over it, they knew they had escaped from hell and hopelessness.

Still, life ‘after’, did not seem rosy in the least.  In the early days, facilities and resources did not match will.  The massive influx proved hard to deal with.  Feeding three hundred thousand people, caring for the sick, bringing together families that had got split in the mad rush out of Prabhakaran’s hell was not an easy task.  The Government and the security forces had to make sure that water and sanitation met minimum standards, even while being hampered by the reality that many among these people were LTTE cadres or sympathetic to their cause and ever conscious of a trigger-happy international community ready to fire accusation mortars their way. 

It was easy, back then, for bleeding heart I/NGO personalities who had bet on the LTTE prevailing over the security forces, to complain about the situation, accuse the Government of running open air prisons, wail about freedom of moment being curtailed etc.  They were lucky.  Un-elected and answerable to no one except those who pumped dollars into their bank accounts, they did not have to deal with logistics associated with the above reality. 

I visited the Menik Farm IDP facility in Cheddikulam in July 2009.  I realized that had it not been for the discipline and structured authority of the Army, things would have been far worse.  The authorities were in constant communication with the I/NGOs and UN agencies that had offered to help but naturally on their terms and not those of these agencies whose track record in helping the LTTE was common knowledge.  By that time, there was order.  The day-to-day was streamlined.  Conditions in these facilities were not ideal, but still better than in some other parts of the country. 

I was impressed by the untiring efforts by the security forces to make sure that everyone had food to eat, that the sick were taken care of, that families were reunited etc.  I was impressed by the volume of relief items that were pouring into the area.  I was impressed by the fact that there were dozens of doctors who had volunteered to work round the clock attending to the sick. 

I remember being horrified by some of the stories these unfortunate people related.  I was impressed that despite all the trials they had been put through, most of them retained their dignity, self-respect and humanity.  Thinking back, I believe that nothing impressed or inspired me more than how these people asserted their will to live and prosper.

I visited all the relief facilities. In each unit, regardless of size and population, I encountered ‘education’.  There were hundreds of teachers among the IDPs and many principals as well.  Naturally, there were thousands of children. Each and every one of them had ‘returned’ to school, so to speak, almost all of them after many months.  The authorities facilitated it all.  The largess of their fellow-citizens and well-meaning non-governmental organization had ensured they would not lack in stationary.  The people themselves, despite all the trauma they had been through and indeed had not yet overcome, had decided that the children must learn, even under the harshest of conditions. 

There were ‘classes’ under the trees and inside tents.  They were organized according to age.  The children were being taught English, Tamil, Mathematics and Science.  Some of the instructors were teachers attached to the Education Department. Some were older students or adults who had been trained in other professions.  I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the teachers and the students.  I remember thinking, ‘this country has reason to hope’. 

That was resilience.  Resilience is what our nation is all about. We’ve suffered enough but have always made sure that the foundation of our civilization has remained intact.  Five hundred years of colonial rule which included the killing of thousands, burning of libraries and destroying of temples, had not succeeded in destroying the faith of the people and their sense of identity.  A tsunami did not demoralize a people into mass suicide. Two insurrections did not see the consecration of anarchy.  A thirty year long war against terrorism had not made embrace among communities impossible. 

No, we are not a people ready to roll over and die, whatever the odds.  In Cheddikulam, the teachers were not unlike teachers elsewhere, teaching under different and far more hospitable circumstances. They were dedicated, disciplined and strict.  Worthy of utmost veneration and admiration.

I have no idea what their ideological preferences are. I don’t know if they identified with the LTTE or with the idea of Eelam. It does not matter. What counts is that they exemplified something beautiful about the human condition: the will to live, to do one’s best, to think and live ‘community’ and ‘solidarity’.  To me, these are the same qualities that those who contributed in whatever way to rid the country of the terrorist menace were endowed with. 

I know we have our identity-preferences, but we also have all that it takes to be a single people. 

Blessed are the rain-makers for they make the earth yield hope

I was not anywhere close to the Nandikadal Lagoon during the last stages of the struggle to save the thousands upon thousands held hostage by the LTTE. In fact the ‘war’ came to me second-hand, i.e. in terms of people I knew who died, the question marks that descended like the monsoon rains and flooded household and sensibility on account of terrorism spilling over ‘contested’ territory and all wrecking everything associated with the word ‘civilization’.  I believe firmly, though, that all nation and all communities are made of roughly the same proportion of crooks, tyrants, sycophants and cowards, and the same percentage, roughly, of kind, compassionate, wise, generous and heroic people.

I was not anywhere close to the Nandikadal Lagoon in May 2009.  I saw footage of people fleeing the LTTE.  I saw them helped by soldiers who were well aware that among the escapees were thousands who were either trained terrorists, had helped them in any number of ways, identified with their objectives and/or saluted their methodologies.  I saw fear and doubt in the eyes of the rescued. There was resignation on some faces, I noticed.  I saw gratitude too.  Relief there was in abundance. Courage and character came undisguised.   And there were blank faces, blank eyes, lips that would not move to smile and brows that did not wrinkle to indicate any sentiment. 

I have no idea of the average sense of fear among those who were later rescued.  I have no idea how such questions as there must have been were resolved or got entrenched in mind and heart.  I can surmise, however, that in those last moments that I did not witness, there would have been hard choices for those who for whatever reason and regardless of ideology or outcome preference wanted out. 

They had to dodge bullets from the would-be liberator, the LTTE, and run into the arms of the purported ‘enemy’, the Sri Lankan security forces. Those with families, had to make split-second decisions about priorities; which child to carry, for example.  Some would have to choose between mother and child, the sick and the elderly, the wife and the father. Self-preservation or the protection of the loved, some would have had to ask themselves and answer in the matter of a second or less.  In the rush, some would have stumbled, some would have fallen and those who didn’t would have had to decide whether to tarry and risk death or keep running leaving behind mother, wife, child or friend. 

I wasn’t anywhere close to the Nandikadal Lagoon in May 2009, but I am convinced that there were many who chose ‘poorly’, that is, against all logic and all wisdom, confounding all theories about the primacy of self-preservation.  Among them, many would have perished. Some may have stopped not to help ‘loved one’ but total stranger, in the same manner in which hundreds of soldiers would have died trying to save those who were seen as ‘enemy’ or those who saw them as ‘enemy’; not only because they were following order, but they were different kinds of human beings.  And, I am certain, there were LTTE cadres who trained gun on the fleeing but could not pull trigger. 

A few days ago, I heard an old song from an otherwise pedestrian album by Nanda Malini (‘Pawana’ or ‘Wind’): Vahinnata heki nam (if I could be the rain). 

‘Vahinnata hekinam gigum dee viyali gam bim valata ihalin; idennata hekinam bathak vee bathak noidena pelaka rahasin. Randenna hekinam lamaa kela handana detholaga sinahavak vee; pipennata heki nam thudin thuda nelaa gatha heki vana malak vee.  Nidannata heki nam deneth thula sabae vana subha sihinayak vee; gayennata heki nam dorin dora lovama pubudana geethayak vee.

It is a wish and a recommendation about a different kind of being, encountering and embrace.  The following is a rough translation:

‘If I could, I would be like the rain, falling upon the parched and thirsty earth and village; I would, if I could, boil like a pot of rice in a hut that hasn’t seen food.  If I could, I would reside as a smile on the lips of children who are in tears; I would, if I could, blood from every bough as flowers whose picking is not forbidden.  If I could I would sleep beneath eyelid as a pleasant dream that will turn true; I would, if I could, be a song that goes from door to door awakening the entire world.’

Our nation, our world, is not without individuals who are like rain that falls on earth decorated with radiating cracks, like rice in a hungry household, like smiles upon faces that have only known tear-stain, like flowers that can be picked, like songs that kindle hope and tomorrows.  I am sure that if there’s reason to hope for a different kind of national resolve, inter-communal embrace and a tomorrow that is determined not to return to war, it is because such people lived and still live, because such people lived and perished so others could live and dream. 

We were a land that was desert-made and out-of-bounds for flower and song.  We were a nation that dreamt of drizzle but was given flood. We were a people who wanted to smile but whose lips bent involuntarily into grimace.  We were a no-hope community. For three decades. In the aggregate, that is.  Through it all there was rain. There was flower and song.  There were smiles and dreams. There was giving and giving and giving until there was nothing more to give.  

This earth is fertile. Its fertility breaks down and neutralizes the poisons that ignorance, arrogance and hatred have sown.  This is why we are still a nation.  This is why we can remember and yet forgive one another. This is why, I am certain, we can talk of togetherness.  ‘Togethernesses’ too, in fact.  And this is why we don’t need to be lectured to, prescribed for and made to inhabit the reality-versions dreamed up by those who do not care, did not sacrifice and did not embrace. 

The rains that will slake our national thirsts have to fall from our own skies. No one can make us smile, except ourselves. No one can make the harsh earth yield flower and grain, except ourselves. 

There’s rice on the hearth.  It should mean a lot.



Anonymous said...

well written, well thought of malinda; and well done !

Anonymous said...

Amnesty International Calls Cops To Quash Questions About Ties To Terror Supporters – OpEd

Link: http://www.eurasiareview.com/06032012-amnesty-international-calls-cops-to-quash-questions-about-ties-to-terror-supporters-oped/

Anonymous said...

empathy ++ Malinda. May you be blessed with Iman!