10 September 2013

C.V. Wigneswaran chit-chats with a ghost


Illustration by Asanga Indunil
Canagasabapathy Viswalingam Wigneswaran, retired-judge of the Supreme Court, burdened by the unfamiliar rigors of politicking, took a break.  He told his entourage of supporters to take a break as well and stepped into a nondescript eatery on a dusty street in a less populated area of Vadukoddai.  Still relatively new to this part of the country, not many recognized him.  He was able to sip his plain tea in peace. 

A man, probably in his mid-fifties, who had been sitting at the next table suddenly got up, walked over to the would-be Chief Minister and politely requested to sit with him.  Wigneswaran looked at the bald-headed, stocky gentleman clad in a veshti with his upper garment decked with a salvai with mild irritation, but the smile on the man’s face disarmed him.  He grudgingly consented.

‘Thambi,’ the stranger said but before he could continue, the Septuagenarian retorted, ‘Thambi?’
He was not questioning relationship claim but perceptions of seniority.

‘Yes, Thambi,’ the man insisted. 

This brought on a stare, naturally.  Then the man said, ‘Amirthalingam.  I am Appapillai Amirthalingam.’

‘But you are dead,’ the ex-judge pronounced.

‘Strictly speaking I was killed, but you’ve resurrected me with your manifesto, wouldn’t you say?’
Devout Hindu that he claims he is, Wigneswaran was not ready to challenge ghost-claims, but in the manner of an impartial judge chose to listen.

‘As you know Thambi, I’ve been dead, killed-dead that is, for almost a quarter of a century.  That’s not as dead-long as Chelva Aiyah or Ponnambalam Aiyah, but more dead-long than Prabhakaran Thambi, but it’s dead-long enough.’

‘Wait, you still call him “Thambi”?’ Wigneswaran interjected.

‘In dead-land there’s little to gain by harboring ill-feeling, although Thambi studiously avoids me.’

‘Ok, go on!’ the candidate’s curiosity was aroused.

‘You are old enough to know that we really don’t know what kind of tragedies we precipitate with the most innocent and well-meaning of actions.  In 1977 we saw an election result.  Of course we identified with the cause, the Eelam wish and all that, but that parliamentary seat was as important a dream.  We didn’t know that it would take us to the Indo-Lanka Accord and when that came, we didn’t know that Thambi would renege.  I didn’t foresee Thambi turning into what he did turn into, Surya Devan and all that, and I never imagined he would send me to dead-land. ‘


‘Hmmm….anyway, the dead years are good for assessment and over the dead-years I’ve managed to skirt around that sad rock called Regret that keeps materializing before me wherever I go.  I wasn’t to know that I would lose the road map or rather have the road map grabbed from me. I wasn’t to know that Thambi would lose the plot.’

‘Come, come….hmmm,’ he couldn’t bring himself to calling this younger looking man-ghost 
“Annai”, but after a few pulled himself together quickly and said, ‘It’s not your fault or Thambi’s fault, and anyway you seem to be treating those Sinhala chauvinists with soft gloves!’ 

‘Oh no!  I have no illusions about Sinhala chauvinists.  But Thambi, we can only go so far with the blame game and that of passing the ball.  There were things we did which built the wrong kinds of walls.  It was not a great wall that carved for us a separate state along lines that we conveniently and arbitrarily drew.  No, it was a great wall between us and a place called “Better”.  Ironically, we regressed so much that today whatever “better” we can talk of is thanks to what we called the Sinhala Government and because that Sinhala Government got rid of Thambi and his goons.’

‘Shhhhh!’ the candidate shushed the former leader of the TULF.

‘This is the problem. We’ve been shushing too much. We shushed when Thambi started killing innocent people. We shushed when he started abducting little Tamil children.  I am sure even you must have shushed when Thambi got me killed.  There was shushing when hundreds of thousands of our people were held hostage. I can go on and on, I am dead and time is all that I have.’

‘Stop.  This is not about all that. This is about an election.  None of us seriously believe we can deliver what we promise. We can blame it on the racist Sinhalese who are not interested in addressing our legitimate grievances and delivering legitimate aspirations.’

‘I know, I know, but Thambi, politics does not begin when elections are called and do not end when results are announced.  Our words go to other mouths, who will add words to those that we utter.’

‘It worked for you!’

‘I don’t want to wish you anything less than the Chief Minister post, don’t get me wrong, but you know, our words don’t follow us to our graves and it is not just we who have to pay for our crimes of omission and commission.’

‘You are batting for the Sinhalese now!’

There was silence.

‘Dead-land is full of people who got their visas long before they ought to have.  It’s a crowded place, this county for the unnecessarily-killed where I am resident now.  Blame it on me.  There’s limited oxygen there.  We really don’t need to have our numbers swelled.’

It was time to pronounce judgment.  Wigneswaran closed his eyes. Reflected. There was silence.  When he opened his eyes, he was alone.  His cup was empty, and there was a half-full cup of plain tea on the other side of the table.