30 November 2015

Velupillai Prabhakaran and birthdays that are missed

This was first published 5 years ago and refers to remembering and forgetting LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran's birthday. 

 Early last Friday morning I hopped a bus and came to Kandy. Peradeniya, actually. I came for ‘SLAM 2010’ a literary event organized by some enthusiastic, energetic and extremely creative set of young people.  I spent two days in and around Peradeniya. Right now as I write it is Saturday night, i.e. the night of the 27th.  There a lots of things to write about. Vihanga Perera, one of the live wires behind the event quipped, ‘good for 30 articles, right?’ ‘That would be overkill,’ I texted back.  This is not about literature or the interesting proceedings I was privileged to be a part of, though. It is about a single comment made over a cup of tea after everything was over.

Ranjith Wijekoon, teacher, colleague and friend of almost 25 years, asked a question in his inimitable way, i.e. a quaint mix of wit, humour and political alertness: ‘did you know it was Prabhakaran’s birthday yesterday?’  I didn’t have to answer, he read the reply on my face and gave voice to it: ‘you didn’t’. 

Time was when the politicians and columnists viewed the 26th day of November with foreboding, warning the general public to be extra alert, assuming that the LTTE could very well be planning to give Velupillai Prabhakaran a fitting birthday present by exploding a bomb in a crowded place or taking out a high profile target, either on that day or during the week that followed, dedicated by the terrorist outfit to honour and celebrate the so-called martyrs. 

This year, like last year, there is no Prabhakaran to gift blood and dismembered flesh as birthday gift. Last year, at least, there was mention about the man if only to make the point that the war was over, terrorism roundly defeated and things had never been this good in thirty years.  T.V. Sriram, writing for the PTI had an article titled ‘No more security alert on Prabhakaran’s birthday in Lanka’.  This year, nothing. 

I checked the internet.  I googled, ‘Prabhakaran+birthday+2010’.  That’s how I found Sriram’s note.  Most references were more than two years old.  There were two that caught my attention, one a blogpost by Indi Samajeewa titled ‘Prabhakaran’s Speech (Yawn)’ and another by P.K. Balachandran titled ‘Prabhakaran on a day-long fast on his birthday’.  The latter was written on the occasion of Prabhakaran’s fiftieth birthday. There was a third, a note sourced to the Daily Mirror which had an interesting final para and I will get to that later.

First Bala’s piece.  He paid reasonable tribute to Prabhakaran’s sense of self-sacrifice, at least compared to other Tamil leaders. He quotes Prof. Karthigesu Sivathamby, who praises Prabhakaran and the LTTE to the maximum and who overbalances in the process of hero-worshipping that he says ‘the Tamils need Prabhakaran more than Prabhakaran needs the LTTE’.  The last days of the way may have sobered this so-called internationally recognized Tamil scholar, one notes.  Eventually, Sivathamby said at that time, the LTTE will have to revert from military to the political and that Prabhakaran would have to be like Arafat.  Bala goes on to quote Dayan Jayatilleka to balance things off, even conferring him the title of spokesperson for the Sinhalese (strange, given the man’s ideological leanings).  That was 2004. 

Indi’s views were naturally more irreverent, sharper and to the point. Worth a long quote: ‘Uncle P has hung around way too long and totally f****** sucks at his job. I mean, maybe he was a supercool terrorist once, but that shit is passed and he A) now sucks at being a terrorist and B) hasn’t improved his peoples lives one bit. He’s like Arafat or something, some f****** irritating historical footnote that you have to live with in the present.

That was in 2008. The man was still alive. He was strutting around promising death and destruction and still managing to convince his cheer-leading boys and girls in Colombo and elsewhere that he was indestructible to the point that those innocents and not-so-innocents would issue dire warnings to the Government of Sri Lanka about what and what would and would not happen if this and that were done and that and this were not. 

The third piece (‘Prabhakaran’s destiny after 54’) was somber.  The author opined, ‘if Prabhakaran was assassinated in Wanni, not only Tamil Nadu, even the entire Tamil population of the whole world will point an accusing finger at Delhi’.

Events proved that Bala picked the wrong people to pluck a quote from.  There were some whimpering noises that came from Tamil Nadu and some whines from the pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora in the West but no one pointed fingers at Delhi and a 18 months after the fact not many seem to have remembered Prabhakaran’s birthday.  In the year 2010, ‘footnote’ seems to be what the man’s got. 

He was supposed to be indestructible. Divinity was conferred upon him by a chauvinistic and ignorant set of followers.  The sun set on that violent adventure that gifted death and destruction to the Tamil community. The Sun God, so-called, was ‘mortalized’.  And footnoted. 

Birth, decay and death.  Inevitable.  Bomb-exploder and newsmaker yesterday, footnote today and forgotten tomorrow.  God today, gone tomorrow.  There’s a lesson for many therein, I think.


This was first published in the Daily News, November 30, 2010.