During my recent visit to Jaffna Peninsula, Sri Lanka, I experienced a lot of mixed emotions, and had many thoughts;
- It brought back so many memories of my previous visit to Jaffna, and Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
- I had many imaginations on what the place would have been like during the war period
- I had many thoughts on what people who live in Jaffna, who lived through the war must now feel like; now that the “war is over”, one way or the other
- I had many thoughts on what people from Government Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Police) who were fronting the war zone, and former LTTE soldiers must be feeling like, how they are dealing with their scars; physical, and more importantly, emotional
So I decided to write a blog post. Since, the thoughts and the messages I want to encapsulate wouldn’t fit into one blog post, I decided to break it up.
Everything flows, and everything changes – Part I
Everything flows, and everything changes – Part II
Part III – My First Visit to Jaffna Peninsula, Sri Lanka (Continued…)
Sundhar’s friends or relatives in Parathurai (Point Pedro) had already organised someone in Jaffna.
It was a university student.
Here we go again!
A thin, tall, friendly guy, with a thin moustache, and a full smile, greeted us.
What is wrong with me?
What is it that I’m so attracted to, in a village boy?
His English language skills were sufficient for me to carry out a conversation. He took us to his “boarding house”, which he shared with two other guys.
Good God! This is hardly a house!
An entire section of the house was damaged by a bomb (or bombs), most of the area they lived didn’t have a roof. There was one room with a roof, where all of them used to sleep, which was where we were to sleep as well, with a couple of more reed mats (“Pan Paduru”, in Sinhala)
These guys have hardly any lighting, let alone comfortable tables, and chairs to study. They sat on the floor with their books. They obviously have been through the war. Yet, they didn’t look sad!
We complain too much back in Colombo! Compared to this, we have all the comforts one could ask for, yet we want more!
One of the students, the shortest of the lot, who spoke no Sinhala or English, took more than my breath away. He seemed to always have a smile on him. He tried so hard to communicate with me, our language differences didn’t seem to bother him. They offered to take us around in their bicycles. We were to travel two people in one bicycle!
I’ve never done this!
I told them. I had done it as a kid; my cousin sister used to ride the bike, while I sat on the middle bar of the bike. But it was over 15 years ago. But, “No!” wasn’t an option. So I tried! The short heartthrob sat on the middle bar. Before too long, I went off balance, and both of us almost fell.
Oh my God! I almost fell into a bit of land seperated with tape! A landmine!
Jaffna Town, was full of areas separated with tape. During the Ceasefire, metal detectors had been used to detect landmines. Once identified, the area was separated with tape, until they were removed. The one I almost fell, together with the Hot Chocolate Tamil boy, was probably a square metre in land area. We would have landed on the landmine! After that, the cutie, who was half my size, decided that it would be wiser for him to ride, while I sat on the middle bar.
This is torture!
His arms had to wrap around me, before they could reach the bike handles. He was literally hugging me from behind, thanks to our massive height difference. His breath on my right ear, constantly asking me if I was ok, in his broken English.
This is torture! But, I’m in heaven at the same time!
There was something heavenly about receiving such kindness, and attention, from someone who had had such a hard life. I almost expected him to hate me, but he appeared to have love and kindness towards me. The “brotherly” kind of course, although I wished it was more!
We went past the former Jaffna railway station, now hardly had any railway tracks or buildings. We decided to check it out, but it was mostly covered with overgrown grass and other plants, or tape indicating areas where landmines had been identified. Our university friends weren’t keen to go further, and advised that it wasn’t a good place to hang around. After checking out a few more places, including the library, we went home.
That’s when it happened again. They all decided to poke my fatty bits around saying I was too soft for a man! They also said that I should grow a moustache, like “our president”.
Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunge doesn’t have a moustache!
I thought, trying to understand what they were saying. That’s when I realized, they meant Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader, and not the “official” Sri Lankan president.
This neither bothered me, nor surprised me. During the JVP insurrection during 1987-1989, lead by Rohana Wijeweera, against the Government, most university students (almost all) supported the JVP, and was against the Government. It was believed to be a fight for human rights, and so would have been the war, in the eyes of young Tamils, like our hosts. I also saw plenty of posters and public meetings supporting Prabhakaran in Jaffna Town. I had my own opinion about what the war really was, and didn’t like the Government or Prabhakaran (I didn’t like his idea of dividing the country, and how his children were kept safely away from the war, while other’s children were fronting the war), and definitely wasn’t a fan of the war. Both Sundhar, and I, were quite pleased about the potential “Peace Talks”. But, I kept quiet. I didn’t think my opinion would do much, especially for people who had next to nothing, who live such a tough life, and who had lived through the war, living in the war zone. Besides, despite their opinion about Government, they treated me, who in their eyes was a Sinhalese, like Royalty!
Once again, I noticed the morning routine. They woke up around four in the morning, rode their bicycles, dressed in nothing but a “Vetti“, to the Hindu Temple, bathed at the Temple, walked in, still dripping water. All of them were very serious once they walked into the temple. I felt quite guilty about checking everyone out, but that many lean muscled, dark skinned, shirtless, soaking wet, village dudes, who were so seriously praying, was not something I would see everyday. There was something really attractive, and peaceful about the whole thing; how they left their seemingly endless young masculine energy, mischief, jokes, loud and foul mouth, at the door of the temple. I didn’t understand what it was, but I fell in love with those boys, and that culture, yet again!
Maybe I was a Tamil in my previous birth, maybe I have lived through the war!
My Buddhist beliefs decided to justify what I was feeling. It reminded me of a poem I learnt for English literature for my G.C.E Ordinary Level Examination, which was my most favourite poem included in our syllabus;
The Man He Killed – Thomas Hardy
Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.
I shot him dead because
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although
He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand like, just as I
Was out of work, had sold his traps
No other reason why.
Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,Or help to half-a-crown.
That’s when it hit me, had I been an Army Soldier, and had they been LTTE Soldiers, we wouldn’t experience what we were experiencing. Instead, we would be trying to kill each other.
Quaint and curious war is, Indeed!
Next, Sundhar and I decided to check out a few of the Islands belonging to Sri Lanka, off Jaffna Peninsula. We took a bus from Jaffna Town to Kayts, one of the Islands, then another bus to Punkudutivu, where we got into a Ferry to go to Nainativu, which was also referred to as “Nāgadeepa” by the Sinhalese community, due to the Holy place built in memory of the visit paid by blessed Buddha, Gauthama Siddhartha, as per history.
Sundhar and I paid respect to both Nāgadeepa, and the adjoining Hindu Temple, before returning to Jaffna town.
Once again, all too soon, it was time to leave. But this time, the adventure wouldn’t end when we leave Jaffna Peninsula.
We had to go past the LTTE controlled area, provide paperwork, change busses to a bus operated by the LTTE, and change again!
To be continued…