Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I was eight years old.. (An Extract)

  "My appa was a teacher. He taught Biology at St.Peter's College in Colombo. We lived in a rented house, at Ramakrishna Road. I was eight years old at that time, my brother was three. I suppose with his teaching and his private tuition, appa made a fair living. We led a simple, Christian life. Appa treasured his collection of books on Ceylon birds. He told me later that many of them were quite valuable, first editions of Phillips, Henry, Wait and others.
  "There was another teacher, Uncle Bernard, who was also a keen birdwatcher. Once every month, On a Sunday thw two of them would plan a trip to the Aththidiya swamp or the Bolgoda Lake, just to watch birds. They went by bus early in the morning. They took some food with them, sandwiches mostly, and spent the whole day out. They would write up detailed notes of what they had seen. It was appa's greatest pleasure."

  She was silent for a while , still staring at the flames.
  I walked into it then.
  "So what happened?" I asked innocently. "Why did you move to Jaffna?"
  "July 1983. The Sinhala mobs came to our home,"

  Oh fuck! I should have guessed.

  July 1983 was a black day in our history. Organized mobs, supported by powerful politicians, attacked the Tamils lived in the south of the country. Thousands of people lost their homes and property. Many were killed. That was the real beginning of the war that still rages in our country, seventeen years later.
  "The mobs came along the railway track. Appa was not at home." Velaithan spoke in a dull monotone, as if to herself. "They knew exactly where the Tamils lived because they came directly to our home."
  "They were all young men carrying clubs and iron rods. They ordered my mother out of the house. She was carrying my little brother Ram. We had two tiny rooms in the first floor of our house. I was playing up there when they came. I hid when they started shouting at my mother."
  "They didn't steal anything. They simply collected all our possessions, clothes, TV and furniture and piled them in the center of our hall. They threw all appa's books on top of the pile-and then they set fire to it all.
  "My mother had thought it was better for me to stay hidden, that they would take our possessions and go. When she saw the fire she started screaming and tried to rush inside to get me but they wouldn't let her. They held her back till they were sure the fire was well established, that nothing could be saved. Then they.... went away!
  "The rooms were full of smoke and I couldn't breathe. I heard my mother screaming for me, so I crept to the window and looked out. The mob was gone and my mother was alone. No one came to help us. She told me that the stairs were on fire and to climb down from the window. I remember how terrified I was, it seemed such a long way down. When the smoke made it difficult for me to breathe, i jumped foe luckily fell into a flowerbed. I hurt my ankle.
  By the time our neighbors came, it was too late. We had no home, no possessions- only the clothes we wore. We just sat in the garden, frozen in shock, and watched our home torn to ashes.
  But I still thought everything would be put right when my appa came home.
  Appa came. Someone brought him in a three wheeler. He was unconscious, bleeding from wound on his head. He had been walking along the Galle Road when the mob caught him. They had beaten him with clubs and kicked him when he fell- they then threw him in a roadside gutter to die.
  My kind, gentle appa who never harmed anyone in his life."
  She was hugging her knees, still speaking to the fire. She seemed to have forgotten i was there, lost in her memories and her pain.

  "They took appa away to hospital. We were taken to "Saraswathi Hall" in Bambalapitiya. It had been converted to a refugee camp. It was crowded with people like us, people who had lost everything. We found a little space in a corner, just enough for the three of us to sit down. We had nothing to do but sit and wait. We were desperately worried about my appa but could get no news about him. I could not walk because I had hurt my ankle. I remember people helping me to go to the bathroom. We existed like beggars there, waiting without hope. 
  My appa's Sinhala friends came to see us later. Uncle Bernard too. They brought us news of appa. He had several broken ribs and was severely concussed by a blow on his head. He had been hit with an iron bar. They told us he would be alright. They lied. He lived, but never became all right.
  They brought us food and clothes, and were desperately sorry for us. But they would not take us to their homes. They were afraid"
  She rested her head on her knee and sat there, spent.

 This is an extract from the novel "THE ROAD FROM ELEPHANT PASS" by "Nihal De Silva" (Chapter 10, Page 102-105)

I read this with much sympathy and agony because this was not happened in another place rather awkward than the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean", my motherland. Although the war which battered our country and community (Sri Lankan) has become a bygone thing and a brutal black mark in the history it's woeful memories and reminders won't leave us through out generations...