Vannathikulam -Chapter Six

Vavuniya Conflagration
I became very active on Friday. When I was at Padaviya Maha Vidyalaya, Chitra told me that she would be traveling to Vavuniya on Friday. After detailing Menike and Samarasinghe the work that had to be attended to in the Office I started my journey to Jaffna.
On my way to the bus stand, a person said to me that his dog was suffering from worm disorders and he wanted me to prescribe treatment.
“Luckily you asked me before I boarded the bus,” I said.
Though annoyed, I still wrote on a small piece of paper the name of the medicine and handed it over to him. I wished him well with a smile and walked briskly towards the bus stand. Fortunately, the bus scheduled to come at 10.00 a.m had not yet arrived. Sometimes buses getting late become helpful.
The time was 10 minutes past 10.00a.m. Bus was getting late. I was anxious and started moving around the bus stand in great haste. When I was having a cup of tea at the boutique, I saw the bus bound to Anuradhapura arriving from Padaviya. Immediately I came back to the bus stand.
My mind became peaceful when I saw Chitra’s face. She was seated next to a window of the bus. But my heart began to beat faster. She wore the same red saree and blouse, which she was wearing at Padaviya Maha Vidyalay. She had worn her Saree in Jaffna style rather than in Kandyan Sinhala style.
“Thanks for wearing the red color saree.”
She smiled but did not reply.
Then a bus bound to Vavuniya arrived at the bus stand. Both of us got into the bus. I allowed Chitra to sit on the window side and sat down next to her.
“Chitra! Did School students understand what I lectured on?”
“Why do you ask like that?”
“I had a little doubt in my mind. That is all right. Do you travel to Vavuniya often?”
“Not often. Whenever I want to buy a good saree I would go there. There are no good textile shops at Anuradhapura.
“Did you buy this saree also at Vavuniya?”
“You are wearing the saree like this when you come to Vavuniya and dress in Sinhala style when you go to Anuradhapura?” I teased her with a smile in my face. She stared at me anggrily and then looked outside through the window.
I was embarrassed. I did not know how to make peace with her.
She did not look at me again. I noticed that she was really angry with me. Her face had become red and her eyelids were quivering.
“Excuse me. I was making fun.” She turned back. Still she was in an angry mood.
“Please, Chitra!”
“This is the first time I wore my Saree in this style. That also I learnt from our next-door Nanta. You do not know what amount of difficulty I went through,” she extenuated a bit in a hoarse voice.
At that time a teardrop in her left eye was about to ask me whether to drop down or be there.
I took my handkerchief and said to her, ”Wipe your tears. Someone may notice you.” She took my handkerchief and wiped out her tears. “I never dreamt that you will take my joke so seriously,” I told her sincerely.
Gradually her face became normal. A cloud of dust shut my eyes closed. The bus had reached Vavuniya.
Chitra gave my handkerchief back while getting down from the bus. I opened the handkerchief and showed her the round wet area saying that it was the emblem of her anger. She smiled.
“Now only I am seeing the real Chitra”
We both went into the wristwatch shop.
After exchanging the wristwatch for a new one, we started walking along the street. Chitra started walking at a slow pace when we were near the Textile Shop.
“Do you want to buy some clothes?” I asked her. When we went into the Textile shop, we heard the sound of a gunshot followed by rounds of continuous shooting.
We came out to see what had happened. Vavuniya Police Station could be seen but there was not much of activity.
“There must be some problem.”
The textile shop owner signaled us to move out and closed the iron doors. At terrible speed cars and other vehicles were heading in different directions. A cyclist fell down in a hurry of events. Instead of getting up on the fallen bicycle and riding, he started to run dragging the bi-cycle along with him.
I took Chitra along with me towards the Bus Stand. Women carrying children in one hand and baggage on their heads were running fast shouting in both Sinhala and Tamil.
On our way, I asked what had happened from a person coming towards us.
“Two Air Force personnel are dead after the ‘boys’ attacked the Jeep they were traveling,” saying so the person ran away.
“Let us go to the Bus Stand,” I told Chitra.
When we came to the Bus Stand, all the buses were leaving in different directions. The scared people got into the buses or other vehicles. There was no bus bound to Medawachchiya and I wanted to go to Jaffna. Both of us were stuck in the Bus Stand.
Within minutes, Air Force personnel arrived there in two Jeeps and two large trucks. Since the Vavuniya main shopping area is situated between Kandy Road and Horowopatana Road, the area could be cordoned off only with a huge number of armed personnel. Soon cordoning off the area commenced. The Police came into the scene only after the Air Force personnel had arrived.
An ambulance drove towards the vegetable market. It should have been the scene of the incident.
A person from the Air Force went to the petrol shed in front of the parked police van and started filling a tin with petrol. There was no one in the petrol shed. He poured petrol over the textile and other shops and set them ablaze. He did it like lighting a cigarette. Another soldier ignited the cars that were found there. In the meantime, a huge cloud of thick smoke running sky-high was noticeable in the direction of the vegetable market. These things happened when most of the members of public had left the area. However, sounds of loud cries and shouting for help from some places made me to infer of brutal assaults carried out by the armed forces on members of the general public.
But so far nothing happened to the shops situated around the Bus stand. There were about ten to fifteen of us stranded in the Bus Stand. I presumed that all of them were Singhalese from Medawachchiya. Chitra and I did not utter a single word. We stayed there in fear and glanced at each other watching the conflagration taking place around us.
Two Air Force personnel came towards us. We stepped back and mingled with others. They had two sub- machine guns in their hands. When one of them asked the people in Sinhala as to where they were going, they all said in one voice that they were going to Medawchchiya.
Their dresses and faces depicted that they were Sinhala agriculturalists. Apart from that, each person had either a fertilizer bag or a pesticide package for paddy with them.
“Where are you going to?”, the other soldier came towards us and asked me.
“Tamil?” he pointed his sub- machine gun towards my chest.
Unexpectedly Chitra held the sub-machine gun in her hand and shouted in Sinhala, “He is my husband”. Her shouting must have brought the soldier to his senses. A person standing closer to Chitra asked, “Are you a Singhalese girl?”
“Yes. I am from Padaviya. He is my husband” Chitra replied in Sinhala. Chitra was now between the Air Force soldier and me. But her hand was still on the sub-machine gun. He pulled the sub-machine from her reach and left the place scolding her in filthy language. “Get out of here”, he warned while leaving the place.
Tears were running down her face when she looked at me. I held her by shoulders and dragged her towards me. She embraced me and started to cry aloud. I too cried, as I felt the pinch of the drama that had just taken place. The people near us watched in silence.
Not a single person uttered a word. We exchanged our anger and sad emotions in silence. We both got into the bus bound to Medawachchiya, which arrived a few minutes later and went back to Medawachchiya. When we looked back at Vavuniya, it was engulfed in flames.
An Epic states that a monkey set Sri Lanka on fire. How many human monkeys are wandering around now with the same intention in their minds?
Though Chitra had stopped crying aloud, she was still in tears. I could not express a word other than embracing her tightly during the entire bus journey.
After getting down at Medawchchiya, I purchased a packet of cigarettes. Only after smoking a cigarette, I was able to think peacefully.
“Chitra! Let us go to my quarters.”
Chitra followed me. Rukman and Gamini came out when they saw Chitra and myself walking towards the quarters.
“I met Chitra at Vavuniya unexpectedly”, I related the incidents that occurred in Vavuniya. “Your sister saved my life. But it had made her very nervous and she is still tense. I could not allow her leaving to Padaviya alone. That is why I brought her here.”
“I can go alone”, Chitra said.
“Rukman! You better accompany Chitra to Padaviya. I will take Doctor to the Railway station. There won’t be a problem if he travels by night train”, Gamini said.
Gamini accompanied me to the Railway station without uttering a word. “Wish you a happy journey. Do not worry.”, said Gamini when the train arrived at the platform.
“I am not worried. But I never expected these things to happen.”
“It is a fact that these incidents do happen.”
“We cannot escape either from the political problems of the country or from these incidents. But we feel disturbed when it happens to us”, I summed up my thoughts and boarded the train.
It was about 10.00 a.m. when I got up from bed on Saturday. I drank egg coffee and after morning duties, was getting ready to have a bicycle ride,.
“You can go after having your breakfast”, my mother told me.
“I am not hungry. I will be back soon after visiting Sankar at his home.”
“Army personnel are everywhere. Take care.”
I went through some shortcuts and reached Sankar’s house.
Later Sankar and I went to Anaikoddai. He was the only classmate of mine that was left in Jaffna. Others had left Jaffna in search of jobs or to continue their studies. If anyone asked us what the main export commodity of Jaffna was, we would have readily answered that it was ‘people’. It was the practice from ancient times to send them to other parts of Sri Lanka. And after the era of riots, the Jaffna continued to export people to countries like England, France, and Germany.
From the school days, Sankar and I have tasted toddy provided by Muthu Annar. His toddy had excellent and peculiar taste. Though his children were doing well by then, he had not given up his hereditary profession yet.
Seeing us at the gate, he asked with intimate affection, “Thamby! When did you come?”
“Yesterday, Anna!”
“What are the news in Sinhala areas?” while asking so he brought a red pot full of toddy.
“It is the same. Where is your son, Rasa?”
“He went to Germany”, said he and requested his wife to bring some fried fish to serve us.
“You provide royal treatment only when Sooriyan comes”, Shankar commented,
“Thamby comes only once in a way”, he made a pacifying remark.
We both drank toddy and ate fried fish provided by Muthu Annar’s wife.
I was bit drunk when I came out of Muthu Annar’s house. I told Sankar in detail about the whole relationship with Chitra. I did not hide the budding love that had developed in my heart towards her.
“Are you going to get married to a Singhalese girl?” Shankar asked me angrily.
“You think that she is a good choice in all aspects except for her race”, I asked innocently.
“You are mentally out of order. Brother! You cannot live in either Jaffna or Medawachchiya, if you get married to her.”, I kept quiet as what he said was so true.
“Hi! I have told these matters only to you. Chitra too is unaware that I am thinking like this”
“Anyway, it is up to you to make better use of your brains”, uttering these words he went back to his home.
While I was coming back along Oddumada Veethy, I saw a green colored Jeep coming behind me. I turned my bicycle into a small lane to avoid the jeep. When I looked back I saw the sign ‘Department of Agriculture’ painted on its side.
The changes that had taken place in Jaffna were clearly noticeable. During the 1970s it was possible to freely travel anywhere during the day or night. Several vehicles passed through Jaffna roads at about 1.00 a.m., when midnight shows in cinema theatres come to an end. The midnight shows were abolished in the 1980s. The talk on politics only during election times had then become now a daily routine. Tensions erupted everywhere. Successive governments need to bear the responsibility for creating such tense situations. Generally, the youth were of the opinion that there was no other alternative but to resort to violent methods. They spoke with more faith in the power of weaponry than in the strength of masses for their political struggle. It was told that there should not be any opposing views. They had determined that such opposing views will destroy our unity. I was deeply worried over this state of affairs.
On Tuesday, I had to work at Padaviya Agricultural Department. After attending to that work, I went to Siripura.
Chitra’s father greeted me when I got down at the entrance of their house.
“Any problems in Jaffna?” he asked.
“Yes, there are problems. Where is Chitra?”
“She has gone to take a bath. She will be back now.”
“Did your daughter tell you what happened to me last Friday?”
“You were lucky; God saved you.”, I could see Chitra coming towards me with a smile in her face. Her wet elongated hair nicely reflected the evening sunlight.
“I will go and change my wet clothes; soon I will be back”, said Chitra and went inside. Her father walked towards the bull grazing in the paddy field, while fastened to a tree.
In a short time, she re-appeared in front of me. The hush-hush hairdo had her hair intertwined with a piece of cloth. The saree too was worn in a slip-shod manner.
“Chitra! I must get back to Medawachchiya soon. I want to talk to you urgently before that.”
“What is the matter?”
“Where is your mother?”
“She has gone to Padaviya.”
I could see her father taking the bull to the other side of the paddy field.
I leaned myself against the motorcycle and told her to come closer.
“Doctor! What for?”
“Do not call me Doctor”- I told her firmly.
“If not, then how am I to call you? You inquired about my mother to convey this message, is it?”
“I want to tell you something. I do not know whether you would approve it. But I can’t refrain myself from telling this to you”
“What is this special matter?”
“What is the meaning of ‘Swamy Purushaya’?”
Her face turned red. She took a step backwards bending her head slightly.
“Chitra! I know the meaning of those words. You told those words to save me. If you consent,
I wish to give the right meaning to those two words.”
She looked at me.
“If you agree, I am willing to talk to your parents.”
Her continued silence was the only reply.
“Show me your hands.”
She stretched both her hands towards me.
“Do you trust me?” I held both her hands. I could notice my voice trembling.
She agreed while sprouting tears.
“Am I to talk to your parents or are you going to do it?”
“I will talk to them.”
.Chitra’s hands were now holding me tightly. While holding my cheek with my hand, I was wondering how her flower-like hands had such strength. When I noticed that her father was coming towards us, I waved at him and started to get back.
“I will meet you later”, I said to her and started riding back to quarters..
That noon Bandara had sent me a letter through someone. I opened the letter and it was a surprise. The message was that Rohana Wijeweera was coming to Anuradhapura and that I could call over with Gamini if I liked.
It was a new experience. I have never met any politicians nor spoken to them at any time. I have only spoken politics at Peradeniya when among my university mates. I have heard political speeches in Jaffna when I was very young. When I grew up, I did not have a good opinion of these speeches as they contained many vague and opportunistic promises. However, I could not hate politics. Apart from this, I have observed domestic and international politics closely, at a time when some of my classmates even did not know the year when Sri Lanka obtained its independence.
Since the public meeting was scheduled to commence at 6.00 p.m., Gamini and I went to Anuradhapura by 5.00 p.m. The meeting was to be held at the esplanade adjoining Anuradhapura Secretariat. There was a big crowd when we reached there. Most of them were youth of both genders wearing red scarves or caps on their heads. From Gamini I came to understand that those who wore red scarves and caps were members of the People’s Liberation Front. When I parked my motorcycle underneath a tree and went towards the platform, I heard a voice calling me ‘Doctor’. When I turned back, I saw Rukman smiling at us with a red cap on his head.
I was surprised. I never expected Rukman to be a member of the People’s Liberation Front. “Rukman! When is the meeting going to start?”, I asked him without showing my anxiety.
“It is going to start soon.”
My wrist watch showed 6.00 p.m. “I was thinking of the usual delays they have in starting meetings in Jaffna.”, I remarked.
“Comrade Wijeweera is yet to arrive”, Rukman uttered with a sorrowful voice. When we looked in the direction of the stage, I saw a car that came and stopped close to the stage. Two people got down from the car. I was able to identify the hefty figure with a beard as Bandara.
Gamini got hold of my hands and said, “He is Wijeweera.” He was wearing spectacles, black trousers and a red shirt. He was of medium height and of ordinary physique.
When Wijeweera took his seat on the stage. the crowd shouted “Victory to comrade Wijeweera”. Bandara presided over the meeting. . Only after three men and two women had addressed the meeting, Wijeweera commenced his speech.
He made his speech in Sinhala language. Though I could not understand Wijeweera speech in Sinhala language fully yet it was charming. His speech reminded the historical Duttegemenu and made the youngsters hastiness in anger. When he mentioned that the government was pawning the country to foreigners, the crowd applauded. Wijeweera depicted himself as one of the village farmers and praised former kings of Sri Lanka. When I looked intermittently at Rukman I could see very serious in listening to his speech. He was highly taken up by Wijeweera’s speech. The meeting came to a close around 10.00 p.m. Rukman went on his way. Gamini and I went towards Bandara’s house.
While riding the motorcycle, several times I asked myself the question why I wanted to meet Wijeweera. I thought that if someone at Medawachchiya or the Police came to know about this meeting I would be involved in unnecessary trouble. The Government and the Police were carefully watching the movements of J.V.P., even though they had been allowed to propagate their ideas legitimately. I remembered what Arumugam Annnar told me when I had my hair cut in his saloon.
We both got down from the motorcycle in front of Bandara’s house. Several questions were plaguing in my mind.
“Comrade!”, Gamini called Bandara.
Bandara who was wearing a red shirt came and greeted us.
A kerosene lamp was burning in a dark surrounding. I noticed Wijeweera seated near a table. His shining eyes were fathoming me while glancing at me through his glasses.
Bandara introduced me and requested me to take my seat.
“How was the meeting?”, Wijeweera asked.
“You can ask questions from the comrade if you have any.”, Bandara told me.
“Are you having a plan to drag me into trouble?” I asked smilingly while recuperating myself.
“Nothing of that sort. Just ask”, Wijeweeera said.
“What is the J.V.P. policy on Tamils?”
“The Problem for the Tamils was created by the U.N.P. and then by the S.L.F.P. Ordinary Singhalese people and ordinary Tamil people are having the same problem. That problem will be solved if a non-monopolistic Government comes into power. The J.V.P. is aiming for such a change.”
“The talk of Indian expansionism and Sinhala nationalism would make Tamils to believe that your movement is ethnic-based.”
Wijeweera did not expect this reply. His smile was no more in his face.
“When we talk of the Indian expansionist enemy, why should Tamils feel that we are opposing them?”
When the forces of Indian Kings invaded and captured the ancient Kingdom of Rajarata, Sinhala kings took refuge in South Ceylon in the mountains and caves and built their Kingdoms. This particular province was called Rohana. He wanted to call himself Rohana as he was born in the province of Ruhuna. His name of birth was Patabendige Don Nandasiri Wijeweera. While accepting Marxist policies in directing his movement, his praising of ancient Sinhala Kings showed his political ambitions.
“It is unavoidable for a minority community to view the majority community with suspicions.”
“I agree. As far as possible we are trying to make them understand us.”
I wanted to close this discussion. “I requested Gamini to get me an opportunity to meet with you. Actually I never expected to meet you. I can never forget this meeting in my lifetime.”, I requested Mr.Wijeweera’s permission to leave.
I thanked Banadara when he came out to send me off.
“I have some more questions. Now only I understood why youngsters are attracted towards Wijeweera.“, I told Gamini while riding back.


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