District of Islands
When I decided to go Jaffna, both of us thought that it was good to travel by my motorcycle. However, her mother had objected and told her daughter in secret that it was better to go by train. But both the mother and daughter accepted my argument that if we went by motorcycle we could visit all the places we needed to. Otherwise it was not possible to return within two days. If we started early in the morning from Medawachchiya, we expected to reach Jaffna by about 3.00 p.m. As Chitra had not traveled north of Vavuniya I gave a detailed account of what to expect. I had to apply brakes suddenly when a cow crossed the road at Omantai. I was driving at a terrible speed and the motorcycle stopped after turning in the opposite direction.
“That is why my mother told us to catch the train. But you did not listen“, she started lecturing me just at the correct time.
“How did your mother know that a cow would cross the road at Omantai?”
She bit me on my neck.
Our travel was continuing with quarrel and feigned anger.
I showed her the Rupavahini sub-station, then stopped the motorcycle at Murikandy
“This is one of the famous Ganesha temples. Not a single vehicle passes this place without stopping here. It had been the practice of the faithful to dash a coconut in the temple ground.
“Then I am going to dash a coconut to God Ganesha”, she ran towards the coconut shop.
As ‘vadai’ (cakes made from oorid and rice flour and fried in coconut oil) in the tea boutique at Murikandy was very tasty, I gave an order to make vadai and waited for her to come back.
“Do you have faith in Murikandy Ganesha or not?” she asked me after coming back from dashing a coconut to Ganesha,.
“You have faith. That is why I stopped.”
“It is a lie. Tell me the truth.”
“I have no faith. But I admit that I have some fear. I still remember the story my mother told me when I was very young.”
“I like to listen.”
“An Uncle of mine was working in Singapore. He bought a new car in Colombo when he came on holidays to Ceylon. He started driving his car straight to Jaffna. He did not stop his car at Murikandy. His car hit a tree at Kilinochchi and he died. I do not know whether this story is true or false. But my mother had enhanced in my mind the sanctity of Murikandy. Even though my intellect reiterated me that my Uncle might have crashed his car on to the tree due to his tiredness, I have made it a practice thereafter to stop my vehicle at Murikandy. Just see the amount of crushed limes. These are from the new car owners. They dash coconuts and crush limes and continue their driving with peace of mind.
“There is a sub-story in every action of yours”, she tasted Murikandy ‘vadai’ with me.
“How many Army camps have we passed?” she asked me after passing the Elephant pass Army camp.
“There are several army camps on our way. I will show you”. When we travel to Colombo from Medawachchiya, we would not see any army camps on our way. However, you will be able to notice six army camps along the 150 mile route from Medawachchiya to Jaffna.”
We passed Kodikamam and Chavakachcheri. When we reached Jaffna, Chitra saw the “Jaffna invites you” concrete arch and while pinching me in my waist she asked, “Does Jaffna invites me as well.”
“Wait till you reach home.”
“Who can speak Sinhala at your home?”
“Only my father knows that language.”
“How does he talk to others?”
“In this country, it is better not to talk in any language. Then there will be peace. Languages have divided the people. Religions have destroyed them.”
“You are talking like my brother Rukman.”
We reached home by about 7.00 p.m..
My mother hugged and kissed Chitra and me and said worriedly, “Children have dried up in the sun.”
My brother came towards us shyly. In English I introduced him to Chitra.
“Dinner is ready. Have a bath and come to have dinner.” announced my mother.
I took Chitra’s handbag and invited her to the room.
“Your mother resembles you”, Chitra murmured in my ear.
“Say that I am like my mother.”
I changed into a sarong and told her, “Come let us have a bath.”
“Here you can’t take a bath in a tank. We have a well by the side of the house, where we can bathe.” I took her to our well site.
“My goodness. It is very deep. How do you take water from the well?” she looked inside the well and hesitated.
I started pulling water from the well. We both bathed together.
“Chitra! Shall I apply soap on your body?” I asked her.
“I can do it by myself.”
“That is why there is a coconut-leaf thatched fence around the compound.”
“Son! Come soon. Food is getting cold”, shouted my mother.
We had special food. I learnt that my mother had prepared the thick gruel curry of prawns bought from Kaakkaithivu. To make the curry prawns needed to be soaked in water for several hours. My father arrived home when we were about to finish our dinner.
Chitra got up and prostrated herself towards his feet. My father did not expect this to happen. He spoke few words in Sinhala. I did not see the anticipated hard look in his face. I was very pleased and satisfied that on this occasion no untoward incidents occurred.
Many relatives visited us and gave us presents. Many of them did not like a Sinhala girl yet, as a courtesy, they never said anything to offend her.. Human minds can develop hatred and enmity against one another, without even knowing each other. From the racial riots in 1977, I found out that the fundamental cause for enmity is ignorance.
When I was studying at Peradeniya University, Sinhala and Tamil students were residing together in the ‘Mars’ Students’ Hostel. During the height of racial tension in 1977, hooligans burnt down Tamil shops situated at Peradeniya Junction. Some Tamils were murdered. Others were forced to flee or sent to refugee camps. As a result, all other student hostels were closed down. Nevertheless, we continued to stay in the same hostel. From the chef of our hostel we came to know that Sinhala hooligans from the adjoining village were going to target out hostel that night. When Sinhala students came to know this news, they immediately broke legs of all beds and got themselves ready to counterattack in order to save us. They also told us to join in the attack. Hooligans had given up their intention when they had heard of the students’ readiness to challenge them. The Sinhala students deemed us as friends and not as Tamils.
“If all Tamils behave like you then there will be no ethnic problem”, one of the Sinhala students commented at that time. As far as he was concerned, all Tamils known to him were good souls and only those Tamils unknown to him were bad.
“What is the dowry you received?” a relation of mine asked me, with a humorous smile.
“Why don’t you come and see the land at Padaviya given to me as dowry”, I elaborated.
“That is more than enough”, he said.
During noon, we started our trip to see my maternal aunt at Eluvaithivu and paternal aunt at Nainathivu. Before going towards Pannai causeway, we went closer to the torched and charred remnants of the Jaffna Public library, which demonstrated the dirty mentality of human retribution.
“I have spent many days in this Library. I have studied numerous short stories and novels. They had deprived it from the next generations”, I said.
“My brother, Rukman told me that the Library was torched on the orders of Minister Gamini Dissanayake.”
“I too agree with him.”
Evening sunlight made the seawater on either side of the Pannai causeway to resemble liquid gold. I gave Chitra an account of the netting procedures adopted in fishing, on both sides of the causeway. I also told her about the excellent taste of fish caught in shallow seawater.
We left the motorcycle at a shop of one of my relatives from Kayts. We got on board the evening motor-launch that ran to Eluvaithivu. Chitra could not cope up with the sea voyage, as she was not used to smells of the motorboat and waves. She was feeling vomitish.
“If you vomit, they will think that you are pregnant”, I smiled.
“Please keep your mouth shut.”, she pierced me with a hard look. Her action showed no anger but her inability.
“Okay. Come to the upper deck. Then you won’t vomit.”
“I am scared.”
“You have come all the way keeping your trust on me”, I caught her hand and took her to the upper deck of the motor-launch.
The sea breeze stopped her vomitish feeling.
“Eluvaithivu could be seen over there consisting of entire groves of Palmyra trees.” Palmyra timber had been used for the construction of the jetty. Seawater could be seen through at places where one or two timber pieces had disappeared. While holding her hand I told her to step out with care.
The Government disregarded Eluvaithivu as it was the smallest of the islands and lacked economical resources. People were not worried even if the jetty was not repaired. The ordinary people accepted these problems as their destiny, since the Government was so far away like God.
“Chitra! It seems that the French Philosopher Russo, who had been exiled from his country, had kissed the ground when he returned home. I feel like doing the same.”
“If you kiss the ground while having me by your side, people will say that you are a lunatic.”
“I am removing my slippers. At least let my feet embrace the soil”, I placed my shoes inside the bag.
“You will know only when you get pricked by a thorn.”
After a half-an-hour walk, we reached my stepmother’s home. Two statues of elephants at the entrance welcomed us in silence.
“This is the house where I was born.”
I saw my stepmother coming out.
She was in tears. We grew up together with stepmother’s children. They all have gone overseas.
“Where is my stepfather?”
“He went to fetch single Palmyra tree’s toddy for you.”
,My stepfather’s treat started and finished with toddy.
Though Chitra could not understand our language, she was highly taken up by the cordial welcome offered to us. The fishmeal and toddy had upset my stomach and I decided to sleep in the open on a palmyra-leaf mat. “Are there any snakes?” Chitra asked,
Once, my aunt had slept in the open on a mat. In the morning when she got up, she had found a cobra beneath the mat.”
“I am scared.”
“There is no other alternative. You can hold onto me.”
“You smell of toddy.”
In the morning, after having a bath we went to Nainathivu. From the dockyard, we could see Nagapooshani Amman temple.
‘That is the famous temple of Goddess Nagapooshani”, I said.
“I have come here when I was young.”
“You did not tell me.”
“You never asked me.”
I was seated on the granite rock looking at the majestic Gopuram. Chitra went inside and worshipped. It had been painted afresh. I was recollecting the places where I had played when I was young.
After a walk for about half-an-hour, we reached the Buddhist shrine. Chitra prostrated on the ground and obtained blessings from the Buddhist priest. He was the same Buddhist priest who was resident there, when I was young. From his face one could gauge his age. He was highly respected by the people of the Island. With a respectful smile, I obtained permission to leave the shrine.
It is believed that the famous legendary Manimehalai of Manimehali Tamil epic visited this Island. The villagers showed the place where the tank ‘Komuhi’ existed. With the begging bowl called ‘Amuthasurabi’ obtained from the tank, it was said that Manimehalai was able to feed the hungry inhabitants. The epic written about 2000 years ago consisted of Buddhist principles and practices. During that era, many Tamils lived as Buddhists. In Jaffna Peninsula there are several names associated with Buddhism. Some historians are of the opinion that these names indicate the expansion of the reign of Singhalese kings. Buddhism is not against the livelihood of Tamils. Chitra would not have understood what I was thinking so deeply; however, we reached my aunt’s home while I was still engaged in these deep thoughts.
We stayed at the aunt’s house for some time and then returned. In the evening, there was a very strong wind. The waves took the motor-launch high above the water at the seven seas crossing. This weather caused Chitra to vomit.
It was actually a whirlwind tour of Jaffna. The next day we returned to Medawachchiya.