Vannathikkulam

Chapter Thirteen

Absconding

Usually I listened to Rupavahini news at 9.00 p.m.  Chitra did not like listening to news.  Rupavahini showed the faces of politicians over again and again.  Her theory was that it was a method of making people believe that the world was rotating around the politicians.  While she was washing utensils in the kitchen, she had seen someone coming through the rear door of the house and moving towards the hall where the T.V. set was kept.

It was Rukman who had entered through the rear door.

“Why are you coming through the back door like a thief?” Chitra asked.

“I am leaving toGalle.  I wanted to inform you all before departing.”

“Why?”

“They are going to proscribe Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna.  I have got the information from my friends in the Police.  They have been instructed to have a close watch on very important persons of the JVP and to arrest them if necessary.  Apart from this, there could be riots on a large scale.  Our headquarters have received information that the government is scheming to murder us under the pretense of such riots.  We have been instructed to move to other areas.  All people in Padaviya knows me.  I am going toAnuradhapuratonight and then proceed toGalletomorrow with other friends.

“Have you informed your parents?”

“I have no time.  It is now your duty.”

“Brother! Why don’t you change your idea?”

”Do you want any money?” I asked him when I knew that he was not going to change his plan.

“I have enough money.”

Chitra went inside the room and chucked few notes in his pocket.  She sat on the chair like a lunatic.  I switched off the T.V. and went closer to her.  When I was staying close to her, tears started running down her face.

“How can I have mental peace when my brother is going to live an absconding life?” asked Chitra.

“Rukman is correct in coming to his conclusion.”

“You are also talking like that“ she leaned on my shoulders.

Even though she uttered those words yet I felt that she was happy for him to lead an absconded life.

I finished my work at 5.00 p.m.  Both of us went to Padaviya by bus.  It was 7.00 p.m. when we reached Siripura.  Chitra’s mother greeted us when she saw us.

“What all of a sudden?” she asked.

“We wanted to see you.  That is why we came” Chitra said.

Her facial expressions showed me that she was lying.  But her mother did not suspect her.

“Come in”, she told me.

“Her father will be back soon.”

As soon as she said so, he arrived.

How can we convey to them the news that Rukman is going to abscond?

Chitra had already asked me to convey to her parents about Rukman’s matter.  I decided to tell them after dinner.

“Chitra! Haven’t you seen Rukman?  He hasn’t come home still.” Chitra’s father told her while having dinner.

Chitra looked at my face.

“I want to talk to you about that matter.  Please be seated.”

“You know pretty well that the situation in the country is not at all good.  It seems that the Government is going to proscribe the J.V.P.  Under those circumstances the people in charge of districts would be arrested.  Because of this situation Rukman went toGalleto stay there for some time.  He did not want to stay here.  He wanted us to convey the message as he had to board the bus immediately”, I told him breathlessly.  Chitra’s mother was busy in the kitchen and she did not hear what I said.

“Has Rukman faced with any problems?”

“No.  He did it as a precautionary measure.”

“At the start I told him not to get involved in these things.  He never listened.”

“Only in the olden days did grown- up children listen to their parents.”

“In the olden days, did you listen to your parents, Dad?” she turned her face towards her father.

Chitra had told me many times that Rukman’s behavior resembled that of her father.  I realized that no one could compete with women with regard to their talent in isolating people at the appropriate instance.  Even though all of us had dinner together, there was yet a melancholy feeling all around us.

July riots

Chitra and I met Kannan who had come to Medawachchiya hospital on transfer.  Kannan was a mate of mine at Peradeniya Medical Faculty.

The district hospital at Medawachchiya was very small.  One Medical Officer ran the whole hospital.  If any patient was admitted with serious illness, the patient needed to be transferred toAnuradhapuraorVavuniyaHospital.  As we met only after a number of years, we talked about many things.  Chitra was listening to our conversation but could not understand us as we talked mainly in Tamil.

“You have got a friend fromJaffna?” she told me while returning home.

“Are you getting jealous?” I teased her.

“Then I am going to Padaviya.”

“I told it to tease you, dear!”

We invited Kannan during the next weekend and gave him a treat.  I did not like Kannan’s habit of eating vegetables only.  In areas like Medawachchiya which was surrounded by jungles, there were ample opportunities to get different kinds of wild animal meat.  It was my duty to inspect and certify the meat, which usually came from unlawful killing of a deer or an elk.  Police would hand over to me for inspection only part of the meat.  This has been going on for a long time.  Even though I had an uneasy feeling at the start, I got used to it as time went on.

Few months ago, some time in the night, a Police constable fromJaffnaknocked on my door.  He had in his hand a plastic can and a parcel.  There was smell of arrack emanating from his mouth.

“Why at this time?” I asked him with a bit of irritation.

“Here is some deer meat and a kasippu drink for you, Sir.  You need to give me a certificate.”  The words that came out of his mouth were confusing.  I realized that it was useless talking to him.  I requested him to come in and take a seat.

“What happened?” I inquired from him.

“We got a message that a deer had been shot.  We two went into the jungle.  Those who shot the deer were also brewing illicit arrack.  They escaped when they saw us.  We did not have the heart to leave the illicit brewing as it was.  We waited till the brewing process was complete and then brought the kasippu and deer meat to the Police Station.  We shared both the meat and kasippu and had to obtain a certificate from you.  I have brought these thinking that they will be useful to you.”, the Constable told me.

“For meat I will give you a certificate.  But take back the Kasippu”, I refused courteously.

I remembered that I had not gone toJaffnafor several months.  I also thought about my mother suffering from asthma.

“You better go to Padaviya this weekend and I will be going toJaffna.”

She did not say anything negative.  Her state of mind would have been similar to that of mine.  Since we have not received any message about Rukman, I thought it was better to talk to her parents.

My mother was very happy to see me at home on Friday.

“How is the political situation there?” she asked when I was having dinner.

“Unsatisfactory.  But what can we do?”

“Here too boys are shooting many saying that they are traitors.  Today also, they have shot a person and hung him from a lamp post at Colombothurai Junction.  They have charged him only for theft.  I am going to send your brother Ravi toGermany.  If he continues to stay here, he too may join the movement.”  My father was talking in an unusual manner.

“It is a good suggestion.”  I thought it would be safe for him if he were overseas.

“Why can’t you also go overseas?”

“Everyone can’t go overseas.  I am happy at Medawachchiya.”

“If there are any riots where can you go with the Singhalese girl?”

“Why do you think that riots are going to take place?”

“I have told you what I have to say.  That’s all.”  He lighted a cigar and walked towards the gate.

After spreading my mat in the verandah, I was watching moonlight.  Though I spoke against what he said I realized that there was some truth in what he said.

Mr. Martin Silva of theMedawachchiyaMilkCollectingCenterhad been continuously carrying on his propaganda stating that I was a tiger supporter.  Though most did not believe it still some people listened to this story.  Because of the continuous murders and attacks taking place in the Northern part of the country, the stage had come for the Singhalese to assume that all Tamils were tigers.

When I heard that there was a bomb blast at Thirunelvely on July 24, I told Chitra to proceed to Padaviya and I stayed back with Kannan.  A lorry transporting oil from Nelliady with four Tamils had been scorched to death by Sinhala thugs at Kebbitigollewa.  Kannan, who too came from Nelliaddy and performed postmortem of the dead occupants of the lorry, narrated me this horrific and unfortunate tale.  Many Tamils at Anuradhpura had been murdered and their shops and homes scorched.  Most of them were people well known to me.  Not a single incident took place at Medawachchiya.  Nevertheless, during nights we stayed in the houses of our Singhalese friends.

One night we were staying with the Wijesinghe family.  Both were teachers and had four female children.  We had our food and went to bed at about 10.00 p.m..  the Wijesinghe couple gave us their room to sleep and they slept in front of the room.  Midnight I had a feeling that someone was touching my leg and I got up breathlessly.  Near the bed, Mrs.Wijesinghe was holding a shotgun and a torchlight.  I was terribly scared and could not scream because of the fear.  Mrs.Wijesinghe spoke in a low voice, “Please have this gun and the torchlight with you.  There is only one bullet in the gun.  What can we do if anything happens to you”, she forced the gun in my hand and the torchlight to Kannan.

“She knows that you can use a gun”, Kannan said.

We both did not talk anything further and we could not sleep till morning.  In the morning they gave us tea.  “If possible you both should go somewhere and save your lives.  This country cannot prosper”, said Mr.Wijesinghe.

We both went to Kannan’s quarters and discussed many things.  The newspapers and radio newsbulletins conveyed the bad news inColomboand in the South of Sri Lanka.  Even though no incidents took place in places like Medawachchiya, we felt that the flames on both sides are making the future of the island extremely bleak.  We had no other alternative but to migrate overseas.  We, ordinary citizens, could not determine the future of the country.

“Where can we go?  Some people say that we can migrate toCanadawithout any visas”, I said.

“I have to go toEnglandfor my higher studies.  But I do not know whether I will be able to go so soon”, Kannan explained his position.  Both of us decided to go toColombo.  It was about a week after the riots.  Not a single vehicle was on the road.  Tamil refugees fromColomboand South of Sri Lanka were being dispatched to Northern andEasternProvinces.

Two of my Sinhala friends agreed to accompany us to Colomboand we decided to go in a car that belonged to one of them.  On our way to Colombo, we were able to witness the terrible destruction that had been carried out.  Scorched smoke from the Tamil shops at Jaela in the Negombo area haunted us.  We stayed at a house belonging to a Singhalese friend in Negombo.  We came back to Medawachchiya, after booked air tickets through Upali Travels.

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About noelnadesan

Commentator and analyst of current affairs.
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