Is It really over?
There are some types of hate that I totally don’t get.
‘If we even step into the country they will kill us’, said the janitor in my Oslo office in that amusing singsong Srilankan Tamil accent. This was in 2008, before the war ‘ended’. Who is They, I wondered. Are They tracking the movements of this nondescript man standing in front of me with the mop in his hand? How could They hate him so much? I didn’t get it. He told me about his annual trip to meet his parents the next month. They would fly in to Chennai from Srilanka and he would fly into Chennai from Oslo. They would meet for a fortnight in a hotel in Vadapalani, laugh , cry, pray, enjoy togetherness as long as they could. Then they would bid goodbyes with the hope that they would meet again the next year; sametime sameplace, godwilling. And they would go back home. The parents, back to their home in some war torn town near the equator, and he, back to his destined life closer to the north pole.
In another country, a few months before it all got over, a gentleman was just leaving a friend’s house as I entered. ‘He’s a puli. He rushing to meet someone with some money’, my friend whispered to me. Maybe my friend was exaggerating and the man was just a sympathiser, a refugee, but a shiver ran down my spine.
I read Reef this year, it had some mild mentions about the War. And I read Blue before that, it had nothing about the War. That’s all I knew about Srilanka till a week ago. I blindly supported The Cause, outraged over Rajapakshe’s visits, made the obligatory noises over that John Abraham movie and such things because I felt that it was the thing to do. But now I know.
The Terror travels from Colombo to Canada to London with Tigers, ex Tigers, disillusioned Tigers, resigned-to-fate Tigers and non-Tigers telling their tales. Scattered across the world, they still yearn for the life they dreamed of, the life they left behind. And then the book moves to The North, the defeated country. Jaffna, a town stuck in an automobile timewarp, haunted by the ghosts from the Terror. Nameboards scrubbed clean of Tamil. Kandarodai is now Kandurugoda, Hindu temples are overshadowed by Buddhist viharayas and Mahinda Rajapakshe’s creepy smile overshadows The Buddha. A mosque that refuses to erase the bullet holes from a Tiger attack, a mosque inscribed with the names of 103 victims of a Tiger attack. A tale of an eight year old boy shot in the mouth by a Tiger.
The Faith broke my faith in Buddhism. I thought Buddhism was a religion of peace. But turns out that it is much like the other Religion of Peace: violent and fanatic. It also takes on the shades of that ideology from Germany when the Sinhalese talk about Aryan supremacy. The Sinhalese are apparently the Aryans who came with Buddhism from North India and the Tamils are the ugly dirty Dravidians who deserve to be wiped out. And it also reveals shades of the current trend of hatred that is taking over India these days with monks dressed in various hues of saffron invoking kings and events from two millenia ago to justify the ethnic cleansing today.
The book ends with the Endgames, where the futility of it all hits you. Villages full of families clinging on to the hope that their loved ones snatched away by the Tigers are still alive somewhere. Wives refusing to let go of their missing husbands, either running from NGO pillar to post for answers or challenging the gods by flaunting the symbols of their marriage with the hope that their dead husbands will return. On one hand, you seethe with anger at the Tigers for grabbing unwilling men and women, boys and girls to fight the War, but on the other hand you also wonder at the selfishness of families refusing to participate in the war , a war that is theirs as much as it was Prabhakaran’s.
I was a Tiger sympathiser until I read this book. But I still don’t hate them as much as I feel sorry for them. Like all Causes, this one also started off on the right track, for the right reasons. And went horribly, horribly wrong somewhere. A war is not lost when the last bullet hits your leader, it is lost when disillusionment sets in. And that, it seems, happened long before 19th May 2009. In every line of the book there was the undercurrent of the frustration and the helplessness of the cornered Tigers, the frustration that made them lose their minds long before they lost the war.
Samanth Subramaniam writes so beautifully. Like tiny flowers blooming on a battlefield, his metaphors brighten up the depressing storyline. He has traveled the length and breadth of The Divided Island on rickety buses, autorickshaws, motorcycles and on foot to speak to the people whose voices need to be heard; voices of anger, frustration, sadness. Voices of hope and hopelessness. He treads carefully throughout the book, telling the tale without revealing his sources, most of them initials and pseudonyms. Because, though it is 2014, They might still get to them. He doesn’t take sides in this book, but at the end, the reader will. And that side will be the side of the civilians. The ones who didn’t have a choice.