Going to the Tiger’s Den
Early the next day, Principal Vasantha Velautham stood in front of her office and watched the students and teachers entering the college compound in continual white waves. Her eyes sought out three specific individuals. The first was the Vice Principal, Mrs. Priya Shan, the second was Monitor Sendhoory, and the last was the day gate sentry, Raman.
She impatiently signaled the night sentry, Manian, with a wave of her index finger. The young man, dressed in khaki shorts and a yellow shirt, sprinted over to her from his position by the gate. “Madam?” he asked politely.
Raman? Shouldn’t he be here by
“I don’t know, Madam.”
“Did he leave a note explaining his absence?”
“No, Madam. I really don’t understand it either. He has never been late in his career and he never takes a vacation either.”
Vasantha frowned and tapped her foot impatiently. “Until your relief comes, I want you to remain on duty.”
Of course, no one knew that
been ordered to report to Kilinochchi by Lieutenant Earless. If she had known
about it, she would not have been so confused as to the man’s absence. In fact,
his disappearance might explain a lot to her if she’d known.
While she fretted over this latest development, a student from the town of
hurried through the college gate carrying a heavy, dark blue bag on her back.
The student spotted the Principal and made her way over and handed her a note
before heading towards her class. With shaking hands, the principal tore open
the envelope and extracted the note from inside. She started reading: Chunnakam
To the Principal, Vembady Girls’ College
I am indisposed. I am applying for a week long medical leave of absence starting today.
’s worry had, apparently,
caused her to come down with a case of loose bowels. The previous night, her
fear and anxiety caused her to retreat to the bathroom numerous times. This
happened enough so that her husband, Mrs.
head of the Jaffna Election Department, finally taken note of it. Mr. Shan
Placing his newspaper aside he turned his concerned gaze on his wife who sat on their sofa trying to place her hair in a bun. Her brown nightdress looked wrinkled and in disarray matching the worry lines that seemed etch
ed into her face. Clearly,
observed, she had been crying. Concerned because his wife was usually very
joyful, he shifted to gain her attention and then asked, “What’s wrong?
Something’s been bothering you since I got home from work. Did you have a
problem with the Principal?” Mr. Shan
Their eldest daughter, Dayani, five years of age, ran into the sitting-room and jumped into her father’s lap. “Daddy, Mommy is sick. She has to go to the bathroom all the time. Does she need to go to the hospital?”
Mr. Shan looked confused, worried that his daughter had also noticed his wife’s distress. “I don’t think so.” He glanced back at his wife. “So did you have a problem with the Principal?”
“No, it’s not her.”
“Look, you’ve gone to the bathroom at least ten times since I’ve been home. Something’s wrong. What is it?”
reached over and took a cigarette from a pack lying on the coffee table. He
stuck it in his mouth and lit it with practiced ease. Mr. Shan
“There’s a problem at the college,” Priya admitted.
“Oh! I’m sorry to hear about that, darling. Tell me about it.”
Priya rubbed her eyes.
could tell that she was
exhausted. “The Tamil Tigers came to the college today.” Mr
“My God! Are you serious?”
“Yes, the Minister of Political Affairs came with his aides.”
“That cruel, dirty…”
sighed, deeply agitated
himself. “What happened?” Mr.
His wife related the events of that day in detail. She finished with, “And I promised to go with the Principal to Kilinochchi tomorrow morning.” She shook her head. “The poor woman. There is no one to go with her—no one who really wants to go with her. I feel obligated, though. If it wasn’t for her recommendation, I wouldn’t be the Vice Principal.
would have gotten the position instead.” She looked up at her husband, her eyes
betraying her fear. “The Principal has a car. We can be back before .” Sumathy Jathav
Her husband leaned forward, his eyes intent. “I understand that you feel you need to be loyal to
. I really do. But you
must understand that the situation is different now. This goes beyond simple
loyalty. The Tamil Tigers are involved. They are feared terrorists that have
been disgraced and shamed by the students of your school. Their hatred will
know no bounds! They’re wounded. And an injured tiger never lets an enemy
escape its sharp teeth. If you go to Kilinochchi, they’ll target you too.
They’ll interrogate you. They’ll want to know why you didn’t do more to stop
the students, why you let them continue to defy the Minister. Soon they’ll
discover that the students respect you more than they do the Principal. Where
will that put you then? And they will find out! Their spy network rivals the
Indian RAW, the American CIA, and the Russian SVR.” Vasantha
“But I promised her! I owe her at least that much, don’t I? She’s never harmed anyone in her life. She’s a saint!”
“Saint? The Tigers don’t care about saints or rogues. You are a fool if you go to Kilinochchi. That’ll be the end of you. Remember
your cousin? They ordered him to go and now they say he never got there.” Ratnam Mathar ’s
face darkened in outrage. “It’s not just him either. It’s hundreds and hundreds
of people that supposedly just disappear after arriving at Kilinochchi!” He
rubbed his chin, thinking hard. He had to convince her not to go. “We’ve got
three children. Look at them. If you go you’re killing us all. It’s like
poisoning your own children. Look at Reka holding your dress. Look at your
baby! She’s only four months old! Look at her smile.” Mr. Shan
Priya left her seat to gather up her baby in her arms. She hugged the child tight. “Honey, I don’t know what to do. I’m confused. How do I get out of this dilemma?”
“I was wondering why you had diarrhea. I understand the reason now. Dear
Priya, think of our children and
you’ll see the answer clear enough. Can I raise the children without you? If
you go to Kilinochchi they’ll never allow you to come home. They’ll chain you
in a dirty prison and torture you until you tell them exactly what they want to
hear and then they’ll kill you and brand you as a traitor—their classic
“Remember the story of
the accountant? The Tamil Tigers ordered her to report to Kilinochchi for an
investigation. She went six months ago, and now they claim she never got there.
In your case, they’ll smell your hatred of them.” Her husband paused and he
looked at his wife suspiciously as a thought entered his head. “You had a hand
in the student’s actions, didn’t you?” Miss
Priya just lowered her eyes, saying nothing.
“Well? Did you?”
She shrugged. “What should I do?”
“Send a note to the Principal telling her that you are taking a medical leave of absence.”
“Take a medical leave?”
“Yes. Your diarrhea will suffice as an excuse. I can vouch for you.”
But she didn’t have diarrhea. She went to the bathroom so her children and her husband didn’t have to watch her cry.
* * * * *
Having read the message,
Principal went into her office and sat
heavily in her chair. Her head fell to the desk top and she began to cry, her
sobs shaking her entire body. She had held out some hope that she would be able
to strike an amicable deal with the Minister of Political Affairs that would
get the Minister what he wanted—the students participation in the protest
rally—and her with her life and freedom. Her hopes were shattered like the
lives of those caught in a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber’s
The office assistant, Ponnamma, a young girl wearing a yellow sari and black blouse rang the bell for classes to start. Immediately, the disciplined girls began marching towards the auditorium like a military parade.
All of a sudden, she heard the Principal ring her bell, calling for her. Ponnamma rushed into the office, her ponytail flying out behind her. “Fetch Monitor Sendhoory,” the older woman ordered.
Ponnamma scurried away, cutting through the throng of students like a knife through butter. She looked for Sendhoory’s class teacher until someone remarked, “The history teacher isn’t here yet.”
“She won’t come,” another added in hushed tones.
After further inquiry, she discovered that Sendhoory was absent too. Ponnamma returned to the office. “Madam, Monitor Sendhoory is absent today.”
Feeling as if she carried the entire weight of the world on her thick shoulders, the Principal rose from her desk and marched outside to check on a few other people. She needed to know what else was going on. The Principal discovered two other noteworthy absentees that day. The History Teacher was missing as was Head Prefect Mehala.
They would later learn that the pair had slipped out of the City of
Sendhoory’s absence sent the Principal into an emotional tail spin. She presumed that if she didn’t bring the girl, she would be questioned at Kilinochchi harshly about her efforts to locate her. So she decided to go to Sendhoory’s home located in Neervely, a small village famous for its banana crops.
On her way there, Vasantha passed through Nallur. Once the capital of the
, it remained the cultural center
of the Tamil people. Passing a bus stop near the Sankiliyan statue of the last
Jaffna King who had been defeated by the Portuguese, she noted a well known
parent of one of her students, a Jaffna Kingdom .
Thinking he might have some information on Sendhoory’s whereabouts, she pulled
over and offered him a lift. Rasiah Nimalan
Rasiah was missing his right arm. Before the Cease Fire Agreement was in effect, the army stationed at Palaly, eighteen kilometers away from the city of
used to fire artillery shells all over the peninsula at night. One of those
shells had blasted through the roof of his house while he was sleeping and cut
off his arm. Rasiah jumped into the car and greeted the Principal with a
sympathetic smile. “Madam, my daughter told me everything that happened
yesterday at the college.” Jaffna
Vasantha nodded curtly. “That’s why I’m going to Neervely. I need to pick up Sendhoory. Do you know where her house is?”
“I do. Her house is in the northern part of Neervely near the Banana Co-operative Society. Her father, Rajaguru, is an Associate Professor of Economics at the
of Kula Lumpur .” Malaysia
Driving the car in that direction, it didn’t take the Principal long before she was passing the huge co-operative buildings and a large number of banana plantations. She turned left and proceeded five hundred meters and came to a stop before a large, modern house. The house sat upon an acre of land and was surrounded by six-foot parapet walls on all four sides. Mango trees and coconut palms surrounded the house itself within the compound. About eighteen meter tall black palmyra tree swayed gently by the gate, overlooking the road. A woodpecker pecked away at a hole on the palmyra palm.
exited the car and moved towards the locked iron gate. He called loudly, “Sir?” Rasiah Nimalan
Two huge Alsatian dogs burst out from cover and began barking and growling threateningly on the other side of the gate. A group of green parrots with red beaks scattered from some mango branches at the sounds and flew away, protesting loudly in their high pitch sounds at being so rudely disturbed. Rasiah jumped back from the angry dogs and scurried back into the car. “Maybe we should talk to the neighbors, first,” he said nervously, his eyes still on the frenzied dogs.
Vasantha agreed. She moved further down the road to another house. An old man sporting pure white hair and an expensive walking stick approached them. “Can I help you,” he asked through the Honda’s rolled down windows.
“This is the Principal of Vembady Girls’ College,” Rasiah explained. “She has come to meet her student, Sendhoory, who attends there.”
The old man frowned slightly and shrugged. “I saw them leaving the house yesterday evening.”
“Do you know where they went?” Vasantha asked
What the Principal didn’t know was that the old man was Sendhoory’s grandfather who lived in an adjacent house. Sendhoory and her mother were hiding in his house making preparations to flee the country. Sendhoory’s father,
, had already boarded a plane in
Malasia and was on his way to Professor Rajaguru .
The Principal would not be finding Sendhoory that day. Colombo
* * * * *
It was The Honda was once again parked in front of the Principal’s office right next to the rose bushes that were in full bloom. The smell was overwhelming to those who happened to walk by.
Pandit Manka and the office assistant, Ponnamma, headed towards the Principal’s office. Everyone else was in their classes.
“Madam?” Manka inquired when she entered the Principal’s office. “Did you call me? Are you not going to Kilinochchi?”
“Priya promised to go with me,” the Principal replied heavily. “But she sent a note claiming to have taken a medical leave of absence.”
“She’s lying, Madam,” Manka stated bluntly. “You helped her to attain her position and she has given you the cold shoulder. It’s always in times of trouble where you discover who your real friends are.”
“I don’t know. Maybe she really is sick. I don’t think she is a liar. I think her husband made her write the note. I can hardly blame him, however.”
“What about Sendhoory?”
“Gone. I don’t know where she is. I checked her house, but she wasn’t there.”
“My God! I don’t know what to say! You know what the Tamil Tigers are like. Go there at once and apologize. Don’t delay; the longer you delay the worse it will be for you!”
“Pandit Manka, you are one of my closest friends…”
“You know that. I’ll always be here for you.”
Vasantha was glad to hear that. “Will you go with me to Kilinochchi? I’m afraid to go alone.”
The blood drained from Pandit Manka’s face at the request. Her eyes lost their glimmer, looking oddly dull and dead. She fidgeted as if she wanted to bolt at any moment. Silence dominated the room.
When the other woman made no response, Vasantha tried again. “Please help me! I’ll be ever grateful to you!”
“Madam, I’ve got five children all below the age of ten. If my husband finds out I went with you to Kilinochchi, he’ll kill me!”
“Pandit Manka! If you refuse me, who will go with me?”
Manka shook her head and backed away a little. “I’m sorry, Madam. I’ve got five children. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Without waiting to hear more, Pandit Manka dashed out of the office and ran like a rabbit fleeing a jackal. She hastened to her class where her students saw her flush
face and heavy breathing. They immediately knew something was wrong.
“Teacher, why are you shaking?” one asked.
“Have you been transferred to Vanni?” another asked.
“No,” she replied breathlessly, trying to regain some of her poise.
“What happened then?”
Without thinking, she replied, “The Principal wants me to go with her.”
The students gasped in unison, shocked. Many of them cried out, “Don’t go! Please don’t go!”
One voice rose above the others echoing perfectly Manka’s feelings on the matter. “Don’t go Teacher! It’s a hell that bathes in human blood!”
Her worried classmates reiterated it chorus. “Don’t go Teacher! It’s a hell that bathes in human blood!”