Wednesday, 10 August 2016

His Royal Highness, The Tamil Tiger - FICTION


Kathir Bala Sundaram
Chapter 13

Betting on a Dead Horse

By January 30th, the deadline for paying the fine imposed upon Mrs. Vasantha Velautham was fast approaching. Her brother’s efforts to collect the money had ended in failure. Malar, Haran’s wife, found herself constantly cheering her husband up for she feared that if she did not, he would be swallowed up in fear and dread—and just give up. She would often remind him of a German proverb, “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he really is.”
This day found Haran Kandiah at home in his kitchen helping his wife to cook dinner. He diligently scrapped coconut to prepare a sothy dish. Malar stood nearby making string-hoppers, a dish somewhat akin to noodles. These happened to be Haran’s favorite foods. The telephone rang, startling Haran, so that he almost dropped his coconut. He reached over and grabbed the receiver. “Hello?”
“Hello Mama, this is Maithily. How is Auntie?”
“She’s fine. How about you?”
“Fine. Mama, have you gone to Kilinochchi to see mother, yet?”
“I went last week.”
“What did she say? Is she okay? Is she taking her medicine?” The questions came like firing pistons.

He sighed and leaned against the wall for support. “I don’t know what to tell you. When I got there all I got was the runaround. I waited all day to get a meeting with the Minister of Political Affairs. One of the female soldiers kept lecturing me on your mother’s faults, telling me it was her fault for the student uprising.” He licked his lips. “Another soldier, a boy really, no older than twelve I’m sure, hinted that something was wrong with your mother. I just don’t know what it is. It has kept me in sheer agony! They won’t let me see her.”
“You never spoke to the Minister?” Haran could hear the despair in his niece’s voice.
“I did—”
“Why didn’t he let you see mother?”
“Hold on Maithily. When I got in to see the Minister, he asked me to sit down and even politely asked after my health.”
“Maybe he’s changed, then,” she responded with a bit of hope.
“Do you remember Shakespeare’s words in his Henry VI play? ‘O tiger heart wrapped inside a woman’s hide.’ This is the Minister. He’s all smiles, but the smiles hide the deadliest cobra venom.”
Maithily paused before asking, “So what happened?”
“With his big smile he told me that I couldn’t see your mother.”
“I thought he said you could speak to her one more time?”
“He did, and I reminded him of it.”
“He said the circumstances had changed, so he couldn’t allow me to see my sister. I tried to get him to tell me what had changed, but he told me he wasn’t authorized to divulge top secret information.”
“Top secret?”
“That’s what he told me. I pleaded with him, Maithily, I really did. But he would tell me nothing further except that the decision came down directly from His Royal Highness.”
Maithily snorted over the phone. “I don’t believe that! His Royal Highness is in a hidden bunker somewhere cowering while other people do his dirty work. How could the Minister talk to him? I highly doubt the Tamil Tiger leader would leave his cozy hiding place just to deny you access to mother. This isn’t about moving army units from one sector to another! This is about him locking up an innocent women and keeping the rest of the Tamil people in the dark!”
Haran heartily agreed with his niece’s assessment. Tears came to his eyes unbidden as he heard Maithily begin to weep. Malar moved closer and rubbed Haran’s back softly. She could hardly bear to see the anguish in her dear husband’s eyes. Her own distress caused her ample bosom to heave as she grappled with what to do.
It became clear to all of them that they would have to come up with the sixteen million rupees to extract the truth. That the Tamil Tigers were hiding something was obvious. Normally they just denied involvement in the entire thing like claiming that a particular person had never showed up at Kilinochchi, or that the order never happened. In Vasantha Veluautham’s case, they couldn’t deny her captivity.
“Maybe you could try again,” his niece said after she calmed down some. “Tell the Minister that I have been paying the Tamil Tigers $300 US dollars monthly. Tell him that I have supported his cause, marched in demonstrations, and carried pictures of His Royal Highness in Sydney. Tell him that we have a picture of His Royal Highness hanging in our house, and that we have flags and publications from the Tamil Tigers. Tell him all this! Maybe he will let you see mother.”
“I can try, Maithily. But don’t let your fear for your mother get in the way of the reality here. The Tamil Tigers always want more money. If you tell them this, they will just want more. The same thing happened back in 1990 when they took gold from every single family. From the high class, however, they took more than just two grams. Because they hate the high class, they plundered us. Your own mother was forced to give up the gold she had saved for your wedding gift. You are of the high class to them. If you tell them that you are paying $300 US dollars, they will just want more.”
Maithily paused as she digested that information. “Well maybe you could remind them of all the things mother did for them. She paid her taxes each month and in the early 1980’s she provided one hundred food parcels every Friday to the group stationed by Nallur Murukan Temple.” She hesitated. “Maybe he would be willing to reduce the fine.”
Haran suppressed a sigh. He had grave doubts that any of this would make any difference at all. Still, he didn’t want to crush his niece’s hope.”
“Okay, Maithily, I’ll try. Don’t worry.”
“Thank you! Is there any news on the sale of the house and shop?”
“You already know what happened the first time—the greedy scoundrels! Cheaters all of them!” He calmed himself. “The number of potential buyers has been dwindling steadily since then. No one has come in the last couple of days. It has been heavily raining round the clock---maybe that is reason.”
“What is the highest offer so far?”
“One million, nine hundred thousand rupees for the house and a million for the store.”
“That’s terrible! Do you think selling the house and shop would even be enough?”
“There is no way to know right now. I have a friend who is looking into more serious buyers. Maybe he can turn up something.”
Mama, there is only nine days left. We must hurry. The deadline is fast approaching.” She fell silent for a moment. “My poor mother!” she lamented.
“Maithily, I don’t know what’s going to happen. We must pray to god to save us from this disaster. Please don’t cry. Our fates have been set in stone and we’re powerless to change it. Everything has gone beyond our abilities, so it is in god’s hands now. He won’t let us down since we have done nothing wrong. Please keep hoping.”
“Yes, Mama.”
“Goodbye, my dear.”
Haran just wished he could believe his own words. At this moment, he wondered if his sister was even still alive. This he dared not share with his niece or anyone else for that matter, but at the moment he believed the Tamil Tigers were just trying to defraud him out of sixteen million rupees. He would pay the money, he feared, only to find out his sister had been dead for weeks.
This seemed to be a standard tactic of the Tigers. They were now even denying that they had anything to do with Vice Principal Pirya Shan’s abduction—despite the fact that everyone knew they had done it. She hadn’t even turned up yet, alive or dead. He suspected that her body was buried in a shallow grave in some remote part of the jungle.
No, he decided, the Tamil Tigers couldn’t be trusted with the truth. They would pervert it every time. He feared the worst for his dear sister.

*          *          *          *          *
  It was Vasantha Velautham’s second week. Every day that passed without her release seemed to leech away a little more of her heart and soul. She couldn’t understand the delay. She figured it an easy task to raise the money. She felt confident that between the sale of her property and the generosity of her peers, she would be freed in a short time. But nothing had changed. She languished in the awful prison day after day.
She didn’t know about the troubles her brother faced, or that her friends had all broken their promises to help, fearing retribution from the Tamil Tigers—at least that is what they claimed the reason to be. Haran’s attempt to raise money from the staff of Vembady Girl’s College had been met with the general excuse, “The Tamil tigers are angry at us for allowing the students to revolt. If we contribute, they will kill us too!” 
Since she didn’t know the real situation, a small measure of hope kept her going day after day. Despite the tremendous physical and emotional pain she had to endure, she rose to the occasion in a way she never thought herself capable of. The hope of her release was all that kept her going.
Then the day came when Tolli, the one who had kicked the Principal, arrived with the insolent twelve year old boy to torment her. The woman, dressed in her camouflage uniform stared through the window of the cell. The young cadet stood at her side pinching his nose against the reek, and his short hair stuck straight up as if struck by a jolt of electricity.
Indeed, the place stank. The plastic pan full of urine stood un-emptied in one corner. Flies buzzed in swarms around the cell, casting a tangible cloud against the meager light allowed into the room. Leeches, crawled undisturbed through the urine soaked soil and up blackened walls.
The Principal herself lay in a corner, curled up protectively against the chill. She wore the same clothing as when she had first been tossed into the cell, and the once gold colored sari had taken on the same hue as the dirty floor. Her disheveled hair had long ago fallen out of her bun and lay in a matted mess against her back. Her small allotment of water wasn’t even enough to wash her hair or brush her teeth. Her face had long ago lost its luster, but her eyes peered at the two soldiers with profound hatred and anger.
“Is she dreaming of returning home, I wonder,” Tolli whispered to her companion.
“Maybe. How does such a woman from a well-to-do family manage it in there?” replied the young soldier.
“I would love nothing more than to go in there and give that wretched woman another beating,” Tolli said hatefully.
“Don’t do it! If Paari finds out, you will be punished.” He looked away from his older companion and yelled, “Hey!”
Mrs. Vasantha looked out and responded with only a single word, “Water.”
This only egged the youth on. “You’re getting what you deserve,” he taunted. “If you hadn’t been acting like a dumb mannequin when your students disrupted the Smiling Minister’s speech, you wouldn’t be here!” He cursed at her, calling her names. He looked at Tolli for support and the older woman nodded, smiling tightly. “Did you know that your brother’s efforts to sell your house and shop was a bust?” He laughed. “No one wants to pay more than three million for everything!” He stuck his tongue out and threw out a few more profanities for good measure. “Not even your dear daughter is helping; she can’t afford to help you, you see, since she bought herself a nice big, fancy house!” He laughed again. “You might as well roll over and die, because you aren’t getting out of here!”
The news about her brother and daughter brought a bit more animation to the Principal. She sat up straighter, stunned by the news, hardly knowing if she could believe the young pup or not. She swallowed dryly, and muttered to herself, “It’s my fate. I’m suffering for something I did in my past life, and now my fate is sealed. It can’t be changed by anyone.”
What little hope she had faded away in a blink of an eye. The only thing she could cling to now was the hope that her next life wouldn’t be one of suffering and pain. Hopefully, she built up enough karma to assist her in the next life…and maybe she had done well enough to attain moska—and join with the ultimate Divine.

She needed something to lash out against, something to justify her pain and suffering. And like any other good Hindu person, she blamed it on karma. Ultimately, it was both her salvation and her doom.

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