Saturday, 22 October 2016

His Royal Highness,The Tamil Tiger - FICTION


Kathir Bala Sundaram

Chapter 16
Bona Fide Tigers

February 9th, 2006 arrived without fanfare, without celebration. Yet for a few people, the date for paying Vasantha Valautham’s fine became significant in ways they never dreamed possible.
Haran Kandiah sat on the narrow bench that lay within the shadow of an ironwood tree, the Ministry of Political Affairs before him. He wanted to see his sister again.    
He coughed once and then craned his neck to look down the road, hoping to see his niece’s rented car approaching from Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. Dr. Maithily Rooban had arrived in Sri Lanka from Australia the previous day, so Haran expected her along soon.

Squad leader Paari and her troops marched by and the one named Tolli ran over to him smiling widely. “Good morning, sir! We know that you are here to take your sister home today! She’s fine and expecting your arrival eagerly.” Her smile got even wider, and Haran almost thought it looked a bit sardonic. “She is so happy that she is singing cinema songs! Well, good bye, sir!” She threw one more mocking smile his way and dashed off to rejoin her squad.
Haran didn’t know what to make of it. On one hand, he was glad that his sister was alive, but the sarcasm that poured forth from the female Tamil Tiger put him in a nervous state.
When Dr. Maithily arrived, the pair of them walked to the Ministry of Political Affairs. The Smiling Minister was waiting for them with his patent smile and beady eyes that scrutinized them minutely. “Haran Kandiah and Dr. Maithily, please come in and take a seat.”
Haran did, but felt uncomfortable under the unblinking gaze of Parri’s squad standing behind the Minister.
“We’ve come to pay the fine for Vasantha Valautham,” Haran’s niece announced. “Here are two certified checks totaling sixteen million rupees.”
The Minister took the checks and scrutinized them for an agonizingly long time. “These seem to be in order,” he pronounced.
“Honorable Minister,” Maithily put in, “I just want to tell you that I am an ardent supporter of the Tamil Tigers. I contribute $300 US dollars every month and I always participate in all rallies and functions in Sydney.”
The Minister nodded without losing his smile. “Yes, Madam, we know this. You do your duty well, and we are indebted to you and the rest of the Tamil Diaspora. I pray that you will instruct your mother to follow a similar course.” The Smiling Minister turned to regard Paari. “Fetch Madam Vasnatha. You know what to do.”
“Yes sir!”
Paari left with her squad.
The Minister motioned towards the door. “You may wait outside. Squad Leader Paari will bring her to you.”
Four hours later, the worried pair was still waiting. They alternately paced around and sat on the narrow bench beneath the ironwood tree. Finally, Maithily threw her hands in the air. “Mama! What is the delay?”
“Maybe they have a long way to go to get her,” Haran answered softly, his gaze resting on some distant point.  
His niece turned to regard him curiously. “Mama, you look depressed. Is everything okay? Is auntie okay?”
“She’s fine,” he assured her. “She’s always looking out for me like I was a little child. She is such a wonderful, amazing woman.” He sighed and the little speech only created more confusion for his niece who didn’t know why he needed to say all that.
“You’re hiding something from me,” she accused him softly. She moved near and placed a hand on his arm. “Tell me what it is.”
“There is nothing. My sister is coming home. Why should I be depressed? Look at me. I’m as happy as a dancing peacock.”
Maithily looked doubtful, but in the face of her mother’s impending return, she let the matter drop.

Meanwhile, Paari’s squad of soldiers had reached the prison and drug the filthy and stinking Principal from her cell. They propped the woman up next to the well and began dumping buckets of water over her head—her first bath since her arrival. One of the female soldiers lathered shampoo into her matted and grimy hair, and another began applying soap to the rest of her naked body. Paari cut the Principal’s fingernails, and still another soldier went to look for some new clothing to put on the emaciated Principal.
After they finished, Paari stood back and looked over her handiwork. She nodded. “Good enough. Get her dressed.”
With a new set of clothes, washed hair and body, Vasantha was practically tossed into a new life.      
They took the Principal to a waiting jeep where Paari sprayed jasmine perfume all over the silk sari and blouse. “Got to get you prettied up for your brother and daughter,” she said with a wink.

Back at the Ministry of Political Affairs, Haran had had enough. “Something went wrong,” he growled. “I suspect foul play.”
Maithily gasped and shook her head. “Don’t even think of such things!” she scolded.
“You can’t trust the Tamil Tigers!”
“They’re not better than the filthy paramilitary soldiers—traitors all of them!”
“You are part of the Tamil Dispora” Haran argued. “You don’t know what is really going on around here. Your mother’s Vice-Principal, Piriya Shan, was abducted by the Tamil Tigers. No one even knows where she is now…or even if she is alive.” He decided not to tell her of the rumors of the body found in a lagoon.

The argument came to an abrupt end when a Pajero jeep pulled up about a hundred meters away. Maithily grabbed her uncle’s arm. “Mama! Look there!”
Haran squinted and tried not to cough. “Yes, it’s your mother.”
“Why are all the soldiers standing around her?”
“I don’t know.” Haran started to move towards the jeep then. He needed to get to his sister. He needed to see that she was okay.
“Wait,” Maithily called after him. “It’s not mom. That is someone else. That woman has milk white hair. Mom’s hair is black, isn’t it?”
“It is,” he confirmed, staring towards the jeep.
Indeed, the woman looked nothing like his sister. This woman was skinny, where his sister was a sturdy woman—overweight even. The soldiers grabbed the woman’s arms and helped her to walk as they drew near to the waiting pair.
“Here is your mother,” Paari announced when they got close enough.
“My mother?” Maithily asked uncertainly.
“Yes. This is her.”
Maithily’s face darkened with anger. “What trick is this? Where is my mother! I demand you bring my mother to me right now!”
“Madam Doctor, this is your mother!
Haran and Maithily forced themselves to look closer at the woman held between the two female soldiers. Slowly, Haran’s niece approached the skeleton of a woman, trying to rectify the sight of this shattered human being in expensive clothes to the vibrant image she had of her mother. Recognition flooded her mind all at once.
This was her mother.
“Mother,” she breathed, moving very close and reaching out to touch the fragile creature before her. The broken woman didn’t even react to the touch. “Mother? Mother!” she began to wail brokenly, flinging herself upon her mother, trying to gather her in and protect her. She wailed and screamed her anger, and a flock of parrots, startled by the sudden noises, scattered from the trees.
Haran moved closer to try to comfort his niece and got a really good look at his spiritless sister. “Sister,” he called. “It’s Haran, your brother. Talk to me. Talk to us, please.” His begging fell on deaf ears.
Haran joined his niece and together their shrill cries of anguish rent the air.
The squad of soldiers, their work finished, left, congratulating themselves on a job well done.
Maithily had brought two drivers with her in the rented van. These two men helped to move the former Principal into the van and made her as comfortable as possible. Haran waved goodbye to his sister, tears still streaming down his face.
“Mama,” his niece called, her voice hoarse from crying. “Come with me to Australia. Things are too bad here.”
“You can’t take both me and your Auntie,” he said softly, shaking his head. “We’ll need to stay here. Don’t worry about us. Everything will be alright.”
“Are you sure?”
He hesitated. “Please take care of my sister and let her know that I love her very much.”
“I will,” she promised.
Haran watched them drive away. It was the last time he ever saw either of them again.

When Haran Kandiah arrived home later that evening, he carried a shopping bag in one hand. His wife playfully snuck a peek inside and stopped when she saw its contents, confusion filling her eyes.
“Why do you have a roll of nylon rope?” Malar asked.
“It’s a gift for Lieutenant Kannady,” he answered seriously. “He will be coming tomorrow morning at 5:30 to collect the taxes.” He smiled. “I plan to tie him to the mango tree in the front yard.”
Malar frowned, and wrung her hands. “Don’t joke like that. Did you ask Maithily about helping with the taxes?”
“Of course I did,” he lied. Haran knew perfectly well that his niece had beggared herself to scrape up the rest of the money to free her mother. Even if she had the money, it couldn’t possibly get to them in time. “She’ll send us the full amount as soon as she reaches Sydney.”
“That’s a relief,” she said, and indeed a great weight seemed to lift off of his wife’s shoulders. “And the Lieutenant will wait until the money gets here?”
“He will. That’s why he’s coming tomorrow morning, to make arrangements.”
“Thank God!”
Haran smiled at that, glad she could find a bit of peace. “Did you fix supper?”
“Yes! I made your favorite dish—stringhoppers and sothy.”
They began having their meal happily. They talked of old times, reminisced about their dreams and plans for the future, and in general, just loved being around each other.
Soon enough, it was time for bed and his dear, sweet wife fell into a deep, peaceful sleep almost immediately. Her snores sounded like music to his ears.
He got up without disturbing her and stared down at her for a long time, tears once again pouring down his checks and blurring his vision. His heart ached and felt like it would burst at any moment.
Leaving home, he went down to the nearby temple and stood at the entrance for some time, sobbing and praying. He picked up jasmine flowers that worshipers had dropped on the steps and returned home, placing the fragrant flowers around the sleeping form of his wife. He stood there for another long time, praying for her, and praying for himself—but mostly for her.
Taking a deep breath, his eyes firming in determination, he went into the kitchen and retrieved a long knife. He returned to his wife, kissed her gently on the forehead for the last time, and aimed the knife at the soft skin around his wife’s neck.
That part of the job finished, he hurriedly grabbed the nylon rope from the bag and went out onto the veranda, a stool in hand.  Throwing the rope over a sturdy branch, he tied it off to just the right height. Climbing onto his stool, he put his neck in the noose and pulled it tight against his adam’s-apple. Closing his eyes, he whispered one final prayer and then kicked the stool out from underneath him.

At 5:30 a.m. sharp on February 10th, 2006, Lieutenant Kannady opened Haran Kandiah’s gate and let himself into the compound. He came prepared to collect either the full amount in taxes or to take Haran into custody. He really didn’t care which. Either would satisfy him. 
One of the three soldiers flanking him spotted the hanging body first and cried out, pointing. Kannady came to an abrupt halt as he looked at the blackened and bloated face of Haran. Anger coursed through his veins, making his face turn red. “You devilish brute!” he yelled, shaking his fist at the uncaring body. “You think you have cheated me? I’ll get the tax money out of your wife even if I have to skin her and sell her stinking hide to get it!”
Kannady rushed into the house thinking to catch Malar before she could flee the house, but when he entered the bedroom he found that Haran had cheated him yet again. There, in a large pool of blood, lay Malar’s body, her throat cut cleanly. A small smile on her still face, mocked the Tamil Tiger’s impotent wrath.
Liutenant Kannady stepped outside again and stared at the hanging body of Haran Kandiah. He ground his teeth together and his nostrils flared. He hated the fact that this man had cheated him in death. “It’s a disgrace,” he muttered. His fingers twitched as he thought of putting a bullet in the hanging corpse.
A call on his phone interrupted his musings. “Yes?” he demanded.
“Sir,” the voice replied, and Kannady recognized one-eyed Seetha’s voice. “There is bad news in today’s Uthayan newspaper.”
“What news?” he asked reluctantly, not really wanting to hear anything else.
“Sir, Perhaps it would be better if I read it to you,” she replied. Kannady could hear the anger in her voice.
“Vembady Girls’ College student, Mehala the Head Prefect, and a history teacher, Kavitha Karunanithy, who were both involved in the uprising against the Minister of Political Affairs—presumed to have drowned in the Palk Strait—are alive. The Indian Navy claims to have rescued a small boat struggling through dangerous waves and a heavy north-east monsoon wind. The boat was being pursued by the Tamil Tigers’ Navy, the Indian Navy reported, and the Tamil Tigers could only watch as Indian sailors rescued the small crew. Both women have been taken to one of the refugee camps in Tamil Nadu, a southern Indian state.”
“This is another disgrace,” Kannady complained, eyeing the cloudy sky and the many crows cawing gravely up in the air flying round the mango tree.
Just then the northeast monsoon torrential downpour started soaking him. Irritated all the more, he stomped his way out of the compound and to his jeep where his subordinates already huddled inside to avoid the rain.
Lieutenant Kannady just didn’t care.

 About that same time, Professor Rajaguru, looked out the large window of his luxurious hotel room. He studied the City of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, absently. A good portion of the ornate style window was taken up with the endless Indian Ocean. A tropical morning cool breeze from the open doors soothed his mind as he prepared to take his leave. He would have gone to Malaysia the previous week, had he paid the amount he promised to the paramilitary group. He stayed until he got the necessary money to settle their due. He moved into the guest room.
“Sir, taxi is ready to go to the airport. Shall I take the suit cases down?” The room attendant enquired submissively. Professor Rajaguru nodded; he turned his head and smiled at the paramilitary group leader and his subordinates waiting there. They were the persons, wearing dark clothes and masks, kidnapped Sendhoory from Sivathalam Avarankal’s celebrated house to take her to Colmbo via Palay Airport.
Rajaguru took out a briefcase and handed it over to the grizzled, hard featured leader of the paramilitary group. “Six million rupees, as agreed—in cash. Sorry for the delay. I got it last night.” Rajaguru declared.
The black clad solider cracked the case and took a lengthy look inside. “This completes our agreement,” he said satisfied.
“Thank you,” Rajaguru said sincerely. “My daughter would be dead or worse now if you hadn’t rescued her.”
The man nodded shortly in agreement.
Sendhoory, wearing a strawberry pink salwar kameez dress and a brown hand bag hanging over one shoulder, stepped past her father and looked at the group leader in the eye. “Yes, thank you.” Her golden snowflake earrings caught the light just right making it look like her ears sparkled.
The group leader studied her, looking at her two long braids draped down the front of her dress, and the diamond studded pendant necklace, and saluted the girl. He admired this girl, not for her riches, but for her bravery in standing up to the Tamil Tigers at her school—The Vembady Girls’ College. “I pride myself on your fighting against the globe’s deadliest terrorist, His Royal Highness, the Tamil Tiger. Go with God,” he said. “Thank you, leader. I will ever be grateful to you. I'm lost for words right about now.”   Turning, the group leader left the room with his team.
Sendhoory looked at her father and flashed him a dazzling smile. “I am ready to go to Malaysia, father.”
With those words, the History Teacher’s brightest student, picked up her doll, Homer the stuffed beagle dog, and stepped forth into freedom.




CFA        Cease Fire Agreement, 2002.
cadjan     braided leaf of coconut used for thatching roofs and cover fences to obstruct  
               people peeping into house compounds
Class      Low class and High class. Jaffna society is divided into low caste and high  
              caste. Instead of the term caste, class is used in the novel.
College  Schools that are famous and have classes up to Year 13 that prepare students 
              to enter universities. Colleges in Jaffna cannot be compared to colleges in the
              UK or the USA
Delhi   Just before the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement was signed, the future His    Royal Highness, the Tamil Tiger was taken to Delhi, the capital of India to get his approval. He refused to accept it. So he was detained in the same hotel where he stayed for weeks. At that time he vowed to take revenge upon the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
EPDP    Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party—a paramilitary group/earlier insurgents
EPRLF  Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front---  a paramilitary group/earlier 
G.C.E.   General Certificate of Education – Ordinary Level/ Advanced Level (AL)
IPKF    Indian Peace Keeping Force. An accord was made between the Prime   
              Minister Rajiv Gandhai of India and the President of Sri Lanka in 1987 to   
              make peace in the North and East of Sri Lanka by bringing to a halt the Civil  
              War between the Sri Lankan forces and the Tamil insurgents, including the  
              Tamil Tigers.
KKS     Kankesanthurai, a town on the north of Jaffna.
kondai   bun like hair do
koorai    It is a strip of unstitched expensive silk cloth draped over the body at 
               wedding. It is usually red in colour and 4 to 9 meters in length. 
lacham:  Measurement of lands.—16 lachams equals to 1 acre.   
LTTE    Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers)--- an insurgent/militant 
Mama  Tamil term for uncle.
Markandeyar     One legend relates the story of how God Shiva protected sixteen years
              old sage Markandeyar from the clutches of death, personified as Yama. He lived
M.P.      Member of Parliament
PLOTE Peoples’ Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam--- a paramilitary group/earlier
Ponku  Tamil – This is an annual celebration introduced by the Tamil Tigers in order
             to promote their organization’s and their leader’s prestige.
pottu   It is a dot of red/black/violet/tan color applied in the center of the forehead close to the upper part of the nose. Married ladies apply two violet pottus one between the eyebrows on the forehead and the other up on the edge of hair on head.
salwar kameez: It is a unisex dress similar in manner to shirt and pants worn by westerners.
Sangam: Sangam means assembly that was the cause for the rise of numerous  
              classical  literature books in Tamil Nadu, South India including Sri Lanka
             from 3rd century BCE to 3rd century CE.
sari     A traditional garment--akin to Japanese kimono--worn by Tamil women. It is a strip of unstitched cloth draped over the body. It is usually 4 to 9 meters in length. 
Tamil Eelam:  The name given by the Tamil insurgents to the independent state
             which  they aspire to create in the north and east of Sri Lanka. It means Tamil  
TELO  Tamil Eelam Lineration Organisation--- a paramilitary group/earlier insurgents
thaali  a golden necklace tied around the bride’s neck by the groom on the wedding
            day.  Until his demise the bride wears it.
TULF  Tamil United Liberation Front. The main political party of which former 
            opposition leader Appappillai Amirthalingam was the Secretary General.
umbilical cord relations – This is a phrase used by the leader of the Tamil Tiger
             outfit to denote that Tamils are related to one another like brothers and sisters.
UTHR  University Teachers Human Rights Organiasation (Jaffna). It is a local
 organaisation that documented Human Rights violations in Sri Lanka.
Vanni  It is an administrative region. It was under control of the Tamil Tigers. 
            Kilinochchi wass the capital of Vanni.
Vellalar: In Jaffna there are unly 2 social classes called high caste and low-caste.
            Vellalar belongs to high caste.  
verty   traditional garment worn by Tamil men. A long unstitched white piece of  cloth  wrapped around the lower part of the body.
white sari – Tamil widows traditional garment. A cultural symbol showing they have
                    lost  their husbands.

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