house, to the heart of Jaffna
Rajpal Abeynayake on return from the peninsula
'THE HOUSE OF HONOURABLE VELUPILLAI PRABHAKARAN, THE PRESIDENT
OF TAMIL EELAM' it says in large painted red letters. Drat it, I
didn't bring a camera. But, no matter - the local correspondent
will dispatch a photograph, which will appear in The Sunday Times
from Vavuniya sings for peace at YMCA Jaffna
'shrine' in coastal Velvettiturai still stands. My friend's young
daughter is baffled, and asks repeatedly why the Sri Lankan forces
let it be there. "Maybe they showed some concern,'' my friend
says finally. It is a large house (relatively) with faded green
walls, now laced with graffiti ("Avissawella Beauty Queen',
"Amare Ambagasara Middenniya') and belonged to Prabhakran's
father, a land officer working for the government. A next door neighbor
is curious, and walks around with a small bouncy baby in her arms
observing us observers. "This is our President's house,'' quips
my friend from Jaffna. Is that another Prabhakran in her arms, I
away is an old Hindu Kovil. It literally belongs to Prabhakran's
brother. The family was comfortably wealthy by any standards contrary
to the legend, which says 'dirt poor boy's comeuppance.' Prabhakaran's
relatives, the Gnanakones also from coastal Velvettiturai, now run
a global shipping empire from San Francisco.
crates for barstools: Drink to peace in ruined Jaffna
Point Pedro along the coast to Velvettiturai, could have been the
scenic route in San Farnsisco, save for two things. This is twenty
times more scenic and briny here, and the people are barebodied
It is a different
kind of deja vu, when you are seeing places you have heard of on
a daily basis in the news, but never set eyes upon. Our two motorbikes
flit from Point Pedro, to VVT. To Udippudy (there are posters there
honouring the TULF's grand old man Sivasithmparam whose electorate
it was) - then to Nelliaddy. We stop at another 'shrine.' This is
the Nelliady school where the black Tiger suicide squad carried
out their first attack. Some 300 soldiers perished here. There are
two separate celebrated piles of rubble - one the school building,
and the other, of the memorial to the attack put up by the LTTE,
which the army destroyed after taking control in 1994. But, the
LTTE 'rehabilitated' the shrine this time around. A statue of Colonel
Miller stands at the site now, striking a martyred pose. The new-bronze
sheen says it all - my friend needlessly explains that the LTTE
re-erected Colonel Miller after the ceasefire.
drama depicts state terror and civilian victims. (Pix by
LTTE has been busy resurrecting. The old Park in Jaffna town, could
be no man's land judging by the symbols of power that surround it.
Or anybody's land. The sentry point says in bold Sinhala Only "Parana
Park Murapola.'' The old Park was renamed Kittu Park when the LTTE
ran Jaffna in the eighties. Then the army took over in 1994, and
promptly demolished the bronze Kittu statue. The LTTE re-built it
this year, and the 'old' Kittu Park, still known as the old Park
though, now has Kittu firmly back in the middle.
It is irresistible,
chronicling the peninsula of quirks, old world charm and new Tiger
attitude -and excellent thosai and nelli juice. But that's not what
post-war reporting is all about, the experts say, and who am I to
detract? Next to the YMCA (declared open by Her Excellency Frances
Wills US Ambassador in December 1962 it says) is the old Kacheri.
Vidar Helgesen, the Norwegian Deputy Minister of foreign affairs
is holding a press briefing there, in the GA's room which is a 'shrine'
to former Jaffna GAs; a whole list hangs there on a large brown
plaque. Helgesen is young and in smart blue. He could be your new
Jaffna GA. The divisional Secretary, is weather-beaten and in rumpled
tie, and speaks in cadenced old world English. Nothing has changed,
and yet everything has changed
I check myself.
Can't afford to be chided again for writing of Austin A 30s and
alluding to a Jaffna of the past. So there. Every ten yards in this
peninsula has seen war, I say. It's a fact and is stubborn, like
- well, like the signboard near Veerasingham Hall. It announces
to all passers-by: North Ceylon Three-Wheeler Owners Association.
Second Part next week
jaw-jaw, after war-war
It was the world's longest running conference, with probably
the world's longest running name. "The liberation struggle
of Eelam Tamils and the role played by the media in art and literature
towards the horizons of human liberation and Eelam Tamil's struggle
The four- day
marathon - held at Veerasingham Hall in Jaffna, once occupied by
the security forces - had upto 3000 'delegates', from all parts
of the island, and also from South India.
For all of
that, 'conference' it wasn't. Instead of organizing interactive
sessions, the organizers let speaker after speaker berate the audience
for four full days, starting 8 a.m. and ending at 8 p.m. with a
one hour cultural show at the end of each day's sessions.
Not a single
question was allowed during the entire marathon 'conference', and
if Tigers were finding it hard to make the transition from a military
machine into democratic political outfit, they were showing it.
There was a five-minute Sinhala summary at the end of each speech,
which is all that the delegates from the South who didn't speak
Tamil, had by way of consolation. On the issue of language, it seemed
for once that I was at the receiving end.
the summaries, there was no lack of mention of the Sri Lankan state.
The line between literary discourse and political tract was wearing
thin, and Sinhala journalists were constantly exhorted to 'help
in the struggle of fulfilling Tamil aspirations.'
LTTE members had set up shop, and were selling war memorabilia including
a CD which prominently announced "Attack on the Katunayake
international airport.'' Can I buy one? I queried diffidently. 350
they said, and showed some Prabhakaran pocket calendars that might
go with it. 'Later', I said.
It was an organizational
odyssey that perhaps only the LTTE would be capable of. There was
nothing the LTTE members wouldn't look into, particularly the women
in their trademark black pants white top and the black belt garb.
It wasn't easy picking the LTTE men by contrast - they didn't seem
to have a uniform.
A friend of
mine told an LTTE ranker that their young 'welfare officer' at the
YMCA had a brusque manner, and took welfare too seriously, which
was quite odd for the LTTE considering that all other members were
friendly and courteous. We learnt the boy had been taken off duty
promptly. He had also been given a pep talk by his women Tiger bosses,
for not ensuring that all of us had our breakfast of pittu and brinjal
But it wasn't
all pittu puff and perorations. Obviously the organizers had taken
themselves (and taken their task) very seriously. Meticulous planning,
it bears repetition, is the Tiger credo. There were meal tickets,
ushers, parking wardens, videographers who would put their Southern
counterparts to shame with their sophistication, and of course men
who spoke during the four-hour marathon with what seemed to be a
smouldering passion and conviction. The Chairman had to stop many
who appeared to get carried away midstream.
There is so
much liberation to do - and so little time in which to do it