From President's house, to the heart of Jaffna
By 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 shortly.

Girl from Vavuniya sings for peace at YMCA Jaffna

This '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 ask ?

Two blocks 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.

Beer crates for barstools: Drink to peace in ruined Jaffna

From 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 earthy fisherfolk.

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.

LTTE drama depicts state terror and civilian victims. (Pix by Buddhika Weerasinghe)

The 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

LTTE does 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 for rights."

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.

Judging by 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.'

Outside, polite 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 curry.

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…

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