The Sunday TimesPlus

25th May 1997



Giving them a good foothold

By Roshan Peiris

"Let me tonight look across the span
Twixt dawn and dusk
And to my conscience say
Because of some good act to man or beast
The world is better as lived today.?"

C. Kumara with the help of Jaipur foot.
On the 25th of June Chaminda Kumara, 24 will marry his school girl sweetheart who has sat for her O'Level examination. Kumara is no normal young man. The ethnic war has seen to that. He, like the others I am writing about, has bravely fought for "President and country" to keep us all safe from bombs and their aftermath.

"Twice I was injured", he said. For eight whole months he lay on a restless bed of pain in a hospital with no one to soothe him or wipe the tears that flowed freely.

The Jaipur Foot programme at 171, Sir James Peiris Mawatha has provided some solace for those like Chaminda Kumara who have fought for the country, providing artificial limbs so that they could carry on with their lives.

Chaminda Kumara trampled on a landmine in Batticaloa. "Yes, I was angry then. But then again what am I supposed to do?" he queried.

"I have my mother and father, three small sisters and an older sister. They could not visit me on account of the distance and the cost of travelling." So he suffered alone, with his memories as vivid as last night's dream.

He was employed as a mechanic at Embilipitiya before he joined the army. He now hopes to set up a boutique and is looking forward to his wedding. "Her love for me despite my gross disfigurement has not altered," he says.

"I am now on army pay of Rs. 3,700 and we have been told we will get compensation of about Rs. 50,000. But so far nothing has come our way" he said sadly.

Lance Corporal Munasinghe is just 24 years old and on his fair face is etched still the pain he underwent when he trod on a johnny batta mine made by the LTTE. He lives in Kuruvita. "I have no father, only a sister who is a nurse." His army pay of five thousand helped his family. "I am still not used to the Jaipur foot so you see I am hovering between death and pain in using these crutches."

Munasinghe spent six months in hospital. An aluminium cast answers for a leg below the knee. "What am I going to do? I hope some office in Kuruwita will employ me," he says.

Ranjith Pushpakumara was a champion athlete, a fine high jumper. At Twenty two, he had spent 18 months in the army when he trod on the dreaded johnny batta after the taking over of Jaffna.

His whole foot is gone and he looks at it both in bewilderment and sadness. His father is a simple goviya and he lived with his mother, two younger sisters and a young brother. He comes from Mawanella and his pay is a mere Rs. 4,000 , what our society folk spend in one night at one of the five star hotels.

Ranjith hopes to be married to his girl friend who is a nurse in June. It is touching to find that true love has remained constant through ill health and mutilation. He worked in the Agrarian Department as a clerk and hopes he will find a job again there.

"If not I will open a boutique and carry on with my life," he said determinedly. There were unshed tears in his eyes.

H. D. Sarath smartly dressed with black well polished shoes worn over his Jaipur foot is twenty five and comes from Panadura.

He ran the 400 metres for the army but now no longer will he grace the race track. He had been four years and seven months in the army when he lost his foot and in its place is a black piece of ungainly flesh hanging to tell the sorry tale of another landmine disaster. Pity turns to passionate indignation at such wanton waste of life, when one meets these brave young men. Tears kept welling in my eyes and often I found a large lump in my throat as I spoke to these youth who would have been the future leaders of this country.

Sarath showed an unconquerable cheerfulness of spirit. Smiling he told me, "I will still continue to run if I could with my Jaipur foot". He is married and has a daughter.

D. A. Pushpakumar is 33 years old. His knee downwards is an aluminium cast. He comes from Anuradhapura and for twelve years he has been in the army earning only Rs.4,600 a month. He was injured in the Killinochchi operation. Again it was a johnny mine." "Were you frightened?" "No I had seen it all and when one joins the army one has to expect to be injured," he said philosphically. He is married with a son and a daughter. He hopes someone would give him a job in an office.

I have kept for the last the story of D. M. Ranbanda, an old farmer. He trod on a landmine while working his field at Welikande. His is a sad story for he gets no income with which to support his wife and two daughters. They have to depend on the goodwill of neighbours.

The Jaipur foot programme is housed in a well-kept house. Kalyani Ranasinghe, the President appealed for help from the public. She and Fatima de Vos, the Secretary do honorary work. Rupa Jayewardene is the Administrative Secretary.

Once a year Professor A. H. Sheriffdeen together with other members organise a sports meet. It is not only to give these disabled young people a morale boost but to make them feel that they are still in the mainstream of living.

Kalayani Ranasinghe rightly said "So much money is spent on cricket. I wish that even a fraction is given to these young people who have lost their limbs." There are civilian disabled people too including school girls who have met with accidents.

This writer has never been more moved as when speaking to these young men, the unsung heroes of this country.

Robbery in Kenya

By Christine Wilson

2.04 a.m. Sunday morning. Nairobi. Kenya.

I wake to the thunder of rocks hurled through our bedroom windows. Shards of glass fall on our beds, the tea tray by the window, everywhere.

Trained minds become mindless. Auto minds take over. We remain in darkness except for the glow of a small bedside light. Alistair is at the window curtain, fingering it back a slit. See, but don't be seen, is the rule "B..... Robbers!" he says. His voice is full of anger. "Siren. Press the Siren."

My hands reach above my head fumbling to push aside the cardboard protection that says HATARI! (Danger). The siren.The small lamp glows by my bed. 2.05 a.m. I press the Siren button and hear its eerie keening high in the chimney stack above the house. Wowww... Wowww it howls into the cold air and into the forest that adjoins our house.

"Get Security." The telephone is at my side. Our voices are terse, quiet; movements soundless. Alistair has disappeared. The number...... Written by me in pencil on the white bedside table,566-475. I remember it now, in Colombo.

"Ultimate Security." Automind takes over. Name, address, phone number show up automatically at the office. I say softly, "Break-in. Urgent."

"Coming!" and out. In Nairobi they are used to calls every night. The siren still screams. Only a lightly-grilled door cuts the bedroom wing from the rest of the house.Alistair returns from that door.

"They're in the house," he says. We dress fast, our feet scrunching glass into the carpet. Above the keen of the siren we hear a shot. My God, they have guns. Our Siren still screams. We listen for other sounds and hear nothing.

There are sounds, but we in our own silence are in our pathetically unsafe safe area our minds atrophied by the inability to act 2.08.a.m. Suddenly vehicles are at the gate. I hear voices everywhere: shouting: action: boots running.Someone shouts from the glassless bedroom window.

"Bwana Wilson, we are here. Security. You are alright. They have gone." Within three minutes of our call our security people had arrived. With them were police who were patrolling the area.

Another couple of security guards who had heard our siren brought a police dog. The robbers had vanished, but the dog, sent tracking, followed tracks far into the forest where the gang of eight had escaped in a vehicle. All this we learn from the police and the guards.

It was in the twilight of that dawn that I had asked where was Leo, our much-loved Rhodesian Ridgeback and trusted guard dog. He had vanished into the forest at that single shot. Only this broke my automated calm.

Ten days later he was found covered in ticks, wandering heedlessly in the forest and brought back by us. This, alone, helped heal the scars if not the memory of that endless Sunday.

Continue to Plus page 6 - Selling O J * The truth is: we all tell 200 lies a day * Give-away signs that show when someone lies

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