Ilankai Tamil Sangam

24th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

November Rain

by Roy Ratnavel, November 1, 2009

It is, rather remarkable and quite astonishing that Sri Lanka was able to caper about on the run for so long, thumbing its nose, even collecting a longer rap sheet of atrocities, securing a “Get Out of Jail Free” and a complimentary “Foreign Aid” package, while constantly reminding the world of its belligerent thuggish behaviour. Maybe the luck is about to change. The mewlings of the international excuse-brigade over such despicable behaviour is surprisingly diminishing in vigour and volume lately. This is a welcome change, but somewhat suspicious and surprising at the same time.

Today I went for a run despite pouring rain. Being on a run while listening to tunes on my ‘shuffle’ with no real purpose can be healing – I find. With so much chaos and questions inside my head, running is providing me with some order and healing that I very much crave these past few months.

Through the process of healing I am trying to let go of the whys around misery faced by my people: Why did the world ignore Tamils’ plight? Did the Tamil Diaspora contribute to this? Why can’t we reach out and help our kin and kith? Why is the international community making excuses for the criminals of Colombo? The list of ‘whys’ is endless.

The ongoing absurdity of the statements — like, “terrorism is defeated in Sri Lanka,” and “Sri Lanka is a democracy” — would be laughable were it not so disgusting. Sri Lanka is a democracy only in its most slovenly application, and even if it is a full, blazing beacon of a democracy, the category offers no protection or excuse for what that 'democracy' so gruesomely did to Tamils.

The tedium of such boringly predictable pedestrian statements was punctuated by occasional ‘outrage’ by Western diplomats and politicians. Some of them have been very successful at pitching themselves as shamans and oracles, as splendid almost unearthly beings, radiant with a special set of ethics and insight into conflicts. Their righteous myopia never ceases to amaze.

The outrage of these diplomats and politicians at the Tamil Tigers' wrongdoing would be far more credible if they could show a similar level of sustained outrage at the atrocities and racism that fuel Sri Lankan politics. It reveals their simple-minded conjecture to hide Sri Lanka’s genocidal tendencies and the conspiratorial nature of their guilt and their statesman-like veneer, which is thin to the point of transparency.

One cannot but admire the moral self-confidence of these modern humanitarians who can argue the nuances of why the bombing of and killing of innocent people should be declared as a war on terror. The argument, such as it is, is either dumb or radical egotism. They presume therefore that they understand the normal traffic of human misery and one must adhere to their standards, the definitions of communities they depict or analyze in their statements. But for us Tamils such thoughtless statements are presumptions of vulgar historians and the less gifted. You will get as much wisdom in the back of a taxi driven by a babbling idiot on the road full of a growing pile of festering human trash.

With clockwork predictability, the impudent approval of Sri Lanka’s savagery inevitably consists of variations of a familiar theme: Why pick on Sri Lanka when vile injustices abound in other countries? While the world is indeed plagued by injustice — be it the torture chambers of Arab dictatorships, gruesome ethnic violence in Africa or medieval gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia — I have yet to read enough editorials in the Western media condemning any of Sri Lanka’s revolting practices — especially after the war. But the opposite is true for Sri Lanka – the destruction and occupation of Tamil heartland is constantly justified and its sadistic behaviour is regularly excused. It is not policy, but political theatre. Nothing new, you say.

It is, rather remarkable and quite astonishing that Sri Lanka was able to caper about on the run for so long, thumbing its nose, even collecting a longer rap sheet of atrocities, securing a “Get Out of Jail Free” and a complimentary “Foreign Aid” package, while constantly reminding the world of its belligerent thuggish behaviour. Maybe the luck is about to change. The mewlings of the international excuse-brigade over such despicable behaviour is surprisingly diminishing in vigour and volume lately. This is a welcome change, but somewhat suspicious and surprising at the same time.

The storm of public protest and disgust toward the band of luminaries — of the likes of Ban Ki Moon — who ignored deplorable acts by Sri Lanka that couldn't be ignored, not even by those determinedly careless, sloppy minds. I don't know much about Ban Ki Moon, and the little I do I shall make every effort to expunge. Ban, as the entire Tamil world has come to know him, is a clueless, accidental tourist and an ignorant little boor. I am aware this claim is old, trivial and obvious: that UN bureaucrats stand aside from the common run, and inhabit a private or specialized demented moral universe.

Diaspora Tamils for months have been like detectives trying to make sense of the senseless. In the midst of pain we are sorting through the current predicament of Tamils in Sri Lanka — what could be sometimes described as an unpleasant task of rummaging through the rancid-cobweb of human pain and suffering. The panic in our bodies shifted to profound sorrow and then to resignation that our search for an understanding would never be complete.

Before I get a flood of hate emails accusing me of being flippant about so serious a subject, let me be clear — I’m as aghast as you are. We’ve watched helplessly from the edge of the abyss as human beings destroy themselves in real time before our very eyes, and we took no ‘constructive’ actions other than to block roads, which only drove up network ratings and the sales of tabloid-like newspapers, while driving down the Tamil brand. We never should’ve confused our position with our best interest. Sometimes the best way to protect our interest is to give up our position.

Brave Tamils paid the ultimate sacrifice. They did not bear the shame. They resisted, sacrificing their life for freedom, justice, and honour; and now rest of us are forced to live in a world without them. In that process the Diaspora Tamils have borne witness to the cold destruction of a venerable struggle. Perhaps the evasive human beings of the bureaucratic kind who sought to end the lives of these brave souls might get a glimpse into the devastation that they have sponsored, which the survivors face each day behind barbed wires.

The scale of the humanitarian tragedy in Sri Lanka is indeed hard to fathom to us Diaspora Tamils sitting so many miles away. Whatever little news we get of the goings-on there clearly mark this as one of the saddest times in the modern history of mankind. The failure of a state to protect its own is indeed a travesty, more so when it is done by design.

Almost sixty years after the British left behind rich tea crops in the mellifluous mountains, pristine beaches, its precious stones — Sapphire and Garnet, in the name of Sinhala nationalism, Sri Lanka enacted discriminatory laws against Tamils which has overtime turned this darling of a nation into a hell on earth. Instead of sunshine in independent Ceylon, we are witnessing darkness set on this divided Sri Lanka. The word we get from this type of tragedy — hubris — applies to Sri Lanka.

As a boy in northern Sri Lanka during the conflict of 1985-86, on most nights I lay on the warm floor of my ancestral home. I soon learned to recognize, at a very young age the different sounds generated by bombers during an air raid: the aircraft guns; the machine guns and return fire of the night fighters; the cracks made by the incendiaries as they landed; the shock waves from the high explosive bombs, preceded by the seismic wave that was felt as we lay on the ground.

For me, the fear I remember most clearly was feeling the ground shocks from a stick of bombs, each one getting closer and more intense, and then the relief when the next shock came from the other side and the intensities began to decay. Many homes and lives were destroyed on a daily basis by the Sri Lankan terror apparatus. But some nights, surprisingly I have slept through it all.

At school, the teacher would sometimes ask us to stand and observe a moment of silence for the souls of my classmates who had been killed in a recent raid. In this context, anyone questioning the morality of the Tamil freedom struggle is ill-informed pretenders’ gibber indeed. At least I haven't yet run into an argument that has made me want to change my mind about Tamils' right to freedom. After all, a non-believer in the Tamil freedom struggle, however brilliant or however good in debate, is compelled to stick fairly closely to a “script” that is known in advance.

I am pretty sure that none of these ‘experts’ are willing to confess to their contribution to this human misery to someone who calls them up on their kitchen phone. Frankly I don't really care who gets the credit or blame, dreadful things are done in wars and the world should be a little more sympathetic to those, soldiers and civilians on both sides, who get caught up in them.

I am still amazed at the ill-conceived Sri Lanka’s ongoing boastfulness and celebration. It is a mystery to me why some folks stubbornly refuse to learn from the mistakes of others. A cursory glance at the experience in Northern Ireland would suggest that it is a very bad idea to revel in historical remembrances of military victories. There, Protestants have been trumpeting their triumph at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 for many years with an annual marching season and bonfires, and it leads to nothing but anger and resurgence of violence.

As we are in the early phase of grieving, we also have the rawness at our fingertips. Our ‘embryonic country’ once stood as a symbol Tamil pride and bravery, where people lived with great dignity and aplomb – will never again be the place it once was for us, but perhaps in time it can offer us some solace. Our bodies tremble as we pass by photographs of happier days. Triggers of our beloved people are everywhere. Now we are almost primal in our every thought and movement as we attempt to rise each day and put one step in front of another.

Our tortured souls must come together as a bereaved family and with many other bereaved families who did not choose to be on this journey. Slowly we must come to understand that our once-stable family bond had been torn apart, leaving only broken hearts and shattered souls in its wake. Each day we wake to the same sad reality. Yet carrying on with our freedom struggle has become our new vocation. Though we are not certain when our freedom struggle will yield its desired outcome, we are certain that no one will care more about Tamils than Tamils themselves – especially, after what we have witnessed.

Today on my run I listened to songs by Guns'N'Roses. Lately I am drawn to artists whose haunting lyrics possess the gift of storytelling. Though probably written for very different circumstances, some lyrics from the song ‘November Rain’ from the album ‘Use Your Illusion’ plays in my mind as I conclude this; for now, Tamils are “Just trying to kill the pain.”

roy_ratnavel@hotmail.com