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A peak into the Kingdom of the Sun God

Catapult Thangavelu on the Kappang Highway

How Olav Jacobson and Jan Larson along with their Sri Lankan guide-cum-driver gained acceptance to visit Wanni and even see some places including a suicide bombers’ camp in this bandit territory is a mystery. We have it from reliable sources that the permission to visit certain sites within the territory became a contentious issue between two groups in the LTTE leadership and finally the weaker one had to yield to the stronger, more because bad international publicity was feared during a major leadership tussle in Wanni.

Jacobson and Larson are not Norwegians; they are believed to be Danish and are Nordic anyway and suddenly Sri Lanka is big news in Scandinavia. The Norwegians have failed miserably in their peace facilitating process. The Tigers do not want the Swedes, Danes and the Finnish and now, who else is left to talk to the two contending parties; Maldivians, Mauritians and Mauritanians? The truth is that they don’t want to talk to anybody because they can’t talk; they lack the conference and the forum skills, let alone any ideas about what democracy means.

Jacobson and Larson thought it was the right moment to explore the mood in Wanni, aware that several western journalists were already eying for assignments in Sri Lanka. They did not waste time wondering whether to or not to, but jumped the KLM flight and made it to Colombo. After making the right contact among the guide-cum-driver fraternity in the capital, they made their way to Wanni.

Their primary goal was to find why the Norwegians failed in Wanni after making close friendships with some of the Wanni leaders especially Zoo-Paa. They were also fascinated with the way the Sun God, a recluse in arms guarded by children – other peoples’ – was ruling the territory. Not even the Irish leprechauns are armed and yet they guard pots of gold. While Wanni is a tragic reality, the other is a lovely myth.

One early afternoon Jacobson, Larson and their driver arrived in Omanthai and passed through the government point without any difficulty. At Tiger Point in Kilinochchi they were rigorously questioned and permission had to be sought from the headquarters. Since whites are gods in Wanni and seen as good propaganda potential and despite some opposition to their visit, they were allowed in with information about where to stay and whom to meet but advised strongly not to stray around on their own.

They warned them that men from a rebel group had infiltrated into Wanni and may face some personal danger. While the journalists were given somewhat decent accommodation, the driver was directed to the servant’s quarters, country food and pre-World War II amenities. Such was the state of the facilities for the lesser humans, the smaller job of convenience had to be performed behind the bush; the major was to be in an old-fashioned outhouse down the end of the compound where one could watch the stars as a diversion.

That night when the driver answered a minor call behind the bush, he went all blue at the sight of an armed sentry whom he nearly sprayed with human brine. She was hardly seventeen and giggled at his predicament but obliged by moving away to give him the privacy he preferred. She told him, however, that he could have done it outside his door. He dared not ask any questions from her for fear of being suspected as a spy or even as a Karuna infiltrator. In Wanni, justice is instant and the trigger delivers the sentence straightaway; no records are made and no one talks about it.

Until late that night the two journalists were engaged in conversation with two of the leaders who hardly spoke English but were aided by an elderly interpreter. It was all about the touchy and sensitive issue of certain sites which the journalists wanted to visit. Their credentials were strong and the two ‘developing factional’ leaders found it hard to come to terms with each other until the ‘emerging one’ made the decision.

Incidentally the Tamil spoken in Wanni is coarse, parodied mockingly as Wanniyan, the Tiger mother tongue. Nothing is expressed in polite terms. Every one communicated in harsh terms using a great deal of choice expletives. It certainly seemed an area where violence ruled in language and in action. There were times the interpreter himself had trouble with words that threateningly flowed from the tongues of the big men there. No one talks about Sangam literature in Wanni; in Wanniyan everything Indian is taboo.

In the morning even before the local roosters had their dawn say, the driver was asked to meet the boss man of that place and was warned not to keep him waiting. It turned out to be quite a harangue and rant about where he came from, how long he had been a driver and whether he had been to Wanni before and also how he came to meet the suddhas (the whites). Satisfied with his explanation, he was told 30% of his fees for the services to the Danish guys would be charged as taxes to be paid to the Wanni coffers; that was quite a slice but the driver would have protested at his peril.

Soon after breakfast accompanied by the elderly interpreter and an armed guy barely 16 years old, the party went to certain places already identified to them driving in their Lexus. The road was so bad that the occupants felt they were being massaged all through the drive. Their first call was at the camp for suicide bombers.

The girl soldiers called themselves the Black Tigers and seemed eagerly waiting for the day they could blast themselves to eternal glory causing utter mayhem for the cause of Tamil liberation or go for a traitor sentenced for execution in this manner. It was obvious they were brainwashed from a very young age, even drained of all human feelings by abuse and imparted with a myth of heavenly salvation that awaits them once their deed was done. It is a twofold myth inculcated into a human being who is rendered into a robot: personal salvation and liberation for the Tamils. Their humanity ended the day the LTTE laid hands on them.

All that they uttered in high-flown rhetoric that even impressed Olav and Jan unfamiliar with the Tamil language was pure indoctrinated stuff, planted into pubescent minds first emptied of normal childhood and adolescent instincts. The world is supposed to believe that the Sun God of Wanni loves children; so did the witch in the Hans and Grethal story and she had her own agenda for them, and the similarities are utterly ghastly and grisly.

These young ladies, however, appreciated the packets of chewing gum and ballpoint pens Olav and Jan gave them with childish babble and burble and the elderly interpreter turned a blind eye; may be that was the first time he saw these young people in a light-hearted mood.

Something that struck the driver with surprise while going about within the bounds strictly allowed to them was there were a number of Sinhalese workers inside the Wanni territory. Recognizing the driver as one of their kind, a worker engaged in a painting job, greeted him in Sinhalese. He felt rather taken aback and felt he had to say that he was a Tamil from upcountry, not Jaffna. His years of growing up in the central hill stations and schooling in Sinhala helped him to take that position. It seemed necessary for him to do that; just a strong intuition. After all they were in a scary strip of land where human feelings have been wiped out and replaced with ruthless brutality pursuing a mythical dream riding the horses of horror and pestilence.

A little further they saw what was more like an Alice in Wonderland spectacle. A number of elderly men and women and some very old and frail were being drilled to be in readiness to fight, as the Drill Sergeant another teenaged brat told them, to fight the Sinhala enemy. They were not drilling with guns but with sticks and staffs. Their facial expressions were pathetic.

They had to agree to be drilled otherwise the chances were that they would be summarily executed; this was authentic Pol Pot in action in Wanni. It was clear the journalists were taken to this site to impress on them that the civilian people wanted to be trained to give their share in the liberation struggle. If that was indeed the intention, then it was counter productive.

Wherever they went they only saw teenagers some in Tiger fatigue but most though armed with real guns yet in sarongs and slippers. From whatever the elderly interpreter tried to convey to the group, it appeared there were about 7500 armed cadres, may be a little less and not more, and more than half of them children. This is a horrible state of affairs. The whole area, they saw was littered with bunkers, counting whatever was visible to them, and many built in concrete like mini fortresses and made to last decades. There must be an intricate network of tunnels linking all of them.

It is said ever since certain recent incidents in Wanni, Zoo-Paa takes his walks inside these tunnels and for which he got specially equipped with Norwegian-made night vision glasses and tunnel lamps. But he and all other Tiger leaders are not allowed to get anywhere near the Groundhog Hole where the Sun God lives 364 days of the year; 365 during leap years. The privilege of visiting him there has only been extended to a British citizen Anthony Bala, something that has irked and irritated Zoo-Paa for sometime now.

While moving around they kept their eyes for any of the leaders even though they were told that they were all there in their various quarters like monastery monks and hardly left them; they are paranoiac about Karuna infiltrators. The visitors could not say whether they were above or below the ground but the interpreter seemed to have told them that ever since the Kebettigollewa massacre, Zoo-Paa has been staying in his luxurious underground shelter, which has a periscope fixed to it to scour the skies for enemy aircraft.

Zoo-Paa has a Sinhalese houseboy to provide his daily shave and manna. He will not trust anyone else near him with a razor close to his throat, even a relative. During his last visit to Oslo he had picked up a few razors of the jack-knife type from a flea market when he chanced on one believed to have been used by the barber of a Norwegian crown prince before the First World War. Zoo-Paa’s people have been specialists in this art for several generations and their roots go back to Thiruvarur in India; that’s the same as that of the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, M Karunanidhi.

Their visit to an orphanage had a message of its own; poignant and painful. It was a heart-rending Wanni melodrama for the visitors. It was too proper, too clean, too efficient and quite a remarkable window display to show the world that the Sun God loves all children and Wanni is a young peoples’ Shangri La, the way it was conceived as an earthly paradise of a permanently happy land in James Hilton’s 1933 novel, Lost Horizon. The Tigers should have named it Sham-bhala sans the mystic meanings of it.

On their drive back to Colombo most of the way the shell-shocked journalists and their driver were silent. They stopped over in Maradankadawela for refreshments and again in Atttanagala to visit the Bandaranaike Samadhi, and later for dinner. Olav and Jan compensated the driver with Rs.30,000.00 the amount the Tiger tax collector strangely but significantly called Mathew collected from him as a tax on his three-day wages.

Seated opposite to me in the teashop, resting her chin on her left palm with her elbow at ninety degrees to the tabletop and firmly posted, and with an expression that indicated both surprise and concern, Punchi Puli acca listened to my tale with rapt attention. She wondered how I had come to know in such detail about the visit of the journalists. I had to remind her that on Kappang Highway there are great many sources that have their links inside the Wanni Bandit Zone.

Just about everything that happens there gets reported to the outside world and we are all living in times when even our integrity has a price and all that matters is our very survival. As people begin to realize that the Wanni bandits can spell the extinction of Tamils in Sri Lanka, the survival instincts take over. Yesterday it was Karuna but who will be the next, and this is what is speculated highly today. After all even the Norwegians were given a thundering slap on their faces.

Punchi Puli acca said she had heard enough for one day. She didn’t want her absence to be noted for on this day she had spent over an hour listening to the visit of two journalists and their driver to Wanni. This visit she said was most significant because two of the leaders were most unhappy about it especially to have been allowed to see the orphanage, the suicide bombers camp and where the old and the frail were being drilled.

When she left, I wondered whether all that I told her was indeed an incredible dream; perhaps a vision in a trance that unfolded the tragedy of our time and a nation of people about to become history because a modern day Pied Piper of Hammelin had moved its children and young people into the wilds to feast them to the devils.

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June 28, 2006 - Posted by | Media Journalism, News and politics, South Asia, World News

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