தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 


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Journey Down Memory Lane To Reach 'tamiz Izam'

Chapter 11

We had a glimpse of Trincomalee through the eyes of a 7-8 years old Suresh. More information are available in maps about Sri Lanka, about the adjoining islands, the routes to Colombo, Jaffna and the Towns in between. There is also a shorter route from Trincomalee to Jaffna, via Mullitivu, that involves transport by ferry.

The British more or less forced it on’tamizar’ circuitous routes between Batticaloa and Jaffna via Tricomalee and Mullitivu. A good road and rail link could save time and money for ‘tamizar.’ A direct route could have saved a lot of ‘tamiz’ lives during the various Sinhala riots against’tamizar.’ The present need to pass through predominantly Sinhala towns and villages poses a threat to’tamiz’ safe passage, and encouraged rabble rousers to create that divide between northerners and easterners.

I have a theory about this divide. Since it has the hallmark of a caste difference dispute, it must have started as a simple family feud started by a caste conscious probably a rich Jaffna man. His son who was a class three clerical servant-this was the highest position allowed for natives to aspire to, some 75-100 years ago under the British Raj- worked in Batticaloa as an important public servant. There was, I wish and hope there is not, the fear by most Jaffna parents that eastern women charm their high priced sons in the matrimonial market and marry them.

The clever father who lost his high priced son to such a so called charmer, the very high priced, engineers, doctors, and Civil Servants came very much later, spread the story that his innocent son was trapped by the girl. The general belief that in Baticaloa, young men should not accept to sit on the mat offered as you will be attached to the mat until you marry one of the girls! I have tasted some good Italian bologna, but the mat baloney takes the cake. This disappointed old fool added insult to injury by ill treating the girl whenever she visited Jaffna. She was treated as a low caste and that stigma stuck on. Naturally people from the east dignify that nonsense by resenting and hating northerners.

My wife’s fourth brother was a Captain in the Ceylon army. During the riots in 1956, he was stationed in the east. During one of his rounds he saw a crowd in a temple and stopped to check. He was drawn to a partcular eastern beauty in the crowdThere is a saying, ‘All fingers are not alike.’ He liked the ‘veLLykkAra muRy.’ He is the fellow who asked his mother fork and knife to eat ‘vady’ his first bite on his return from England. In contrast his brother on his return after his air force training in England, at the first opportunity ran to the nearest ‘kady’ for ‘vady.’

Captain’s training at Sandhurst and lack of opportunities for social intermingling with girls was rather limited or totally not available for him. Here was a girl who reminded of perhaps the little girl he left behind in London town. He followed her to her house. The parents were well known for their hospitality. They were used to visits from strangers as they were living next to the Kalkudah Rest House. Mr. Athilingam, was a retired Police Vidan who also had limited magisterial powers as a Justice of Peace. He had two sons, Markandan an Excise Inspector, Shanmuganathan a teacher and Vimala a one time Beauty Queen Batticaloa. So when the This was the damsel who caused the gallant soldier distress. The menacing mat did not play any part in this drama. It was cupid himself on active duty. The love-torn lad did not waste any time, he went straight to the subject.

Mr. Athilingam, ‘appA’ to us and ‘ammA’ are still remembered by the thousands of visitors who have been their guests at one time or another. I made it a point to drop in for a chat and sometime if I could spare the time I will join in a meal or two. ‘ammA’ could cook and when I say cook, I am not talking of boiling or frying something for sometime. Every meal recieves the utmost care and devotion and each dish turns out to be a gourmet delight. It still rings in my ear, ‘dije’-this is a rude expression tantamount to disrespect and a form of addressing lowly humans if there is any such creature now, but those days people treated some that way.

Such rude terms in the right tone and by the right people convey immeasurable love from the addressor to the addressee. ‘Dije’ Shan ‘vaNtirukkAndi inhdykku maddikkaRi panhnhuvOmA?’ I could hear ‘ammA’ murmering, ‘cucIlA piLLYjaL ellArum cukaNtAnE?’ The question is actually a statement, instead of the question, ‘cukam eppadi?’ I make it a rule never to take alcoholic beverage if I had to drive. I make sure I had enough time to sleep after drinks and invariably followed with a meal. However ‘appA’ likes good liquor and I take with me something good that is available at the time. We will go to the market or beach for oysters or crabs- ‘ammA’s’ crab curry recipe may not be unique but it was that touch that made her cooking stand out and the taste remains in your mouth for ever. Prawns of course is a must with every meal. ‘mural mIn’ in ‘pAl kuzampu’ with ‘idijappam’?

In a way he made a choice of a life style that appealed to him better than a life of love of his roots. Somebody said that we are in a time of ‘air line symbolism’ that is to say we have to put the oxygen mask before we do it to others as any delay may render us incapable of saving us and perhaps others. He retired from the army in 1964 and joined the Royal Air force as a non flying officer and retired as a Squadron Leader specialized in air traffic control. He works for a hightech company and travels all over as a consultant in air traffic instruments. His eldest daughter is married. the second girl is still waiting for the right man, and the younger daughter is preparing to face the real world. The son is a surgeon and married.

I saw the youngest son for the first time in 1976 when he was four years old. When the father introduced me as the ‘mAmA’ I said ‘eppidi mAppiLy?’ He asked his father, ‘appow, what’s mAppilai?’ The parents chose a life style for them and they are happy. Whether they will ever be absorbed in the main stream is unpredictable. Nevertheless, it will be a folly to expect these children to be part ‘tamizar,’ and part British or American or whatever. It is good to know their roots and language, as a second or third or any number is an asset in this fast shrinking world.

But we parents and our children who were born and brought up in our lands of birth owe it to those left behind a show of a gratitude and support to ensure their safety and security which are possible only through the right to self determination. There may come a time when a place to go back to gives a choice between acceptance into the main stream and rejection necessitated by economic factors in the main.

Let us hope human ingenuity will find new sources for our depleting resources we are accustomed to. With an ever increase in world population and ever decreasing resources, as things are it will be a matter of survival of those in power. Countries with single races may not face the same problems as countries with people of different races or people with different physical characteristics. All other factors such as language, religion, culture, habits, etc. can be changed or eliminated to avoid identity markers. Physical characteristics are hard or impossible to change in one’s lifetime, or in a couple of lifetimes.

I did not directly experience the hatred some easterners had for the northerners, until I met a family in London some twenty years ago. That was also a marriage between a Jaffna man and a Batticaloa woman. The disturbing part was their children also were poisoned by the elders. The father did not participate in the exposure of a bottled up hate for the mother in law who was supposed to have hated the daughter in law. I tried to dispel their theory that if one northern mother in law was anti-east, all northern mothers in law are anti-east. Many of us apply the ‘Rice-test’ to humans. That is one cooked grain of rice is enough to show that the whole pot of rice is cooked. We should not apply rules of stereotype to humans, as much as each human finger print or DNA is unique to that specimen, so are human form, notion, expression, character, mental pattern are unique to individuals.

A strong belief in this helps me and directs me to change my approach even among our children. It has its demerits that I am charged by my elder daughter I do not love her as much as I love my younger girl. She has mistaken my disciplining her to lack of love. She needed a different handling as her response to gentle persuation was very slow or if it was the mother or anybody else was negative. Then, the word ‘appA’ gets into the conversation and there is quick positive response. I do not encourage back-biting nor critisize someone in his or her absence, under certain circumstances I defend the absentee party. I deal directly with the party concerned and by that also I become unpopular with both sides. The absentee and the accuser. Truth prevails and I am understood sometimes before damage is done and sometimes after damage is done to me.

While we are waiting for the Colombo Batticaloa train to attach our coach from Trinco. to Colombo at the Gal Oya junction , let me reproduce an article by an Indian whose mother tongue is Sourashtra next. This article was the third prize winner in the Cultural Heritage of Tamils Essay competition and it appeared in the FeTNA, TNF 1995 magazine. According to the author the gift of "tamiz’ treasure has made him ‘extremely wealthy-culturally, intellectually,and personally."


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