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'
R.Shanmugalingam

Chapter 13

Train journey from Jaffna to Trincomalee and Batticaloa was a test to one’s patience and ability to be lavish with time. Two bogies or wagons one bound to Trinco, and the other to Batti. with the usual classes 1, 2, and 3 were a part of the Jaffna Colombo mail train, leaving Kankesanturai a little before it gets dark. By the time the train reaches Jaffna, it is lighting time. One has to carry dinner and water as there was no restaurant car except when you get off at one station spend your money on nothing and join the east bound fellow passengers. If one happens to travel on duty the journey used to be a little comfortable in the first class, there was sleeping accommodation.

One invariably tends to lose this luxury if your friends happen to travel without reservation or you are in the same boat as your friends. Sleep was sacrificed for friendship, chat and perhaps a few shots of Arrack or beer and a game of cards or all. You are dumped at Maho around 2.00 AM. If you were sleeping you are rudely woken by the shunting of the train, or the vendors familiar drawl, ’cuRud, cikared, vettily, NaRampik’ or Soda Soda Sooodaa! or ‘vady vady vadyik’ or ‘thambili thambili thambiliiik’ or ‘kOpi kOpi kOOOPiiik or all in unison and who could sleep in that commotion? You had to wait for the Colombo Batticaloa mail train and it could be a long wait sometime. By the time you reach Gal Oya junction it is well past daybreak. The Trinco. coach was detached and the Batti. coach from Trinco. was attached if it was there. If not we had to wait for the connection.

I like traveling and my first choice is driving, followed by being driven, then by train, air travel by necessity and by sea for the thrill of relaxation and the food. When we were very young we used to spend school holidays with my mother’s brother who was a PWD overseer in the hill country and ‘perijanhnhy’ in Colombo. We of course visit other uncles and relations while in the neighborhood. The slowest train journey was from Colombo to Kahawatte by the narrow gauge Ratnapura line. I have seen boys getting off the train at certain places run with the train and entrain.

The locomotives then were steam powered and the trains to and from the hill country had to have a supplementary engine to climb the steep passes like the Kadugannawa tunnel. By the time you reach your destination you are painted black and could easily escape recognition. Trains were the training ground and playing fields for pick-pockets and robbers. We learnt very early how to protect from these vagabonds.

Most of the time we traveled in pairs. Mahendran and I or Sundar and I. On one such trip Mahendran and I were guests of our Sinhala teacher who was a Buddhist priest from the famous Pussellawa Temple. That time it was so cold Mahendran started crying in the middle of the night and the poor high priest had to send us by hiring car to my uncle’s at Uda-Pussellawa. He was very selective in the time and place where we were going to spend the holidays. As for me any one place was as good as the other, so long as it was a different place each time. It is a joke in my family that if somebody wants to meet me en-route, they had to know which route I took on my way up because normally I would not return the same way.

Place names in the eastern province have a ring of poetry and meaning in their names. Place names such as ‘cAjNta marutu, kalmuny, kAttAn kudi, akkaryp pattu, cinna mukat tuvAram, these names give authenticity to the concept of ‘muttamiz-namely ijal, icy, and Nadakam. When you say, ‘cAjNta marutu’ there is ‘ijal, icy, and Nadakam’ and a meaning. In fact on the road side you could see a leaning ‘marutam’ tree, which is a natural habitat for the ‘marutang kiLi’ a fast learner among parrots to talk. ‘marutam’ is also one of the fivefold divisions of land in ‘tamiz ilakkijam’ .

The five land tracts are: ‘yvaky Nilam- kuRignci (mountain tract), mully (forest), marutam (Agricultural farm land), Nejtal (Sea shore), pAly (arid or desert).’ Numbers in ‘tamiz’ accentuate the importance and value of things. One life, Two genders, Three tenses, Four seasons, Five lands, and Five mortal sins, Six tastes, Seven seas, Eight occupations, Nine planets and Nine gems, and Ten epics and so on.

Let us read Suresh’s impression of Batticaloa.

Also, at one time we went to Passikuda, located between Maddakalappu and ThiruKonamalai. We reached the site in a jeep after going through dense bushes. In that time, there were no 'tourists.' It's famous now for exclusive nude beaches' for tourists. I like the ocean. And no visit to the sea is complete without testing the water. It was sandy and the tide was very low. I walked quite a distance with water coming to just my knee level. It was a good place to rest.

.......now to Batticaloa(Maddakalappu) - The City of Lagoons

The time period was year 77 to 78. I was studying in the same school as my mother was teaching. It is not easy to talk about this city with clarity for it is very diverse in its offerings and its people. Moslems and Tamils lived side by side in this city where most of the livelihood is based on fishing, rice farming and small businesses. Moslems were particularly active in trade. Once I went to that big mosque on a school trip. I believe it  was close to the ramparts next to the lagoon built by the Portuguese. If my memory serves me any justice, it could have been the kaccheri building. The mosque was big and the geometrical shapes on the wall kept my head up for a long time. The old keeper gave us a detailed tour. The sparkle still not lost in those wrinkled eyes spoke of a joyous man.

We lived closer to the Vavi lake(part of lagoon) and very close to the train station. Being crazy about trains, I always dragged my father or some one to the station to look at the different cars there. A lot of times, I caught the sight of the night  train to Colombo leaving. The good ol'times. Not far from the station lived one of my aunts. She is quite good in making kool(if you don't know what kool is, it's main ingredients are flour from Palmyra seeds-roots(yam like), fish, crab, vegetables and other secret flavors). Hot and spicy and best if taken by the jack fruit leaves. So goes the tradition. And her's are always hot.

Idiyappam and pittu come later.

People are so friendly. From the fishermen with his distinct pointed hat selling off the fresh catch by the lagoon jetty in the heart of the town to the worshippers at the Mamang Eswaram Kovil. Hospitality is a natural essence. Not far from my place is the Vavi lake and the black colored steel bridge at Kallady. To go to the theatre or to visit the beach to fly a kite or for a simple visit to the Ramakrishna mission, you have to cross this bridge. I particularly didn't enjoy crossing this bridge too many times. Afraid of deep water, I always  thought about possible bridge failure at the middle of bridge crossing. To make it worse, the pedestrian section had perforated steel planks. Water so green and full of depth below my feet yet something alluring about it. The lagoons are full of shell fish and were plenty below the bridge. I heard of glowing fish jumping around the lagoon under the shadow of the moon many times. But, never saw them. Neither did I see the singing fish. But, those moon-lit days by the lagoon did steal my heart.

Living close to the lagoon means witnessing flooding around the lowlands around you. Small coconut estates were on these lowlands. Behind and in the front of the house are two coconut estates. When the lagoon overflows, the estate behind the house gets some of the lagoon overflow with little fishes. A small meadow like swamp was behind the house. Time to roll out the fishing pole. With the help of one of my 'big brothers' from next door, I spent a lot of time with a fishing pole(....long bamboo stick, if you want to know) and a few twitchy worms.

Not much of a success. But, no shortages of bananas from the home grown varieties and fresh coconut milk. I, along with my father and an uncle, did have some success at catching two or three few pounders by the place where the lagoon meets the sea  once. I have been to the light house area few times. A bit far from home, this is the best place to get the best deal on large fishes. As it was then, almost all the fishes were caught by netting in the traditional way.

The Ramakrishna mission and its self reliance. I had been there a few times. It was and still is for the handicapped and the orphans. They get most of the vegetable needs from the in-house garden patches. The place was full of vegetable gardens. And all maintained by the ones cared for by the mission. It was a place full of life and a sense of   accomplishment, literally and figuratively. The war has added an immense burden on this mission.

Those of you who are aware of this mission, please do remember the orphans - most helpless victims of this tragic war. They never turn away a visitor seeking food or shelter. If there was such thing as God, I saw Him in the happy faces of those orphans.

MamangEswaram Pillaiyar Kovil. This is a place where I had some pleasant memories. About fifteen-twenty minute walk from home, I must have gone there every weekend with my parents. And old kovil, build long before the Chola's time, had a kulam next to it. Bordered on one side by the slippery limestone steps and marshy-like long grass on the other side, I was warned not to go down the steps below the knee level by my 'peers.' How annoying. The kovil had spacious grounds with long trees that provided adequate cool shades for its anxious and tired devotees. There was this small maddam. I remember one time helping out in scraping coconuts in the maddam while my father and his friends were quite busy in cutting those large chunks of vegetables....

I attended two annual thiruvizhas(thiruvi(lLas). Simple yet elegant....Not overly done like in Valvettithurai. In one of those ceremonies, people from all walks of life bring as much coconuts and break them in half(perfect half in one try = Pillaiyar has bless you!). Then, they are all kept at the entrance by the Kopuram. Most importantly, it was a cordial and a friendly crowd at the kovil. Once or twice, I've been to the Sivan kovil. Bigger and set in urban setting, I don't remember its place.

...all ended in the 78 cyclone. We were some of the lucky ones. The coconut trees were laid flat on the ground. There were little fishes and crabs at the doorstep but not alive. By some miracle act, our house with half its roof tiles stood there and saved us. What was visible of the mansion in the coconut estate was just the black frames. Electric wires strewn all over the place. It was one ferocious night with deafening thunders and shrieking noise of cyclonic winds while 15 ft waves submerged many coastal areas. It didn't have much mercy on the bridges either. From here, I went to Colombo and then to Valvettithurai for the next two year's study at Uduppitti.

....One time, I went to KAthankudi and then to Kalmunai with my grandmother out on a business trip. I remember passing by a cashew farm and then later eating some fresh cashew fruits. Watch out for that acidic juice!

......My trip with my uncle to Amparai is little fresher in my mind for it had the water and the canals. And the large tall trees with canopy like branches. My uncle was a surveyor for the government and was just assigned to a spot somewhere in the jungle. Good enough for me. Close to his camp was a small canal. The day we went to get a bath(and to play around), the water level was only at knee level. Bad show, I say. So much for swimming. The camp site was in a jungle like area and had its share of mosquitos. Mosquito nets were a must in order to get a peaceful sleep without having to squat mosquitos all night!

The area was very rural with few small stores here and there serving as notices to the presence of 'civilization.' No road lights, of course. The highlight of my trip was to the Senanayake Samudra and the hydroelectric power plant located by the embankment....It was blue water as far as I can see when I stood on top of the embankment.

I could see some birds flying in distance. I had the benefit of a detailed plant tour parts of which were little scary. On the way back, I came across few other ancient water tanks and canals of many sizes. Some of these carry water to the rice paddies north of Amparai (bread basket of the East). A lot of these still standing water works were built by the Sinhala kings.

Now, the Senanayake Samudra is enclosed in the Gal Oya National Park - a bird sanctuary. A pleasant place to visit minus a war! What an irony and how sad it is. The offerings and the beauty of this 'PoolEha sorkam' cannot be enjoyed by its own sons who see more merit in the killing fields."

‘ampARy’ is beautiful rock-’am’ in ‘tamiz’ is ‘azaku’ . Legend has it that D.S,Senanayake stood on this rock and had the vision of a lake and ordered to dam the river and damn the Tamils. Gal Oya development Board was formed and Sinhala colonization was opened.’ampARy is now ampu ArRu’- the river arrow aimed at ‘tamizar.’ Most of the construction work was done by an American company-Morrison, Knudson of California. The Inginiyagala Rest house which used to be the American mess for the technicians gave me a first hand knowledge of how dignity of labor was practiced. That school trip perhaps worked in my sub- conscious for some of the decisions and follow ups I made in my early years. Then more about the east, not only for the Sun to rise but ‘tamiz Izam to rise.’ next.

continued

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