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Special Feature: The Meaning of Religion in Sri LankaShort Story by Roma Tearne for Salem-News.com
An unexpected snapshot into the madness of life in a dominant Buddhist culture.
(LONDON) - Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin, who was killed in Syria in recent days, lost an eye covering operations in Sri Lanka in 2001. Her dedication and loss to this place, and the 2009 rape and Murder of Shoba, who was better known as Isaippiriya, in Sri Lanka, a journalist with TamilNet, (Two of Sri Lanka's Foulest War Crimes) brought an unexpected response; a fictionalized short story from an author in London; it is gut-wrenching and fascinating, literary expression.
I am very pleased to introduce A Second Short Story For The Western Sponsors Of The Galle Literary Festival. The Birthday Party by author Roma Tearne, of London. This is a fictional day in the life account of a family in Sri Lanka, the country of Roma's heritage. It isn't part of our regular news, however it is more relevant than most reports as a current information piece.
Sri Lanka experienced a terrible civil war that ended in mid-2009. The Tamil population that accounts for 15-20% of the people in Sri Lanka, was decimated by the Sinhalese Buddhist government' Sri Lanka Army (SLA). Sri Lanka maintains that the people its army was sent to kill were either part of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or 'human shields' that the 'Tamil Tigers' forced into the war zones.
Many solid accounts of the final push in this war exist, they are all very consistent. The Tamil people were just slaughtered, that is the truth of what happened. There does appear to some validity to the human shield allegation, according to the UN, however that is one of the oldest tricks in the books for any government to spin while engaged in damage control after being exposed for involvement in the ethnic cleansing of civilians. The human shield allegation is a page out of Israel's war game book, that's for sure.
Tragically, terrible accounts of widespread rape and abuse are interwoven into this horror story of Genocide and state terrorism on the otherwise stunning and beautiful island nation known for many years as Ceylon. The average American, I believe, considers Buddhists among the kindest and gentlest of people, however in Sri Lanka nothing could be farther from the truth. Roma Tearne sent this to Salem-News.com to republish and I hope to bring our readers many similar pieces in the future.
Friday, 20 January 2012
Afterwards, because he was in a hurry, he forgot to wash his hands. It was his grandmother’s ninetieth birthday. His father’s mother. The whole tribe would be there and his father had taken the day off.
‘Don’t be late, huh,’ he told his son.
Corporal Tosa Niyaka nodded. No, he wouldn’t be late.
‘I know you fellows have a lot of work clearing up the mess and all that but the Buddhist priests are coming, you know. I’d like you to be given a blessing.’
‘Anay, Putha,’ his mother said. ‘Please auh!’
Tosa Niyaka nodded into his cell phone.
‘Yes, yes. Don’t keep telling me. I’ll be on time.’
He was only twenty-seven but because of his parent’s influence he had managed to race up the dizzy heights of the army ladder. What use were parents unless they had influence? Tosa knew many people were jealous of his position.
He changed out of his uniform and took a shirt.
‘Not that one,’ his wife admonished. ‘Here, have this. It’s ironed.’
His wife, seven months pregnant, was at home now, having stopped working at that damn boutique. Tosa had worried that people would think he was unable to support her when in fact the truth was they were very comfortably off. But Mirabella had gone on and on about her independence and how she was not some bloody old housewife. Singhala girls were all like that these days. Even the really pretty ones. Singhala men had gotten soft in the head, thought Tosa Always giving into their wives and mothers and sisters.
‘I suppose you want me to come too?’ Mirabella asked
‘What? God, Bel, why can’t you behave like a proper girl?’
He felt a little hurt.
‘I come to all your parent’s parties, don’t I?’
‘Have you had a shower?’ Mirabella asked.
‘Yes,’ he lied.
‘I hate it when you come home from work and don’t shower.’
‘You know I shower at work,’ he protested and tried to give her a kiss.
But Mirabella ducked. And wrinkled her nose. This seventh month of pregnancy was hard for them both. Neither slept well for different reasons. Every time he tried anything on she pushed him away saying she was too hot, or too uncomfortable, or too tired. There was always a good excuse and he was an understanding man, but still.
‘I come to all your parent’s dos,’ he said again.
Mirabella shrugged. In the strained afternoon light she looked beautiful, her hair long and black, and sleek. Her mouth wide and generous. Her eyes shining with the good health given to her by the baby she carried. The child’s blessing. Tosa Niyaka stared. For a moment, the angle of the light and the billowing orange curtain played a trick on his eyes. His wife’s searingly pink sari cast a lovely shadow on her face. She wore hardly any makeup.
‘Well?’ he asked, although the fight had gone out of him.
She always won, anyway.
‘Oh Tosa,’ Mirabella said. ‘Don’t! My mother gives fab parties. Your parent’s are too formal.’
‘Well that’s because of their position,’ he protested. ‘Obviously.’
He didn’t add, although the temptation was there, to say her family were just socialites, whereas his were serious people who were involved in much more serious matters. He didn’t want to because he had chosen her for her frivolity.
‘Anyway,’ Mirabella was saying, hardly listening to him, ‘I want to go to one of the talks at the festival. There’s this writer, huh, from the UK who I really, really admire.’
She flicked through her programme, frowning. He saw she had marked things out, that there was no chance she would change her mind, that this bloody festival would take precedence over his grandmother.
‘Look,’ she said, holding out the booklet. ‘See? He’s fantastic.’
Tosa peered suspiciously at the photograph of the writer. The man was about his age. But he was white. And a little podgy. As if he drank too much, or sat at a desk all day. While Tosa… well there was no comparison! Sighing he picked up the gift, carefully wrapped by Mirabella herself, and looked around for the car keys.
‘I’m taking the Merc, okay.’
‘What am I supposed to do then? Walk to the festival?’
‘Get Cha-cha to take you. You shouldn’t be driving in your condition.’
He hesitated, not wanting to alarm her.
‘In any case I’d rather you went in the bullet proof car.’
She looked up at him, then, startled.
‘Just as a precaution,’ Tosa said uneasily.
‘It’s all right. I’m only being careful. Given your condition, given my job. Nothing to worry about. Let me do the worrying, okay.’
Privately he thought he ought to have a word with his father. Fill him in. Just in case today's event leaked out. The foreigners had a certain holier-than-thou attitude. Even though they got up to all sorts, themselves. Better to be safe, he decided. He kissed his wife who wrinkled her nose again.
‘You sure you had that shower?’
God, she was becoming like his mother, he thought, grinning indulgently, as he manovered the car out of the close circuited drive and out into the open streets. Feral noises came to him faintly, moments before he switched on the air conditioning and turned on some pop music. Mirabel was a deepening mystery to him.
‘What no wife?’ his father asked, surprised.
‘Never mind,’ his mother said. ‘Not long now!’
Long enough for her to go to her literary event, thought Tosa with a sudden streak of resentment. But he said nothing just gave his grandmother her present and kissed her. His grandmother pinched his cheeks. It was a well known fact that this stern woman who castigated everyone, from her own six children down to the servants, had nevertheless a soft spot of her army grandson.
‘So? Wife and baby relaxing?’ she asked.
Tosa nodded. Only with his grandmother did he totally drop his guard. She understood him and he her. That was how it had always been.
‘And what have you been up to in the meantime, naughtyboy?’
‘You look as if you need a good wash,’ his grandmother said shrewdly. ‘Why don’t you go upstairs and cool down? Then you can come and have a piece of cake with me.’
Still grinning, meekly, Tosa did as he was told.
In the shower, which was wonderfully cool, he closed his eyes. The water slid over him like a woman’s hand. He sighed. Outside, through the open window he could see the blur of tropical greenery. A crow cawed in hyphenated sound and he could hear the noise of a coconut being scraped. Suddenly with no warning an image flashed in front of his closed eyes.
A hand. Hair, long and silky, a mouth wide open, the veins of a slender neck standing out.
‘Please!’ the girl was whispering. ‘Please. Spare me! Please, please…’
His own mouth clamped down on the words. His face obliterated the frightened eyes beneath him. He heard laughter.
‘Come on, men! Give it to her like her father!’
‘Go, go, go, son!’
Tosa Niyaka’s hard-on was overpowering him as he entered the woman amidst more laughter.
‘Ay, ay, ay!’
A shadow fell over him as another pair of feet, also clad in army boots, straddled the girls head. A pair of flies was undone.
‘Come on Tosa get on with it.’
Tosa took his mouth away from the girl and she screamed. The scream was faint and sounded more like a sob.
‘Can’t you see she’s begging for it, men! Hurry up!’
He did. The girl’s thighs went limp. Her screaming had changed. The noise that came from her throat was soft. Like the breeze, soft like the sound of the sea. Her eyes, what he could see of them, were open, tearless. It reminded him of the dog his father had shot fearing rabbis. For a moment he hesitated but it was too late. He had only just time to reach his climax before someone else pushed him aside to take his place. He laughed and wiped his mouth. His hands carried a faint trace of some perfume and it crossed his mind that it came from the girl’s clothes when he had ripped them. The girl’s eyes were still staring at him, glassy as marbles. He heard a sound and turned. One of the soldiers was urinating on the girl’s hair. He had missed his aim and was laughing. Tosa Niyaka laughed too. Then he went outside for a smoke and some arak. The sun was in his eyes.
In the shower, without warning, Tosa wanted to rape the girl again. Of course it would not be possible. She was probably dead by now.
‘Tosa,’ his aunt called, knocking on the bathroom door. ‘My God child how long are you going to be in there? They’re waiting for you to cut the love cake.’
They were laughing at him when he emerged.
‘He’s a clean baby!’ his mother said, giving him a kiss.
Then his grandmother cut the cake.
Under cover of the conversation his father spoke to him.
‘I hope everything is OK with you fellows, aha?’
‘Fine,’ said Tosa
He helped himself to a whisky and the servant, a Tamil woman, gave him some ice. Tosa stared at her and she looked away.
‘She’s new, isn’t she?’ he asked his father.
‘Of course! It’s part of policy now. Employ the buggers. Give them something to do, stop western criticism, that sort of thing.’
‘Look, Tosa…’ his father said. ‘I’ve just had a phone call from the Chief. Is it true?’
‘But not after she was dead, Putha? Before, I don’t mind, but not after?’
‘No of course not,’ Tosa said truthfully.
His father sighed.
He helped himself to another drink.
‘Anay, you’ve had too much already’ Tosa’s mother said. ‘Think of your heart, Cha!’
‘Yes, yes. Last one!’
Then, just as the telephone rang, Tosa’s father had another thought.
‘Listen, Putha, if you did…you know…after…then make sure you disinfect your private parts thoroughly. Okay?’
The telephone call summoned Tosa to the hospital for the premature birth of his daughter. Two months early with serious doubts of her survival. The birthday party had come to an abrupt halt and both families had instantly decided to give alms to the Buddhist priests and pirith was already being chanted. Mirabel was drugged up and in shock. She blamed herself for trying to do too much and sitting on a hard chair at the talk given by the famous foreign writer. The doctor tried to reassure her this wasn’t the case. The placenta had simply given out.
Tosa approached the incubator with caution. The nurses had a soft look on her face. Not only was Tosa young and handsome, not only was this a terrible tragedy, but his father was a bloody big shot. The young nurse in charge, in her nervousness, mispronounced his name.
‘There she is Mr Tosser Niyaka,’ she said pointing to the incubator.
Tosa stared at his daughter through the glass. Tiny hands, tiny closed eyes, nose with tubes, feet. He frowned. Something was wrong but what was it? The baby made a slight movement, a barely discernable sound and he saw with a dawning horror that there was something wrong with her lips. They were folded and bent backwards, slit in three places. The lips weren’t bleeding. They had been just made that way. With a sharp intake of breath he covered his face with his hands and through the rising taste of vomit he smelt again the fragrance from earlier on that day.