By Emil van der Poorten –
Election-related violence – Part IV
This piece should, in fact be an addendum to one of the series that preceded it. However, even as an afterthought it bears exposure given the very recent threat and intimidation I have been subjected to even after the alleged ”Yahapalanaya” lot occupied the seats of power.
I am going to hark back to the 1971 Che Guevara insurrection and my totally unwitting connection to it.
Subsequent to the 1970 return of the Sirimavo Bandaranaike clique to power, we discovered that our old Electrolux (‘Lux) kerosene-operated refrigerator (fridge) had reached the end of its tether and decided to splurge on a new, locally made appliance which didn’t require electricity either, made in Sri Lanka to boot!
An interjection here might be in order: we didn’t have “on line” electricity until a few years ago and prior to that depended illumination at night, first, on kerosene-using pressure lamps (the famous “Petromax’) and the iconic Aladdin lights which operated on a somewhat different principle. Any refrigeration of food that was required came via the afore-mentioned ‘Luxes.
Anyway, as was usual with those in our circumstances, particularly with the Bandaranaike version of the economic sword of Damocles hanging over us, we decided to try to recoup some of the cost of the new “fridge” through sale of the old one which, though frayed around the edges, so to speak, was in good working order.
In went an advertisement on the pages of the Sunday Observer and we then proceeded to wait for a response to it which, fortunately, given our somewhat straitened financial status, didn’t take long in arriving.
One morning, we were informed by one of the “domestics” that a couple had arrived, wanting to see (and we hoped!) buy our vintage ‘Lux.
It transpired that they were, particularly in terms of the social norms and class distinctions prevailing at the time in Sri Lanka, the oddest of odd couples, not only belonging to the most disparate of social strata of those days but having come together under what would have been considered “romantic,” but certainly, scandalous of conditions particularly if one were to consider the prevailing social taboos!
The entire saga of my relationship and that of my ex-wife with these two has, of necessity, to await another day and far longer narrative. For now, let me return to the attempted “frame-up” part of the story.
Out of the purchase of our fridge which, incidentally, served them very well despite its vintage, emerged a personal friendship that proved its ability to weather the political storms of Sri Lanka.
Cutting to the chase: thanks to the male half of the duo being involved in the Che Guevara uprising of 1971, the couple ended up on the run, he being on some kind of “most wanted” list.
Again, saving details for another time, the wife escaped to the safety of her brother’s home where, thanks to his extremely high standing in the then-Civil Service she was physically safe if not immune to interrogation.
Her partner, however, to cut a long and fascinating story short, ended up on our doorstep late one evening!
Having abandoned the intention of taking his life using a double-barreled approach which was unusual to say the least, he had decided that, through my wife and me, he might be able to escape what was obviously awaiting him in the matter of summary justice to Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP, Che Guevarist) adherents that prevailed at that time.
Like much of the fascinating material around the entire tale, the details will have to await another telling.
Suffice it to say, for the moment, that we succeeded in having the man surrender to the military unit in charge of the Kandy area at the time and in which I had a few friends serving as fairly senior officers.
He was immediately “choppered” to Kegalle which was the administrative hub of the area in which his group of Che Guevarists had been active and of which he and his buddies had, at the inception of the insurrection, had complete control.
Thanks to our friendships in what were, in the circumstances, pivotal positions in the army, the man came to no physical harm and was subjected to regular judicial procedure which ended with his internment at the Polonnaruwa insurgent centre where, among others, our current President was also a detainee at that time!
However, before he was sentenced to a period of incarceration in the city of Parakrama Bahu, he was subjected to an interrogatory practice that was, to put it mildly, unusual for that time (or any other I’d suspect). He was moved to an appropriate place and administered Sodium Pentothal, the famous/notorious “truth serum” under the influence of which anyone being questioned was supposed to drop their inhibitions completely and utter “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
How I subsequently became aware of this sequence of events was because the senior medical officer summoned to be in attendance while this was in process, was subsequently transferred to a jurisdiction where I and my friends ended up as close (often drinking and otherwise socializing) buddies of his!
This member of the medical profession happened also to be a star in the firmament of Trinity College rugby and had skippered one of its most famous teams of which one of my siblings was a member. Talk about weird and wonderful coincidences!
Anyway, the thrust of the questioning was an unadulterated effort to have this “major JVPer” blow the whistle on the involvement of my wife and me in the JVP uprising of April 1971.
However, all they succeeded in extracting from my friend was a statement dismissive of my politics which he described as little more than admiration for the late Dudley Senanayake. His response to information about my spouse at the time, could, if the circumstances are ignored, be considered hilarious. When asked about her, his response was that she wore “mini-mokes,” the colloquialism applied to the “mini-skirt” much in vogue at that time!
The entire story of my relationship with this man and the family he and his wife very successfully raised awaits another telling, we both hope not posthumously!
A footnote to this tale is the fact that there apparently was a voice recording made of the interrogation and my friend provided me with the name of the police inspector who held it then. I expect it might be worthwhile checking for this piece of information even in a day and age where even very recent evidence is either destroyed or disappears into thin air.
A coda to this abbreviated account might be the fact that at least one of those who took a particular interest in connecting me and my wife with the alleged JVP leader and, therefore, the 1971 insurrection, was one who ascended to the highest levels of the military thanks to his family connections. How do I know of that interest? Because he, himself, went out of his way to quiz me on the subject at a time when we weren’t in the habit of engaging in social conversations!
That in these circumstances, I have recently been subjected to threat by those linked to those times and that regime suggests that they not only have “brass” but probably some baser metal in their make-up.