19 October, 2019

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Occasional Stories: A Rebel At The Door!

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

I suddenly woke up with a gentle knock on our front door. On other days, we all would have been awake by this time but this was school holidays and university vacation. We all were having an easy time; I, my wife and our son.

Who could be at our door this early, I wondered.

I heard most certainly Wimala, our domestic help, walking to the door and opening it and then she came to our door and said, “Someone to see you Sir.”

Pathmanabha

I lazily put on a shirt, as I normally used to sleep without, particularly during this time of the year, and slowly moved to the front door. The glass door was still ajar and when I opened it, there was this strange looking young man with an unshaven face and in rather ragged white tea shirt and a trouser. His eyes looked rather sleepy and tired.

“Dr… I came to see you.”

People used to call me Dr although I didn’t have a doctorate at that time. Sometimes I used to crack, ‘well, I am only a patient!’ It was clear of course that he had come to see me on something important because in his eyes there was a strange glow. He could not be an ordinary person. I asked him to come inside and offered him a seat. I also recognized him as a ‘Tamil’ not from his look but from his talk. He said,

“I am Padmanabha Dr… I was at the seminar day before yesterday,” with a faint smile.

I nodded not really recognizing him, but recollecting the seminar. He was brief and to the point. He said that the police raided the farm that evening after I left and several who remained were arrested. I was not particularly surprised, as I was suspicious when I left the place. I asked him at what time this happened and he said it was around 6.30 in the evening.

I could recollect that I left the place around 4 O’clock because I even managed to come to Ampara by 7.00 in the evening. The seminar was held somewhere north of Batticaloa at a farm belonged to a Catholic organization.

By this time my wife was kind enough to bring a cup of tea for him. He appreciated it even by getting up from his seat. He was gentlemanly in his ragged dress. I wondered why he came to see me. I think he realized what was going on in my mind and explained that some of the participants had taken notes of lectures and it is possible that my name was there as a speaker. He said that the police might come at least to question me. In fact, within days I had to be present at the famous fourth floor. 

I greatly appreciated his gesture. He has come all the way from Batticaloa to tell me that I could be in trouble with the police by attending the seminar as a guest lecturer. I asked him how he managed to escape the police and his causal answer was:

“Some of us managed to run and some others got caught.”           

It was clear from this conversation that he had particularly come to Kandy to give me the message perhaps because I must have been the only guest lecturer at their seminar who attended. There were two others from the ‘South’ who were supposed to attend, but had not turned up. Mine was the last day. My appreciation increased when I came to know that he was the leader of the organization called EPRLF (Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front). He could have sent somebody else but he himself opted to come. I realized there was someone else outside our gate.

I recollect quite clearly the whole episode of the seminar and the camp. I formally received this invitation by post from an organization with a similar name to ‘Young Workers and Peasants’ to deliver a lecture on ‘Karl Marx and Trade Unions’ in Batticaloa. That time I was completing a research on ‘Trade Unions and the General Strike of July 1980’ and thought this was a good opportunity to know what was happening in the Tamil areas of the country. It was not a secret that there were several rebel organizations operating in the North and the East at that time.

But I was not fully aware that the seminar was organized by the EPRLF or perhaps I didn’t want to know about those details. This was 1983 and it was also the Karl Marx Centenary. It was not the first occasion that I delivered a lecture on the same or similar topic for the Centenary.

That time I was a Senior Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Peradeniya and also worked as the Lecturer in Charge of Political Science at the Dumbara Campus. That is where I was living and where Padmanabha came to deliver the message. He left immediately after giving me the warning. I came out with him to say, ‘good bye.’

Our house was at an elevated ground from the main road just opposite the Campus gate. I saw him descending towards the main road with another man; his figure disappearing smaller and smaller. I felt sad for some reason.

It was the same sadness which struck me when I heard in June 1990 that Pathmanabha was killed with 17 others when the LTTE raided one of the EPRLF meetings in Madras. That time I was working in Geneva.

My lecture at their seminar was to say that people need to ‘transcend’ (not abandon) ethnic differences if they wish to seek for social justice for the working people. I said that it is the essence of Marx’s message before he died hundred years ago in 1883. I introduced myself as ‘half-Sinhalese’ and said that ethnic identities are rather illusory. My lecture was translated into Tamil. It was translated by Muththu, who had come from Kandy, whom I knew. I remember how fondly they treated me after the lecture whether they agreed with me or not. We had rice and wild boar for lunch. When tea was served and when I said I don’t drink tea, someone, not Pathmanabha, kindly prepared me a glass of lime juice. I recollect the face and the figure, but never could locate the person thereafter. He was slim and short with a clear disposition of an educated person.

It is extremely sad to lose a person like Parhmanabha in Sri Lankan (left) politics. Apart from being a rebel, he was one of the most sensitive and sensible persons. Prior to this event, I have seen him at the Workers’ and Peasants’ Institute (WPI) that my close friend late Newton Gunasinghe set up in Kandy to conduct research and publications.

Pathmanabha also was around the Peradeniya Campus for some time perhaps making contacts with Sinhala students and radicals. A graduate from the University of Jaffna he also had a half a mind, I believe, to do a postgraduate degree at Peradeniya. I recollect once when he stepped into a controversy, even involving my name, he profusely apologised. He explained the circumstances. It is also from this experience that I considered him to be a frank and an honest person.                 

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Latest comments

  • 12
    0

    Wonderful and touching riposte to those for whom every Tamil is a Tiger.

    • 7
      0

      Sinhala Man, I concur with you and salute you for being – much like Laksiri in the foregoing – a TRUE Sinhala man.

    • 1
      0

      What comes in my mind is that from the early days like 80s, there were many brave & intelligent people who came forward to push the peoples’ mind in right direction. Unfortunately the forces they created were not strong enough.. Direction of the resultant Force (සම්ප්‍රයුක්ත බල විබේදනය) keep going in negative direction and that negative resultant force getting stronger…. and affecting all other aspects of the society in negative way.. Is it too late to reverse… Yes in my mind… unless a huge catastrophic damage happens in the country.. (Victor Ivan –> පිපුරුමක් )..
      Last MR murderous/corruption regime wasn’t bad enough.. May be second one from 2020 who lead to it..

  • 10
    0

    Dr. Laksiri Fernando,

    You have written a very humane story.

    Makes me nostalgic for a past, a bygone Lanka, ………….. again, will never be.

    • 2
      1

      It would have been humane if Dr Laksiri Fernando did not include the following unnecessary information which is of no relevance to the story but only exposes the poor girl “Wimala” who did slavery at his PALACE.
      “I heard most certainly Wimala, our domestic help, walking to the door and opening it and then she came to our door and said, “Someone to see you Sir.”

      • 5
        0

        “exposes the poor girl “Wimala””

        True, to some extent I agree with you. In the piece she comes off as inconsequential.

        But in SL, things are not so simple. Many people have live-in “help.” And depends on how they are treated.

        In SL, many come to work as servants due to their unfortunate circumstances. Some get treated very badly. But I also know others who helped their servants – in every way – to climb out of their dire circumstances.

      • 5
        0

        Of course, I could have avoided that part of the story (the domestic help), to give a glorious picture of me or my family. That is not correct. This is a series of stories and true names are not always given. However, ‘she’ or anybody else was not a slave at our home. Even at present in Australia we have a house assistant coming to clean our house and help at our old age. That is approved by the law and the governmental arrangements. If you are old or in any difficulty, you could have those services. Even at that time at our home at Dumbara, we had my father in law at a very old age. We both working, we could not leave him alone at home. That is the truth.

  • 9
    0

    We need many more people like Dr. Fernando and many more stories like this told aloud in this divided and ignorant country of ours.

  • 0
    11

    Cha cha cha Laksiri …. leader of EPLRF, half-Sinhalese (what’s the other half?), barely recognised the fellow, travelled all the way from Dumbara campus to Batticaloa knowing there were rebel orgs etc etc ………… Lovely jowley. Now we know !!!

    • 9
      0

      Thank you for the story Dr. Laksiri Fernando.
      Padmanaba was a man beyond his time for SL when compared to Prabakaran,Mahinda Rajapakse, Modi or Trump.

  • 1
    5

    Try to convince government in different angles to find new position. Sorry whatever dance you make this government is not giving you position. Do something else.

  • 5
    0

    Dr Laksri Fernando,
    Yes indeed a humane story. Beautifully narrated too.
    This shows either you had a bond with EPLF or vice versa or both ways.

    Now I wonder whether Dr. DJ as a smart patriot had any real bond with EPRLF or not. If he had was it real ?
    I was taught in my GCE O Level that there are 4 types of bonds in Chemistry.
    As a political scientist what is your view on the type of bond DJ had with EPRLF that led the proclamation by DJ’s Chief VR Perumal ?

    This question is open to any one including comrades DJ and Native .

  • 6
    0

    During the era following independence left movement in Tamil speaking areas was quite strong. The left thinking youth considered the 1956 “Sinhala Only” as an aberration which will be put right by “our progressive colleagues in the South”. The KMP Rajaratne-Themis ilk saw to it that addressing such grievances is rated unpatriotic.
    Liberation movements sprouted but the youth still had hopes of getting some form of understanding from “progressive South”. Overtures to JVP were met with disdain. The left started abandoning the concept of equality and finally evolved into today’s JO monster.
    Pathmanabha meeting with Laksiri shows that the youths involved still had hopes of help from liberals from the south.
    The liberation movements were clandestine and skirmishes (some internecine) are inevitable – history is full of this..

    • 0
      0

      The Liberals were not genuine, only honest. They were honest until it dawned on them that they were not going to achieve their objectives, as Liberals. It was not difficult for them to abandon the theories they professed, since they were not genuine to begin with. Srimavo B. managed to capitalise on that weakness of theirs. Today’s history started then and there.

  • 2
    0

    Laksiri Fernando. A very humane story from our violent past. I lived in Kilinochchi half of each year from 1994 to present except 2008 to 2009. I think many people who have such stories need to write. I am trying but it is heart wrenching. But we should share such stories and events that may not be palatable to us at this time. But they are part of our history. Thank you.

  • 0
    0

    EPRLF leader Pathmanabha (“ Nabha” to his comrades ) was the most refined among the different rebel leaders, all of whom were well acquainted with me – by reason of professional relationship. I had appeared in different courts for one or more members of the several groups (or their relatives),, including Douglas Devananda (then) of EPRLF and his two brothers (who were not attached to any group, but still, one of them was later killed by LTTE). I learnt that Nabha, from an affluent family, had abandoned his Accountancy studies in England and undergone PLO training in Palestine. After fleeing a savage attack on my abode at Borella, Colombo during the 1983 Black July pogrom, I stayed as a destitute refugee in India and had occasionally visited the EPRLF quarters at Sakaria Colony in Kodambakkam, Chennai (then, Madras). During such visits, Nabha always insisted on sharing their “meals” with me. The boys lived in squalid conditions and on rationed food. The morsel was a poor substitute for a meal. It was tragic that he and his comrades were killed by LTTE.

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