By Mahesan Niranjan –
Would you believe that? Late afternoon of the Sixty Eighth Independence Day of Sri Lanka an upset middle-aged man with balding head and payaasam belly sat in a bar with me and made a confession. The man is none other than my drinking partner, the Sri Lankan Tamil fellow Sivapuranam Thevaram, and we had met up in the famous pub in Bridgetown, UK, and had just sat down with our glasses of Peroni.
Thrilled at my temporary ordainment, I put a hand on his shoulder and said “It is OK, machan (buddy), don’t worry. Everybody makes mistakes, no?”
What wrong has my friend done, and what was the confession about?
Let me give you the background. Thevaram, in his childhood was one who you might say was brought up properly. His old man, Sivapuranam, though with no particular belief in the Almighty God or His countless incarnations, still seemed to want to live by the rules brought by the messenger.
You and I, of course, know that these Commandments are like an exam paper. There are ten of them. If you get any four correct, you passed!
Not so in the Sivapuranam household.
So, if you had encountered young Thevaram all those years ago, you would have found a cute little child, well behaved to the extreme. Being polite to elders, doing his homework on time and squeezing the toothpaste tube neatly at the end rather than clumsily in the middle were aspects of that proper upbringing.
Your reaction upon meeting him might easily have been (to be read aloud with Sri Lankan intonation): “Oh, Thevaram, aney baba, you are so cute, no? chellakkiLi, come and give aunty Shanthi a big hug!” [Translation: /aney/ – dear (in Sinhala); /baba/ baby (lingua neutras); /chellakkiLi/ pet parrot (in Tamil); /Shanthi/ not a real person here, a generic term for a visiting aunt]
Well into adulthood, the boy held onto the values his father had taught him, never achieving pleasure from another man’s misfortune.
This morning however, despite half a century of living up to his father’s expectations, the man faulted. Just for a fraction of a second it was, but he did wrong.
He has been looking at a photograph of Sri Lanka’s former President, widely circulated in social media. No, he was looking at the face. Oh, no, he was looking at the eyes. Oh, no, no, he was looking into those eyes.
There was half a tear drop in each eye, beautifully captured by the master photographer. Two half tear drops, adding to one whole. A thousand words will fail to describe what the photographer had grabbed. You could see deep into those eyes and see behind them. You could sense the frustration, the fear, the helplessness and the desperation of a man who is unable to protect his offspring.
The very same fear, the very same frustration, the very same helplessness and the very same desperation that hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe tens of thousands of our countrymen felt when they too were in a position of not being able to protect their offspring from harm. In the fraction of a second you stare at that master photograph, a thousand images will flash through your mind of those ugly experiments unleashed on the people of our country by the selfish callousness of our political class and the idiotic adventurism of our manipulated youth.
Those images that flashed in Thevaram’s mind violated the rules he was taught to live by. He was trumped. He yielded to a millisecond of intense pleasure. Going against his father’s wishes in that way certainly was my friend’s Superman moment.
With his eyes fixated on the eyes of the former President in the photograph, his glottis vibrating at 110 Hz and his mouth moving slowly, he firmly articulated the word: “gotcha!”
Back in the Bridgetown pub, reflecting and being utterly ashamed by that trespass, Thevaram quickly gulped the remaining Peroni from his glass.
“Forgive me, Father,” he said in a calm voice, “for I have sinned.”