It was a Saturday
afternoon. I was working at the free trade zone when my friend
called and informed me that 13 soldiers were killed in an ambush
in Jaffna. He wanted me to come to Colombo because we had been
living in Borella for three generations and I would be safer there
as opposed to in Kurana, my present place of residence. My wife
and the twins were in Colombo at my mom’s house for the
weekend and I was to join them in Colombo that afternoon.
The company’s Managing Director was an Italian and I told
him not to come to work on Monday. In addition, I informed the
local director (who was the son in law of Cyril Mathew the architect
of the riots). He concurred with my decision and asked me to stay
in Colombo too.
When I reached Borella,
I saw many of the shops closing down. It worried me. When I came
home, my sister insisted that she would be safe. I decided to
go back to Kurana the same night. On route, I saw the famous KG
buses parked and ready for the night trip to Jaffna- however they
did not run that night. Two weeks later, I would see the same
buses - but they would be only burnt shells. That was a familiar
sight during that period. When I reached my home, it was all quiet.
The neighbors were more interested in playing with the twins-
unaware about the events unfolding in Colombo.
On Sunday, we were
totally unaware of what was taking place in Colombo. On Monday
morning, my wife and I left for work. As I reached the plant,
I saw the Managing Director white as a sheet and not able to speak.
His driver told me that they saw bodies on the road and shops
burning. My first concern was to send him back to Colombo. When
I called my sister to make accommodation arrangements, she said
mobs were passing the house and that our cousin’s and our
family friend’s house had been burnt in the next lane. In
our lane, we were the only Tamil house and they could not determine
whether it had Tamil residents. In addition, my brother removed
the Saraswathi (Hindu goddess) picture hanging on the front entrance
on Saturday. All the while, my sister still insisted that our
house was safe because Peter Kenuman, a communist Member of Parliament,
was living opposite to our house.
I called my wife and she was asked by her Manager to go home.
He gave her instructions to stay inside the house and to call
him if we needed any help. We came home and the neighbors were
assuring that everything will be fine. Members of the Sri Lankan
Air Force came to my house and instructed me to leave otherwise
we will be dealt with.
My wife called her
boss and we were taken to Kochikade where one of the
banks customers resided. On the car ride, I asked my wife to remove
her nose stud but she could not. So the manager asked her to cover
her head with a sari so that she could pose off as a Muslim. Once
we reached the bank customers house, the twins were sent out to
play since they could speak Sinhalese. The neighbors were told
that we were Colombo Chetties.
We stayed for two
weeks in Kochikade for a week. I decided to go to Colombo to see
my family along since my sister’s phone was not working.
As we traveled to Colombo, we saw numerous Tamil businesses burnt
to the ground. My sister’s house was no different. The bank
customer and I went to my sister’s house. It was as if a
cyclone had gone through it- the entire house was destroyed. I
looked down and saw my certificates on the ground with covered
in foot prints.
When I inquired the
neighbor, they said my brother and sister had left for our family
friend’s house after which the whole house was looted. When
I reached my brother-in-law’s house, it was a mini refugee
camp. He was relieved to see me see and asked us to stay in to
his house. However, I needed to make sure my wife’s family
was safe in Jaffna. As we traveled to Kokuvil, we met many other
families and learnt of their sad stores. Since then, we decided
we could not stay in Sri Lanka. We came to Canada in 1984 but
we are the lucky ones. We have left the shores of Sri Lanka but
the trauma had not left us.