Published in my column in The Nation ‘The Painted Goose’ on January 8, 2012
By Darshanie Ratnawalli
The LTTE were technically Sri Lankan Forces too. They are on record in non- Sri Lankan sources as having had amputations performed on people to stop them from leaving no-fire zones. A book, which announces that Sri Lankan forces amputated people’s limbs to stop them from leaving no fire zones will be technically correct too. One can issue statements explaining how the author did not write ‘Sri Lankan Government Forces’, merely ‘Sri Lankan Forces’ and what’s wrong with so and so’s comprehension that he fails to see that the LTTE were Sri Lankan Forces too.
Luckily perhaps for our sanity, Niromi’s story in Sri Lanka stops in 1988 (in her own account she was shot of the LTTE as well as Sri Lanka by 1988). If the saga had gone on past 1989, we’d have to endure arguments that ‘for a young LTTE cadre to describe the LTTE as Government Forces would not be unusual at all as given the collaboration between the LTTE and the SL government against a common undesirable; the IPKF, the LTTE either considered themselves as an extension of the SL Government forces (or far more likely) considered the Government Forces as an extension of themselves.’ (The collaboration started somewhere in October 1989 according to General Kalkat in ‘India’s Vietnam’ )
Even though Sri Lanka was deprived of Niromi’s colorful presence in 1988, before the meaning of ‘government forces’ could ‘branch out’ too much, we are not scot free of creative interpretations. The Tamil people it seems saw the IPKF as doing the dirty work of the Government and there’s nothing incongruous in describing the IPKF as ‘government forces’ as the back cover of Tamil Tigress does.
“Two days before Christmas in 1987, at the age of 17, Niromi de Soyza found herself in an ambush as part of a small platoon of militant Tamil Tigers fighting government forces in the bloody civil war that was to engulf Sri Lanka for decades…”
Lot of people I know checked into private mental homes on the day this argument hit the cyber space, so that they could bang their heads on the padded walls and scream in relative privacy and safety. They have now come out all calm and point out that, though the major players of the Elam wars during the various temporal phases were bound to each other in ever changing relationship equations dictated by expediency, no merging of identities ever accompanied these changes; that the contexts involved were too hugely incompatible and irreconcilable for these identities to ever merge in living, natural language. The IPKF was too much the instrument of an overlord, meting out a client dispensation to a subjugated state to ever become ‘Government Forces’ in Sri Lanka, while the LTTE had rejected their Sri Lankanness and the ‘Government’ far too irrevocably (collaboration notwithstanding), to ever become a Sri Lankan or a government force .
Another argument rolled out to sanitize the ‘Government Forces’ on the back cover is that while Niromi’s honest hand produced the words ‘ Indian government Forces’ for the back cover copy, some other hand belonging to a less informed Allen and Unwin editor deleted the word ‘Indian’. On this one most people were able to do without the padded cell and state with the aid of a tranquilizer only, that ‘Indian government forces’ were a linguistic anomaly for the IPKF in Sri Lanka. ‘Government’ was a superfluity after the word ‘Indian’, which never appeared in actual communications because a nongovernmental Indian force was never part of the equation.
The best one so far is that ‘the government forces- guerilla forces dichotomy’ allowed the term ‘government forces’ to be used for the IPKF when they were the adversaries of a guerilla force. However in language, the key is context, context and context and ironically it’s Niromi herself, who hands us the contextual key to interpret the words ‘government forces’ when she wrote in 2009 that “The war resumed, just as Prabhakaran had predicted, though now we were fighting not only the government troops but the peacekeepers, too.”
Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, D. B. S Jeyaraj (if he has published this Saturday’s installment) will now have hit the 15 000 word count in his Niromi saga. Pitted against this abundance are 47 measly words in simple, straightforward English written and uttered in Niromi’s own hand and voice respectively.
“The war resumed, just as Prabhakaran had predicted, though now we were fighting not only the government troops but the peacekeepers, too.”
“…when I joined, the Indian forces had arrived and the tigers had chosen to fight the Indian forces as well as the Sri Lankan forces”
- 2011, interview with Throsby
They are so unobtrusive and so easy to overlook. In that respect they are like all slips. In detective stories, people only make one critical slip (which is nevertheless enough to alert the clever detective). If you are Niromi de Soyza however, you make one monumental slip in writing and two years later make the identical slip verbally. If your attention had wandered (as it will) while reading through the 4521 words of the 2009 Telegraph story or between the points 18.45 and 19.02 in the 2011 Throsby interview, you would miss these slips (In fact no one in my acquaintance did spot these slips before I pointed them out). But once spotted they (the slips) sing. They sing out pure like the ring of genuine Waterford crystal and grab your attention amidst the tin clatter of words produced by Monsieur D. B.S Jeyaraj.
For a long while, the Telegraph statement and the Throsby statement (as they will go down in history) were dodged and remained unacknowledged by all Niromi defenders on the Net and Press, reminding me of a historical novel about Charles II I had read in school. In it, there’s a scene where Catherine of Braganza, Charles’ Portuguese bride is advised, before she sets sail for England, by her mother, the queen of Portugal, on how to deal with Charles’ mistresses. “You must never acknowledge these women or let on that you know about their relationship to your husband” or words to that effect. Similarly write reams and reams validating and affirming Niromi, cover all other contentious issues, but…silence on the ‘IPKF alongside the government troops’ motif, as if it was sotta beneath their notice.
Even Michael Colin Cooke, apparently Lionel Bopage’s biographer, who wrote ‘The singer might change but the song remains the same: A critical look at Roberts and Sarvananthan ‘outing’ Niromi de Soyza’ was no different. Having dissected the back cover ‘government forces’ he gets struck by curious amnesia about the Throsby statement, which was certainly available to him through the one article by Dr. Michael Roberts, which he seems to have perused in replying (there was a newer article by Roberts, which had he read it would have presented him with the Telegraph statement too and the 2009-2011 consistency.) But, deadlines, you know. You just can’t afford to read everything.
But eureka, around 30th December, 2011, finally, the Throsby and Telegraph statements were acknowledged and a feisty defense mounted. Only I can’t tell you this week. The word count you know. Wait till next week, it’s good.