From an IDP’s diary (22nd August 2003):
Losing the house of memories
I am worried and mad at my Mum. Why is she doing this? Is she insane
or greedy? But she says it is foolish to keep something that will be
soon taken over by “them.”
I cried: “Mum it is our home. We have got to keep it for our kids.
May be they will not live there but this is the only connection we have
got. After all, Mannar is our hometown."
My mother sounded very determined in her stand. She continued
justifying her decision: “Look. You think it is going be your home
again? People say that they have even changed the name of our street,
they now call it Murugan Street.
What a day dreamer you are. I don’t even want to imagine my
grandchildren stepping in there.”
Then she said: “I have decided to do away before the war starts
I begged her to give me few days to think, wishing furtively to lobby
my brothers for support.
My brothers looked as if they had already discussed this well in
advance. They shouted out their questions: “Why be so possessive of this
ruined house? It was shelled twice and haunted. Who would even want to
step in there again? Let’s her sell it.”
At gun point
My second brother cautioned me: “Remember we sold our shop for
peanuts when we were compelled to rent a house in Colombo. It is time to
sell all what we have got there and invest it here. Who knows when they
will fight again?”
My youngest brother, with his usual playfulness, to lighten the mood
said: “Mum is smart and you should let her do what she wishes.”
That night I felt mystified. Can anyone put monetary value on this
house that preserves those happy, myriad memories I still hold on to?
The feeling of belonging that was taken away at gun point on the cold
morning of October 24 1990.
Talking about us – the Northern Muslims, a friend of mine came up
with this instinctive phrase: “You were swimming in a pond before
eviction and now you have the ocean to swim in.”
True. We have an ocean to swim but it is also easy to get drowned in
it. Besides, we never wanted to be in this ocean anyway. But that reply
I did not dare to share.
Thousands of Muslims abandoned their homes after the LTTE
evicting them in 1990.- cdninstagram
That would have brought about a discussion which I feared the most.
In fact, I get very uncomfortable at the mention of this unfortunate
incident. My brothers were too small to feel the way I felt about being
thrown away. They are simply angry about the IDP stamp on them. For
them, the easy way is to get rid of everything that reminded them of
being displaced, this way they can wipe away the bitter past and submit
to their new identity – Colombo Muslims.
It is hard for me to stay disconnected. I want to deal with the past
because I am hurt and ashamed. My wounds need to be healed and it can be
done only by returning, finding answers to my questions and if possible
renewing relationships. It is tough to explain to my brothers why I want
to stay connected. They have been forced to think that our homes are now
in enemy territory. Who wants to be connected to their foes? It is time
to make my last effort to rescue our family home. This will work because
they all love me.
I begged the family with tears. “What is on sale is our dignity and
this is a real disgrace to our grandfather and daddy.” That was our last
conversation about selling our house. I know they didn’t understand but
that is how I manage to postpone the sale of our ancestral house –
I wonder why my mother didn’t feel as I did, about this house. I was
told after mum’s birth, my grandfather’s business flourished and he
built this house for her. She and her seven siblings grew up in this
house and my mother’s dream wedding took place here as well.
Our next door neighbour, Thevi aunty used to tell me stories about
mum’s wedding – how my grandpa decorated the street that led from the
railway station to our home with coloured lights so that his friends who
visited Mannar for the first time would not get lost.
She said it was like a Thirukaitheswaram Thiruvilaa with Thoranums on
both sides of the road and how my uncles, and her brothers, Sivam and
Shakti, covered up a well in our front garden to make a stage for
musicians to play Nathasvaram (only if they knew that they were sitting
on top of a 36- feet-deep well, they would have caught the next train to
She told me the fuss over mum when she delivered me – the first
grandchild and how the whole house was turned child-friendly. She
pointed to me the nail marks on both sides of the walls created by my
father to block me from the stairs and uneven surfaces. “Mum, how is it
possible to say you don’t want to get back there anymore? Why do you
hate this house so much? Is it because you too don’t want to deal with
the bitter past like my brothers?” These are questions I never asked,
fearing that I would dig into her deep wound, also connected to daddy’s
untimely death, triggered by displacement.
I have been to my hometown many times in the last couple of years but
never had the bravery to step into Sabiya Mahal. In fact, I stayed with
friends or relatives and avoided even passing it by. Nevertheless, this
time, after the commotion I made in preventing its sale, I thought of
I can remember how nervous I was that day. It was like going to see
my long lost friend. I reached out for the best dress I had in my
travel-case. 13 years.
That is a long time, isn’t it? As I entered Moor Street, I glimpsed
the sight of that safe haven standing strong as it used to be. As I got
closer to it, I noticed something eccentric –it has lost its affability.
Years of negligence and war had cast plenty of scars on it. The porch
and parapet walls have shed all their covers and looked as if they had
been stripped naked.
During the war, this house brought hope and reassurance. For many of
us, this was the only safe haven that brought us together – my aunts,
uncles, cousins, friends and neighbours. Those days reminded me of
festivals and weddings.
Usually, after a clash, there would be a curfew. I loved curfews
because our house used to be full of people at such times – people of
different ages, class, caste and faith. Grandma borrowed big pots and
pans that were used only for Kanthiries from our mosque and cooked in
the back garden, on stone stoves using piles of wood. Christi uncle – an
amazing story teller, a political science teacher and a superb cook –
Sivam Anna and Mustafa (who worked at the nearby grocery shop –Myillvahanam
Kadai – challenged each other’s masculinity by cracking huge chunks of
firewood in one strike.
We gathered the chipped pieces of wood when they took breaks and
brought them to Christi uncle in anticipation of the usual bribe.
Christi uncle always rewarded us when we did something good. Most
often, these rewards were funny stories of his childhood and growing up
together with my father in their village, Vidathaltheevu.
I loved his stories because it portrayed my father as a sturdy yet a
very mischievous boy.
Occasionally smoke would engulf the whole house and we all coughed
endlessly until tears sprang in our eyes. But I loved those days and the
tears. All of us sat on the floor and ate whatever grandma served on
banana leaves. Food always tasted so good. In fact, I secretly wished
for long curfews.
In the evenings, Nimmi and Ranjini joined me in rehearsing the songs
Sister Lourdes taught us on our last scout camp. We often forgot that we
were in the middle of a bloody civil war.
I stood still in our front garden trying to bring the nerve to step
inside. Suddenly everything appeared alien, hostile and I felt numbed.
The memories of the war and the last few days at home came rushing
back. The sorrow, losses, tension, fear, atrocities and distrust. Those
memories that kept me awake most nights.
I can only smell only death and pain here.
My best friend Ranjini became a freedom fighter and later that year,
she was proclaimed a martyr. Uncle Christi became a traitor and his body
was hung on a lamp post with a bullet in his forehead. I became the
“other” in my school and even among some of my closest friends.
Myillvahanam Kadai got bombed one night and Mustafa too, since he slept
Thavi aunty and her only son Kumar disappeared at a military check
point when they went to see their relatives in Adampan. Sivam Anna, a
brilliant and devoted mathematics teacher was taken for an inquiry to
Thalladi army camp and no one saw him afterwards.
Since then maths became a bitter subject to me. Shakti Anna who got
admitted to Jaffna Medical College opted to join the struggle for their
His choice for guns and cyanide capsules came as a last resort of
survival. Who knows if he had stayed with us, he would have also
disappeared like his brother.
I saw Shakti Anna only once after he became one of “the big boys.”
That was when he came to alert my father a night before they attacked
the Mannar Police Station.
It also reminded me of our endless attempts in preventing my brother
from his growing interest in Al Jihad and how he ended up being wanted.
If not for our friends, neighbours and Shakti Anna, he would have ended
up on a lamp post too. Last few days in this house were like living in a
hellhole, the call to prayers – Azaan – became a sign of tension and
fear. Every time mosque’s loudspeaker came alive at odd hours our hearts
stopped beating with the thought that something dreadful had happened.
Each minute was torture.
At last, on October 24th, the same loud speaker announced that we are
given 24 hours to vacate our homes, I knew that this time, neither our
friends nor Shakti Anna could come to our rescue. My numbness turned
into humiliation and distress. God this was making me sick, I ran out
and walked back quickly to my friend’s house. My head felt so heavy. I
thought it would blow up soon.
I ran to the bathroom and sat beneath the tap. While the cold water
cascaded over my feverish body, I cried my heart out.
Yes. I cried for the first time to wipe clean the memories of living
in Sabiya Mahal. That night I called mum and said: “let’s get rid of
this ghostly house.”
Thiruvilaa – Famous Kovil
festival celebrated in Mannar
Decoration mostly done by the roadside with young coconut leaves
– A musical instrument played by Tamils during festivals and
– Muslims’ annual ritual in which the entire community gets together
and prepares meal for the whole town inside a mosque
Big boys –
Denotes Tamil Tigers Vidathaltheevu and Adampan – Small towns on Mannar
Call for Muslim prayer
Anna – Elder
brother in Tamil
Thalladi Army camp
– Infamous for detaining and torturing young Tamil men in
My grandma’s name
Arabic word for a place of rest
Murugan – A
popular Hindu god