John Gimlette’s travelogue offers a panoramic view of the Sri Lankan landscape, although he may have avoided a few political factors
Travelogues or travel books command huge respect from readers, especially by a generation for whom satellite TV or internet were unknown. Books, radio and cinema were the only means of information and entertainment. People who grew up in major cities in the country were lucky because they got opportunities to watch Hollywood movies too.
Good travelogues are as interesting as novels or action-packed movies. It all depends on the capability of the traveller to recount what he saw and experienced in the journey. A good example is Paul Theroux whose The Great Railway Bazaar remains an all-time best seller. The reader is tempted to ‘devour’ the book at a stretch.
It is in the backdrop of these facts that the book Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka authored by John Gimlette assumes importance.
What made Gimlette undertake a journey to this island nation is the presence of the unusual number of Sri Lankan Tamils in Tooting, a southwest suburb of London, the author’s hometown. Their lifestyle, the Sri Muthumari Amman Temple which looks more like a departmental store and 22 other major temples in London owned by the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees inculcated a thirst in Gimlette’s mind to know more about Sri Lanka and its people. These temples in Britain and elsewhere are collection points for the LTTE.
According to Gimlette, there are more than 110,000 Sri Lankan Tamils in Britain. What remained unknown to Gimlette is the fact that all these refugees in Britain, other European countries, the American continent, Australia and Africa are all foot soldiers fighting for Tamil Eelam.
The journey in search of Sri Lanka’s soul took Gimlette to various parts of the island nation. It was known as Pearl of Indian Ocean before the advent of the LTTE. But thanks to the murder and mayhem unleashed by the LTTE, Sri Lanka has been termed the tear drop in the Indian Ocean. It may sound strange, but the truth is that the LTTE has murdered more Tamils in a systemic manner than the number of people who died in the hands of the Sri Lankan military in the last phase of the war to finish off Prabhakaran, the LTTE chief and his private army of suicide bombers.
Gimlette has given a panoramic view of the Sri Lankan landscape and its social life. But he is silent about the real intention behind the involvement of some European countries in the war ravaged island. What was the motive behind Norway which played the role of an interlocutor or negotiator with the Sri Lankan Government for and on behalf of the LTTE? The Scandinavian country is known for the kind of evangelism exported by it to countries in Asia and Africa. The LTTE was used as a tool by the Church and these countries to
finish off Buddhism.
The demand for a separate Tamil Eelam became louder only in the 1980s. What started as a routine law and order problem in the highlands of central Sri Lanka between two groups of people degenerated into ethnic conflict thanks to the evangelists and their paymasters who were on the lookout for a base camp in the Indian Ocean.
The LTTE and Prabhakaran played ball with the schemers as per the script prepared by the latter. Sri Lankan Army, a mere ceremonial force than a conventional fighting Army, failed miserably in its outings against the cunning Tigers.
Tamils from Jaffna and Batticaloa who masqueraded as political refugees in other countries were the brand ambassadors for the Eelam. They unleashed a media blitzkrieg by spreading the news that Tamils were discriminated against in Sri Lanka by the Sinhala majority population. The LTTE followed the same modus operandi used by evangelists and jihadists to get international sympathy. Documentaries, advertorials, syndicated columns and the likes ‘depicting’ the cruelty meted out on Tamils by the Sinhala majority in the island nation were their tools. Those who questioned the LTTE strategy were finished off in a gruesome manner. Prabhakaran, the LTTE commander, was portrayed as the embodiment of all that is good in this world whereas he was a tyrant and hoodlum in real life.
The LTTE attacks were similar to the terrorism unleashed by Palestinian extremists over the people in Israel. Such attacks will never be highlighted by the proactive media. But any retaliation by the Israeli defence forces will lead to a massive outburst against the Jews by the same media!
With Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi throwing open India’s territories for the Tamil Tigers and training and arming them, the Sri Lankan political leadership found itself in a helpless position. This resulted in the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord signed by Rajiv Gandhi and Junius Jayewardene. The Sri Lankan Government was forced to amend its Constitution by making the 13th amendment to ensure the sovereignty of the Northern Province which would have ended up as a State within a State. This would have made it literally impossible for Sinhala people to buy landed properties in Northern Province or in the east, Tamil dominated areas. In common man’s language, these provinces would have become Sri Lanka’s Jammu and Kashmir!
Others have written about the LTTE’s five-year hegemony over Jaffna because the Tigers had seized the Elephant Pass, the only route to Jaffna from mainland Sri Lanka. Gimlette is silent about the war for Elephant Pass and how the Sri Lankan Army regained the strategic Pass.
Having toured Sri Lanka a couple of times, may I tell a truth? There is no word in Sri Lankan Constitution that denies Tamils or minorities equal rights. Most of the business houses in Sri Lanka are owned by Tamils. But you will never see a single Sinhala-owned business anywhere in the north or east provinces.
Gimlette is right in naming the book Elephant Complex. Dr TCR Nambiar, well-known elephant physician of Guruvayur Devaswom says the elephants have photographic memory of everything that happens in their lives. Gimlette might have chose the name to tell us in advance that the Tigers would come back soon after a brief lull. The Europol, Europe’s answer to Interpol has said that the LTTE cadres are active, alive and kicking in Europe, getting ready for the next series of ambushes and terrorism to realise their Eelam dreams.