When the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) fought the Sri Lankan Army, and when I read reports on their victories and losses, they only seemed like yet another news item. I must admit. Their battle, their losses, their stories seemed distant, for I was reading about them from the comfort of my home, while sipping a cup of hot coffee. But when Malaravan — a young, intelligent, fierce LTTE member — wrote a diary about his life as an LTTE member, he was sure to exorcise the indifference and ignorance in people like me. He wanted to make the reader a fly on the wall, a comrade who travelled with him despite hunger and fatigue and depression, and a warrior whose ‘body was for the land and soul for Tamil’. So, the journey of the reader — needless to mention — was excruciating.
The translator N Malathy — a member of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora — was volunteering in Sri Lanka when she stumbled upon Malaravan’s book Por Ulaa in a library. She was instantly moved, and began her research on the young writer and all the places where he fought. Thus War Journey: Diary of A Tamil Tiger emerged.
Malaravan’s diary dated between 9-November-1990 and 27-November 1990. He was 18 then. the LTTE was advancing toward a place called Maankulam, where they later won the battle. He might have written more entries, but he was killed by an artillery in 1992. He was 20.
In her afterword, Malaravan’s mother noted that he was an avid reader. I felt a stab of pain in my heart, when Malaravan himself mentioned in his diary that he travelled with a bag of books, and some basic stationery. This boy was in a war. He was dodging bullets every day. In spite of losing his friends, in spite of swimming in a pool of blood every day, he wrote. It was not just because of his love for reading and writing, but also because he was determined to educate the next generation about their love for their motherland.
“Oh, my dearest little brothers and sisters, where are you all?…I know you will be huddled somewhere in a little hut or a building to avoid the rain. But you will be drenched because the huts have only palm-leaf roofs which are thoroughly decayed. You will not be eating lunch. Your little stomachs will ache due to hunger. Come here again in a few days. Wash your tiny feet in these water tanks. I will come like a big wave looking for you. I will put your feet in this school. I will cushion your tiny feet from the earth. I will embrace you like a breeze while you are studying.”
He was poetic. He just didn’t write about the greatness of other comrades and their organisation, but he mentioned how the moon was yellow when they fought, how the birds kept singing, how the wind was gentle, and how his pain was alleviated by the sound of the flowing river. The boy made me guilty for not being mindful. If he could observe his environment in a war-zone, and still romance the nature, what could possibly discourage me?
In those few days, in their dangerous travel, Malaravan and his team were fed by the civilians. When they were not building their fortifications or cleaning their weapons, Malaravan sat with the people and listened to their stories, which were equally harrowing.
Malaravan observed that women began participating in the battle, thrashing patriarchy. He wondered if more children could join them too. That thought made me shudder. I couldn’t envisage them handling weapons and witnessing mutilated corpses.
I am an animal-lover. So, my heart bled when I read Malaravan’s entries on animals who were killed in the battle. Malaravan, who was fond of animals, paid homage to them in his diary.
Salam opened the door. God! A dog killed by a shell was rotting. I was barely able to bear the smell, but I forced myself to take a peek. Once this brown dog with thick hair around its neck would have been the beloved pet of a family, and a dear friend to its children. It would have walked with the mother of the family as she went to the fields carrying food. It might have walked the children to and from school. Now it was lying dead with a bloated stomach. I pulled my head back from the door and slammed it shut.
It’s hard to read the book in a cafe, or while listening to music, and it’s harder to take a break from it to check social media. It feels almost blasphemous to do anything else because the boy’s voice is loud and full of steadfast opinions, and he holds the reader’s wrist tight as he moves from one base to another.
Books which are pregnant with facts and figures might offer a better picture of the war. I — a reader who approaches books viscerally — loved Malaravan’s diary, which was full of raw emotions. Reading his notes was like listening to a family member who was in the eye of the war. Having travelled with him for a month, I wished Malaravan was alive now to walk the same roads where he battled.