Just as political parties in India used music, theatre and cinema with stunning results, the LTTE relied on the written word, and folklore, with the help of platform speakers in Tamil.
Heroes are created long after their death. The embellished folklores, the sexed-up citations, even made-up stories of courage, valour and sacrifice — all contribute to the creation of a hero from an ordinary human being, who is often left without a choice of how, why and if he/she will be remembered or celebrated. Institutions and movements seek to capitalise on the emotional appeal of the ‘supreme sacrifice’ to further ‘The Cause.’
Nothing mobilises people better than the sight of the mutilated dead body of a youth. Add a grieving young widow, and a toddler, and the effect is even better.
The LTTE, like most organisations across the world, and political parties in India, was aware of this fact. It took ownership of corpses, had elaborate rituals in remembrance of the fallen warriors, and took institutionalisation of this commemoration to an altogether different level.
Commemoration and public events are only part of the package. To perpetuate a memory, literature is a necessary tool. Just as political parties in India used music, theatre and cinema (and the kathaprasangam, a stand-up story telling format popular in Kerala) with stunning results, the LTTE relied on the written word, and folklore, with the help of platform speakers in Tamil.
Translator N. Malathy claims that she found Malaravan’s book in the Vanni library just as the last Eelam War raged, in 2007. The book, a collection of random jottings of a youth who knew no peace, was first published in the early-1990s in Tamil as ‘Por Ulaa’ (War Journey) in Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom, and was also published in India in 2009. War Journey, which has no pretensions on where it stands in the Sri Lankan context, is dedicated to the ‘maaveerar’ (great warriors) of Tamil Eelam.
Malathy, a diaspora Tamil from New Zealand, who came to volunteer in Vanni during the ceasefire, chose Malaravan’s book to translate because his writing was “unique” for the “breadth and depth of the subject he covers.” According to Malathy, Malaravan was a topper who had just turned 18 when he was drafted into the ‘movement.’
Malaravan’s diary opens with a tractor journey that he and his compatriots undertake ahead of an assault. He describes the pain-staking work involved in building and maintaining a forest road, the perils of being spotted by an Army helicopter, the ‘spontaneous’ love and affection of the local people, the spine-chilling methods of torture by the ‘enemy’ — the Sri Lankan Armed Forces — and the fascination that children have for automatic weapons even as the “fighters” stop for rest and food.
The diary, which largely describes the battle for Maankulam (the location of a ‘headache’ of an Army camp in the middle of LTTE territory), has a note from the former head of LTTE’s political wing S.P.Tamilselvan, which formed the foreword for the Tamil version. It is, of course, the stuff that propaganda is made of. It opens: “O, my dearest Malaravan, my heart is filled with anxiety because of my inability to write about your life, which, if written by a good writer, will turn into a great epic.”
The LTTE re-named him Leo; his parents had named him Vijinthan. LTTE allowed him to change his name to Malaravan (He, the flower). In the account of Tamilselvan, Malaravan comes across as a fearless master-strategist in the making, and in his mother’s description, he comes across a playful prankster, a nature-lover, a humane, smart and mature individual — in short a picture-perfect poster boy that any family would be proud of.
The near-perfect boy picked up arms because, in his mother’s account, “Malaravan felt frustrated by the interruptions to his studies [due to closure of schools after aerial bombings and artillery fire]. He began examining the reasons for this situation. He came to the decision that at least future generations must enjoy freedom.” When Malaravan died in action in 1992, he was barely 20.
As Malaravan remarks in the book, “I was not sad to die. But there was so much to be done before I died.” The LTTE believes that Malaravan, who rose to become Student Coordinator for Jaffna, had achieved a lot in a short span of time.
War Journey is unpretentious in what it seeks to achieve. It is a straight account, embellished with the goodness and the kindness of the LTTE warrior. At every turn the effort is made to portray the LTTE fighter as a larger than life hero with assertions like, “every poorali [fighter] is a volcano inside — a cool river with a bubbling volcano underneath.”
Being the effort of a 20-year-old with what must have been liberal re-working from the LTTE’s publication division, it obviously cannot be in the genre of more serious works that examined the LTTE sympathetically such as Akaalam written by Pushparani. It might be a worthwhile effort to attempt a translation of Akaalam.
(R.K. Radhakrishnan is a deputy editor with the Hindu)