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A forgotten one

S. MUTHIAH

WHEN THE book `Playing Lions and Tigers' was recently released at a function, organised by Earthworm Books and the University of Madras's Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution studies, note was taken of the author preferring to call herself with a single name — Rohini. A name that could be Sri Lankan Tamil (the tigers of the title) or Sinhalese (the lions of the title), Indian or Sri Lankan, it reflected the theme of her novel. In it, 14 characters from all the major ethnic and social backgrounds in Sri Lanka interact with one another against the backdrop of the traumatic events of the last 50 years in the Island. These bystanders, who willy-nilly get drawn into the vortex of conflict, are those who live in the hope that one day there will be a better future.

It is a book written from the point of view of those helpless campaigners for civil rights and peace with honour, those who are beyond ethnicity and religion and are Sri Lankans first.

Beyond the "cosmopolitanism and anonymity" and the "commonality across divisions" of a name like Rohini is another name well-known on both sides of the Palk Strait, Hensman. Rohini Hensman, though now married and settled in Bombay, is from the Sri Lanka side of the family. Two members of the 10-member family made their home in Madras and there's a road in T.Nagar named after one of them. It is J.E. Hensman, who was the chief engineer of the Corporation of Madras, who is remembered in the road, though his home, Lanka Lodge, a building still in existence, was next to the Royapettah YMCA campus.

The other Madras Hensman was Dr. H.S. Hensman, the first Indian Superintendent of the Mental Health Hospital, Ayanavaram. But better known than them both was the doctor's wife, Mona (Mitter) Hensman, for 15 years principal of Ethiraj College, from 1937 to 1952 a nominated Member of the State Legislative Council and, after that, a member of the Rajya Sabha for three terms.

Hensman recalled, and hopes for conflict resolution fervently expressed, the launch ended on a rather strident note with a member of the audience, a Sri Lankan Tamil from Australia, accusing RAW of being responsible for the present division among the Tigers that's making conflict resolution difficult.

I couldn't help wondering who was responsible for exactly the same thing among the Lions. Whoever they are, all these schisms are only playing ducks and drakes with the peace process in the troubled island.

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