Voices of 1983: Basil Fernando's poem remembered

[TamilNet, Thursday, 24 July 2008, 10:18 GMT]
A poem, based on an eye-witness account of an event during 1983 pogrom captures the determination of a Tamil father at the time of his agonising death. The poem by Basil Fernando, a Sinhala lawyer, encapsulates the impelling spirit of the Tamil struggle of the post-pogrom years. Mr. Basil Fernando is at present the Executive Director of the Hong Kong based Asian Human Rights Commission.

The poem is reproduced here with courtesies to the author:

Yet Another Incident in July 1983

Burying the dead
being an art well developed in our times
(our psycho-analysts have helped us much
to keep balanced minds--whatever
that may mean--) there is no reason really
for this matter to remain so vivid
as if some rare occurrence. I assure you
I am not sentimental, never having
had a 'break down' as they say.
I am as shy of my emotions
as you are. And I attend to my daily
tasks in a very matter of fact way.


Being prudent too, when a government says "Forget"
I act accordingly. My ability to forget
has never been doubted, never
having had any adverse comments.

On that score either. Yet I remember the way they stopped that car,

the mob. There were four
in that car, a girl, a boy
(between four and five it seemed) and their
parents--I guessed--the man and the woman.
It was in the same way they stopped other cars.
I did not notice any marked

Difference. A few questions
in gay mood, not to make a mistake
I suppose, then they proceeded to
action, by then routine. Pouring
petrol and all that stuff.
Then someone noticed something odd
as it were, opened the two left side
doors, took away the two children, crying and
resisting as they were moved away from their parents.

Children's emotions have sometimes
to be ignored for their own good, the guy must have
thought. Someone practical
was quick, lighting a match
efficiently. An instant
fire followed, adding one more
to many around. Around
the fire they chattered
of some new adventure. A few

scattered. What the two inside
felt or thought was no matter.
Peace loving people were hurrying
towards homes as in a procession ....
Then suddenly the man inside
breaking open the door, was
out, his shirt already on
fire and hair too. Then bending,
took his two children. Not even
looking around as if executing a calculated
decision, he resolutely
re-entered the car.
Once inside, he closed the door
himself . . . I heard the noise
distinctly.

Still the ruined car
is there, by the road-side
with other such things. Maybe
the Municipality will remove it
one of these days to the Capital's
garbage pit. The cleanliness of the Capital
receives Authority's top priority.


The poem was initially published in New Ceylon Writing, Vol. 5

The poem mainly features in an article " The Agony and the Ecstasy of a Pogrom, Southern Lanka, July 1983" by Michael Roberts, a Sri Lankan sociologist in Australia. The article and the poem were translated into Tamil by R. Cheran, in the July 2008 issue of Kaalachchuvadu, a magazine published from Tamil Nadu, India.


External Links:
Kalachuvadu: E'n'niththu'ninthea eduththa padukolai


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