The supposed autobiography of the former LTTE frontliner – the later, “rehabilitated” and “re-socialized” – Thamalini alias Sivasubramaniyam Sivakaami, in the end analysis, has said very little; leaving much unsaid. In a broad sense, the text can be loosely divided into two segments – the period from 1990 to 2006, with many close reflections on and references to the formative years of the author’s battle-hardened life, comprising a section of carefully meditated prose; and the latter, the post-2006 period, through the “final stand” of the LTTE at Mullavaikkal, and other post-2009 reality Thamalini underwent as a detainee under government custody. This latter section of the book is haphazard, hurried, passive and glossed over. In many instance, it came across as an act of “forced labour”.
Juxtaposed with the opening chapters of the novel, the concluding sections show much disparity that leaves the reader confounded and in doubt. Clearly, the opening chapters demonstrate a nostalgic revisit to the early years of Thamalini’s career as a cadre, perceptive of the historic and political circumstances that made militarism feasible in the North-Eastern fabric, the rise of the LTTE, its core ideology and its social mechanism etc. Thamalini, in these early chapters, illustrate a reverence of the LTTE leadership and its political engine, in spite of certain scepticisms that are aired. There is very little evidence in the section leading up to the time the Norway-brokered peace talks fell through (2006) that Thamalini has antithetical reservations of the LTTE, or Prabhaharan.
Then, the chapters dealing with the post-2006 period gradually foreground the sense of uncertainty and ambivalence within the writer, though we don’t see any strong feeling she has towards the failed peace of 2002-2006 either. But, with the resumption of war, she tables a covert resentment, which, from a post-2009 standpoint, looks the “desired” view to have; specially, if one is to assess the situation from a Southern Sinhala gaze. The disparity is that this sudden “shift” in Thamalini is not supported by the convictions she seem to harbour on the run up to Mawilaru, 2006. Thamalini’s vocal criticism of the LTTE leadership is forthcoming only in the sections that relate to the “final phases” of battle, commencing from about October 2008. Even here, Thamalini (the writer) projects her (supposed) disenchantment and anxiety mostly through the words and sentiments of other colleagues – in this respect, she repeatedly quotes the senior female frontliner Vithusha. In relating to her detention, the treatment she receives at the hands of the Lankan military, her subsequent “rehabilitation” and release to civil society, Thamalini’s narrative drastically “de-selects” the (kind of) criminal status that has been attributed to the Lankan military by agents such as Gorden Weiss, Frances Harrison, Channel 4 et al. Thamalini’s references to the run up to May 18th 2009 makes very little note of the shells that were said to have been indiscriminately aired into the “No Fire Zone”, or of the summary executions carried out, that are to this day the catalysts of intense debate. If at all, Thamalini reflects on how the LTTE vanguard had ordered people to be shot, where they attempted to flee the NFZ.
In all, Thamalini’s supposed autobiography – on the surface – comes across as the quintessential “desired” narrative by/for the Southern Sinhala mass, authored by a “fully rehabilitated” LTTE activist. Thamalini (or whoever “authorized” the book) has done a good job at finishing a text that demonstrates a triumph for “rehabilitation”, and a hurrah for the state programme of the post-2009 universe. Thamalini, in the book, even undergoes disillusionment, catharsis and retribution and survives the final onslaught, to qualify her as a classical Greek hero(ine), who survives the tragedy to “learn”. But, Thamalini the Activist we knew was definitely not this Oedipus walking into the sunset with self-inflicted injuries. What, then happened to Thamalini alias Sivakaami during this metamorphosis from militant to pen-pusher? From activist in pre-Mullavaikkal North, to rehabilitated “re-socialized” wife to Mr. Jeyakumaran in post-2009 times? I would even be as audacious as to suggest that this book is not written by Thamalini the activist; but, by a Thamalini, who is passivist – or, inducted into that passive abyss of shattered hopes and darkness.
In the dark depths of the “correction center” Room 101, Winston Smith (in George Orwell’s 1984) meets O’Brien who invests much energy (which, also, saps much energy from the detained) in “re-socializing” Smith-types, so as to be doctored, corrected and enlightened beings under the dictate of the state’s mainstream. O’Brien puts 2&2 together and demands an answer – and until he manages to internalize the 2+2 = 5 formula in the detained, the subject is run through various physical and mental duress. The successfully “rehabilitated” candidate would come out and agree that 2+2 = 5, or write an autobiography that justifies one’s survival through mass slaughter.
Thamalini’s position in the “final onslaught” itself is curious. Of the LTTE vanguard (the Daya and George Master types aside) she alone survives the annihilation of a determined body that held against the state artillery for over two decades. Whatever the reasons are for Thamalini’s survival, the frontline of the LTTE top command were not made to share that fate. Is Thamalini feeling guilty for her surviving the assault? Or, differently worded, is she made to feel guilty, given her fate, which effected that miraculous re-entry to society. I am certain it takes unimaginable mental courage and fortitude to come to terms with one’s self and the society around her, when you find yourself as the lone survivor of an administration that once challenged the very guts of a system of which you, subsequently, become prisoner. And from within the imploded hollow of the world you once believed in, what kind of “autobiography” can you write? From such an angst-ridden, meaningless abyss is it a sin or a crime to second the military’s gentlemanly goodness?
One should not expect the fallen Thamalini to write us a saga and be objective about it, too. Rather, we should look for signs she would have left – deliberately or not – which may allow us to see the hiatuses and gaps in the narrative that would leave an epiphany or two, which would urge us not to believe her own story. In what is not told lies the history and the conviction of the defeated soldier. One such palpable instance is the quite obvious lack of resonance in tone and sentiment between the opening 5-6 chapters (dealing with the years 1990-2004), and the later chapters dealing with 2007-2009 and the post-2009 context. Had Thamalini undergone a “change of faith” (as is hinted from the last sections) regarding the LTTE and Prabhaharan, it is by no means demonstrated through her retrospective assessment of the organization, which she locates with much feeling and affinity through her combative years.
Secondly, the first part of the text is rich with detail, sentiment and – one might even say – literary merit. Reflections on nature, sunrises, landscapes, birds’ calls etc are an integral part of this section, with signs of a consciously developed story line. The later incongruous chapters, in contrast, become hurriedly noted, glossed over chunks of detail and passively recorded halfhearted confessions – almost, like words spoken while being under the blade of a sharp sword.
Thamalini also leave faint traces for the perceptive reader to pick up. For instance, an almost negligible passing reference assures the readers that Isai Priya (whose rape and murder – as alleged – by the Lankan militia was unveiled by Channel 4 in 2013) was alive and mobile on the 16th of May: two days before the military victory. This is in a context where the Ministry of Defense claimed Isai Priya to have perished in combat.
Oru Koorvaalin Nizhali may have also been hurried towards the end, in the light of Thamalini’s failing health. But, clearly, the question would remain as to how “unforced” and “unaffected” the narrative is, specially (as hinted) Thamalini’s post-war status is much more complex and complicated than what at first meets the eye. The deep interest her publisher and trustee seem to have taken in the publication and circulation of this book – in spite of the failing health of the writer – is only one of those complexes.