Sunday, May 29, 2016

Just remembered. Firebombing. Bandarawela. Tamils. 1981.

Just remembered how you told me, as a matter of conversation and kind of boring conversation at that, after looking at the inane pages of a children's book your daughter had wroiten and had vanity published, you talking a little too slow and a little too low for me to be comfortable so I had to lean in and watch you carefully, in the context of how innovative your kids were (like this book Bobbie wrote) when they were young. Innovative for making mischief, how you told me that Darshan was scared and how he innovated an approach to being scared.

Oh friend I thought I had finished mining our conversations for remembrance of the horrors you faced as a Tamil person in 1981 in Bandarawela, when your house was firebombed. Because we've moved on from the subject. Waived the subject. Waved the subject goodbye. Because I've gotten it finally gotten it, yes, that you are living your life, going on living your life, going on with your life, just like all the normal scarred moribund permanently angry screaming inside people around you. Remembrance isn't what you're after. Forgetting isn't exactly what you're after either. Maybe it's just losing yourself. Don't we all want that? To get lost in our daily routines of walking around or gliding on a bike or hearing music or watching the sun rise or going to the gym or smelling beautiful flowers or feeling the balm of the morning breeze before the sun gets too high or hearing crows and thinking how annoying. Losing ourselves in the gentle sounds and easy experience and everyday feelings of clipping shears and gardening implements and the breeze in the trees and the lapping of waves and watching ants make their nests and walk in files and piles of leaves smoking in the morning must and dogs lying by the road and the cash register registering the cash and the sound of the phone and maybe a TV in the background and village mothers yelling at their kids or women screaming at each other like animals behind the corrugated tin fences of their homes that face the beach and the eastern sun, hearing people in their outdoor showers behind the corregated fences or hearing the kovils close or far, the Murugan kovil, the Shiva kovil, the church bells and the kovil bells and the bread truck and the blasts of trucks on the main road and the bleeps of buses on the main road and the horns of motorbikes warning on the main road. Let's be normal and hear sounds and denote smells and enjoy sights large and small even if we're encased in a leathern casing thicker and harder than sense because after all we've experienced....leather looks like skin anyway. 

Oh Darshan and his mischief. Darshan little scared kid. Darshan Darshan doing the scared thing for his family. Weren't all of you petrified? Your story: you wanted Darshan to deliver a note to a doctor down the road. What day was this on the countdown to the firebombing? The morning of? The afternoon of? Firebombing wasn't mentioned at all in your story about the impish seven year old Darshan. Only that he was scared to go down the road. 

Scared to go down the road? What had he heard in school that day? What did he hear his siblings whispering about? Can I ask, what were the vibes like at home? Did you have vibes in that place and time, hushed vibes, out in the open vibes, misfiring vibes, transient vibes, a permanent vibe like a purple syrup covering the lot of you in those days and hours and minutes of expectation, when you knew something pretty awful was coming out of the woodwork. Something maybe you hoped would be stopped by someone's intervention? Something you were preparing for at the same time as you were refusing to believe it? You knew what was coming. Is it exaggerating to say you were expecting an aktion, Nazi style, or were you in the middle of one? You told me once other Tamil homes were firebombed or were being firebombed. So was this the first day of the firebombings or were you in the middle of a series of firebombings. How not nice to be a Tamil family in distant Uva Province in awful Bandarawela in these days. My peeps were the Tamils of Europe. So I kind of know. So is it a surprise little Darshan with his baby face picked up a healthy dose of fear somewhere along the way?

I wonder why you were sending your youngest down the road with a note for the doctor. Why didn't you go yourself? Why couldn't you go yourself? Was there something much worse a grown up had to fear about going down the road in bristling Bandarawela than for a child? Could a child be invisible as a Tamil but an adult couldn't?  Could a child hide but an adult couldn't? Could a child duck into the ditch or into the shrubbery or outrun some hooligans that were chasing him or was it that you strategized it was best for you to stay put at home and take care of the others there or were they out doing something else anyway but you thought best to stay home and fill those water buckets you were laying out to put out the fire of the firebombing, just in case, just have Darshan, cute and kind of nimble, just get a simple piece of paper to the doctor down the road. 

How far down the road? How far did he have to run? Was it downhill, closer into town, farther from the center? Which houses were in between? Were there more Tamil houses? Were there fat betel spitting men between your house and the doctor's? What could Darshan expect from the Darshan point of view? Did he have something specific to be afraid of, something concrete as they say? Something beyond whispering in his house or among his siblings or spoken by a kid at school? Something stressing the lad? Something stressful about being in an aktion? Something stressful about being a Tamil person in Bandarawela in August, 1981, when Tamil homes are being firebombed? Something concrete for a seven year old? Something real?

You said, he was scared to go down the road but he couldn't say no to me. That is, you were his father and he had to obey. Could a father's orders or even gentle request betray? Could there have been something his brain told him to fear that day? Was this a time for Darshan to skip play? Would he rather have stayed close to his big sister? Was mom in bed scared? Were there phone calls? I think maybe not. Because you had to get a note delivered to that doctor. You had to get a message down to him. Should I have asked you if he was Tamil like you? Or am I correct in assuming he was? Did he have something to fear? Was he a Sinhalese doctor who might have been prepared to shelter your family if worse came to worst? What do you suppose it was that was scaring Darshan of all people, seven year olds are supposed to be plucky and fearless and fun and small enough to duck in the bushes and disappear.  

Your story: since he couldn't deny your request, certainly not argue with you (what were the vibes those days for strict obedience? This was life or death. You had to obey your parents, whose best guess it was to take this step or that step to save their lives and to save your life. This wasn't easy). So Darshan couldn't disobey. This you told me. Only because you are his father or because stringent times call for stringent measures? And he could you tell you why he was scared. How can you be scared of whispering? How can you be scared of the looks in people's eyes? How can you be scared of scared? You're seven! So Darshan couldn't tell you he was scared of the vibes in your house or the vibes in awful Bandarawela where people's houses were being firebombed just because they were Tamil people. What is a Tamil person? Could a seven year old Darshan know? Sure, yes, a kid could pick up on vibes of fear and horror. Darshan was a smart seven year old, the youngest kid in a smart family. Too smart for Bandarawela. Way too smart. But not smart enough to get out while the going was good. What could a seven year old brain think? Any of this? Or did he have to manufacture something to be scared of because you told him and Prakash and Bobbie don't be scared there's nothing to be frightened of and maybe you held them close. Nothing to be frightened of. No reason to be afraid. What's to be afraid? A few houses with bombs lobbed into them? Some crazy people setting houses on fire? I wonder, were people being beaten up those days? In preparation for 1983? Only 23 months to go until black July when things got really hot. Might as well not be scared in the meantime. Or tell your kids not to be. Tell them. Tell them. Don't be scared kids. There's nothing to be afraid of. See? It's morning. We're all here. It's afternoon. Wasn't that a nice lunch? See how quiet it is? Nothing to be afraid of. The danger is past. It's peaceful again. Nothing will happen. Daddy just has to fill up these buckets with water in the house. And Darshan, will you be a big big boy and take this little little note down the road to Dr. ________? That's a good boy. Scared?! What are you scared of? Can't you obey your father? Can't you see how (scared) he is? What? Scared of a dog on the way? That dog can't hurt you. She only barks. That's only barking now don't be silly and get going. Fast fast before it's too late. The doctor will give you something for us. You bring it to daddy. 

Darshan goes, takes the note. Stays away the right amount of time. Comes back with the note with his teeth marks in it. See daddy? The dog tried to bite the note. That's your story. I think it was three sentences. 

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