Sunday, May 17, 2009

Satellite View: A Poem by Thiru Sambandar

Thiru sent me his latest:

Satellite View

There will be lamentations
and regrets, there are already,
and recriminations. Why
did we allow the unthinkable
to fall down on those
hapless families
in tents and bunkers?

Why did we agree
only to informal
in the basement
of U.N. headquarters
before proposing
an emergency session

of the Human Rights
Council for next week?
After months of
slaughter, next week?
How long do we need
to assemble diplomats
of 47 countries

who live in greater
Geneva, some just
a walk away
from the roundtable?
I imagine the table
round like the large
hearts of hapless

bystander diplomats
before the rain
of terror, bombs
and mortar, metallic
lassos thrown
about Tamils

in 2.5 kilometers
between lagoon
and sea, 50,000
civilians left
in that spit of Vanni,
numbers reduced by
tens and hundreds

every day. You ask
about other options,
such as India, or
stiffening terms
of the IMF loan,
an armed force
to separate the parties?

Yes, dear Romans,
we can choose to censure
miscreants. When a man
or state or rebel group
kill wantonly
we must stop him
or it, walk into

the line of sight,
settle the matter
with our most
special forces.
Who is right--
controlled by fanatics,

who believe
the island belongs
first to Sinhalese
while other
residents are subject
to extra-judicial

such as roundups
in unmarked vans
and denouncing
for bizarre
with terrorist
fighter jets--

or the aforementioned
liberation fighters?
Or do we have
the last word,
survivors of
streets of Geneva
or New York

or Beijing, suited
and stuffed
with ideals
or pragmatic like
weighing assets
of the nation

come to pawn
its Tamil jewels
in return for
a naval base,
a wedge around
India, uninterrupted
supply of fighter

jets and expert
advice in the art
of war, in the age
of CNN, where
the first principle
denies journalists
the chance to speak

with survivors
of the slaughter
which could have
been prevented
if prying eyes
along with
aid workers

from abroad
had been allowed
inside the Vanni
to accompany
local and expendable
Tamil speakers,

subject to pressure
from Tiger overlords,
whose pictures
of injured and dead
are stage sets,
according to

whose reports
to BBC are spoken
while a Tiger
points a gun
at the telephone.
Come, come,
ye spokespersons,

do you take us
for imbeciles walking
into roundtables
in Western capitals
or even in Beijing?
When food, water,
medicine, and soft

drinks are scarce
in the theatre
of war, can supplies
of stage blood
be made available
like rain and heat,
mortar and missiles?

Thiru Sambandar May 14, 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

Don't Cry for Us, Sri Lanka--Thiru Sambandar

Publication: Times of India;
Date: May 10, 2009;
Section: Mind Over Matter;

Don’t cry for us, Sri Lanka

The teardrop isle’s dirty war has resulted in the psychological brutalization of its Tamil minority at home and abroad

Thiru Sambandar

This war is no cricket match and, even if it were, both sides have lost while the civilian spectators have become chief victims. Images of refugees — black skins with raging, red wounds, bones popping out, a mob raising hands and fists for a box of biscuits, while leaving fields of dead — are now the subject of daily contemplation for their cousins abroad, the ones who have made it out.

We left the burning island many decades ago, after cataclysms such as attacks on our people, houses and businesses in 1958 and 1983, the dirty war in Sri Lanka’s south in the late 1980s and the tsunami of 2004. Can you imagine a 26-year-long intense civil war and a natural disaster, the mother of all waves, splintering the same spit of land?

Now we read about emissaries from our Western refuges and the United Nations failing to convince the Sri Lankan government about the merits of entering the so-called ‘no fire zone' to ensure that civilians have food, water and medicine. We read about the visa denial to the Swedish foreign minister and about Lasantha Wickrematunga being shot in broad daylight at an intersection. Lasantha’s last words, his posthumously published editorial “And Then They Came For Me” remind us of the power of his engagement in trying to preserve civil discourse, a democratic space where dissent would not cause the summoning of a death squad.

Don’t cry for us, Sri Lanka. The island’s dirty war has seared all of us. Meanwhile, we wander past the protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London, or Parliament Hill in Ottawa, or the Sri Lankan Consulate General in New York. We see our faces in young people handing out leaflets, born in the diaspora — polite, educated in civic manners. We see the flags of the Tigers and wonder, do we subscribe to the bloody history the emblem implies? Did we blow up Neelan Tiruchelvam at the junction of Kynsey Road and Rosmead Place or garland Rajiv at his last campaign rally?

Yet, we go on emboldened quietly, proud of the sacrifices of our boys and girls. And we have become tired of the grudging respect and jokes of our new fellow citizens, whether English, Germans, Canadians, Australians. Are you a Tiger? Where did you learn such savagery? We learned it when we were advised that our language would be considered a minor key in the island symphony. That was in 1956 when Sinhala became legislated into the pole position in the formula one race to Armageddon.

The leader who championed that fine bill in the parliament died later from an assassin’s bullet, fired by a monk. The prime minister did not go far enough in asserting majority rights, it seemed. He wanted to step back from the demons he unleashed. The robes in which we dress do not preclude savage impulses in the island where the poet said ‘only Man is vile.’

We learned it in 1958 and 1983, years when we became subject to organized lynch mobs, armed with voter lists, thugs who came to burn us out, to help us move to where we live now, in Scarborough, London, Geneva, consoled by new sets of social services, local government support, our community networks, to keep Tamils thriving, to educate our children, to bless their marriages in marriage halls.

We have moved out of Jaffna, out of Kayts, out of Trincomalee and Batticaloa, out of the Vanni. Some of us have moved into armed camps behind barbed wire where we cannot meet friends or relatives. The rest of us, who left before the current flare-up, are now hyphenated into thriving, consoling societies full of immigrants from war-ravaged countries. Yet we are shocked, numbed, without sleep, as we stare at the faces of our people, hungry, wounded, caught in a vise between two implacable, blind, pitiless and careless foes.

Charges of war crimes do not seem to bother the warring parties. And we are not clamouring to return to the now “liberated” East Coast and the soon-to-be-“free” Northern province. We know that our fellow citizens in these regions live in fear as they do throughout the island. The white van visits our sleep, the vehicle without license plates that comes at night and takes away our young.

We would be pleased to return white to snow, or temple flowers, or our shirts as we ride the bus to work in a quiet, democratic, multicultural and thriving democracy. We recall fondly days when our Ceylon mosaic gave us friends who brought us sweetmeats, Dutch sweets, when we would wander over to the Pettah for a Muslim feast. We regret that Ceylon has disappeared. Yet, we think still, in fevered dreams, that we can wake up renewed to palaver with our neighbours, our fellow islanders. (The writer’s name has been changed for security reasons)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Sobre En Busqueda de Batanero de Ivan Loyola

Sobre En búsqueda de Batanero de Ivan Loyola (

De las pesadillas nocturnas, los sueños despiertos limeños cuando uno se levanta envuelto en la neblina y no encuentra una salida, de las lecturas profundas del deseo humano, la perforación de la piel de la tierra para beber su sangre, del talento obsesivo para escribir exactamente lo requerido para sacar a la luz lo esencial de un paisaje, una emoción, una idea, les recomiendo En búsqueda de Batanero.

El autor Iván Loyola ha reunido 9 cuentos en este libro. Ustedes saben de la magia que uno hace con el numero 3, bueno, aquí son 3 mas tres…un buen formulario para su éxito. Pero este libro no nos salva de lo más oscuro de la psicología humana, más bien, lo subraya, lo hace saltar en las acciones y descubrimientos de héroes aventureros en los cuentos. Así, si no quieres explorar el substrato de la conciencia humana, lo que miles de años de educación y cultivo de lo moral, la acción correcta, ha intentado enterrar o al menos ocultar, no lean este libro.

¿Quien es Batanero? Y parece que hay muchos. No les voy a decir porque no quiero delatar al argumento. Pero ven conmigo a las montañas, dentro de la selva profunda. Loyola sirve como guía, periodista de investigación. Y nosotros vivimos el viaje sin tener que mudarnos de nuestras vidas cómodas o incomodas, de nuestras casas donde tejemos chales con nuestros miedos y nuestras esperanzas. Creemos poder encontrar la paz, el amor, que los muros van a resistir cualquier torbellino que nos envía la naturaleza. Pero Batanero llega igual y de repente no podemos sentirnos seguros.

Terminé mi lectura de este libro hace un par de semanas durante la guerra sumamente sucia, horripilante—todavía con nosotros-- en el noreste de Sri Lanka donde miles de Tamiles civiles han muerto a raíz del conflicto entre el gobierno srilankes y los rebeldes Tigres. Hablé con el autor por mail una tarde y me di cuenta como compartimos cierta preocupación e interés por la crueldad humana, el impulso humano a excavar en el pozo profundo para sacar algas amarillas, vertebra ensangrentada.
Pero hay alivio también en este libro. El placer puro del habla limeña. Por ejemplo, en el cuento Estación Chatelet relata la historia de unos amigos en Lima y qué sucedió cuando uno de ellos se fue a vivir a Paris y el otro llegó para visitarlo. Y como en todos los cuentos, el autor sorprende al lector llevándolo a caminar en un sendero-- que en este caso, tiene que ver con la nostalgia de un paisano por su tierra natal, su infancia--- para girarlo de repente, y tomar otro camino con una historia distinta, esta vez erótica. En este cuento y en la mayoría, existe la moral, una preocupación ética o más bien una reflexión sobre los límites de la ética, su fracaso ante el deseo desencadenado.

Escuchen un poco del diálogo refrescante de este cuento. Y les pregunto a ustedes ¿cuantos aquí han tenido conversaciones así llegando a un nuevo país?
“La voz de Cucho parecía raspar el auricular con tonos metálicos, sonaba tan distinta a la última vez que Yago la había escuchado, cuatro años antes. Sí, compadre, de todas maneras. ¿No tuviste problemas en el aeropuerto, no? Bacán. ¿Saliendo de Lima tampoco? ¿Me trajiste lo que me mandó mi mamá. Te pasastes Yaguito. ¿Dónde estas?....y “Te bajas en chatele, d’acord? No, no, es una estación del metro. Con té al final, chatelé. Si, ya sé, la té, pero así se pronuncia.”

Y más adelante aún dice el autor. “Sonaba bien, dacord. Ya no era el chévere—pulenta de otros tiempos, parados en la esquina de la parroquia Cristo Salvador, sireando chicas, los ochenta en el barrio de Lince.” Me gustó mucho este cuento, tal vez por la pausa que me dio en la lectura sobre otros relatos más crueles. Pero hay que leerlos. Amantes de los cuentos de sombras, del género del horror van a gustar mucho este libro.

Además, el libro ofrece a todos que se derritan ante una frase bien hecha la música de sus oraciones y su precisión ¿Y quien no va a deleitar la celebración de eros que se encuentra en algunas de las narraciones?

Para cerrar estos breves comentarios me gustaría mencionar el cuento Siebenburgen. No he leído una historia tan mágica en bastante tiempo. Me traslado a mi niñez y a la primera vez que escuché el relato del flautista de Hamlin. Ahora, gracias a Loyola, sé que fue a Siebenburgen que el flautista se llevó a 130 niños. Les invito a hacer fila detrás del escritor Loyola. Su música es dulce, sus ritmos hechizantes. En cuanto a lo que va a suceder en esa ciudad escondida en las montañas de Perú…les dejo esta búsqueda de Batanero.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sympathy: A Poem


Besieged on all sides,
I have sea and death
on all sides. I don’t have
water to drink, just salt slicks,
not rice or dhal, nothing,
bombs and bullets, I am
unhappy, my son killed,
and you watching me
with sympathetic stares,

a black body in a loin cloth,
whites of eyes swinging
about my head, and I hear
wailing from other beds
and see doctors trying
to heal oozing wounds
and now earth blasted
a huge hole, a chance to run,
to what after life ?

How long will I need
to regain my calm
when cousins abroad
say even modern
life in the west
offers only guilty
cups of tea and
unbearable sympathy
from neighbors ?

Indran Amirthanayagam c) 2009