CHAPTER 5 FROM ILANGO’S DIARY…
From Ilango’s Diary…
- I have already written a novella , AMERICA , in Tamil, based on my life at the detention camp. The journal, 'Thaayagam' was published from Canada while this novella was serialized. Then, adding some more short-stories, a short-story collection of mine was published under the title America by Tamil Nadu based publishing house Sneha. In short, if my short-novel describes life at the detention camp, this novel , AN IMMIGRANT , describes the struggles and setbacks a Tamil migrant to America faces for the sake of his survival – outside the walls of the detention camp. - V.N.GIRITHARAN -
When they arrived at Saraswathi Camp, there were absolutely no facilities for the refugees, not even the bare essentials. My fellow-students at the University, the other Tamil youths, and I came together and formed a Volunteer Team. Then, till that time we left for Yaazhpaanam in the ship called Chidambaram, It had been sent by the government of Tamil Nadu to evacuate the refugees, We remained in that camp and served as volunteers. Till I reached Yaazhpaanam, my voyage in the vessel called Chidambaram was unknown to my family back home. My family was in the dark as to whether I was alive or not. I sought the help of a person belonging to my village, who was with me in the refugee camp and who found a berth in Sri Lankan government’s cargo vessel called ‘Lankarathna.’ He was returning home. I had requested him to inform my family about my condition. On reaching Yaazhpaanam, he went on to stay with his relatives there in Kaithadi and hence he couldn’t inform my family about my situation. Only after I arrived in Chidambaram and reached my home, did he return and visit my family to inform them of me being alive.
The bitter experience of turning into a refugee in one’s own land proved to be terribly unsettling, even inflicting an acute psychological impact. True, my people had been undergoing such alienation, oppression, suppression, humiliation and what not for many, many years. But, this first hand experience of it all was distinctly different. It was a miracle that my friend and myself had managed to escape; this realization dawned on us when we interacted with the refugees who we met afterwards (and from reading into various other pieces, including international journals, radio broadcasts). Usually, such arson and riot would engulf the rest of the country while sparing the Capital City, escaping their wrath and remaining unscathed. This time, however, the capital city, Colombo, was set ablaze.
When we were running to safety, huddled inside a State wagon thanks to the grace of an Indian engineer in Colombo, the thugs had poured petrol over a mini-van carrying Tamils and set it on fire, eliminating them cruelly. They had caught hold of a hapless Tamil youth riding in with his bicycle and bashed him to death. Another Tamil had been disrobed by them, humiliated and was subsequently set ablaze. In Kirulapanai, they had killed the little sister of a young Tamil woman right in front of her eyes, so turning her into a psychological wreck and then subjected her to gang-rape before finally killing her too. As is the rule, this time also, the labourers of the Tea-Estates in the mountain regions - the Tamils of Indian origin - have become the target of wide-spread arson and violence. The Sinhala Government headed by J.R had squarely put the blame on the L.T.T.E assault on the 23rd of July was carried out against thirteen army-men in Thinnaiveli, for all this anti-Tamil arson and violence. But, keeping it as an excuse, the Sinhala thugs enjoying the support of ministers Ciril Mathew, Gamini Thisanayaka and such others went on to carry out their well-planned and systematic assault against the Tamils. Even in such a hostile scenario, there were indeed many good-natured Sinhala people who went out of their way to save the Tamils living in their neighbourhood, from the thugs.
As soon as J.R. Jeyawardhane won the seat of the President of Sri Lanka in 1977, there was a terrible ethnic violence on an enormous scale. And the present President described it as the outcome of the Tamils voting in favour of a separate State, saying “WAR MEANS WAR: PEACE MEANS PEACE’ thus worsening the current state of affairs. It is indeed very apt to describe J.R.Jeyawardhane as the most experienced and cunning jackal in the political arena. It was he who, by the undertaking of a ‘paadha –yaathraa’ to Kandy, forced the agreement that was between the then Prime-Minister Bandaranayake and S.J.V Selvanayagam to be torn to pieces. He was an expert in using his power and avenging his political opponents. It was he who had made the premier Sirimavo Bandaranayage lose her fundamental political rights. This time, arson and violence against the Tamils in a well-planned, systematic manner were unleashed with the blessings of his cabinet ministers. This was used as another excuse for the killings of the Sinhala Policemen, who were shot at the election meeting that took place in the courtyard of Naachimaar temple in Jaffan, in the year 1981. Now, right under the nose of ministers like Gamini dhisanayake, ethnic violence was unleashed onto the State and the Jaffna library was burnt to ashes. The office of Eela Naadu Daily was ransacked and set afire.
This time, instead of defusing the arson and riot, he had justified it in his speech to the people of the nation. Even before the army men’s killings in Thinnaiveli, there arose the possibility of another ethnic violence in the land. It seems very much probable that the J.R. Government had meticulously planned to use this ethnic violence as an excuse to kill the Tamil activists and militants who have been imprisoned. This was likely to weaken the economic strength of the Tamils and also to avenge his political rivals and opponents. Additionally, the J.R. Government made use of this ethnic violence and volatile situation to carry out another diabolic plan.
Now he was to sabotage the resettlement plans for the Tamils of the mountain-region, who had come to settle in the frontiers of North-East part of the country following the ethnic unrest in 1977.
Maybe that was precisely why the Sri Lankan government brought many Tamil families off the mountain – region who had been living under such resettlement projects, forcibly to come and settle in the mountain-region once again when the arson and violence grew strong and so made them to suffer the heat of the arson and violence with nowhere to go and no one to turn to.
Maybe that was the reason why the Sri Lanka State had thought it fit to arrest people like the founders of Organizations, such as Gandhiam, who were running these resettlements, well in advance where they were harassed, intimidated and tortured.
The nature of the present violence, the fact that its fire raged in the capital city and the way the news of it spread far and wide, all over the world with the help of technological advancements, has turned the Eelam Issue an international one. As far as Tamil Nadu was concerned, all the political parties raised their voice of protest in unison. The Prime-Minister of India, Mrs.Indira Gandhi showed great concern in Eelam Tamils’ Issue this time. That’s why following J.R’s interview in a British Journal called ‘Daily Telegraph’, dated the 15th of July, wherein he had said that he had no time to spare for the plights of the Yaazhpaanam Tamils and that he had no concern for their lives, the Indian Prime-Minister Indira Gandhi had expressed the concern of India against the deteriorating situations of Yaazhpaanam. The Daily Telegraph had published that also a few days before the onset of the ethnic violence.
When we were languishing in Saraswathi Camp as hapless refugees, Indira Gandhi sent her foreign Affairs Minister, Narasimha Rao, to Sri Lanka. All over Tamil Nadu, there were protest marches, meetings, fasts, and other outcries in support of the Eelam cause. A Tamil belonging to Islam, who name was Shahjehan, set himself on fire, to highlight the plight of the Eelam Tamils. The Tamil Nadu State Government headed by M.G.R sent its vessel Chidambaram to lend a helping hand to the Eelam Tamils. In the heat of this ethnic violence, a Tamil tourist from Tamil Nadu by the name of Dhanapathi was killed by a Sri Lankan hairdresser, with his neck sliced, in Kadhirkaamam. Following this, M.G.R’s Government asked for compensation from the Jeyawardhane government.
In my life at the Saraswathi Camp, I, needless to say, had gone through many experiences. Initially, for several days the refugees had to remain without food, having nothing to eat. During those times, the priest from the adjacent ‘Bampalappatti Kadiresan Temple' came forward to cook as much of food as possible and served to those assembled there. To receive it, even elderly women in their very advanced age, used to climb over the parapet wall of Saraswathi Camp and go to the Kadiresan Gurukkal’s house. The others fed themselves with coconuts, tender-coconuts, anything from the trees in the temple premises and managed to feed their hunger.
It was during that time, when we were in the refugee camp, when many more Tamil prisoners were massacred in the Velikadai prison, on the 27th of July. Already, many, incuding Kuttimani and Thangadurai, had been killed in Velikadai jail on July 25th.
When the riot and arson had subsided, to some minor extent, some of our Sinhalese co-workers, learning that we were staying in the refugee camp, came to see us. We met them at the entrance. They expressed regret for all that had taken place. They even extended an invitation to us to go and stay with them. We thanked them for their concern and for taking the trouble of coming all the way to see us. We conclusively decided that staying in the camp would be the safest thing for both of us. If we were to stay with them, the thugs will likely threaten their lives too. And, we did realizewhat a wise thing we did in refusing to accept their invitation. The very next day, I think it was a Friday, news spread of earsay – ‘Kozhumbil Kottiyaa Vandhittudhu (Kottiya has arrived in Colombo).’ Kottiya is ‘tiger’ in Sinhalese. The Sinhala people living in the city escaped in great haste, certainly warded off by the news. A Sinhala family living next to that of a Tamil in Vellavaththai or Thegivilai came running to the home of the Tamil seeking shelter. That Sinhala family had, in fact, saved their Tamil neighbours in the ethnic violence, which took place a few days earlier.
As a result of the news spreading like wildfire, arson and violence erupted, once again. This time, everything was more intensified, if one can even envision such a thing. The situation that was slowly becoming better suddenly deteriorated with the news of the Kottiya arrival. My friend who, relying on the improved conditions, had left for Kirulappanai to have a bath in a house there, but soon came back running, to save his skin. After his ‘safe’ arrival, he recounted innumerable incidents that he had to encounter along the way. Many Tamils, who had already made their safe escape, chose to return to their places, relying on the improving climate, in order to evaluate the damage of their households in this second round. This incident clearly showed the extent of the fear that the very term ‘Kottiyaa’ had caused amidst the Sinhala people.
This reveals another psychological truth. Althought the Sinhalese comprised the majority of the island’s population, they do have some sort of minority feeling in them. The reason for this could be due to the forty five million Tamils living closeby, in Tamil Nadu. The unnecessary apprehension and fear resulted from the possibility of the Eelam Tamils joining hands with the Tamils of Tamil Nadu and turn them into a minority group in their own land. It could be that the history of the island in the yester years and the invasions of the Tamilaga kings on the island have increased this sort of fear in them.
Those responsible for instilling the fear and representing it in the shape of the tiger were the Chola kings of the olden times. Once upon a time, the royal flag of the Cholas had the outline of the tiger imprinted onto it. The tigers were flying all over Eelam. During the reign of King Raja Raja Chola I, Sri Lanka came under the control of the Chola dynasty, after the rule of the Chola King Ellaalan. After that, during the reign of his son, king Rajendra Chola I, the Sinhala king Magindha abandoned his country and ran away, fearing capture at the hands of the Cholas. His crown was seized from him and the whole island was enslaved. These incidents took place during the reign of the Chola Kings and are described in Sinhala works, such as Mahavamsam. It was during the reign of the Cholas, Tamil monarchs, that the island was completely under the control of Tamils for a longer period. It seems as though the Sinhalese regard this particular period in Sri Lanka’s as a woeful one when Buddhism and the language of Sinhala were utterly paralyzed.
When he was a small boy, Dutugaimunu would lie in a huddled fashion. The reason he would offer for such a posture was that when the Tamil regime reigned supreme in the North and the sea in the South, none could hope to lie at ease, well-stretched. That’s why his victory over the Chola King Ellaalan the following victories are viewed as the greatest historical victory of the Sinhalese.
That’s probably why the Sinhalese, who feared and hated the Cholas with their tiger-flag, didn’t have any such fear or bitterness against the Pandiyas with the fish-flag. Though the Pandiyas had waged war against Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese didn’t mind befriending them and forming a camaraderie with them.
In today’s scenario, these are all unnecessary and unwarranted apprehensions. The basic factors that fuel such fears, suspicions and apprehensions are indeed socio-political and economic ones. Yet, many of the gullible masses do not realize this. The politicians who make use of such apprehensions of the people with invested interest are fully aware of these historical facts. Whenever it suits their fancy, they magnify all such feelings of bitterness and reap benefits out of it. It is the ordinary people who suffer the bitter consequences of it all. It is they who are easily enraged by all these. It is they who are the most affected.
In this beautiful island when will peace prevail again?
When will the people, belonging to two ethnic groups, would live in harmony, with mutual love and respect? When will they live with the spirit of trust and brotherhood? Either together or separate – when at all they would live in peace and prosperity, enjoying equal rights and also staying united? Will it ever come…?
***** **** **** **** ***** **** **** **** ***** ****
"What is it, you are still wide awake? Don’t you feel like sleeping?” It was my concerned friend Arulrasa, lying in the upper berth of the two tier cots.
“We are going out this dawn, no? That is why I am feeling a bit restless. I don’t eve remember falling asleep tonight. You are a blessed soul. How come, you are able to get sound sleep?”
“Everything is in our mind only. This seems to be a very big issue to you. That’s why you are feeling terribly restive. Well, once we go out, what are you going to do? What is your plan? Do you have the need to go, meet anybody?”
“Let us go and see the room in the Indian household. If we like it, let us be there and find out some job for us. That is the first thing to do. Everything comes after this. Ok?”
“That’s fine. But, we have no legal documents needed for employment. The first thing we must do after going out is to find out whether we can get some kind of ‘Social Insurance Number.” If only we have one, we can get some job. Otherwise, we won’t be able to secure any good job. Then, we will have to work stealthily in some cafes or restaurants and things like that. As for myself, I can somehow manage any job. But, I am worried about whether you can cope with such a situation.”
"Oh, come on – are you teasing me? I can also cope up with any kind of job. I am not one to feel ashamed in such matters. Our work is our god. This is my gospel.”
Thus, the two pals discussed many things – especially the way they should face the outside world, how to succeed in getting a new job and living in new surroundings, how to protect themselves, how to survive, how to get through the inevitable bouts of depression, how to get back their hope and energy to face life with all its hurdles and adversities, how to plan for the future, how to achieve their dreams… As the pair discussed, the city woke up with its usual hue and cry. If it were to be their hometown, the entire place would have been reverberating with the musical renditions of the roosters! And, the heart would have been filled to the brim with uncontaminated happiness while listening to the splendid symphony of the morn. Nevertheless, dawn always proves to be capable of bringing along hope and happiness, no matter where one is …
CHAPTER 6 THE HEART THAT GETS INTO A TRANCE IN THE RAIN
That morning, as the inmates were finishing the last bits of breakfast, the sky turned dark and rain started to pour. At about 10 o’clock in the morning, the Resettlement–in-charge officials arrived with all the required paperwork. And, once Ilango and his friend Arulrasa filled up the relevant forms, finally, the officials permitted them to leave the camp. As they stepped outside, finally outside, their hearts felt rather heavy. When they thought of those who were left behind in the detention camp, they couldn’t do anything but hope that they too would find their leave. Their hearts briefly held dried-up dreams, along with fatigue and frustration. The pair was terribly sad. Those in the camp could easily see this and asked us, as their friends, not to forget them. They encouraged us to come and visit them whenever we could. We assured them that we would do so and asked them to tell us of any things they needed or wanted. We assured them that we would do everything possible to get them out of the camp.
When the pair finally left, it was exactly midday, 12 o’ clock. They possessed nothing but the documents given to them by the Immigration authorities, which released them on bail. They were soon given back the 200 dollars that was sequestered from them earlier. Of course, they also lift with an added wisdom and maturity along with hope and enthusiasm, enough to face life in a new, alien land with bizarre climate patterns to boot. There was no sign of the downpour stopping. Just as the coconut trees were in abundance back home, with their leaves narrowed down at the top, here the concrete trees stood tall and high, smothering the sky in all directions. Getting drenched in the rain, the city-bred were hurrying by, silently. Acting as the city’s rivers, hundreds of wagons were speeding along in innumerable rows, roads. Occasionally one or two pigeons of the city were seen shaking their feathers. Drenched in rain, the pigeons persisted in their pursuit for food, in pairs. A New Sky! A New Earth! The rain that keeps pouring down everywhere! After going round and round inside the four walls of the detention camp, they finally made it into the vast world, inhaling the free air. Splendidly happy, that they were.
Contacting that Indian couple living in the 'Long Island' and confirming their arrival, the pair continued their journey. Feeling that it would be better to have some coffee or tea before reaching the Metro Railway Station, searched for a restaurant nearby. They found a small café, not crowded. Seemed like just a handful had gathered inside to escape the pouring rain. Both of them chose seats near the window and turned their attention towards the people moving in great haste along the road. Oh, how innumerable the shades and shapes of humans there are! Most of them were immigrants. ‘And, in such great haste! Born somewhere and brought up somewhere else and eventually landing here, why do they keeping running hastily?’
In Ilango’s mind thoughts about the people at the detention camp began seep throughout. ‘It is for this that they keep waiting eternally there, inside those four walls. Lying, with all their dreams dormant inside. Losing all their kith and kin, near and dear ones, deprived of their land and belongings and their sense of belonging. Leaving their land and crossing the seas and languishing here, apprehended by the Immigration authorities and being confined inside those four walls… Time has been so unkind to us…
With the eight directions falling apart
theem tharikida dheem tharigida
The mountains on both sides breaking apart
Water as deluge flooding flowing flooding
theem tharikida dheem tharikida
thakkath thadhinkida dhithoem –
The sky comes down falling falling falling
with drums played by demon
The lightning slices off
thaam tharikida thaam tharikida thaam
the clouds clap and blow
the wind pierces through the sky with
chatahachada chatachada tattaa – so
the sky rhymes and clears its throat
with all the eight directions
go smashing oh brother
wherefrom the rain has come!
The very universe sways and shivers as the very demon
Sedan too leaps and jumps in a frenzied dance
The directions too jump and leap
The celestial beings too jump and leap
Oh, what a divine scene we have just now seen
A duivine scene seen seen seen! – we have seen the
Delirious dance of Time
With our own eyes oh, with our very own eyes!)
In Bharathiar’s poems we can come across the pride and the power that the words possess. “The heart, which leaps with hope and confidence, oh, we have born anew today” scatters throughout the piece, breaking apart the mountains with slicing and piercing lightning and the gorgeous drum-beating of thunder and the clapping and banging clouds and with the screeching and howling wind that pierces the sky and go beyond gets immersed in the rain.
Another song which has so very poignantly depicted the rain and its splendour is the poem penned by the Eelam poet Kavindran (Aa.Na.Kandasami). Bharathiar’s poem gives us the picture of rain in a very realistic manner and Kavindran’s poem goes further and brings out the inherent in the scene:
I was looking through the window the
Entire world was plunged in deep sleep in that
Well of the night when
A thunder banged and shattered the serene silence
Making the sky tremble and the whole universe shiver!
From out of blue, at once, rain began to pour
As if the sky was torn
With a dangerous howl
As like that of a wolf, torrential rain
and the stormy wind too , shaking everything.
Too wild a wind that could swallow everything.
Is it the gale, the tornado of Time
That was all set to annihilate mankind?
Both the doors of the window shivered and banged
Chaos as that of the all annihilating storm at that time
The world came apart
When a lightning carrying the lamp
For the dying world
Flashed for a split second
As a celestial beauty dancing to the music of rain
And poignant ponderings came to be.
What is the purpose of this glow?
What does this shine?
Life is but for a split second
Or even less
Birth and death come and go
In that too small a spa of Time.
Poor lightning experiencing its own death on the very bed of its birth
Quivering and agonizing
Is nothing new. In that the glow that I witness makes the world
Shine and go away running. Oh, what a great service it has offered
To the world in that tiny little time of its life!
Service was its life-breath. Once it served it
dies off and joins the sky/
I used to wonder at its breath-taking beauty.
But, now I realize the noble message it carries aloft
Yes, the message is this
That we should be of some help to others
While we live for a short while
And we should strive for it
Each and every day
Thus I became contemplative
Then came a thunder that shook everything
I returned to this world of mine.
Wonder whether this small piece of pondering
Would benefit the earth atleast a l little
In the middle of night when the entire world is deep in slumber the sky that pours down in a torrential rain! The wind whizzing with the howl of a wolf! Devilish wind! The lightning as the damsel from paradise, dancing to the music and beats of thunder! Her dance, for a split second, succeeds in making a poet ponder over the ways of life! The danseuse called lightning has a great message for the people of the world. What is that? Her life would be over in a fragment of a second. But, in that swift span of time, she serves the world and goes away, feeling immensely happy about being of service to the people! Oh, what a noble way to live!
He had watched the rain an umpteen number of times, yet it still proved to be a great source of inspiration and imagination to him! He never got tired of looking at the rain and listening to its beats. In those rainy moments, the poems mentioned surely come to his mind every time. They all add to his rapturous watching of the rain! The scenic beauty of rain and the memories they resurrected; these poets gave his mind, which was frustrated and fatigued, a fresh energy and hope. It is the lightning that gives light, even while living for a fraction of a second! Let us be like lightning, let us face life, weathering against all odds.
CHAPTER 7 MRS.PADMA AJITH
When the friends reached the city of ‘Long Island,’ it was 4 p.m. The metropolitan city was plunged deep into the busy-bee scenario typical of the evening hours. The house of the Indian Couple stood near the 36thstreet junction of the underground metro rail. In Manhattan, at the junction of the 59th junction the metro train G with green colour identity should be bought. For the first time, Ilango was traveling in the underground metro train. The trains speeding by, one above the other and the concrete forest of the great grand city caused him to go dumbstruck. The Indian couple’s house was located close to the Metro rail junction. A large supermarket stood close to the house. The moment he pressed the calling bell, the mistress of the house expected by them, Mrs.Padma Ajith, opened the door and inquired: “It is you Mr.Ilango who had called just a while ago asking for a place to stay, am I right?”
In response Ilango said, ”You are right Madam, I am Ilango. He is my friend Arul. We would like to stay here for some time.” She turned towards Arul and greeted him with a “Hi!”. Then, she gestured to both of them, politely asking them to come inside. “Why are you standing outside? Please come inside. I will show you the rooms. See whether you like them.”
It was a compact little house with two more floors above the first floor. The first floor was home to both Padma Ajith and her husband, Ajith. By this time, Padma’s husband Ajith came to join them. Inspecting them for a bit, he went on to ask, “Are you from Tamil Nadu?”
In response Ilango said, “We are Tamils. Sri Lankan Tamils.” Following the ethnic riot and violence, our island had become part of the hot global news by then.
“Oh, from Sri Lanka. We have heard of what is going on there. Are your families still living there?” When Ajith asked so, his wife Padma joined her husband and observed. “Alas, a very sad incident indeed. I have also heard of it. Let the problems come to an end and normalcy prevails once again.” The predictable conversation continued as Mrs.Padma Ajith took them on a tour of the first floor, one that Mr. Ajith had no interest in joining, understandably.
In the first floor, there were three rooms. The bathroom and kitchen were common. The rooms were spacious. In the first room, there was a young man, fair-skinned and of slim stature, having a neatly trimmed moustache and bearing a bright, happy countenance. Lying on the floor, on a bedsheet, he immediately arose upon seeing them. Mrs. Ajith, seeing the young fellow, informed the new arrivals, “He is Mr. Gosh. He hails from West Bengal. Like you, he too is a recent arrival. You can get useful information and tips from him.”
Then, looking at the young man, she introduced Ilango and his friend. “They are from Sri Lanka. They have come here in search of a place to stay.” Hearing her words the man called Gosh turned towards them and said, “Hi, nice to meet you; during your stay here, I will help you in any way I can.” His youthfully handsome smiling face and friendly speech pleased the weary pair. In return, they too conveyed their thanks to them. Mrs. Padma took leave of him and guided the two friends to the next room. She soon remarked, “Gosh is a good fellow. Very helpful He would always be willing to lend others any help he can. For you two, you’ll find him to be useful in helping you look for a job. Now, he alone stays in that room of his. We allow a maximum three persons to stay in a room. No cot. You should lie on the floor only. If you wish, you can bring or buy a cot. We have no objection. For writing letters you can use the table and chair, in the kitchen. If you like to stay, both of you can share the room with Gosh.”
In the second room, there was a person looking tall and sturdy, having a thick moustache and beard. He looked like a Punjabi man. And. He was deep in sleep, unaware of the presence of visitors. Mrs. Padma Ajith softly spoke, “Mansingh is already asleep. Let us not disturb him. At present he alone stays in this room. He is a truck driver with a very famous company here. He lives in California. Whenever he comes to this part of the country, he would stay here only. He has been our customer for very long!” She couldn’t hold back a chuckle, and went on, “He is a nice fellow, but, a little rough. We should talk to him carefully.”
The next room was shut. Pointing at the room Mrs.Padma Ajith said, “In that room, there is a permanent resident, paying rent on a monthly basis. He is a Brahmin. He never gives any trouble. He would be minding his own business. He works as a male nurse in one of the hospitals here. It was his ambition to become a doctor. And he strives hard to achieve his goal. He has been working at it for many years. He would be forever reading and studying to make his dream come true.”
After that Mrs.Padma Ajith steered them towards the bathroom. The friends liked the place and its inmates very much. Mrs.Padma Ajith asked them, “In the next floor, the room layout is pretty much the same. But there are also separate kitchens and bathrooms. Do you want to see them? They are not yet rented to anyone. No one stays in them.”
The friends discussed in Tamil about it for a few minutes. Ilango said thus to Arulrasa: “I like this place a great deal. The house-owners and also the people living here look good and kind. What do you say?”. Arulrasa responded saying “I too am of the same opinion. Let us stay here. A place like this can allow us to search for jobs without too much worry.” Mrs.Padma Ajith waited till they discussed the issue at hand and then asked, “What do you say? Do you like this place?”
Ilango replied in the positive. “We like this place very much. We have decided to stay here. How much is the rent?”
Mrs.Padma Ajith replied in a business-like tone, “Rent is thirty-five dollars per week.” She soon took on a softer tone, “But I will rent it out for thirty for you for the current state of your land is indeed a matter for worry and concern. And, I too have taken a liking for you. You look every inch decent and peace-loving”.
Hearing her kind words Ilango gratefully replied, “Thank you very much Ms. Padma Ajith. We are deeply indebted to your kindness and benevolence.” Giving her sixty dollars as the rent of first week both of them placed their travellers’ bags in the room and got the room-key also from the mistress of the house.
The next plan is to pay a visit to the local supermarket and pick up provisions for the week. Prior to that, they felt it would be good to have a little chat with Gosh. They conversed with him, speaking on various issues. Their conversation took an interesting turn in the area of literature. Ilango profusely and almost too excitedly stated, “I have read a lot of poignant works of Bengali literature. In Tamil, S.Krishanamoorthy, Tha.Naa.Kumarasami, and many more have translated Bengali works in a splendid manner. I have read the novels of Tagore, Sarathchandrar and my most favourite novel is the one written by Adhin Bandhopadhyaya’s ‘Neelakanda Paravaiyai Thaedi”(In search of the Nellakanda bird), which was so poignantly translated by S.Krishnamoorthy and was published by the National Book Trust. It is a great piece of work, describing the events and happenings of the period of the Freedom Struggle of India and the divide between Hindus and Muslims, the condition of the widows in those times and provided many other insights. It consists of exemplary descriptions of Nature. Really, it is a marvelous piece.”
The novel begins with a description of the Eesam Sheik, who goes to announce the birth of a male child to Dhanababu of Tagore’s household moves on , getting unfolded with the description about the river Shonali and the Dharmuj creepers that have their face turned upwards, towards the sky and the people and other species living there, the fragrance of the grains coming there, floating in the air, the sonorous noise of the waterfalls pouring deep down… and we can read the descriptions about Nature and its various elements and get immersed in their sweetness-par-excellence”.
Coming to know of the sound knowledge that Ilango had in Bengali Literature, Gosh became immensely happy. He was also a lover of books by nature. “Oh, you first go to the shop and after you return let us have a talk, which would indeed be soothing to the mind and heart,” said Gosh. With his heart brimming with genuine satisfaction and happiness, he saw them off.
Chapter 8 FABULOUS FEAST
The supermarket was a surprise in itself. After leaving their land and taking shelter in an alien soil, this was the first time both of them were visiting such a place. The supermarket had anything and everything – fruits, meats, beer and various other hard drinks and soft drinks – almost everything under the Sun. For quite some time, there was intense discussion between the friends as to what to buy and what not to buy.
“We are going to cook for the first time in our new place. We should do it in a somewhat distinct manner. What do you say Arul?”
“I completely agree!”
“All right, what do you propose to do?”
“We are going to cook for the first time in our new home. Why not give a small feast to the rest of the residents there? Let us start our new life with a feast, what do you say? That will make them happy. And, it won’t cost much.”
“Since I know you are an expert in cooking, what do you suggest to be on the menu?”
“Cooked, hot rice and an excellently fried chicken side-dish, chicken soup, fried potato chips, boiled egg-pieces, and another side-dish made of grains and one more with vegetables and a beverage made of ‘Iraal’. We have all the facilities there. It will not be hard.”
“You give such a long list, yet, you have forgotten one important thing, you know?"
“That goes without saying, for, can there be a feast without the drinks? Of course not. Don’t be jump to conclusion. I am planning to buy a dozen ‘Budweiser' beer. If you like whisky, we can buy one of the ‘old smuggler’ brand. It doesn’t cost too much. And, I noticed a beer store nearby anyway.”
With that, the two friends planned things meticulously, without wasting time and getting great a joy out of it. They bought all the required items and also the ‘drinks’ and returned to their new abode. Seeing them coming back with ‘Foodwiser’ in their hands, Mrs.Padma Ajith spoke to them in a very polite and decent manner, without getting angry:
“We don’t mind you having a jolly good time, feasting and drinking, without proving a hindrance to others. You are going to begin a new life. I wish you all the best."
Gosh felt extremely happy. Oh, how many days had just sped by since such a happy get-together where one could sit and chat with friends and relish a real good feast! With such joy reflecting in his voice too, he observed, “Today I am very happy. For, it has been ages since such a gala with singing and dancing took place!”. In the meanwhile Arulrasa opened the ‘Old Smuggler’ and placed it on the dining table in the kitchen. He messily arranged the potato chips on a plate, placing it next to the drinks. Then, he announced, “Friends, just have these to your hearts’ content without any reservation. Ok, come, let’s all drink.” Following his small speech he poured the whiskey in three glasses. At this moment Mansingh awoke from his sleep and decided to pay the party a visit. His eyes turned towards the whiskey, ready to be served. A little smile sprouted on his rugged face. Seeing Mansingh,r Gosh extended a pleasant, friendly invitation to him. “Mann, why don’t you join us in this revelry? Do you have any objections? If you too join us we would feel very happy!” Of course, Mansingh joined the party. His mood and musings were exactly on the lines of Gosh. Oh, how many days have gone by, since we had such a revelry! In the mechanical, monotonous everyday life of the city, they were thus enjoying the present moment, singing and dancing and merrymaking, just like the free, little sparrow, with no worries in the world. It was a gala event for them and time sped by all too joyously. But, Arulrasa always made sure to keep an eye on the cooking! Every now and then he brought a plate full of fried chicken pieces as a sidedish, and also fried fish. For all those who had assembled there, these dishes provided great joy and pleasure. Tasting those fried chicken pieces and fried fish, they drank the Old Smuggler. After finishing it, they dipped their tongues into ‘Budweiser’. As the nectar descended inside, the body experienced a slight swoon and quiver which turned the very fact of being something divine and the life began to unfold in the real sense of the term.
Gosh said: "My dear friends of Sri Lanka! Thanks a lot for your great sense of hospitality! Arulrasa’s cooking is something fabulous! He can start an exclusive restaurant any time! How did you learn to cook all this, Arulrasa?”
“Well, my dear friend from Bengal, I too thank you whole-heartedly for your kindness. Everything is learnt by sheer experience. For a short while, I was working as a chef in a Greek ship. Apart from that, I was staying with my maternal uncle during the school breaks; he owned a huge farm. During my life in that farmhouse, I had learnt a lot. My uncle was an expert in preparing deer and lamb. This is but just a small portion of his vast knowledge and expertise in cookery.”
Mansingh joined their conversation, “Oh friend, what Gosh says is right. You cook splendidly well. You won’t find it difficult to get job in the restaurants here.”
Gosh intervened, “I am also working in an Export/Import company owned by a person belonging to Mansingh’s clan. Our company imports clothes from India and send them to the big and established textile centres here. He is a nice fellow. In the showrooms situated in the middle of the city, he has provided employment for the Whites only. Designing a variety of readymade garments he orders them from India and does business here. He has a flourishing business. He stores the clothes that he imports, in a warehouse here and sends them to various shops in different regions across the States. All those who work in the warehouse are our people. Presently there is no job-opportunity. Soon, as the Nathaar festival is fast approaching, there would be job opportunities opening up for a few extra people. At that time I will surely try my best to get you jobs there. You can trust me.”
Ilango who had remained silent all this time, but now posed a question, “Gosh, is there any way I can get a job without delay? I don’t have any relevant certificate, which could fetch me a job. I am presently trying to apply for a Social Insurance Number.”
Mansingh gave forth his viewpoint related to this issue. “Both of you have committed a terrible blunder.”
Ilango and Arulrasa asked in the same voice, simultaneously “What?”
And, Mansingh warned, “Yes indeed, you shouldn’t have come to New York at all. Should have come to New Jersey or Boston or some other city People who have gone there face no difficulty at all in securing a Social Insurance Number. But, in New York, there are millions of illegal immigrants. Hence, the immigrant authorities will be very strict in these matters. I know a person who has been working here illegally for the past two years.”
Ilango and Arulrasa felt that there was indeed some truth in what Mansingh was saying. Ilango realized and said, “That must be true. Of those who have come with us, the rest have gone to Boston and New Jersey and have obtained all the relevant certificates and documents and are now employed!”
Gosh butted in once again and said, “Friends, why do you worry now? If such problems do arise, you can go to Boston or New Jersey and apply legally for your Immigration files and then obtain the relevant documents and certificates from there. Then you can try for good jobs! Till that time, you can work in cafes, restaurants and inns or in some factory while trying to save up some cash. I think finding some such job here won’t be a problem to you. Here, along Eighth Avenue, I know a Greek man named Peter, who runs an Employment Bureau. His main occupation is to get jobs for illegal immigrants in some café, inn or factory. I will give you his address. Go and meet him. You have to give him 80 dollars. As soon as you secure a job, he’ll collect the eighty dollars from you. When I came here, it was only through him that I managed to get a job.”
Mansingh suddenly remember, “What, he is the one running an Employment Bureau? I, too, got my first job through him!”
So they went on conversing, happily chatting and discussing new prospects. The house owner, Mr. Ajith, who was listening from the first floor, came to join in the middle of the conversation. Ajith was a naturally friendly and jovial person. Hence, it is no wonder that he added to the zest and fervour of the feast and merrymaking. Thus that night was spent all too happily with song and dance, feast and what not!
[To be continued]