Jaffna is mine. Jaffna has always been my true love. I was born in the ‘Hewavitarana Maternity Home” on Sri Lanka’s southern tip. The past, when Jaffna was a distant memory for me, has faded away. Jaffna is now only a short distance away for me. I considered writing about my Jaffna, an idea that came to me not long ago, but I put it off day by day. But I can’t get Jaffna out of my mind. The love that exists for Jaffna begs me to mix it with letters. This is the story that my breath tells about my Jaffna.
Three decades ago, as a little girl, I heard the word Jaffna in the stories related by my relatives. That is stories about the war. After that, I read the first pictorial reading about Jaffna by reading the lesson in grade five Sinhala book. The lesson titled ‘At Jaffna’,
It was a lesson not only to me to others like me, who are born in this country and knowing the north and south only from the map, is not only a symbolic city with the six letters Jaffna in front of it, but it also inherited another beloved culture (here I refer to Jaffna not only the Jaffna peninsula but the entire Jaffna peninsula, Tamil people and their culture) was the wonderful lesson written about our own brothers and they too part and parcel of our brotherhood. Truly, that lesson has taught in my life the love towards the Tamil people. Whoever decided to include this lesson in the textbook, as well as its author, I salute them from the bottom of my heart.
‘Yaldevi train reached Jaffna railway station. It is around half past two in the evening. Mother, father, Amara and I went to Jaffna by train for a holiday. The 11th lesson of the fifth year Sinhala textbook had started like that. Words like Radha, Madhavan, Adiya Well, Ulundu Wade, Tal Weta, Kotta Kilangu, Nallur Temple brought to our little minds not the feelings that arise when we read about a part of our own country, but only feelings mixed with sadness that we think we will never get to experience.
I realise it more that then now, how Jaffna which I saw in the textbook is deep rooted in a corner of my mind. (That love is so much, recently with a lot of effort, through brother ‘Rio Sagarox’ I found and re-read this lesson on the internet. I came across once again the mischievous little girl in Matara Mahamaya girl’s fifth grade while reading that lesson.)
I was also hoping to locate relatives in Jaffna. Yal Devi was required to travel to Jaffna. As I grew older, I reluctantly realised that this Jaffna journey was not as simple as it appeared. It is not as simple as climbing “Adams Peak,” and it is a wish that will never come true. We lived in Matara Railway Quarters when I was a kid. ‘Peduruthuduwa, Kankasanthurai’ were familiar names to those of us who read the names of the locomotives we see in the mornings. But we, who lived at Dondara Point, south of Point Pedro, as seen on the map book (atlas), had forgotten that there is a place where all of us should go.
We had the distinct impression that the ‘Point Pedro’ was some place from a fairy tale. Due to this, Yaldevi’s trip to Jaffna was a pipe dream. Apart from learning the Tamil alphabet from a teacher in the scholarship class, we had not seen any Tamil in Matara. We lacked the knowledge and foresight to enquire about Jaffna from the Tamil teacher at the time. I’m not even sure if that teacher had ever been to the north. I had to wait many years to experience the Tamil culture that I see on TV.
At that time, the Hindu temple on Matara Railway Road was also closed, all the Tamil people here had left Mathara, and Dr. Nagaraja, who was a house hold name, had left Sri Lanka and gone to a distant country leaving the private hospital he had built into the memories as a result of the dark Tamil-Sinhalese riots of the eighties.
Using words like Galdiya’ or Baldiya incidents to commit crimes drew my attention to the unseen Jaffna and the Tamil people. Going to university increased my love for Jaffna by at least a factor of ten at the time. The beloved Tamil brotherhood, as well as those from the north and the hills, gathered there. I’ll keep the memories for another time. Touch and feel where your emotions about Jaffna have lain in your mind until then.