Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
Something to say?

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Writing Dilemmas

Big question mark in my senile head: what kind of publicity is appropriate for my novels. Sometimes I admit, in moments of soul-searing clarity, that if they were good enough, they'd be up there with The GOD OF SMALL THINGS or PURPLE HIBISCUS, which must be two of my favourite books ever. There'd be journos sitting at my feet, drooling, as they did with Arundathi. (Mind you, at my time in life, just a publishing contract would have been good.)

I would like to think someone in publishing believes my writing is worth buying. But - I don't need the money. For the moment, I live with my children, who are bred in the Indian ways. They wouldn't dream of asking me for rent or costs.

   I have to wonder, though: should I do more about putting my novels in the public domain? The first one, A STREAK OF SANDALWOOD sells steadily on Amazon.com. Not enough to make me
rich or famous, but enough to feel someone is actually reading what I write.The second one, SHARDS OF SUNLIGHT gave me more pleasure in the writing, because it is sometimes dangerously close to my early life. It was painful and exhilarating at the same time. In the process I also cringed about the quality of my work in my first ham-fisted offering. I am still learning.

   So why do I write, anyway? Who cares if I do or I don't? Certainly not my children, though they say it keeps me out of their hair. Not Kitta, who is vaguely interested in my blogs, not Manju, who says my best writing is when I write about my life, and definitely not Raghu, who says it won't even pay for a month's beer.   

   I toss the thought around in my mind and I believe I write because I can construct something, which is totally mine, out of words in the English language. I love what words can do - persuade, deceive, influence, beguile, explain, admonish.... I can spend hours searching for that one word, which is right for the idea, give up, and find the word presenting itself gleefully at four in the morning.

   Then again, no one else has my take on my experiences, leave alone my particular ups and downs. So the process of writing is also one of taking stock, of admitting to things, of knowing me better.
   I don't think I'll ever stop.



Friday, 27 December 2013

S'Lone

This one is for all the S'Lone volunteers who made my life happy and wonderful in Makeni.  What a revelation Sierra Leone was to my naive brain!

This was in the period 1984 - '86 and I was a lecturer at Makeni Teachers' College, trying to train Maths lecturers and develop the Primary Maths Curriculum. I lived in a small, one-bedroom flat on the campus and it was an uncertain life.

Electricity was available rarely and water had to be carried upstairs to my third floor flat in a bucket, when it came, sporadically. Then, we all rushed and queued up - or pushed and shoved- to reach that trickle before it stopped. We learned the optimum height from which to pour a half-bowl of water into the toilet to clear it. Rosemary, a Canadian volunteer, taught me that.

Food was limited to what you could get locally. On the days the butcher slaughtered a cow, approximately once a fortnight, I waited on my small terrace to see him hang it up on a pole down the road. I would rush to get the fillets before the sun did the cooking. Fillets, of course, cost no more than other bits of beef.

The vegetable stall in the local market contained a few squashed-up tomatoes, half-onions, tiny okras well past their eat-by date... Nothing to take home. The Lebanese stores sold potatoes and you could buy cassava leaf and potato leaf anywhere. Corned beef and spam if you were lucky.You learned new tastes. And I lost two stones in weight.

The plassas was out of this world. Served with rice. I loved it. Sometimes I went down to the Shell station and ate it with the owner. You could also collect the local gossip: which musungu was sleeping with which black beauty, who was drunk at Pa Kargbo's veranda bar before eight in the evening...

The three-storey flats in which I lived was a self-contained community. Philip Kargbo's radio woke us all up at odd hours of the night and all of us ran down to see the cobra, which lived in the wood-pile behind my flat. Susan, who lived opposite, dumped her baby on me to look after when she had to go somewhere in a hurry and my friend, Fiona, the VSO who lived next door, made groundnut soup for me. It was delicious. She also taught me a great deal about Primary teaching.

Entertainment in a place sans TV or power was inventive. I played board games with Matt for match-sticks and rode pillion with the PCVs to unnamed places. I remember going skinny-dipping in a delightful, isolated, pond somewhere in the bush with one PCV. There was a waterfall and we had to push the tall grass aside with our hands to reach the pond on a motor-bike. We cooked and ate communally many-a-day, mainly cabbage soup and rice. Someone on a trip to Freetown would have brought a precious cabbage back.

Riding pillion was forbidden, but I got myself a helmet and risked being told off. HQ was so far away  and how would they communicate with us anyway?

One night a happy gang of PCVs woke me up at the two in the morning to see the forest fires. I tagged along. At 51, I was twice the age of most of them, but it did not seem to be an issue with those girls and boys. They were fun and non-judgemental in all matters. They always found new ways to have a good time.

The PCVs looked after me. They asked me along to fourth-of- July celebrations and spontaneous song sessions. They were talented and original. One designed a fish- breeding pond; several created prosthesis for children with damaged limbs. In Makeni they created swings and climbing frames for the children near by.

On the 25th anniversary celebrations they made me an honorary PCV. I was very proud that day.

I have been in other African countries since, living and doing similar work. More 'developed' some of them. But I have never been happier anywhere else. Now, at 78, I long to go back to SL and wonder how Makeni is now, how the College is and how , above all, my SL friends are.

What a country and what a people!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Tiny Communities

There wasn't much of a choice. Our little world had to be small:

   There were about four buses a day plying between Kunnoor and Kuthuparamba. If they went further north - or south - none of us really comprehended such distances by bus. If you needed to go to Vadagara or Kanjyankadu, you thought hard and wondered how far the train would take you.

   To go to Maliyil house, which I sometimes did, with Damuettan directing proceedings (I bet he still does that, given half a chance), you had to do some serious planning. Bus? How much walking if you went by bus? Or train? Again, could we go the distance on foot?  

   In our house, our world was a microcosm containing just a few households. And we knew everything about them. The people even had the same names. We hadn't yet tapped that vast directory of north Indian names, all of which got amputated at the end. For instance Shankar, insteady of that nice dignified Shankaran. Sometimes it got to Sankarankutty too. Bliss!

   We had a Madhavi, and a Nani in our house. Next door, the two sisters were also called Madhavi and Nani. A few Ammus were scattered in the mix and a few Rohinis, mainly in the Thiya community.

   All of us had similar homes, some thatched, some partially tiled, others fully tiled like the rich Muslim houses near by. Mukkattil was such a house slowly decaying due to lack of care.

   None of the women had got beyond basic Malayalam literacy. So the only people with books were the lawyers on the road. They had impressive tomes called Law Books. In addition, my father actually brought home books to read for pleasure. To this day many of my friends in India are surprised at my library in Kochi.

   All the things we needed to buy were within walking distance at the turn of the road, near the Civil Courts. A dry goods man, who was also our neighbour, a tearoom owned by another neighbour, a tailor on our doorstep in a veranda room, a corner shop run by Mammadu for coconut oil or salt in a hurry.

   If someone got ill, the whole neighbourhood held their breath, while the native Vaidyar came and went. The 'doctors' were only called in-extremis. Children wandered around from house to house and adopted sisters and families. Mani, my cousin and I, adopted the house behind ours and all in it. They baby-sat, bathed us sometimes, took us to their temple and made jasmine garlands for our short hair.

   When my father was in jail, gifts turned up from many houses. Sugar, kerosene, sweet-meats; this was their way of showing solidarity.

   School was the limit of our world. A sparse world, but then all the houses were like that. There was nothing for display and nothing wasted. Even the beggars were local beggars; they knew when the mid-day meal was eaten in our houses and when alms would be distributed.

   Education as a given arrived with my generation and that was when the world expanded and we glimpsed imaginary lands.

This Brave New World

Recently I took the extreme step of surrendering my head and hair to a hair-dresser. Haven't done that in years.

   She worked on it for a long time, repeatedly saying, 'There is so much hair.' I felt I should tip her extra for the hair I had. 

   I insisted that she should not blow dry my hair. But, of-course, she was on auto-pilot and blow-dried my hair to hell and back. I emerged looking as though I had straw for hair. I went straight home, put olive oil on it, and washed it again. The hair stayed straw-like or a long time.

   So, one day, I says to my daughter. 'How do people with sparse hair get volume in it?' She said, 'Oh, there are creams and stuff. And they don't comb it to perdition like you do.'

   Of course. This is a definite trend of this decade. Very few women under sixty comb their hair. They are all promoting this sophisticated, disarranged look. Some succeed more than others ending up by looking merely untidy. When I see this I have a strong urge to find my bottle of coconut oil.

   Then there is the stance. Always slightly bent forward, head down, peering into a small screen of some sort. Soon they will discover a new 'app' (sounds like baby-food.) to straighten the necks of all ages and groups.

   In the sitting room the conversation has died. The concentration on the little screen is so complete, no one hears any one say anything. No one has time for conversation.

   Is thinking a casualty as well?

   In India there is much talk of the Aam Admi Party and the eradication of corruption. Now that's an ailment of long lineage and can withstand many aniti-biotics.

   Corruption is not restricted to politicians. What about contractors, engineers, judges, schools??? That little 'contribution' when you register a child in nursery school? What's the other name for it?

   I remember a group of defendants in a murder trial visiting my home at midnight. With one lakh rupees in bank notes in a small bag. I was ten years old. Their purpose was to persuade my father, who was then a Public Prosecutor, to go easy on the defendants. When he refused to collude with them, they threatened him. He was trembling with anger long after they left. I was scared for him.

   There was not much to get corrupted for then. Most houses had nothing beyond absolute need. We had no sofas, no wardrobes, no big mirrors... Achan shaved in a little mirror nailed to the pillar on the veranda. There was so little to buy in our reach that we did not think of it.

   I believe corruption is spawned and nurtured by the culture of too much to see and buy around you. I would love to go back to a more simple life. But then, I'd have to borrow a laptop. Mmm...

   I think the landscape has changed forever.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Of Floors and Feet and Foreign Places

The men came with Stanley knives and bulging biceps. They ripped the carpets off the floors exposing tattered underlay and ancient aspirations. Very gradually they laid the walnut floor, with reverence as befitted the bill at the end. As they worked, Radio 1 kept them company. I listened, excluded from my living room, and longed for the voice of Miriam Makeba. I am not of here, I thought.

   In the evening my son came home from work as usual when the chaos had been sorted out by the women. 
   'Mmm... A little too dark for me,' he said. 'A shade lighter perhaps?'

   This is all a bit beyond me. I remember the floors I grew up on, barefooted.

   First, the house in Thalassery. The floor was cow-dung except for the front veranda and my father's quarters upstairs. Every Thursday and festival day, my cousin, Nani edathy - my friend and foster mother - got the maid to collect a basket of recent cow-droppings.

   The cow-dung was mixed with water till she got a smooth watery paste. While she stirred it with her hand, she would pick out the twigs and undigested debris and throw it away. After the house had gone to sleep, she would apply the cow-
dung to the floor with a spatula made of the bark of the arecanut tree. 

   A room could take an hour or more. Some times, if I was a very good girl, she would give me a small bowl of my own to apply to the floor. Bliss!. I would have to bathe all over again before I went to bed.

   Next morning the floor would be a fresh green-black colour and smell slightly of dried dung. We would be ready for the Friday prayers and the puja.

   When we moved down the road to our new home, which my father built when I was about fifteen years old, we thought we had gone up in the world. Only the kitchen had a cow-dung floor. The rest was red cement. It was beautiful though the polish came off on your feet and your bum, when you sat down, for a while.

   It was only after I got married , at twenty-three- and went off to Colombo, that I realised there were cement floors and then, cement floors.

   The floors in the Colombo-seven house where my in-laws lived had red cement floors that gleamed. You could check your pottu in them. When my very handsome brother-in-law came to greet me, I slipped on the bottom step of the staircase and had to be hauled up to talk to him. It could have been the sheer surprise of his starling good looks of course.

   Every week the maid applied Cardinal polish and buffed it till it shone. Nothing came off on your feet. In between, once a month she applied colour-less Mansion polish to make it sparkle even more. 

   In my father's house, the floor was dull and pock-marked by the time I left. Not in the same league. But I had learned something.

   When my family went to Nigeria in 1962, the floors in the Ministry of Works houses in which we lived were also red cement floors. My first steward, Akpan, buffed the floor with a large coarse piece of rag, dancing on the floor, as in a twist. Much later in life, I discovered electric polishers and learned to do my own polishing, to the rhythm of the High-LIfe.

   The rapid descent to cracked linoleum happened on my first visit to England, staying in cheap B and Bs , who would not turn the non-whites away. Much later there were the scuffed carpets of no discernible colour in the lodgings I occupied briefly, in Richmond.

   Get your bearings, girl, I mouth to myself silently ,as I watch the new wood floors in my son's suburban house. What next?

   

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Loneliness and the Old

Jeremy Hunt talking about family. Well, his family, including Bottomley propped him up nicely. So he can't complain.

   He was talking about the elderly and loneliness. I have lived alone in remote places, without water and lights some times, and the books and the music have kept loneliness at bay. If I ever thought about it. I was of course much younger, just fifty.

   I remember the nights in Makeni where the campus generator went off at nine. I would light three candles behind my bed and read by its flickering benediction. It was actually a contended time. The bed cool and snug, the book at the end of a long and hard work-day, the music on the transistor ( I remember listening to Billy Joel on it - in 1985, while the cockroaches came out for their nightly game of 'find-the-bread' in the kitchen.)- what was there to make me feel isolated? All around me was the campus, the evening chorus of families putting children to sleep, washing them in scarce half-buckets of cool water at the pump, Philip Kargbo shouting at his wife...

   In Makeni I was not lonely. I built a small comfortable cocoon in what had been a Catholic monk's cell once upon a time, and the world around me was friendly, if not near me.

   Freetown was another story altogether. Now I had lights and water 24-7. On the British High Commission compound the generator, big as a house, hummed its way right through the night. Air conditioners came on even in flats where the occupants had gone on furlough a month back. Nobody complained and the British tax payer paid.

   But I was lonely. In that expatriate island, nobody looked my way. I didn't hear the domestic voices from the houses set far apart from each other on that diplomatic compound. It was eerie. I now lived in a huge house and I walked the hallways and thought about being alone. I had the books, the music and the comforts, but no one human being near me. And, in that luxurious compound, I was, for the first time aware of being on my own. 

   When the British Council tried to persuade me to stay for another two years I refused. A gentleman boss visiting from London threatened me: 'You will be unemployed back home, you know.' 'No,' I said proudly. 'I am after all a Maths teacher and there's always some school that needs a Maths teacher.' I thought he was a very silly man and a bully.

   Here in England I do see many old people dragging their shopping home in plastic bags, listing to one side. I think, where are the children, the friends, the neighbours? In India, some one would run to the rescue. Here also, this happens - occasionally. Once I was on an escalator in the Underground, looking down on the steps in front of me, and feeling giddy. 'Are you OK?' A young man asked from behind me. 'A little woozy,' I answered. 'Here, let me,' he said. He came down to the step in front of me shielding me from the long descent. 'Here, have a toffee,' he offered. 'Makes you feel better.' I took one. 'Keep the packet,' he said. 'You may need it going back.' He smiled as he left the escalator at the bottom. So there are people who will help the old; it is just that it is so rare.

   Not to talk to another adult for a whole week is a kind of incarceration, of dying. 'This life seems pointless,' an old man on TV said. Alone in his little front-room full of cushions and rugs. Then again, you don't have to be old to be lonely.

   Jeremy Hunt praised the Asians for the way they look after their old. This is true; there is more respect and more care in China, in India , in similar countries in Asia.. But this social fabric is slowly disintegrating with the young going to far-away countries to work. From the United States they come home for two weeks leave in a year. They rush around from one relative to another like a video on fast forward. The parents watch their goings and comings and after two weeks they wait for the phone calls again.

   I live with my children and consider myself lucky.They could have been in Australia or Canada. In my father's life, I was always far away when he needed me, seeing him rarely, not managing to travel to India often on my meagre teacher's salary. He was in a bad place, I think.

   Here, the closed front door makes it impossible to sit on the stoop and be part of the world outside. The television is no substitute for real people even if they are only acquaintances. A group of old men have solved this problem by forming an old people's club, where they meet and enjoy the presence of others from the human race. Perhaps the women should do the same.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Learning Survival Skills

I walk slowly these days. My knees say, slow down. I picked up my granddaughter from Primary School today. Six years ago, I'd carry her all the way from the nursery, five minutes away. Two years ago , I could still sprint after her when she showed signs of straying on to the road or running away to the back of the school. Today she walked well in front of me pausing to wait now and then, while I caught up.

     Mind you, I have to admit, even in my tennis days I avoided running to the ball; the ball had to come to me. Allowances have to be made for laziness.

   'Sorry, Baby.' I said to Asha as she walked to the car with me.. 'Ammamma is slow today. The knees are not so good.'
   'You're perfect,' she said, taking my hand to cross the road. Who is looking after who?

     I suppose most people my age have the same problems: wonky knees, stiff hips, a tendency to sway back or to the side. And then the sullen digestive system, which has its own agenda. When I stay with friends my age, their bedside cabinets are the same as mine. They contain: ointments for knees and hips and weary shoulders, balms for chest, pills for constipation or for acidity.

     When we travel a large part of our luggage is daily medication. I think we should just phone each other to check whether the same medicines are in their houses too. Like asking a friend whether we need to bring towels and tooth paste when we go for a weekend.

   When I meet up with my College mates in Chennai a large part of our day is spent talking about our various degenerative ailments. Tremors, constipation, anxieties, arthritic bones, all these figure prominently in our conversation. We are light-hearted about these as nothing much can be done about all this. Age is irreversible even when it does not show very much.

     One or two have died. Like being air-brushed off, without making a noise. One or two have cancers; they deal with it with dignity and humour. After all, we've got this far, they say. I hope they are totally cured and I feel sorry about the chemos and the radiations that leave them tired and with loose teeth.

     These friends of mine have beautiful skin, though nearing eighty years. They laugh like girls. But we eat small quantities of food, we can't read the small-print on packages in the shops when we go shopping, and we tire too soon.

     I have noticed though, as the world has started to become less respectful of me, I have become more demanding. The nastiness buried deep in us comes out as a survival skill. If a stranger assumes I am stupid because I am old, fat, ugly or slow, I hit back. In England being all these and Indian too does not help. 

     Our heads have not quite caught up with our ageing bodies. The hiatus shows.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

RED ED

When Cameron runs out of ideas, he falls back on personal insults. Red Ed, my foot.  Find a better one, Dave.

   To begin with, what's wrong with being Marxist? I'd like to know. Now all of us from Kerala have first hand knowledge of both sides of Marxism, Naxalbaris, Indira Congress and everything in between, that silly Pinarayi included. Marxism has always been a well-meaning philosophy if you separate it from the methodologies attached to it. Remove the 'End justifies the means,' for instance and you can tell Soviet Russia where to get off. It's been done, I hear. By Gorbachev, was it, or did they do it all by themselves?

   Wasn't it Harold Laski who said that Jesus Christ was the first ever Communist? From each according to his means, to each according to his need. What's wrong with that? I think Christianity talks of a tithe. Either will do. C'mon Dave - tax those big businesses, discuss their tax status when they come to lunch at Downing Street like the CEO of Google did. The lot of them - McDonald's, Google, Microsoft... Watch them. See who is stealing from the people of the United Kingdom, stealing the food out of their mouths, the rooms out of their shelter.

   I know that you collude with them, Dave, because of the bedroom tax (but not the Mansion Tax), the wiping off of benefits, but not the bank bonuses. Dave, what do you think you are there for? Power an end in itself? No-no.no. You are there representing the people, all of us, not just the conservatives. And not just big business and the rich. So, please. get off your back-side and attend to the country. Forget you majored in Public Relations. Or you will end up on your backside come 1915 and I shall enjoy the spectacle.

   Ed nudged Labour a little to the left within sight of the poor of this country who can't afford their fuel bills or shoes for their children. He warms the cockles of my ageing heart. (whatever cockles are.) So what do you do? You nudge your party a little to the right. Now the battle is joined for 2015, eh? 

   Will you also team up with UKIP without quite mentioning it? I hear you are against it. Let's see if you'll stay that way when Ed pulls away in the polls.

   My provenance? Definitely Labour. So's you know. There used to be a decent country here, but the money-men and the so-called entrepreneurs, have ruined it. Now we have Rip-Off Britain instead. You can't trust anyone. Pity!

   Have I done mouthing off? Almost. Except for what you have done to the Liberals. Maybe they did it to themselves too. That abrogation of simple humanity.

   

Friday, 13 September 2013

An Inward Look - The Landscape of the Old.

There is a word that I cannot mention in front of my grand daughter, Asha, recently. It is old - old as in ageing. She has somehow gathered that old people tend to die sooner than others. It is my daughter's fault, I think. Someone recently died and all Asha asked was, 'Was he sick, Mum?' And instead of firmly saying yes, my daughter says, 'Not really. I think he was just old.' Now Asha is worried that I have grey hair and am clearly old. I had to promise that I will never, ever, die. Oh, boy! What a sentence.


   And that is why I have been a little remiss about my blogging. All this inward looking is not healthy for me, I think, indeed all this thinking might be disastrous as well. But the next few blogs will be about me and people of a similar age. Mind you, all the blogs are really about me, aren't they?

   I must admit, I have never enjoyed a phase of my life as much as I do this phase, this twilight time. Definitely old, definitely grey, and definitely senility approaching furtively.

   Then again, why am I so contended? If I have a recipe others like me can benefit too. I think my writing and reading have a lot to do with it. But it does not have to be writing or reading. My gardening makes me even happier. Recently I have wondered whether I should pick up embroidery again; something I last did in 1957, making a handkerchief for a reluctant paramour. He returned it to me very quickly without comment. You think there might have been a message there?

   Anything creative will do, I think. Once upon a time I thought that hobbies had to be started and cultivated over many years, like emotional investments, and you reaped the benefit as you grow older. My reading sustains me, but what if the habit had not been cultivated into an addiction by now? And what if all the indifferent writing and the sneering from agents had made me think writing was not for me?

     The point is: and this is a very important point- you don't have to be good. You just have to be enthusiastic. So, I consider, what are the pastimes you can start in old age and enjoy without having to wear out that arthritic knee or that dubious hearing? There is that magic world - the WEB. Here an old person can travel, research interesting ideas or just the sick life of celebrities, they can keep up with the new discoveries or the old histories. The possibilities are endless.

     The clan, our children, have a strong influence, negative or positive, on the state of our minds in old age. This merits another blog, but beware of role-reversal. I know a few parents who are dreadfully scared of their sons or daughters. When that happens a quick exit is indicated, preferably to another continent.

     I think I will dwell on this theme in my next blog. In the meantime, it is worth considering, not intensely, but off and on, in the late hours of the night or early hours of the morning, if you are insomniac like a great many old people. Needs to be thought through to a logical conclusion.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Learning and Schools

Yesterday I met up with Chris and Val after many months. People in London and around are so busy speeding to their destined ends that we do not notice our days furtively slipping by.That includes me.

   We got talking about education as is inevitable when three teacher-educators get together. Good Gove was mentioned in passing - we can't really do much to stop him from his headlong descent into learning chaos and elitism, but there you are. Everybody wants to reform education but they fail to take notice of the advice of the people in education: the teachers, the teacher-trainers, the lecturers,  And the end-user, as they so glibly call it in Aid circles; the parent and the student don't count at all. 

   The employers are consulted but each employer knows only what his particular field needs, not what the learner needs. A little like the elephant and the blind men. In India there is a mad drive in industry to learn Chinese, for obvious reasons. There is some leaning towards Arabic as well.  Let's say no more. Here in the UK it is all about applications to a particular industry rather than concepts that can lend themselves to further learning and development.

   A few parents are taking children out of school to educate at home. I can see why. EDUCATION can do a lot of damage to a child, the kind of damage to their ego, self-confidence and self-perception that only daily personal attacks can achieve. What's the point of a grade C in Maths if it comes to a damaged individual.

   Learning in schools: do we learn how to treat those more vulnerable than we are? Do we practise listening to elders and peers and sifting the good out of the bad advice? Do we learn any practical skills like putting a flat-pack together or indeed a broken person together?

   So what do I mean by education? It is about the end product: A caring, reflective and compassionate individual. A person who knows why fiddling your tax is wrong and why being homeless is an unfortunate condition, not a crime. Learning to live should be a joint endeavour, family and school working together, rather than drawing boundary lines.

   Maths and English and the rest of the school curriculum? We have to be a little more selective about what we put in the core curriculum. When I was teaching a comprehensive school I remember thinking that it was extremely time wasting to teach children Topology when they would probably never look at it again. But I had no choice for that particular group.

   I object to exams as a measure of what children have achieved- it tells you what they don't know, not what they know. Waste of time a great deal of the time.

   

   

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Robin gave up on Batman

The poodle got away from the lead. My son keeps going around the house saying, 'Tonto has left the Lone Ranger.' He is happy; so am I.

   Like the historian, Sir Matt Hastings, said on the T V interview yesterday, I also hate that phrase, special relationship. It is meaningless, as in empty. The USA makes no concessions to any country where their interests are involved. Consider the history of extraditions - mostly one way.

   Consider also the sharing of intelligence. We get what they throw away, what the Sun or Daily Mirror has already published, with more detail. They do not consult us before they bomb Tripoli or engage in a long war with Vietnam. I don't even think they have to. Their mistakes are theirs.

   AND - if North Korea can get away with blue murder, literally, and the American conscience is  not agitated - Mr Kerry, what is more special about Syria?

   Now I must admit I think Kerry will make a wonderful president. I like him. He toiled and travelled ceaselessly until he got the Arabs and Israelis to talk to each other. What an achievement!  Take note, Mrs Clinton. When Kerry speaks at the podium in Washington, he makes sense. I hope he will be the next Democratic President. I loved the way he told UK off yesterday - the substance and the words were apt. Necessary and Sufficient as they say in Maths proofs.

   But we are a very small nation. There are States in India who have more people in it than the United Kingdom. 'Punching above our weight,' they say. Well, stop. Old men sitting round a table and calling themselves The National Security Council should not send young men and women off to die in distant hells.

   Every time another man or woman dies in Helman or in some other foreign killing field, a family is devastated; an endless grief for an unnecessary war. I note that in the Security meeting in Downing street there seemed to be only two women: Justine Greening and Theresa May. I think women will hesitate longer before they order sons, family and lovers to war.

   The Arab world is capable of solving their problems if only we could take our hands off that incandescent area. Sunnis and Shias can talk to each other if they want to live in peace. Let's send medicines and food to Syria, not armaments and soldiers.

   I am convinced like Mr Obama that the Syrian Government and their army are together responsible for the chemical weapons unleashed in Syria. But the response should not destroy more people and places. Above all, the UK should learn from its mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

   For now, we are in a good place. My son has now changed what he says. 'Tonto is now dead,' is the message going around in my house. Thank God!.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Disabled

With the anniversary of the London Olympics this month, the disabled have front-row voices again. The Olympics made me proud of the way this country has regarded its disabled. For a few days all of us forgot that anyone was disabled. They looked so capable of soaring to heights of all kinds of achievement. Their self-possession was amazing. 

     In the succeeding months, slowly, they went out of centre stage. On TV, occasionally, there were murmurs: difficulty of access, public perception, employment - these were unsatisfactory . It seemed the euphoria was quietly ebbing away.

     I think I am a little disabled myself when I am faced with the three flights of steep stairs at a railway station or the vast gap between train and platform I have to negotiate sometimes when I arrive at East Croydon. Well, age is a kind of disability, I think,  though it is not comparable to genuine handicaps: not being able to see, to hear, to walk at all without crutches, or live in a wheelchair all your life. Still, I begin to appreciate the problems faced by the less -abled in our society.

     I cannot these days forget that tattered man who carries himself round the streets of Kochi on a floor level plank, to which he has fixed little wheels. Another has not even that option: he drags himself on his backside, using his hands to propel himself along. The people on the streets toss them coins, but that is as far as it goes. We take our shopping home and forget about them.

     In the orphanages where the disabled orphans live in Kerala there is hardly any specialist help. A kind doctor might spare some of his/ her time, but she has a full time job. No one is paying that doctor to look after those epileptic young men and women at the orphanage. There is barely enough food for the children and their carers. They live on donations, which come haphazardly.

     India is tardy organising itself for the care of its disabled. After all what is the point of exceptional GDP growth if there is no growth in social awareness?

     Compared to the situation in parts of India, the disabled in the United Kingdom are well-catered for. But what they want is to be able to look after themselves, to be employed, to be self sufficient, to have places to stay where they are comfortable, where they have access to friendship and to love. They want the things that you and I take for granted.

      They need entertainment and sport, not just for the few but for all. They need Society to cater for their special needs and treat them with respect.

     We still have some way to go.



     

Monday, 15 July 2013

Volda`

I travelled to Alesund as further North was too expensive, even on Norwegian Air. Everything is that bit more expensive in Norway. I was headed for Volda, where my friend, Lila, lives with her husband, dog, huge cat and arthritis.

   Lila picked me up and drove the 2 hours to Volda. I didn't mind the drive or the ferry; I wasn't thinking , how much further? as I do when I do road trips in India. Relatively flatland in the South gave way to mountains, and the fjords on either side were grey-blue and calm. The wooden houses perched on the hill side defied gravity and were scattered far apart.

   The rhododendrons were still in flower and had reached that blousy stage when the petals are about to drop. By the end of the week when I left, they were all gone. But in my garden in England they were long gone, having flowered a little late in June and disappeared at the first sign of warm weather.

   Norway was 12-15 degrees a lot of the time. Very occasionally it got up to 20 degrees, but the light never quite faded in the night. The dog and the cat decided I was harmless, probably a sucker for them and quietly invaded my room and then my bed. The people smiled when they saw you and there was no turning away or looking through. I was at home there; if I knew Norwegian I would not have stopped talking.

   I had a few arguments with my computer just before I left; I had lost all my e mail - 550+ of them -  in one hacking event. Norway reminded me to get my priorities right. E mails, who needs them? I can do without. Hackers - do you want the rest? It's all silly stuff, not the kind that has any lasting impact on anybody, even me.

  Switzerland was picture postcard pretty in my memory from long ago. But Norway was breath taking. The mountains lifting their peaks above drifting clouds, the glaciers now frozen but threatening, the rocks and boulders on either side of the road as you drove through the valley reminding you of how little you are - it was all majestic.

   I am back in England now, ready for the fray. Cleansed out and hopeful.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

The English Language

There are some words, fairly recent adhesions to the English language that  really get me going. They touch a nerve and start serious discomfort.

   Girl children? Did we not have a perfectly good word for that since long ago? Are they not girls any more when Aid agencies begin talking about them in connection with inequalities in educational access or Female Genital Mutilation  (FGM is too antiseptic a word to describe this particular horror - let us call it by its real name. This is only for females and it is genital and what happens is horrendous chopping up that some times kills them and leaves them forever handicapped. Sexually. I once asked an African man, an educated one in Malawi about it , and he said, 'If they get pleasure out of sex, they will be rampant. We won't be able to control them.' But then the same man told me his wife was 'loaded, when she became pregnant. I've still to get over that, nausea included.

   And - come to think of it - why does nobody talk of boy children in this connection or any other? So boys remain boys till they become men and we girls have a holding place till we become women. Like purgatory. Ah well!

   Mind you - the boy word has its own indignities connected to it if you have ever lived in Africa as an expatriate. In South Africa all African men were boys irrespective of their age. 'Boy!' the white bwana shouted and the ageing steward actually limped in to answer that command. All over Africa, North and South, this word was copied by many expatriates. 

   And in sport, I have noticed, the men are all 'boys' even if they are at the fag end of their sporting lives, Tendulkar, Steven Gerrard, those huge forbidding Rugby players that look like mountains - all boys.

Back to my favourite language: My writing group once said to me that we should , each of us, have a writing buddy. Buddy? Thank you, no. A writing partner, yes. But buddy I can do without. As I said, it makes me itch.

Then there are the nouns that have become verbs. Now you can access something on the phone or computer. Maybe even gain access? How many of these are we letting in? Soon I shall have serious confusions if I try to 'parse' a sentence. (That's a childhood pastime that has vanished.) The nuns insisted you had to find the verb and the subject pretty quickly, or else you were lost.

   I guess that is enough of a moan for a day about things most people take no notice of. It's me from another century being cantankerous as the old are expected to be.

   

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Abduction? I think not.

Now, I have a grand daughter aged eight. I know all about the tug-of-war in parents' minds between the desire to give a precious child freedom to enjoy the world - the parks, the playgrounds, the roads home - and safety- safety from the stalkers, the groomers, the rapists and other predators.

This young man, the Maths teacher, who was given a five-and-a-half year jail sentence yesterday - isn't there any one else who thinks it was a bit extreme? He was silly, stupid, manipulative - all that. But the girl went with him willingly. At fourteen she was fully aware of what was going on. Abduction? I think not.

He was a moron and should not be let loose near young girls. I agree. But adding on four years  of imprisonment for sex with a willing girl?

Did the judge think that in those few days in France before they were apprehended they were teaching and learning about Matrices and Transformations? For heavens' sake!

I know this is controversial and many will jump down my throat in an instant. But where no force is applied and the sex is consensual, should we not make allowances?

Rightly, Steven broke the laws governing the teacher-student relationship. Rightly, he should never be near a school again. And rightly, he should not be in positions where he can influence young girls. So he loses his livelihood and that's quite a big punishment. I thought the fifteen months was about right. Enough to make a point.

The banks who impoverished a whole nation and a whole generation got away with no punishment, certainly no jail sentence. The BBC officer, Hall, got away with fifteen months. For abusing children for four decades. For rape, and all that goes before it and after it.

I hope there will be a few others to see how unjust this sentence is. That stupid man deserves fifteen months, no more.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Bookless in Blantyre

When I think of dying there are two things I am sad about: all those books that will be written after, that I shall not get to read, and all the music I will never hear. Hutchens, approaching death with stoic rationalism apparently moaned the fact that he would not see his beloved England, as cancer slowly destroyed his voice, that which he considered most himself, relentlessly. Is there a part of this world I shall miss? All of it, I suppose, so in an odd way, no special part of it. 

  Before I die I would love to visit China and see whether there are any smidgens of Taoism still left there, hiding in little village huts. Are there people out there enjoying the every day physical things, like scratching an itch vigorously, that Lin Yu Tang once commended? Listening to the bull frogs' chorus during the rainy season, nicely cosy in bed; watching the rain flies descend in swarms for that brief pre-rain flurry, straining to hear the crickets at sundown while shutting out all other sounds - these are the things I must seek in the next few years. I seem to have lost that quiet place inside me to the cacophony of urban life.

   But what is there to be done about all those yet unwritten books? There are clearly journeys on which my Kindle cannot go with me.

   I found out how painfully dependent I was on the written word many years ago when I travelled from Dubai to London, forgetting to pack my reading in my carry-on case. The word-less hours were sheer torture, making me restless and irritable. Sister Benoza at our Catholic High School in India drew vivid word pictures of purgatory, the holding place between heaven and earth. Fires raged there and inmates screamed and begged God for delivery. I had nightmares about the serpents and the fires until I got the measure of Sister Benoza somewhere around standard four. But purgatory is individual, and mine is a place devoid of books.

   The newspapers on board the Emirates plane were all about Gulf news, not a word in them to interest me after the first five minutes. On that trip I learned my lesson.

   On another occasion I read too fast on a plane and finished my book for my flight half-way through the journey. After that I started packing two books for each trip. And then my son gave me a Kindle and life altered gloriously. Now I can sit on my veranda in India and download my reading. I don't have to husband the material and read slowly to save my reading.

   However, long before Kindle, I found myself in Blantyre on one occasion with two weeks of back-to-back workshops to do. I was living at Hotel Mount Soche, which manages to be comfortable and dead boring at the same time. The T V in the room was useless as the remote control could not work. The cleaning staff kept the best ones in store to hand out to guests who paid the largest bribes. I did not know that, so I did not have access to the T V.

   Again, I had left my reading material at home in Lilongwe. On Saturday I wandered around the quiet Blantyre streets looking for a book to read. I finally found a pavement vendor and bought two books from him. At last, I thought, now I can get back to the hotel, order a tray of tea and relax into a book.

   The tea came and I made myself comfortable, with the reading light placed strategically behind my lounger, and opened the book eagerly. It was porn - hard porn intent on teaching me lessons I had never got to learn about sex. I dropped the books in the waste bin and then picked them up again and hid them in a drawer. What would the cleaners think about me if they saw these books?

   I was forced to take them home to burn in my garden. Burn because I would not want my house-staff to think I'd been reading that stuff.

   Today I have solved my insecurities in the book department. I keep one by my bedside, another in the sitting room and a third in the medicine cabinet by the bed. My kindle always stays close to me and I shall never be without something to read.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Layers of Belonging

This last visit to India was off-putting. Something that has been nagging at the back of my mind for many years slowly came into focus. I did not really feel at home in India. Or was it just Kochi?
   So I have to investigate this strange, persistent discomfort in my head - an itch requiring constant scratching. I put off writing about it because I needed to be sure as to what I want to say. I now know this is not going to play out in a day or a week -or a month, maybe a lifetime. So please bear with me while I turn this over - and come to no steady place in the end. I know I will keep coming back to it.
   Kochi is a rich place where hordes of poor live. It is noisy, brash, cold-blooded, and in places beautiful. It is a buy-buy land. If you have money you buy. Whatever is current: flat screen T Vs  (the third one in the house) and Samsung mobiles are the latest. I feel no part of all this affluence.
   Yet I have lived in Kochi for five years in the early 2000s. And I still go there every winter, escaping the British ice-age. I speak the language and know the scams. I know how to haggle with the fish man and greet the old man. I love the food, the clothes, the colours and above all the back-waters and the Marine Drive, where the young and the old come at dusk to sit on the parapets and watch the sun descending. To this extent an outer layer of me fits in. I am not an alien. It's just that I am No Longer at Ease. As the wonderful Chinua (Achebe) would have said, if he had not gone and died on me last year. (There are some people who should never die; for me, he was one. Perhaps he never will, living on the sensibilities of the likes of me, who spent years living in the Eastern Nigerian bush.) How well he expressed that sense of fumbling alienation of the returnee. And Adichie (Chimamanda Ngosi), I am looking to you to keep that fire burning.
   It's just Kochi, I tell myself. Go to Thalassery and I am OK. And this is true, to a point. I melt in, I belong. Or so I assure myself. An inner layer of me is at home. Why then do I have to question all the parts when the whole is so familiar, so right? I scratch at my discontent and I know it is all the things which Thalassery is not.
   It is my fault that I am not interested, except as a visitor, in the Indian news, even when I think NDTV is so professional. I enjoy the aggression of the anchor, good old Barka and Sardesai and the rest. But where is BBC news and my favourite Channel 4 and Jon Snow? What are the Conservatives up to now? Is the NHS breathing its last? And is education still vaguely what I remember it as, when I taught in Wickford and Dagenham a lifetime ago? Unleash Jeremy Hunt and Gow on the nation and you have to hide your children and old people away in safe places.
   And the sad part is: I am certain I DO NOT belong at all in Britain. Neither the Labour one or the present mess. Though the old mess was a better and kinder mess. 
   All those years when I worked in many countries in Africa - did I belong there?  I knew they were temporary, so I did not try to find out. There was a job to do, so get on with it. And when it was over, thank God for safe drinking water out of the tap and twenty-four hour power back home.
   Sadly, I am coming to the conclusion that people like me belong nowhere. We who have been wrenched from our birth-countries early in life can no longer anchor ourselves elsewhere. We try to attach ourselves, we copy the behaviours of locals and proclaim ourselves even more suspect.
   Maybe I have to be content to be part of that huge diaspora of people who have left home and have never really gone anywhere. Vidya (Naipaul) has talked about it eloquently, sometimes whined about it. How can I equal him? Leave it to the experts.
   


Thursday, 11 April 2013

Keeri - Passport for a Cat

Meet Keeri. There she is, sleeping on my front veranda in India. This kitten came to us asking for food, raucously, almost screeching at me. She knew her rights under UN regulations, I suspect. She was on the far corner of our garden wall. My son and I saw how skeletal she was and I asked him to stay with her while I ran inside to fetch milk and bread. I knew she would, at that moment, eat absolutely anything.

   'I don't want her taking up residence,' I said. 'We are leaving soon after all.' We left the food and escaped.

Half an hour later Keeri was on our front veranda step, talking about the weather, the cruelty of the human world, news in the feline towns... We ignored her. She just jumped into a lap and went to sleep.

   Me and my family , now, are definitely cat people, but we did not want another cat in our Croydon home. Two were bad enough. One, Pepper by name, strays on to the road and cars screech to a stop on either side of her. When she is lucky. One night she wasn't and lost half a hip bone. She is incontinent when scared. So about once a week there is cat-pee to clean up.

   The other, Boo-boo, my son says, is a mouth and an arse connected by an alimentary canal. She'll eat anything and needs constant food. Both think all the beds in the house are theirs and we are just allowed on them now and then. This morning Pepper woke me up at seven in the morning so she could go out for a wander.

   We named the new little one Keeri for mongoose in Malayalam. She has that charcoal-ash colour and a pointy tail. 

   This cat, now, is closer to the human genre than the others. When she sleeps on the bed, her head is on the pillow. When Saraswathy wants to remove my night-dress for washing from the bed where I have thrown it, Keeri hangs on to it. It's hers. Like a child's comforter. Saraswathy generally loses the battle.

   When visitors come, she unerringly picks the cat - people and abandons me. She is a promiscuous little one and I shall have to stand in line for her favours.

   The airlines want to know what breed Keeri is before they will transport her to England. Local, I answer. But that is not enough. Look at her, for heaven's sake. She is an unremarkable stray that can't even boast a respectable tail. But she knows how to wake up my grand daughter to play with her and run straight into a lap without brakes on, when the neighbour's dog barks.

   I am travelling next week and I face a week of jet lag. Keeri will usurp my rocking chair. I shall run around like a mad head-less rooster for her 'papers', but I can't wait to see her. I hope she doesn't mind the English weather. If she does I am going to hear about it. Loudly and frequently.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Thatcher - an exercise in hypocrisy

Soon after Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister I went to work in Bishop Ward Boys' Secondary School, Dagenham. I was moving from Wickford, a reasonably prosperous commuter town. It was a huge culture shock, and as the years went by the shocks to the system became more and more painful.

     Bishop Ward had a catchment area, which was almost entirely employees of Ford, Dagenham. Most of the children were Irish Catholics and so was the Head Master. Many of the  parents lost their jobs as Ford closed down and we had practically a whole school living on the dole. The families were big, six and seven children in some of them, wearing hand-me-downs and looking under-nourished.

     Thatcher's England brought devastation to England's working class. She is now praised for taking on the miners, the unions... As far as I am concerned, she could have taken on anyone she wanted, if she could have done so without destroying the very fabric of British society. I think of all those workers going about saying -gi'us a job.

     We lost our industrial base during those years while she nurtured the money-men. London became a strutting city of illiterate money-mongers. The language of the media and newspapers changed, as money became the biggest news of all. Today we know what happened to that unrestrained greed and how it has affected ordinary people. I don't call them working class - where is the work for them?

     Thatcher , the milk snatcher, charged ahead, blinkers on, knocking down all industry in her wake. The mines went, the motor industry went, the steel went... British people are some of the most original and inventive in the world, but they now have to take their patents to the  United States to see them developed. We are too busy counting money.

     Thatcher had no regard for the South African black people who were being trampled by the Apartheid regime. She thought the ANC were terrorists and she cosied up to the Prime Minister of South Africa. And we are supposed to honour her with a state funeral? For that alone she should be relegated to the ranks of the unfeeling despots. And she was a despot - ask her cabinet and they will say that in private. After all, they got rid of her eventually, not the public.

     I am sorry to hear the Queen will honour her by participating in her funeral - what a sham! I wonder which Adviser takes the credit for that piece of hypocrisy.

     The celebrations in Bristol and Glasgow make me sad. Nobody's death should be celebrated. But I wonder: is it because of the exaggerated eulogising that is happening since yesterday.

     I feel sorry for Margaret Thatcher as a person. Dying in the Ritz Hotel. Oh Boy. I hope someone she loved was with her.


     

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Uninvited Guests

Immigration is in the forefront of news these days, parties vying with each other to prove to the paranoid majority that their policy is the most constructive - or destructive depending on which side of the population class/ line you are standing.

     Uninvited guests - what do they have to do to find favour, to be accepted?

     This was brought home to me forcefully when I got a fault in my boiler recently. The gas engineers come and go: 'Not much wrong with it,' they say. 'It's working, innit?' I am not convinced, so yet again I do a call-out.

     This time the guy who comes has a half-Chinese look, and a name to match. But his English is faultless and the accent pure East End. Second generation, I think. I sit on the hall chair waiting for him to come out in five minutes, dust his hands and ask me to sign the call-out slip. The boiler was working, so he could get away if he was so inclined.

     I had a cup of tea while I waited, read the previous day's Guardian, looked at my mail, had another cup of tea. Mmm. ??? I peered into the boiler area.

     The object had been completely dismantled, its innards spilling out over the utility room floor around the engineer. He spent hours with spanner and screw-driver coaxing it to do better. Off and on he went to his laptop to take readings. Then he went upstairs in search of the hot water system and the controls there. He fiddled for another half hour and fixed a valve that had jammed. He then called down to my daughter to put the thermostat up and down several times till he was certain the instrument communicated well.

     Then he came down and explained to me, in some detail, what he had been doing. I was amazed at his discipline and thoroughness.
     'The horrors of immigration,' my daughter said as he left. He hadn't learned the quick-exit methods. He was still carrying his newcomer's desire to impress.

     I thought of myself in this connection: when I worked in projects for the British Council I had a reputation for being the only Adviser who met deadlines. Other Advisers looked at me pityingly for this serious professional flaw - dead lines were meant to be ignored, weren't they? And why was I bucking the trend? Didn't I have anything better to do? Well, there was that too. I was a bit of a joke.

     Yet - I had come from a country where, if I slipped, there would be thousands to step into my shoes. I had to keep to the rules.

     I worked for the North Thames Gas Board briefly when I first landed in the UK. Fifty-nine pence for an hour, I was paid, and if I did well, I could be trained for a managerial role. God forbid - by the third day, I was fed up of connections and disconnections, of bills paid or in arrears. In my room at the lodgings, I had a gas meter, which ate 50p coins. Almost an hour's wage for three hours of heating. In my head also there was a serious disconnection.

     But times were good - there were plenty of jobs for the young - or even the not-so-young like me. At the big table where I fielded phone calls I was flanked by two Cambridge graduates. They were killing time till they decided how to save the world. This was 1974 and the world even then needed a quick save.

     Periodically they asked me to slow down with my files. 'You are showing us up,' one of them said. 'You work too fast.' So I took a Maths book in to read and when the supervisor was looking elsewhere. I caught up on the new Maths, which I hoped to teach. The floor manageress asked me to join the managerial trainees for the next year. I kept my head down and spent a lot of time hiding from her among the basement filing cabinets.

     Even then I knew: as an outsider I had to work twice as hard just to tread water. And so it is still with all the uninvited guests.

     
     

     

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Terrorist Governments.


The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Mr Rajapakse, clearly thinks he is on the up-and-up. And why not? He is visiting India soon, I hear, and no doubt, our very polite Prime Minister, Singh, he of the great mind (Isn't that what Manmohan means?) will fete him and  discuss mutual issues with him, including Sri Lanka and the Tamils there.

     I hope Mr Singh remembers all the events just before the civil war ended in the North of Sri Lanka.There were gruesome pictures and videos on Channel 4, but Rajapakse firmly believes that is just Channel Four’s obsession. Not worth engaging with the Press about. After all what did the Press know? They were firmly and cleverly kept at bay from where the action was: the murders, the mass killings in shallow graves, the women and children randomly destroyed in many inventive ways.

     Now I don't need Channel 4 to tell me what happens in Sri Lanka when the Singhalese go amok. I lived there for five years, part of the time in Jaffna, which was a friendly and peaceful place then.

     In early 1958, I was expecting my first child and living in the annexe of a palatial house in Cinnamon gardens. The owners had sectioned off the two ends of the house as two separate flats. A young English couple lived at one end and we at the other. Life was dull and predictable.

     But not for long. One day, without warning, my husband, Balan, rushed home from work early. He was trembling and in shock.
     ‘They beat Muni Aiyah up, no men!’ he stammered. ‘Rocked his car up and down and burnt it too.’
     Muni Aiyah was his long term colleague at Walker Sons, where they worked in the Engineering Department.
     
     Muni Aiyah, he said, had been lucky to escape with his life. Singhalese young men were out in force trawling for Tamils in the bus stand area near the Fort. Balan spoke fluent Singhalese, having been born in Ceylon. But, not being a Buddhist, he couldn’t recite the holy Singhalese jathas. This was the test they used to separate Singhalese from others. And I had no more than a dozen words in Singhalese.
   
   ‘I parked my car behind the building by chance, so I escaped,’ Balan said.
    
     After the weekend the engineers at Walker Sons crawled back to work with some trepidation. Muni Aiyah was at his desk. Apparently he said, ‘After being in Malaya during the Japanese occupation, I thought I had seen all the random cruelty I would see in a life time. Now this.’
     
     Tamils were beaten up and tortured wherever they were found in the way of those mad young men. I stopped wearing a pottu on my forehead as it would mark me as non-Singhalese. Tamil women wore pottus. I also stopped going out to the shopping areas in Pettah, and Balan shopped nearer home in the tiny Victoria store.
   
    Tamil refugees were gathered together in the huge playing fields of the Royal College and stayed there for months.
     
     By the time my son was born the ‘troubles’ had stopped. The government (Are governments terrorists sometimes?) did not take much notice of the events and the Tamils did not retaliate. It would be years before the victims organised themselves and put up a fight. They had a reputation for being ambitious for their children. They shone in the academic field and kept their heads down. Not unlike the Jews of Europe before Hitler. And they were famous for being non-violent.
     
     Now the Commonwealth Heads of State are planning to meet this year in Colombo. Rajapakse will strut with pride and all the atrocities will be nicely subsumed in the excellent Singhalese food and celebrations at the meet. How do the rest of the world swallow this?
     
     Recently I came across several novels written by Roma Tearne, who came to England from Sri Lanka as a ten-year-old.. They are all about the punishment the Tamils took at the hands of the Singhalese army. Young men were kidnapped by Tamil Tigers as well, to disappear forever in the killing-forests of the war zones.
    
     Every Tamil who could afford to, left Sri Lanka never to return. At one shot they lost their families, their country, their culture and their pride. And they lost the sun and the sea, which they had lived with all their lives. A holocaust of a kind.
    
     I know too many personal tragedies amongst my friends not to take this already forgotten war seriously. Roma Tearne brings back to me the sights and the smells, the feel of that lovely island. I remember the food, the beaches, the rain and the extravagant plant and animal life. And I remember the people, both Singhalese and Tamil, who welcomed me into their lives.
   
     When will the Tamils find their deliverance? Or will the war start all over again when the Tamils re-organise and put their considerable resources of intellect and wealth to reek revenge?
     
     The very least we could do is refuse to hold/ attend the Commonwealth Conference in Colombo.