Parable of large dog and 10 cats applies to current Jaffna scenario

By Professor Shelton Gunaratne

(April 25, Washington, Sri Lanka Guardian) As the defeat of the Tamil Tigers by the Sri Lankan armed forces looms, I am reminded of the simple story that Jaffna-native Kalyani told her American-born niece Yalini, the narrator of the 2008 novel Love Marriage:

Imagine that you are in a room, and there are ten cats and one large dog.
They are fighting.
Who will win?
The dog, of course.
She nods: right, right.

The cats are smaller. Of course in the end they will lose. They will die. But they will do everything they can to hurt the dog before they are killed. They will do so much damage as possible. This is what the Tigers are doing. (p. 155)

Perhaps this parable illustrates the typical thinking of the simple Jaffna natives (though not of the Westward-ho Tamil Diaspora) on the three decades of conflict between the government (“large dog”) and the Tigers (“ten cats”). The rehabilitated people of the North will accept the arrogant Tigers’ defeat as a matter of course, and adjust themselves to living peaceably with the “large dog,” who has been under the continuing surveillance of the King of the Jungle (the International Community) to whom the backers of the “ten cats” (Tamil Diaspora) have appealed.

Almost one year ago, I reviewed the autobiographical novel Love Marriage by V. V. Ganeshananthan, and published by Random House, for the Asian Tribune (May 19, 2008). I described Ganeshananthan as “a 20-something woman of Sri Lankan Tamil origin born and raised in the United States.” As the narrator of the novel, she appears as Yalini (born 1983), the daughter of Murali, a doctor from Ariyalai (east of Jaffna), and Vani, a nursery teacher from Ureli (north of Jaffna) who met in New York City and went against Jaffna tradition by marrying for love.

Those inclined towards semiotics could read the text of this novel so as to unravel a good deal of insight about the nature and composition of the Tamil Diaspora now settled in North America, the European Union, Norway and the Oceania (collectively identified as the affluent West). Now that he Tamil Diaspora in Toronto, London, Paris, Oslo, Sydney and other cities have taken up the cudgels for the losing Tigers (in greater vehemence than the hollow concerns of the Indian Tamils in Chennai and Kuala Lumpur), it becomes doubly important to try this semiotic exercise.

Who are these demonstrators? Interconnected by modern communication technologies, are all of the Tamil Diaspora equally united in providing their money power, brainpower and manpower to resuscitate the arrogant ideology of the “ten cats” who preferred to die or be captured rather than surrender (except for a few like Daya Master and George Master) thereby causing the unnecessary death and destruction of many unwilling Jaffna natives?

The novel makes it clear that Murali and Vani, who had migrated to the United States in the 1970s anticipating the impending ethnic mayhem during the next decade, represent the typical first-generation diaspora. They tried to avoid violence, and did not approve Tiger terrorism.

On the other hand, the Tiger element of the diaspora is represented by Vani’s older brother Kumaran who had joined the Tigers under the spell of Nadarajan (Prabhakaran?) and Victor Rajadurai (Anton Balasingham?). Kumaran, a London-educated engineer, had disappeared into the Wanni, his wheeabouts unknown to his kith and kin for two decades, until the Tigers allowed him to come to Toronto to spend his dying days with his sister’s family. Kumaran was dying of brain cancer. He brought his daughter Janani, a Tiger herself as was her dead mother, to give her in arranged marriage to Suthan, a Tiger fund raiser and drug dealer in Scarborough, the little Jaffna of Toronto.

Again, as Yalini gathers from Kumaran (who confesses, on page 263, without remorse that he “killed people,” also “trained to kill people,” and sometimes he “even liked it”):

I think that the Tigers thought of themselves as a private army, the army of a people without a nation, that perhaps they thought of themselves like the Japanese kamikaze pilots of World War II, who flew suicide missions and knew that that was what they were. (p. 164)

The third element of the diaspora is represented by Yalini and the other children of the first generation diaspora. Educated in their adopted countries, they do not know much about the history of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. How far does the conflict go back? Depends on “who[m] you are asking,” answers Yalini. And none of the stories would be absolutely complete although their tellers would be absolutely certain.

My mother [Vani] herself would tell you that it began when she was ten. In the anti-Tamil riots of 1958, when she was visiting Colombo. They were on a road of Tamils, in Wellawatte. But one Sinhalese family lived there too. When they heard the mob coming, they shut their Tamil friends in their house, to wait in the quiet and the cool and the dark for the end. (p. 120)

Vani shows that the first-generation diaspora has some degree of sympathy for the Sinhalese. Moreover, Yalini, who belongs to the second-generation diaspora, takes pride in pointing out some of her Sinhalese connections. For example, we also learn that Neelan, Yalini’s paternal uncle (i.e., Murali’s older brother by twenty years) has been married to Nirosha, a Sinhalese woman, whom he met in Colombo while he was studying for his medical degree. In Britain, Kumaran himself had been a friend of Muttiah, “who later married into the family of the current president of Sri Lanka” (p. 210). In Scarborough, Kumaran receives visits from a classmate from his days as a student in Jaffna, Lakshman, who is married to Sinhalese woman, Lalitha, who refuses to visit Kumaran because the “Tigers killed her father about ten years ago” (p. 146).

Yet Yalini, just like other second-generation Tamils in the Diaspora, is not a typical North American kid. Her parents have imparted to her a high dose of the culture of Jaffna. Her opinions are shaped by those of her parents, as well as the Tiger elements within the diaspora. She appears to believe that the Tamil Diaspora was the outcome of systematic discrimination by the Sinhalese. She consistently conveys the Tamils’ attachment to Sri Lanka.

My reading of the novel indicates why so many young Tamils have been taking part in Tamil diaspora demonstrations. They have had a Western education upholding the virtues of individualism and rights, and they have been influenced by the imbalanced propaganda of the active Tiger elements both within and outside the Diaspora.

The foregoing semiotic analysis leads to the conclusion that the “large dog” must reach out to establish credibility among the younger generation of the Diaspora lest they become perpetual carriers of the “ten cats” ideology. And this can be best done by sheer example: that is, by adhering to the Buddhist principles of the majority and providing equal rights for all citizens of Si Lanka in the most transparent manner as possible.

At the end of the novel, Yalini makes it very clear that an Arranged Marriage will be out of the question for her. She speaks for all Sri Lankan American born and raised in the Diaspora:

But although we are the children of our parents, we have entered other countries in which the rules of Marriage ... do not always apply. (p. 284)

The old ways of governance are getting to be outdated as much as the institution of Arranged Marriage. The Diaspora may never return to the domain of the “large dog,” but their voice can provoke the King of the Jungle to take stern action. The old rules are of little concern to the Diaspora children, but the “large dog” must leave no room for them to clamor for action.

(The writer is professor of mass communications emeritus at Minnesota State University Moorhead.)
-Sri Lanka Guardian