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They buried his soul & destroyed his paintings in July 1983

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(July 24, 2014, Bradford UK, Sri Lanka Guardian ) He drove the motorbike onto the lawn, removed the hubcap, set it on fire and jumped out. He wore a school uniform. My father’s 300 paintings which were his treasured lifetime work were burning. Some of them took nearly ten years to complete and my forefinger and thumb were his model for St Cecilia who is the patron saint of music.

To this day I thank the Lord he died before he saw his treasures go up in flames during the July riots of 1983. He never sold one single painting since he thought it was vulgar to sell art and he lived for art and art alone.

I still remember his canvas he prepared on the wall in Jaffna stretching to well over 20 feet where he reproduced Michaelangelo’s Agony and Ecstasy, the depiction of Lord’s creation. It took him almost five years to complete the mural. I stood beside him mixing turpentine with oil paints and handing out different size brushes. He had this huge ceramic paint box with oil and acryllic paints and a host of carbon pencils for black and white sketches. God forbid if you placed the brushes in the wrong order.

Fancy Palace run by my classmate’s father in Jaffna, Mr Mohideen, made his frames according to his stringent requirements.

My father’s friends were an eclectic mix. Sivagnasundaram of Darling Damoderan cartoon fame in Sirithiran and Veerakesari, Duke Mama, the excise inspector, who smoked cigarette from a slender fashionable holder, Ramani Mama who did sculptures on the portico with my father in cement, Edwin Uncle the Communist who did nothing but talk politics until lunch is served and Rajaratnam Mama who took our photographs with his old box camera were frequent visitors to our house mostly because my mother gave them sumptuous meals consisting of fowls, crabs and prawns during the weekends.

Mr Ranasinghe, art inspector for the South, W.J.G Beiling, chief inspector of art, Bongso Jayah, L.S.S. Perera who was one of my godfathers at baptism, Mr Udugama from the department of education were visitors during school holidays with their families at our home in Manipay.

I did not mind other possessions being set on fire but watching my father’s lifetime work go up in flames would make me what I am today. This is to not let another Black July or allow Sinhala racists deprive us of our dignity. I chose journalism over LTTE militancy although I was very much tempted by the latter.
I have already written about how we were rendered homeless once our house was looted in Nugegoda on July 24, but never again will we allow racists to bully minorities be they Tamils, Muslims or Burghers.

Tamil diaspora across the world are coming home to their traditional homeland and take possession of their properties pilfered by the marauding armed forces set up by the government and this time round their tenacity and resilience cannot match the boorish and brutal behaviour of the ruling government which is increasingly becoming side-lined by its own supporters. The resistance will come from within the government and the international community which could easily upseat the government. Its allies are human rights violators such as Belarus, China and Russia among others. When UNHRC probe concludes backdating to July 1983 the government would have been cornered good and proper.

Tamils are eagerly awaiting redress.

(The writer has been a journalist for 25 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at thevanayagampearl@yahoo.co.uk)

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