Never Again: “Tyre Daala Meruwe !!” (they burnt em with tyres).

Black july

GAYA FERNANDO
 

Thirty Year Remembrance July 23,1983

 
I was only 11. I didn’t know much about that day or how it began. The sun shone I am sure cos it wasn’t raining. My school shoes were not wet or soaking. I guess I was being told that morning that they hoped that I would have done well at the Shishyathwaya or the Grade 5 scholarship exam for which I had being given extra tuition in Sinhala for a year. Am sure many other Tamil children my age were being told the same thing that morning.
 
As the day went on in a quiet side of Moratuwa where there was no burning, no one said anything to me, No. 6 in the family.
 
As I went next door to play I was shocked to see the father of the children. Wimalasiri Uncle as we used to call him, who rang the bell at church every Sunday and was such a strong person to me, sitting in his customary chair but rocking back and forth and wailing throwing his hands into the air. I still remember how he looked and he had forgotten to wear his usual banyan or shirt and was bare-chested. “Tire daala pichchuwe… unwa meruwa… mata nawaththanna beri wuna…. Aney Deiyane ai unwa meruwe…ee” ( They burnt em with tyres. They were killed… I couldn’t stop them… Oh God why did they kill them like that???”
 
There were no explanations given for my sister coming late at night from HSBC where she worked and looking like she had been in an accident or something. It was getting weirder and weirder. My brother Shermy was darker-skinned and had been going to the bank with the money from the company he worked for. “Umba Demalayek nedha? ( you are a tamil, aren’t you?) He had been asked as he had zig zagged on his motorbike through the burning capital of Colombo.
 
Uncle Myla short for Mylvaganam managed to make it to ours. He stayed for a while and then migrated to Australia eventually. Our neighbours kept in their homes a family whose car was parked in our back garden so as not to identify their whereabouts to anyone even on a little backroad. Such was the lack of trust after the burning.
 
Women scaled walls in sarees or tried to.
 
A friend of mine later told me a strange story: He had lived in Borella in a line of houses that had been set on fire. He is a Sinhalese. Their home caught fire and burnt to the ground along with other homes. They were taken to a relative’s home and their parents came over with a few belongings they had saved. I remember standing in the garage of my aunt’s home with my older sister he said the day after the burning. “A band of sarong-clad thugs came to the garage as they were looting what they could and barked a question at my sister. I was terrified. She grabbed a “manne” or machete from the garage and shrieked to the men to stand back and not to touch our things. I was behind her. I could see her face. I had never seen that look on her face. I never thought she could do something like that. I don’t think she knew she could either. It changed us forever. We felt as though we were Tamils. I never really felt like a Sinhalese since. When I worked in London they protested saying I was a Tiger-sympathiser and that I should be sacked from my job. I don’t give a damn. I am not a Tiger-sympathiser or any other label. I knew what it meant to be Tamil that day. It changed me forever”.
 
******
We got our results late that year for the Shishyathwaya as the marking was late on account of the riots and I passed. Am sure many other little Tamil children my age passed that year very well as we had already sat for the exam by July 23. It had been the next big thing on our parents’ mind: where we would go to school next year 1984 as twelve year olds in Upper School and begin the journey towards the O Levels and grow into brilliant young men and women in a country where everything seemed possible.
 

Comments

  1. “In a country where everything seemed possible”… that sums it all up for Sri Lanka… Everything WAS possible… and that potential was destroyed!

  2. Rifkha Roshanaara says:

    Very touching Gaya ! I still believe ‘it’s a country where everything is possible’ !

  3. Navin Weeraratne says:

    The riots of 83 are no reason to be ashamed of being ‘Sinhalese’. Every race has its share of wicked and opportunistic people, and in Sri Lanka, they are able to take advantage of the insecurities and vulnerbilities of a general public that is lagely uneducated, and hence easy to manipulate. Our identity has been stolen and redefined by a few, so what we really need is for more Sinhalese to stad up, and proudly own the meaning of what being Singhalese is, as was demonstrated by the many, many, many Sinhalese who protected their Tamil brothers and sisters during those vicious riots. Anyone who says you’re not Sinhalese, when you stand up for what’s right, is an imposter trying to own your heritage – don’t let them define our parents and grandparents.

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