Rolling Back the Years – A Story of Hope

ELIJAH HOOLE

I remember this song. No! In fact I know this song. ‘Annan Ennada? Thambi Ennada?’ A song from the black-and-white days – a song that explores relationships in a materialistic world.  A song Thilahan sang for a school assembly, once upon a time.  Indeed, so much has happened since then. Here I am an old man of sixty, relaxing under the shades of The Mango Tree.  This tree hasn’t changed much – it is the same old mighty tree from forty-years ago, but I have changed; my sight has weakened, hair has grayed and I have become a weary old man.  This tree and this song my Sony radio is currently playing, bring back memories – man’s greatest possession.  Memories of my childhood, memories of my school days, memories of Thilahan – my best friend, memories from those good times.

morning greetings

People know me, now, as Jahubar Nana.  I was brought up by my parents in the ways of Koran, and I have lived as a good Muslim my entire life.  But, being a good Muslim did not prevent me from being friends with Tamils.  My best friend Thilahan is a Tamil Hindu.  Back then, Kayanagar was a paradise.  It didn’t matter to which religion we belonged to, it did not matter to which ethnicity we belonged to; the only thing that mattered was our character.  We were friends, and we were brothers. But, life soon changed.

In the Year 1990, my family, along with all other Muslims of Kayanagar, was forced into exile from the village by the LTTE.  We left the village heavy-hearted, leaving behind a life worth dying for and taking along nothing but sorrows, disappointment, frustration and regret.  We ended up in Puttlam. Jahubar-Displaced-Nana.  The only good thing about Puttlam was our house, which provided us with abundant face talc – the bamboo poles that supported the roof would, during the course of the night, send torrents of dust particles.  Each day, for twenty years, our lives began with the same exercise: dusting ourselves free of bamboo specks.  Life was terrible.  We were economically, mentally and physically feeble.  I had lost contact with Thilahan and his family and with the rest of Kayanagar.

One sole purpose kept me alive throughout those difficult times: returning back to Kayanagar and reliving those good days. Insha Allah, I resolved to return the moment the war was over. On the 15th of May 2010, it happened.  I arrived in Kayanagar with my family – wife and four children, with no assurance of support and with virtually zero knowledge on what had happened and was happening in the village.  I met my best friend on arrival and got to know of the life and times of Thilahan.  Previous years had treated Thilahan and his family dreadfully – shells, multi barrel firing, and displacement after displacement.  His gods had brought him and each of his family unscathed.  We were glad for each other and said our prayers in silence.  Many other friends from those days came to know of my return and visited me. We shared our stories, our feelings and spent many a moment in mutual silence.  Following my return, many Kayanagar Muslims in Puttlam slowly started coming back.  Over the months, many of the original Tamil villagers, who were initially reluctant, too, have arrived.  The village, the Kayanagar I knew, is slowly taking life, once again.

During our school days, to Thilahan and I, The Mango Tree was the usual rendezvous spot.  We would gather under the tree and stone down mangoes before eating it with salt and chili masala paste.  Today, our daughters Thaharah and Nimesha meet under it.  Though their aim is nowhere close to our standards, every time I see them beneath the shades of The Mango Tree my heart is, always, imbued with a feeling that’s beyond explanation – a mix of pride, happiness, glee, everything, every good feeling man has ever come across.  It’s even more heartening to see our young bathing, playing and swimming in the same ponds and rivers as we used to during our days of youth.  Even the smell of soil is becoming more familiar, by the day.

*Kayanagar is a small village in the District of Mannar.

 

Elijah Hoole in his own words : 

I was born in Mannar and lived in Mannar for 18 of the 20 years of my life. Now I’m involved with SLU as a junior team member and also working for ZOA a Dutch NGO as a trainee. I have always stood for a united Sri Lanka since my childhood.  I love photography and guitar.

 

The Never Again series will look at Srilankans both in Sri Lanka and living in the Diaspora who are agents of transformation and who are willing to engage with communities in their own country and in Sri Lanka to prevent a return to conflict. iSrilankan will share their journey motivated by love for their people and guided by good sense in this post-confict societal transition.

 

Comments

  1. Lovely write-up!

    Congratulations to the young writer for capturing the story with such maturity and deftness!

    Brings alive the poignancy of a man, cut off from his roots and his joy in being able to take root again, back ‘home.’
    The anguish of being uprooted is something many of us Sri Lankans can relate to. Whether we’ve found our way back home or not, we can all rejoice in the joy of Juahubar Nana.

    May God bless him and his family!

  2. A simple story of heavy realities… heartening to see youth like Elijah’s interest and engagement!

  3. A moving, inspirational story by a very perceptive and skilful young author. We need more of these. With young people of Elijah’s calibre there is hope for a brighter future for Sri Lanka! And congratulations to SLU for the good work they are doing in nurturing youth leaders like Elijah.

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