Remember the story of S?
After months of mine clearance this area was ready for the first families to start returning. The resettlement began at the tail end of 2010 and this week I went back to see how it was progressing. The change to the area is absolutely unbelievable…
After having a drive around I stopped and got out my car to take a closer look at a couple of guys forging through thick vegetation on the oldest looking tractor I have ever seen with a look of sheer determination on their faces!
As I stood there an old man on a bicycle approached me.
“Good morning madam” he addressed me in perfect English. “Good morning I replied”.
“What are you doing”, he asked – a perfectly reasonable question I suppose seen as how not many white women come up into these parts.
Momentarily taken aback by his fluency in English, I explained my job and that we had just done mine clearance in the area so I was coming back to check progress. He solemnly informed me that he was from this area and 20 years ago had been displaced during the fighting. He asked would I like to see his house.
“Absolutely”, I told him. I jumped in my car and tailed him a few hundred metres down the track.
Then he told me his story…
VK is 72 years old, married for more than 50 years he has 3 grown up children. Before the war they all lived together in this house built in 1931 by his grandfather.
They led a very comfortable life. His father was a successful businessman who travelled all over South Asia for his work. He often returned with exotic and exciting gifts from his travels and many times brought mango saplings back to plant in their garden.
Plentiful trees in your garden are particularly important out here, not only can the fruit be sold to generate an income but equally important is the shade the trees provide during the long hot summers.
Over the years VK’s father brought back more than 10 different varieties of mango tree and before long had negotiated to sell as many mangoes as they could grow, every year making $500 just from the fruit growing in their garden.
Over the years VK’s father died and his own family grew up in the house. VK opened a shop and the mango trees continued to flourish.
In 1990 the war intensified in this area and the entire family was hurriedly forced to grab what they could carry and flee their home. Leaving pretty much everything behind, VK locked one room in his house (the prayer room) and fled.
Having spent the next 20 years moving constantly and mostly living with relatives, last month VK was told he could return to his land.
Needless to say after 20 years the contents have all but gone, the roof remains over just 2 of the rooms and his shop is just a shell. But VK has hope and determination.
Each morning he takes the 1 hour bus ride north, collects his bicycle from a relative’s house close by and cycles up to his property. He has hired some labourers to help him cut through the thick vegetation and start repairing the house.
Keen to show me his house we pushed our way through the vegetation along a secret path he has created behind his shop – so the thieves can’t find their way in and steal from him he tells me – as we walked around the destroyed rooms as he pointed out what was the kitchen, the bedroom and the prayer room (amazingly still locked!)
He is too old now he told me to run his shop but he plans to rebuild their home and eventually the family will return. I asked him was he sad about the state of the house and he told me he expected after so long away that little would remain but the thing he was most saddened by was that all but 1 of his father’s mango trees had been cut down for firewood.
“What will we do for shade in the summer now?” he asked.
He pointed to the coconut trees telling me that right now there are no coconuts because all the people moved away. Thinking he meant because no-one had been looking after the trees he said no, it’s because they need to hear the people’s voices before they grow coconuts. I must have looked completely bemused as he smiled and just said…“you’ll see when the people return and the trees hear their voices, they will start to bear fruit once more”.
This was once a bedroom… There’s a lot of work to be done to restore this beautiful house to its former glory but VK is determined.
There is a lot of work to be done here, it will be expensive and VK is not exactly a young man! When I asked him why does he not simply remain in the new house they live in down in the south of Jaffna he told me he will come back because this was his father’s house and before that his grandfather’s house.
He wants to die here so his soul can rest here, just like his father and grandfather have done before him.