Shelagh Goonewardene nee Jansen has a background in drama as well as literary and aesthetic productions. Resident in Melbourne for quite some time she has been an active participant in the Ceylon Society of Australia and sustained exchanges with such well known people as Ernest MacIntyre, playwright and theatre producer, and Neville Weereratne, painter and outstanding designer of books. She also has links with literary circles in Lanka and is at present visiting the island.
I got to know Shelagh after she married Ranjit Goonewardene, a childhood playmate when I was at Pedlar Street within the Fort in Galle, Ranjit’s family moved to Colombo; but he was at Peradeniya University in my time and we remained in intermittent contact over the years. Ranjit died tragically and unexpectedly during a heart operation in Melbourne.
What a blow for Shelagh! Worse still, a decade or so later, their daughter Devika, one bright lass on course for a Ph.D, was struck down by cancer. Having the searing blows of sudden death ripping through her life, Shelagh was in a space where my essay on “Death and Eternal Life” evoked chords of a type that many of us may never experience. More to the point, she was reminded of her response in poetic free verse when she heard the news in May 2009 that both Velupillai Pirapāharan and his immediate family were no more. With her permission I present her musings in verse together with a relevant segment of her covering email note to me in July. Michael Roberts
SHELAGH to MICHAEL, 18 July 2011: “….I wonder whether there are historians writing now who analyse why modern warfare seems to kill more civilians than soldiers. It would be a compelling subject to research. Anyway, regardless of what happened in the past and so much bad as well as good being done by human beings to each other, when the final pictures of the virtually naked leader of the LTTE were shown on TV here as the war ended in Sri Lanka, I could only feel that he would have wanted to die as you describe, fighting to the last and perhaps not even recognized — but more than thinking about him I thought about his family. Everyone needs to be viewed with compassion however bad they might have been or whatever awful crimes they have committed – but the fact that this man had a family whom he loved in his own way is something that people very rarely think about. Here is
my spontaneous response, a poem I wrote at that time.”
THE PRINCES AND PRINCESS OF NOWHERE
How tragic is the fate of the children of tyrants
Of kings deposed with hatred and fear
By those whom they ruled or opposed savagely.
The deaded names spread far and near
For their children there is no escape
Caught in the net of infamy,
Doomed to struggle like helpless birds
Never to fly freely from the parental nest.
Charles Anthony was the Leader’s eldest son
In command of the group ordered to fight to the last
In the final failed strategy of a three-pronged force
To break free from the encircling Army.
Duvaraga, the only daughter belonged to a women’s brigade.
They say she was exceptionally beautiful,
an accomplished dancer.
But now to obey her father she became an anonymous soldier
In battle fatigues armed with a rifle.
Balachandran was the youngest son
Just eleven years old and accustomed to good things.
But now his life ends before it really begins
A tragedy which his father’s hubris brings.
What of the mother Madhivadham Erambu?
Once an eager student seeking knowledge until fate intervened
Bringing a marriage the consequences of which
could not be foreseen.
She is now dead, her body lying close to that of Duvaraga
The Princess of Nowhere and Balachandran her youngest son.
Who fired the fatal shots that lodged in their heads?
The other Prince of Nowhere Charles Anthony
who engaged in battle is also dead.
We may never know the truth of how they died,
but is it important?
Some will say ”yes” and some will say ”no”
Let them rest now in peace in the soil of home
as their earthly beds.