Niromi’s “Tamil Tigress” deemed a Work of Fiction?

Arun Ambalavanar, courtesy of the srilankaguardian web site,

The memoir penned by Niromi de Soyza calls herself a Tamil Tigress published by Allen & Unwin inAustralia seems to be a fake. A critical reading of the book establishes that the author is a foreigner to the subject the Tamil Tigers and the landscape (Jaffnapeninsula and the adjacent the Wanni jungles). The author writing under the pseudonym Niromi de Soyza does not reveal her true identity. She claims that she joined the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1987 when she was barely 17 years of age and had been a Tamil tigress for nearly a year. Born in Kandy to a Jaffna Tamil Christian father and an upcountry Hindu Tamil mother she was supposedly sent toJaffnawhen she was 9 years old to stay with her paternal grandmother and her mother and her little sister followed her a few months later. In 1988 she left the movement, continued her secondary education in an exclusive private high school in India and later moved to Sydneyas a tertiary student, she further claims. The memoir is purportedly an account of her life from 1978 to her parting with the LTTE in 1988.

What however raises doubts of her credibility is the innumerable factual errors that the memoir contains. To just list a few:She mentions an engineering faculty inJaffna University. To this dayJaffnauniversity has no Engineering faculty.(See Pg 177)

 She implies the senior Tiger leader Bashir Kaka was a Muslim. Actually he is a Hindu and the name Bashir Kaka is only his nom de guerre. (Pg112)

She claims that as untrained and unarmed women she and her friend were sent to the frontline watch-post aroundJaffnafort. (pages 94-105) She writes that even before her military training began, as would-be trainees they were given cyanide capsules and firearms. (Pg 115) LTTE practices have been well-documented over the years and there is no evidence that such practices existed in the LTTE. The LTTE was known to hand over firearms to its cadres only after physical training and cyanide capsules were given only after cadets completed the training.

She writes TELO and PLOTE were ‘banned’ at the same time (Pg 48-49) Actually TELO was ‘banned’ in 1986 April and PLOTE months later. She also contradicts soon after in pages 50 and 51.

 She writes about the murder of St.John’s principal “Anandarajan” (Pg39-40). His real name is Anandarajah. For foreigners this may appear a minor mistake. This difference inJaffnais of much significance and no local would commit such a mistake.

The very first paragraph of the very first chapter of the book opens thus: “The air was sweetly pungent with the smell of ripening bananas and palmyrah fruit.” She experienced this in 1987 two days before Christmas. Palmyrah fruit is available inJaffnaonly in the Tamil venil kalam (Summer: June-July). Not in December which is the rainy season.

Narrative is like an accent. A ‘fake’ accent can be detected by natives and so also a ‘fake’ narrative. Niromi de Soyza characterises herself and a few of her Tiger friends as enlightened and critical of the Tigers’ policies and practices at times when they were still members of the LTTE. This is, to say the least, unrealistic. If they were enlightened in their late teens, as they claim they would have resisted joining a strictly fascist movement. The Tigers too would have been quick to detect their ‘enlightenment’ and kept them at bay. Tiger indoctrination, peer pressure, and internal spying and monitoring mechanisms of the movement would have kept them single-minded.

According to the book, while on military duty in the Jaffna University Niromi and her colleague witness the brutal torture of a suspected Tamil spy by the Tiger Deputy Mahathaya. Then Niromi’s colleague is described as being condemning of this. (Pg 174-5)

It has been made known that when a group of Tigers, including Pulendran and Kumarappa were detained in Palaly, it was Mahathaya and Anton Balasingham who visited them and secretly handed them fresh cyanide capsules. But in this book Niromy’s “boyfriend”, Roshan is supposed to have performed the task. Then Niromy discusses and analyzes as to whether it was a case of forced suicide by Prabhakaran. Such discussions and scenarios are impossible in the LTTE and can only have been written to appeal to an international readership.

 Indeed Niromy’s encounters and meetings with Tiger supremo Prabhakaran strike as singularly false. There is no account for Prabhakaran staying on after the failed aerial raid by the IPKF on theJaffnaUniversity. Yet, insists that Prabhakaran and his entourage continued their sharp shooting exercise on the premises. (Pg180)

The assertion that in mid-1987 Prabhakaran on a visit to Niromy’s training base invited the female cadres to join as ‘black tigers’ (Suicide bombers) and introduced one of his body guards as a black tiger, lacks conviction. It seems unlikely as Tigers were yet to test their female combat units in actual battle-field during the period. As a conservative, Prabhakaran had no high opinion of women’s combative abilities then. 

Prabhakaran personally delivering money to Niromy to purchase female Tiger clothes in a low security house soon after the war started with IPKF is extremely doubtful and even laughable (Pg167). Prabahakaran was an excellent manager who efficiently delegated tasks to proper departments. It is inconceivable to think that he would do something as described when his security was at great risk.

Prabhakaran was known for his reticence. He was indeed conscious of his weak male voice. His oratory skills were known to be poor and he very rarely gave speeches. Niromy however constructs Prabhakaran opposite to this as one who visited the new recruits and trainees regularly and often talked at length of his intentions, and expressed his anger. 

Neither is the story line very convincing. It is doubtful if any decentJaffnaman would leave his up country wife alone inJaffnaknowing well that she would be harshly treated by the racist Jaffnaites. Niromy’s father did not immediately return toJaffnafromDubaiwhen informed his elder female child had joined the Tigers. Surprising indeed!  

On two occasions author mentions that some junior Tiger units were involved in looting shops. Tiger leadership in order to maintain a strict discipline in their cadres never allowed these practices. (There is also the question: ‘Why should they loot in small scale while their leadership extorted Tamils in much larger scales?’ 

The author has written about the LTTE’s ritual oath. She did not “experience” the deadly departing ritual. When a Tamil Tiger’s notice to leave the movement is approved he/she is taken to a lonely place by the group leader and warned that “if he ever joined any other militant group or started a new group or informed about Tigers to the enemies the highest punishment of the LTTE the death sentence will be delivered. Understood?”

There are more slips. Roshan her boyfriend sends her first aid kit and sandwiches. (Pg.180). Sandwich is alien toJaffnacuisine. Bakeries do not produce sandwich bread. Few times ‘sugary tea’ is mentioned. Of course, it may be sugary for the foreigners but not for the locals.  

Niromy’s use of the language also exposes her lack of familiarity with the milieu. InJaffnavernacular, the word or term equivalent to boyfriend did not exist in the mid eighties. Words like lover, my man, my person, love, my woman were familiar but not ‘boyfriend’. However, the writer uses the word ‘boyfriend’ numerous times. Thileepan when handing over firearms to the new recruits supposedly told them: “Treat them like your boyfriends” (Pg 116). In reality Thileepan would not have used this language as the practice was not encouraged by the Jaffna society and the LTTE outfit as both were puritanical. 

 She goes to extraordinary levels to identify with the locals by providing Tiger slangs like Thahadu, Thundu . The most used popular swear words in Jaffna vernacular are cunt and son/s of a cunt.(Poondai, poondaimakan, poondaimakkal) But she sprinkles the narrative with the words ‘fuck’ and ‘motherfucker’ which are not common Jaffna swear words. 

She mentions fig trees (pg 251) lantana bushes (Pgs 229,233). These are generic names (genus) and not the specific name. In the subcontinent the word used is banyan not fig. Fig in Sri Lankan English implies only the biblical/Mediterranean fig. Lantana is not native of Jaffna and does not exist. 

 She uses the words ‘brick’ a few times. Brick stones are very rare in Jaffna and the building block used instead is concrete stone. There is no mention of ‘concrete’ however.

In the photos section not a single photo of Niromi de Soyza is provided. The sketch claimed as drawn by Murali could have been a simple fake. In one photo Niromi’s sister and her father are seen in front of their brick house. Niromi claims it was her house in Jaffna in 1985. I dispute the authenticity. Brick houses are almost non-existent in Jaffna. The hat worn by her father is foreign to Jaffna. It is highly unlikely that this picture was taken in Jaffna.

The author has written this book after extensive research no doubt, but unfortunately with stolen identities and stolen narratives. Numerous books are being and have been published on Tamil Tigers. In addition, vast amount of information on the LTTE is available on the web. Since the book is written two years after the demise of the LTTE, she seems to have ample time and easy access to former female tigresses under Sri Lankan custody whose narratives she seems to have adopted as her own. 

 The author could well release her real identity, so her association with LTTE can be checked.

 That the book is based on contemporary research becomes clear from the following: 

She writes that the LTTE fought the Indian Army (IA) the world’s second largest army (Pg165). Actually in 1987-1989 IA was world’s fourth largest Army. Now since the breakup ofUSSR, IA is categorized as the second largest Army.

She writes that people from Mannar trace their ancestry to East Africa. A very wild claim, perhaps from too much of research.

 (Arun Ambalavanar also known by his pen name Nadchathran Chev-Inthiyan a Tamil poet and reviewer live in Sydney.)



Filed under historical interpretation, life stories, LTTE, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, suicide bombing, Tamil migration, unusual people

7 responses to “Niromi’s “Tamil Tigress” deemed a Work of Fiction?

  1. padraigcolman

    An exhaustive exegesis. The information about Tamil swear words was very interesting but possibly dangerous for me. I must force myself to forget what I have learnt!

  2. Pingback: Another Demidenko? Niromi de Soyza as a Tiger Fighter | Thuppahi's Blog

  3. Kumar

    I am writing in response to the review by Arun Ambalavanar on ” Tamil Tigress” written by Niromi De Soyza, published by the Sri Lanka Guardian recently.

    I had some reservation about the book ‘Tamil Tigress’ written by Niromi De Soyza so I watched the video published by Allen and Unwin Australia on Youtube about the book and I later purchased online to read the book. It is beautifully written and gives a clear understanding of the issues with a high degree of integrity. I realized I had wrongly judged the book by its cover.

    It is one of the books published by a former child soldier who is reformed and who contributes back to the country from which she migrated to Australia, and to the voiceless people back in Sri Lanka.

    In the review, Arun Ambalavanar made the comments below, trying to convince the readers the book is fake. Since I lived in the war torn area, in the contemporary period of the author, I can visualise and follow the journey with the author.

    Arun writes:
    “She writes about the murder of St. John’s principal “Anandarajan” (Pg. 39-40). His real name is Anandarajah. For foreigners, this may appear a minor mistake but the difference in Jaffna is of much significance and no local would commit such a mistake.”

    The principal name is C.E. Anandarajan. What the author of the book mentioned is correct. I visited Sri Lanka recently and the new office building is named as “C.E. Anandarajan’s block”.

    Arun writes:
    “Author and her friend were sent to the frontline watch-post around Jaffna fort. (pages 94-105)”

    I disagree with Arun. The soldiers were sent to the front line prior to the proper training. I have friends and relatives who were in the old LTTE Training Camp, sent to Jaffna fort, Sentries in the front line. They were given cyanide capsules (in case the Army captured them) and firearms to give them confidence even though they were not trained to use them.

    Arun writes:
    “She writes TELO and PLOTE were ‘banned’ at the same time (Pg. 48-49). Actually TELO was banned in 1986 April and PLOTE months later.”

    Yes, TELO, a paramilitary organization, was banned in 1986 and a couple of months later PLOTE and other Armed groups were banned. Later, members of EROS were given the option to join with LTTE or get into to the normal life.

    Arun writes:
    “The very first paragraph of the very first chapter of the book opens thus: “The air was sweetly pungent with the smell of ripening bananas and palmyrah fruit.” She experienced this in 1987, two days before Christmas. Palmyrah fruit is available in Jaffna only in the Tamil venil kalam (Summer: June-July). Not in December which is the rainy season.”

    I was in Jaffna in December 2010. During that period, I noticed the smell of the banana in my mother’s garden and palmarah fruit smell from the neighbour’s garden.

    Arun writes:
    “Niromi de Soyza characterises herself and a few of her Tiger friends as ‘enlightened’ and critical of the Tigers’ policies and practices at times when they were still members of the LTTE.

    Yes, some of my friends were critical but they were unable to speak openly; they shared among like minded friends within the organization and later they left the LTTE.
    Arun writes:
    “The most used popular swear words in Jaffna…”

    …and then lists down the words. I presume the author’s intention was to not list down the swear words used in Jaffna.

    Oh I wasted my time to respond to the reviewer. I really wasted it.

    I stopped for a while to find out about Arun’s background, who is a self claimed poet, and finally found him from a social network.

    Arun Ambalavanar has the following claims about him in facebook:

    Job Title –tea boy
    Research and Analysis Wing
    Tea Boy · Feb 2001 to May 2009 · Delhi, India

    Graduate School
    Col.Karuna Military Academy,Kiran, Batticaloa
    Kopalasamy Mahendrarajah Institute of political Philosophy,VVT,Jaffna

    I clearly understand why he writes the review in such a critical way of the author without any analysis of the book. The school he says he graduated from is a rogue school. He has a very biased opinion.

    We have been brought up over 30 years not to ask questions against the organization or authorities or were expected to get permission before we ask questions! We have to accept our mistakes and move forward. The time has come for us to accept the reality…

    I would encourage the readers to accept the fact people have different ideas and opinions.

    I am sending my reply so the readers will not judge books based on only the reviewer’s opinion. Do not judge the book by the cover. Get the google review about the book Tamil Tigress, or browse google to watch the video clip and try to get the book in your hand and evaluate yourself.

    • saundary.S

      So what about the following issues raised by A.Ambalavanar?
      1. An engineering faculty in Jaffna? Are U saying that existed in 1987?
      2. Why Niromy got Basir Kaka wrong?

      Cyanides are dangerous stuff. New trainees under training never allowed to carry around their neck. It is literary suicidal. Teenagers while under hard training when grilled may easily bite it to get out of the present ordeal. LTTE fighters when injured their Cyanides removed as during severe pain from injuries may opt to bite the poison.

      Since when social net work sites become a source of reliable and verified information?

      Saundari S.

      • Saundary, it is not clear to me who youare addressing here. KUMAR? or ARUN? As far as i recall ARUN says there w has been no ENGINEERUING Faculty in Jaffna and that niromi De Soyza had got this wrong — and that no middle class Tamil wd make sucha mistake.

  4. i typed a remark on here a couple weeks ago and it got erased.
    do you know why?

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