Malaravan’s War Journey for Tiger Tamils, 1990s

War Journey, being translation of  Por Ulaa reviewed  here by three Indian intellectuals

ONE > R.K. Radhakrishnan: “A Heroic Life after Death,” 8 July 2013, The Hindu

Just as political parties in India used music, theatre and cinema with stunning results, the LTTE relied on the written word, and folklore, with the help of platform speakers in Tamil. Heroes are created long after their death. The embellished folklores, the sexed-up citations, even made-up stories of courage, valour and sacrifice — all contribute to the creation of a hero from an ordinary human being, who is often left without a choice of how, why and if he/she will be remembered or celebrated. Institutions and movements seek to capitalise on the emotional appeal of the ‘supreme sacrifice’ to further ‘The Cause.’

 Prabhakaran consoling Kittu’s kin

Nothing mobilises people better than the sight of the mutilated dead body of a youth. Add a grieving young widow, and a toddler, and the effect is even better.

The LTTE, like most organisations across the world, and political parties in India, was aware of this fact. It took ownership of corpses, had elaborate rituals in remembrance of the fallen warriors, and took institutionalisation of this commemoration to an altogether different level.

Commemoration and public events are only part of the package. To perpetuate a memory, literature is a necessary tool. Just as political parties in India used music, theatre and cinema (and the kathaprasangam, a stand-up story telling format popular in Kerala) with stunning results, the LTTE relied on the written word, and folklore, with the help of platform speakers in Tamil.

Translator N. Malathy claims that she found Malaravan’s book in the Vanni library just as the last Eelam War raged, in 2007. The book, a collection of random jottings of a youth who knew no peace, was first published in the early-1990s in Tamil as ‘ Por Ulaa’ (War Journey) in Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom, and was also published in India in 2009. War Journey, which has no pretensions on where it stands in the Sri Lankan context, is dedicated to the ‘maaveerar’ (great warriors) of Tamil Eelam.

Malathy, a diaspora Tamil from New Zealand, who came to volunteer in Vanni during the ceasefire, chose Malaravan’s book to translate because his writing was “unique” for the “breadth and depth of the subject he covers.” According to Malathy, Malaravan was a topper who had just turned 18 when he was drafted into the ‘movement.’

Malaravan’s diary opens with a tractor journey that he and his compatriots undertake ahead of an assault. He describes the pain-staking work involved in building and maintaining a forest road, the perils of being spotted by an Army helicopter, the ‘spontaneous’ love and affection of the local people, the spine-chilling methods of torture by the ‘enemy’ — the Sri Lankan Armed Forces — and the fascination that children have for automatic weapons even as the “fighters” stop for rest and food.

The diary, which largely describes the battle for Maankulam (the location of a ‘headache’ of an Army camp in the middle of LTTE territory), has a note from the former head of LTTE’s political wing S.P.Tamilselvan, which formed the foreword for the Tamil version. It is, of course, the stuff that propaganda is made of. It opens: “O, my dearest Malaravan, my heart is filled with anxiety because of my inability to write about your life, which, if written by a good writer, will turn into a great epic.”

The LTTE re-named him Leo; his parents had named him Vijinthan. LTTE allowed him to change his name to Malaravan (He, the flower). In the account of Tamilselvan, Malaravan comes across as a fearless master-strategist in the making, and in his mother’s description, he comes across a playful prankster, a nature-lover, a humane, smart and mature individual — in short a picture-perfect poster boy that any family would be proud of.

The near-perfect boy picked up arms because, in his mother’s account, “Malaravan felt frustrated by the interruptions to his studies [due to closure of schools after aerial bombings and artillery fire]. He began examining the reasons for this situation. He came to the decision that at least future generations must enjoy freedom.” When Malaravan died in action in 1992, he was barely 20.

As Malaravan remarks in the book, “I was not sad to die. But there was so much to be done before I died.” The LTTE believes that Malaravan, who rose to become Student Coordinator for Jaffna, had achieved a lot in a short span of time.

War Journey is unpretentious in what it seeks to achieve. It is a straight account, embellished with the goodness and the kindness of the LTTE warrior. At every turn the effort is made to portray the LTTE fighter as a larger than life hero with assertions like, “every poorali [fighter] is a volcano inside — a cool river with a bubbling volcano underneath.”

Being the effort of a 20-year-old with what must have been liberal re-working from the LTTE’s publication division, it obviously cannot be in the genre of more serious works that examined the LTTE sympathetically such as Akaalam written by Pushparani. It might be a worthwhile effort to attempt a translation of Akaalam.

     ….  R.K. Radhakrishnan is a deputy editor with the Hindu

TWO > Col. Hariharan: Warring Simply Narrated, Pioneer, 8 August 2013, 

Velupillai Prabhakaran occupies a large space in the history of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) — popularly known as the Tamil Tigers — in Sri Lanka. The outfit owed its growth into the world’s most dreaded insurgent group to his leadership and commitment to the idea of an independent Tamil Eelam. On the flip side, it was his ruthless leadership style of eliminating other Tamil leaders that created a leadership vacuum after he, along with other LTTE leaders, was decimated in the final episode of Eelam War in May 2009.

But the lore of the Tamil Tigers will not be complete without the saga of youthful cadre who sacrificed their lives to fulfil their leader’s will. Their sacrifices with sweat and blood have earned them a unique place in the collective memory of Tamil-speaking people; and, this includes Tamils who neither believed in Prabhakaran nor his cause. In this process, they have left an indelible mark on Sri Lankan peoples’ psyche that would continue to condition their response to ethnic relations for a long time to come.

LTTE had a fetish for documentation of its actions (I remember recovering meticulous Nazi-style documentation of 102 men and women of Jaffna who were tried by LTTE courts and “dumped” — LTTE euphemism for killing — for a wide range of offences from drug trafficking to soliciting Sri Lankan soldiers for prostitution). It always encouraged cadre with an aptitude for writing to record the battles and acts of bravery, although its debacles were not so meticulously done. Television coverage was there on every occasion involving LTTE both in peace and war. These were published in both electronic and print media run by LTTE’s well-organised propaganda machine.

Booklets and newsletters were also published for Tamil audience everywhere. These include a few memoirs of pulihal(Tigers in Tamil referring to LTTE’s armed cadre). The book under review, War Journey: Diary of a Tamil Tiger, originally written in Tamil by Malaravan, barely 20-year-old puli who fought and died for LTTE, is one such memoir. The slim volume of a little over 100 pages is a translation of Por Ulaa (War Journey), the Tamil original. It covers 19 days in the life of Malaravan when he, along with his comrades, moved from Manalaaru to join in the LTTE assault on Mankulam in November 1990.

By November 1990, Prabhakaran’s collusion with Sri Lanka President Ranasinghe Premadasa to “throw” the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) out of Sri Lanka had ended. After the IPKF left Sri Lankan shores in June 1990 all the cooing and wooing between the two sides ended in cacophony and battle lines were redrawn.

Mankulam is a key road junction astride the Kandy-Jaffna A-9 Highway; it gained strategic importance during the war as it provided road access to the west coast as well as to Mullaitivu on the east in the Tiger heartland. Although Malaravan was a seasoned soldier and an inveterate scribe from a family of writers, his random notes contain few references to military operations beyond generalities spiced with a bit of LTTE propaganda. The “spontaneous love of the people” for LTTE he speaks of was there probably in 1990, but it became subsumed in the air of despair after the outfit failed to use the peace process for the benefit of the people and opted for war.

But that does not diminish the value of Malaravan’s diary. His ideas and perceptions on a number of issues ranging from Tamil-Sinhala relations, to the destructive Sri Lanka operations to the Tamil Tigers struggle for independence and the sacrifices ordinary people provide a peep into life as Malaravan saw it. The mindset of youngsters who left their families behind to respond to the call of war brought out in the book will touch a sympathetic chord in every soldier.

Their simplistic beliefs on war and narrow focus on Tamil Eelam, shorn of a deeper analysis of the situation, reflect the attitude of professional soldiers of a regular army. This is what made them obey Prabhakaran’s commands rather than question them. It speaks volumes of LTTE’s highly evolved conditioning techniques that turned ordinary youth to act like committed professional soldiers.

Although both Malaravan and Niromi de Soyza, former LTTE cadre and author of a more popular English memoir Tamil Tigress (Mehta Publishing House, Pune 2011) hailed from educated middle class, they offer totally different perspectives on LTTE and the Eelam war. Presumably, the socio-political environments in which they grew up conditioned their perceptions as much as their stint in LTTE.

The translator N Malathy, a diaspora Tamil from New Zealand, who came to Vanni as a volunteer during the ceasefire period has a simple narrative style that makes easy reading. However, the book is too brief to satisfy the reader as it only provokes interest.

The reviewer, a retired MI officer, served as the Head of Intelligence of the IPKF in Sri Lanka

THREE > Book Review in Times of India                        

This is the English version of a war diary that a LTTE fighter, known by his nom de guerre Malaravan, maintained – and which was found by fellow guerrillas after his death in November 1992. This diary of combat – and emotions – is an important piece of historical record of a violent movement that got destroyed in the very nihilism it preached. Malaravan was from a family of writers, and so he wrote movingly of the ups and downs of an uncertain life.

Of course Malaravan (real name Vijinthan) firmly believed, like so many others, that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam would never get vanquished. “The enemy is stronger than us in numbers and weaponry,” he wrote. “Our strength is in our determination, belief in our goal, and our love for the land and our people.” In the final analysis, however, the LTTE’s zeal for Tamil Eelam got crushed by the superior arms and weapons the Sri Lankan state possessed.

In what was originally titled “Por Ulla” (War Journey), Malaravan faithfully records the stealthy preparations behind LTTE attacks, vivid descriptions of fighting, raw courage in the battlefield, agonizing deaths, hardships in war, frustration with Tamil civilians not on the same page vis-a-vis the Tamil Tigers, suicide attacks and more.

The book was originally written in Tamil in 1990, about a major battle in Sri Lanka’s north that year. It was the year the LTTE broke a truce with Colombo and went to war. The translation took place in 2007, by when the Norway-sponsored ceasefire was in tatters. Even then “I did not for a moment imagine that the society that created Malaravan would be destroyed”, says the translator, a Sri Lankan Tamil from New Zealand. It is this inability to see the LTTE’s demise that has left many Tamils today bitter and frustrated, and wondering what went wrong    

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