The rhythm of life
where the strings have snapped
A crescent moon is there above the wooden fence which crosses the threshold. Below that there are two little stars which shine, go out, and shine again. The crescent moon is the forehead of the little child who is hanging on to wooden fence. The stars are the two little eyes of his which hide again and again and look at us stealthily.
I give my mouth a crooked appearance, put my tongue out, shake my head and make faces to him. He shakes his head, reddening his face, and gives me a light smile. That smile has no symbol of a nationality. There is no symbol of a religion. It is the reflection of humanity unblemished. That smile is the smile of the little son of Mohamed Uvais.
“Vaa daa tha rosa poo
Na onru parththen”
A part of a song by Balasubramaniam rises from the heart. “I saw an unfading rose.” Such is the meaning conveyed by those two lines. Mohamed Uvais living in Paalaiyutru in Trincomalee likes such beauty calm and replete with sorrow. He himself reflects a calm and composed man.
Uvais had his education at Vipulananda Vidyalaya, Trincomalee. He liked very much the association of friends and he had Sinhala friends as well as Muslim and Tamil friends. He got through the G. C. E. O Level and studied commerce at the Advanced Level. After doing the Advanced Level he took to his fathers business work, without thinking twice about it. However whenever he had some leisure he liked to be with his friends and spend time speaking pleasantries lightheartedly. He did not fail to see a film occasionally.
“From my childhood I liked listening to songs. It was Tamil songs I heard much. Specially film songs. If I find time I switch on the radio and listen to film songs. But it is the sad songs which I liked very much.”
The lighthearted life of Uvais who liked sad songs started becoming sad with the coming of the Sinhala-Tamil new year of 2000. That was the first occasion when a musical show came to Trinco in a time that I can remember. All that had stopped due to the war. I think such a show came to the eastern province after a very long time. Boys came to Trinco from places like Batticaloa and Ampara. Which boy fails to go to a musical show in this village?”
In a temporary space of time in which bombs did not explode and shots were not exchanged, Shakthi FM had taken the lead to fill the Mecashire playground with joy. Throughout the day the playground witnessed various items of pleasure and turned into a variety entertainment when darkness fell. More than fifty thousand young men who were tired of the war were trying to sense happiness and were crowding around the stage. But it was only a happiness of a moment. Those who did not like freedom had set a bomb in the middle of the playground.
Twelve persons died in a great explosion. A large number were seriously injured. Uvais as well as a large number of music lovers had lost forever the ability to stand on their feet. All those who were around me were injured. Two of my friends who were with me lost their legs. For about twenty five days I was unconscious. But the greatest consolation was that the members of my family and my friends had not left me alone.”
Uvais had spent about one and a half months in hospital. After two months had passed he had made up his mind to lighten his pain and to re-enter the natural world. When five months had passed he started his life again with a new leg.
“I waited for five months. True I lost a leg. But is it possible for a man to wait longer than that doing nothing?”
He converts his courage into words and pain into smile.
“I took to business in five months.”
There is an overturned boat near the fence at the edge of Uvais’s compound. On another side is a postal ninety. There are several fish boxes
scattered here and there. A tub in which a pair of scales is put is close to it. On the other side is a three-wheeler. Near it, leaning on the wall, is the pair of crutches.
“Everything happens for good.” That’s how Uvais thinks. He permitted time to turn everything to normal, and entered the married life in
2005. The little figure seen above the wooden fence in front is the happiness of that new life.
“The desires of the people are too great. That is the reason for all this trouble.” He said after much thought when questioned about the condition of the country. He is no preacher and spends his life in accordance with his vision of life. However Uvais is not a person who ever accepts these defeats.
“Life is a challenge. It cannot be given up.”
He purchased a threewheeler in order to facilitate carrying his business, and to earn an additional something by hiring it when it is possible. However there were obstacles due to his particular condition.
“I modified the threewheeler to make it easy for me to ride it. Thereafter for nearly three years I tried get the driving license. I went Colombo four or five times. Finally I got it somehow or other.” That is Uvais’s courage. Who will not find an example, an experience in it?
“I go for business. Come home. My home is a free place to me. I like to be at home. I don’t like to go out even to my relations. I don’t like anyone pitying me.”
A man who stood up on eight feet
“To run is all that I can’t do. Perhaps I may be able too do that to if I try. But why should I run? ” So says Velummailum Premachandran stopping near us his bike which he was riding along the path. He is all smiles.
“Let’s go in.” He invites us into his house.
It is a row of temporary houses adjoining each other, built for those displaced by the Tsunami. It is at Salli in Trincomalee and the number of families there is twenty seven. The first of those houses is the residence of Premachandran. Mr.Premachandran caused the bicycle to lean against the wall. Immediately three daughters surround him. The eldest-Dayana-is ten years
old. The middle one-Dilushiya-is younger to the eldest by two years.The youngest Madushaini is younger to the middle one by two years. It is indeed a cradle of happiness rather than a temporary place of residence.
Premachandran’s Appa is a fisherman. Amma had departed this world when Premachandran was just completing one year. Even before he reached Year Ten in the Maha Vidyalaya at Salli,Premachandran decided to go into the deep in the Indian Ocean so that he would be
able to give his Appa some rest and to secure Akka’s future.
But the atmosphere of the war in the area shattered his youthful expectations unexpectedly.
“At a round up in the village seventeen others and I were arrested. I was in a number of camps. Many people like me who had committed absolutely no wrong suffered in the camp,
because we were unable to tell in Sinhala how innocent we were.”
Premachandran who spent one and a half years in jail with no accusations at all was released in 1987. When he came to Trincomalee in search of Appa and Akka he came to know that they were living in a refugee camp as war refugees.
Premachandran decided to take to the sea on their behalf and was waiting for the opportunity to bring them back to Trincomalee.Gradually he reached his aim and was able to bring them to the shore at Salli.
“Those days it was the Indian Army which was here. There were battles with the LTTE in Trincomalee too. In whatever conditions, we went on doing our job.”
He paused for a little while. A fast wind carrying sand and dust blew giving pain to our eyes.
“This happened on the 25th of May 1989. We were ready to go for our job. I felt as if a ball of fire was falling at once on the coast. When I regained my consciousness I found myself in a hospital bed. My right leg was not there. It is said that it happened due to a shell attack.”
He got Rs. 9,500 as compensation for the lost leg. He was a young man then and he would have to go through the rest of his life on a single foot.
“What I wanted was to get a leg quickly and to go to work again.”
He stayed in one place for three months only. With the help of an artificial leg he stood up again.
Premachandran set his hand on the familiar pedal and got on to the Theppam and went in to the waters of the lagoon. A flock of Murallas, a group of small fish, and heap of little fish were packed in his net and came on to the Theppam. The pride of supporting himself with money he earned instead of living on relief came to him again.
The lonely life of Premachandran on the coast of Salli went on for seven years even after he lost one of his legs. The goddess of happiness came to Premachandran’s little house on a proposal made by someone who saw his courage. His bride was Suriyakala.
“I never thought that I alone had problems. I think that is why there is happiness in my
So says she lightly. His life of little longing, built with one leg and much effort, was consumed again by the tsunami waves of the sea. Even then he is not shocked. Premachandran’s life in which there is hardly anything to do, where there is no new pain to suffer, is filled with the love of his wife and the three daughters.
“This is my eighth leg.”
he says showing his artificial leg. If the leg he lost is also counted, he now stands on his ninth leg. Various institutions had helped him to obtain artificial legs from time to time.
“A leg like this cannot be used for more than six months. Unlike when you are at home, a leg like this won’t last long when you go to your job on the sea.”
At the beginning he thought of taking to the sea,in order to lighten his father’s burdens and to give his elder sister in marriage. However now his sister is married. She also lives in the same
Tsunami camp at Salli.
“I was unable to attend to Akka’s matters in the way I had hoped to. I tried. Akka knows it. Therefore it doesn’t matter.”
He tells with a smile what should be borne with pain. That is the beauty of Premachandran’s life. The watchful eyes of the soldiers, standing on the seaside of the Trincomalee town which is under heavy guard are directed on the passers by. Premachandran must ride his bicycle along the road.
In appearance he too is an ordinary man. But who can see the effect of the war on his life?
From the boat to the Tricycle
“Why, a suicide?” The young soldier blocking the way of the very special motor tricycle speeding forward throws his arm across and shouts in unbridled sarcasm
Indeed he is riding an extraordinary tricycle. That was because he was a special
person. The questioner-the young soldier-is unaware of the history of that
specialness. That was the reason for the unbridle a nature, the sarcasm, and the
levity of the question. The brakes are applied. The tricycle stops in front of
the checkpoint. His sharp eyes looking at the road far away and the vehicles leading forward, become heavy with pain.
“Malli, if I were to commit suicide it should have happened several years ago.” The pain turns in to words.
“Why’s that? Why do you say so?” the young soldier weighing the varieties
of fish stacked in the box attached to the back of the tricycle, asked.
The reason: The old story turned into a surprised summary. At the end, the
disciplined soldier asks in a calm voice:
“Brother, are you angry with the Navy?”
The reply is silence.
How many sounds can there be in the silence. Then I break that silence.
“I am Kokkuhennadige Athula Padmasiri. My village is Nilwella, Matara. I finished my schooling after the 7th year. I started clashing with the sea at the age of fifteen.”
Padme who bade goodbye to schooling got into Bala mama’s boat. After
studying the behavior of the sea and the waves, in a short period he became adept at detecting the places where the fish abound, and where a shawl of fish gathers.
Gradually he became a leader or “Iskipper” of a boat. It was his fishing that took him from the Southern coast to Trincomalee. However it was love that turned him into a citizen of Trincomalee. The love that he had not experienced at Nilwella he met on the shores of Trincomalee. But it bore fruit at Nillwela.
“From 83 to 87 the houses in Trincomalee were leveled to the ground. These people too were at Matara. In 87 We married. We got a son. At that time in the South there was a cruel terror. Ten or fifteen Shanthas were killed for one
“Shantha”. Ajantha who worked with me in the same boat was killed in the search for another youngster. Thereafter I left the village and came here.”
When he came to Trincomalee with his family the son was just one year old.
However they came not in to a house but in to a refugee camp at Pelawatta at the foot of Koneswaram fort. In a little hut where sand was spread on the floor, and cadjan was spread on top, lullabies were sung for the child. Padme started going to the sea again.
Life started opening up gradually. The wife gave birth to another child, a daughter. Foundations were laid for a new house. The boat too was heavywith fish. But that was for a short period. At night on September 22, in the year 2000, too, Padme’s boat was becoming heavy with fish.
Five zero bullets which came from some where and put out the patromax light in
the boat of Padme and friends.
“Leaving nets worth about three and a half lakhs we ran to the water to save our lives. But when the lamp was struck, the movement began to slow down. Then the oil tank of truck.”
That’s all that Padme remembers. When the boat floated with the ‘current’ of
the waves and crashed down at Muttur, the Muslims who were there took them
immediately to hospital. Padmasiri’s name which was not included in list of
dead fishermen was included in that of those who had lost their legs. Four shots had sunk in to his right leg and five shots into his left leg. It was decided to remove his left leg from his body at a point above the knee. Fishery bade goodbye to him.
“Thereafter, and up to date, I have not even set my foot on the sea water.”
However he did not give up life. Although he had disrupted his studies when he
was very young, now his single aim was to ensure that his children studied.
“He practiced various kinds of trade. Cloathes from Matara were sold on the pavements at Trincomalee. At times there were fruits in front of him. Sometime later, those who came to purchase fruits found sweep tickets there. Can a
fisherman who heaped fish even in multi day boats, sell and lottery tickets? Can he be satisfied in this way? Padmasisri got his special tricycle at that time.
Thereafter he the fisherman started selling fish. The courageous figure of Padmasiri who frequents Tamil villages like Linganagar and Aandamkulam with fish packed in a box fixed to the back of a tricycle is a familiar sight to the residents there.
“I think that this is all that I am to get, and I encourage myself and live”
Everything that he had earned through his unbroken courage was lost again in the Tsunami. Now what he has is a life started again from the very beginning.
“When you think of what happened in the past a strength comes into your
mind and energy comes into your body.”
What gives hope to the unceasing expectations that go on through Padmasiri’s
life, which renews itself again, and again, is the skill his two children show in
their studies. The daughter has finished her O. Levels successfully and is moving towards her A. Levels. The son came first in Trincomalee at the O. Levels and, having studied Maths at the A. Levels and is sitting the exam
now. Dressed in his school uniform he had answered the Maths papers at the exam, and has come home. His face shows the depth of his thoughts. However his smile is a light one.
“What’s your next paper son?” I ask him softly.
He looks with longing eyes at the very great man seated on the tricycle.