Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Terrorist to truth teller?

The ilk of Callum Macrae would have feasted on Niromi de Soyza's 'Tamil Tigress'. Such titles - be it video, audio and text - abound the market now with the blessings of diasporic influences, which in turn plagued the ethnic harmony.

However de Soyza's book offers nothing for these pro-LTTE lobbyists to feast on.

Niromi de Soyza pens her autobiographical memoirs as a female Tiger cadre. In plain terms, her job is not a piece of cake. A female tiger cadre alive to this day is a fact hard to believe - but facts are strange. Even harder to believe is the fact that a living female Tiger soldier would pen her story to print.

That unbelievably comes to pass, since the Tigress ceased to have faith in her own organization. She was disillusioned with the organization's mission, vision and contradictory activities.

Sceptic review

It was two days before Christmas 1987 and I was seventeen years old. The only sound I could hear was that of my thumping heart; all I could see was the fear in the faces of the others. Sweat trickled down my back. We were silent. Our ears were fine-tuned to any sound of stealthy footsteps and our eyes to any sighting of strangers. Our fingers were primed on the triggers of our rifles.

It seemed like a typical morning for us as Tigers, but that was about to change dramatically. By the time the sun would set on us this day, nothing would be the same again. Michael Roberts, in his sceptic review on the book, maintains that the passage gives an erroneous picture of a military encounter between the LTTE and the Government Forces. In 1987 while the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) agreement was in operation, the LTTE carried out their guerrilla activity in secrecy.

The graphically detailed passage, according to Roberts, could be attributed to a military encounter between the LTTE and the IPK Forces. Non-fiction genre is no alien category to Sri Lankan literature. But its counterpart, fiction, has outsmarted the genre. Non-fiction, or memoirs, has not gained much ground as most Sri Lankan authors do not have resounding life-experiences to share. What is mostly available as non-fiction comes from the Arab world - of their domestic violence and gender harassment.

The non-fiction demands much credibility and assures a good readership audience. Fiction enjoys no such privileges, just like the age-old Twain adage: 'Truth is stranger than fiction'. Anyone could possibly afford to pen fiction, provided they have good imagination and richness in vocabulary. Having said that, 'Tamil Tigress' attracts many speculations on its credibility. It could very well be fiction in the guise of non-fiction as a marketing stunt. All the same, the book is worth reading, as it punctuates gruesome episodes in Sri Lanka's embattled period.

'Tamil Tigress' stands alone in Lanka's postwar literature, owing to its annotated description of the LTTE's brutal training methods. Niromi's tone perhaps pacifies the very same brutality though her description is quite picturesque. Whether it is fiction in the guise of non-fiction or otherwise, the book offers firsthand experience. It is not Narayan Swami who chronicled Prabhakaran as an outsider, but this is Niromi de Soyza who can claim to have been there, done that. Surprisingly she weathered all those hardships to share the story with us today.

Whether the book is authentic or allegedly inauthentic, 'Tamil Tigress' is a broad rubric of reconciliation. The author was raised in a middle-class Tamil Christian family and at 17 ran away from her convent school to join the Tigers. Following her disillusionment, she joins a boarding school in India and later migrates to Australia. Niromi de Soyza adopts her penname in honour of the late journalist Richard Soyza.

Why she goes for a penname may baffle many of us. With the terrorist organization demolished to the ground, at least militarily, how could she possibly have fears about her security? Her passages offer a veiled answer. 'War between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Tigers then resumed after a short period of peace.

Brutal training methods

With the substantial financial support from the large Tamil diaspora around the world, the guerrilla organisation I left behind became a sophisticated war machine, building extensive global networks and establishing its own air and sea capabilities. The Tigers' methods also became more extreme. Having pioneered the suicide belt, they undertook hundreds of suicide bombing missions (one third of them by females), targeting civilians and politicians as well as military targets. Most notably the Black Tiger suicide squad has been blamed for the assassinations of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993, and several other daring and deadly attacks, including the one on the Sri Lankan (Bandaranaike) International airport in 2001. That one word, diaspora, offers sufficient satisfactory grounds for her fears.

Proper permission

It is some time since translations have dominated the book industry. Doubtful it is, though, whether these translations are legitimately processed.

Most books published within fifty years are translated and published with no proper permission obtained from the original publisher.

Most local publishers do not care much about the fact that these books are copy-right protected. Illegal publishing is quite possible, because the original publishers won't trouble themselves to come here and sue the publishers.

Even in such a background, Sarasavi Publishers have sought written permission from the original publishers in publishing the translation. That calls for some applause. 

Sachitra Mahendra -