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Kowshalya Kathirgamanathan

My name is Kowshalya Kathirgamanathan and I vividly remember that day. I was 9 years old and was living in Aluthmawattha Road, Muttuhall with my Periyammah and Periyappah. The day started pretty peaceful. As usual I got ready to go to school and waited outside my door step for my neighbour to take me to school with her. When we walked to the bus stop the atmosphere was unusually quiet and another thing I noticed was the school bus was less crowed. Even in school and in my class only a few students had showed up and the teacher seemed preoccupied with talking to other teachers and looking out the window all the time. At about 10:00 am parents started to show up one by one pick up their children. I knew something was wrong and became anxious and started looking out the class room window to see if my Periyammah or Peiyappah will be coming to pick me up, but no one came for me.

At about 12 noon the school bell rang and we were let go. I waited at the usual place for my neighbour but she didn’t show up, I later found out the higher grades were let out early and she had gone home without me. I slowly started to make my way home. I decided not to take the bus instead I walked and used my bus fair to buy “Acharu”. About half way I realized that not a lot of people were on the street and the buses weren’t as frequent as usual. In a distance I could see large dark clouds, I became worried and picked up pace and came home quickly. No one was at home. I changed and ate my lunch. Just when I finished I heard my neighbour at the front door calling for me, I went to the front door to find out what was going on. She asked me to lock the door and come over to her house and stay with them till my Periyammah or Periyappa came home. I love going to their house to play with my friend so I quickly locked the door and ran next door. We were told to play quietly.

I was deep in my role as Robin when Batman (friend) pointed out the window and my eyes followed his finger to see about 20 or so men with big sticks and chains going towards my house. I looked closer and recognized some of them from the neighborhood. They banged on my door and kicked the door down. It was quiet after that and then I saw them walking out of my house with my TV, fan, my toys, clothes and many other stuff. I was really scared and confused. Just then my friend’s mom came and dragged us away from the window and took us to the back of the house. We were made to climb the back fence and we went to our other neighbours home. By now I was really terrified and wanted to cry.

At our neighbours house we hid in cupboards and was told to be very quiet. Tears ran down my cheeks and my heart was beating a mile a minute. I don’t remember how long we were in the cupboard but it felt like hours. All of a sudden I heard people moving furniture and the door opened. I was petrified. A man in Police uniform stood there. Later my friend told me that the policeman was a relative. We got on the police jeep and went to a police station near our house. On the way I saw some shops burning and some homes that have been smoldered already. People were afraid to come outside but stood inside their gates talking to their neighbours and a few men wearing sarong had sticks in their hands stood around in groups. I wondered what happened to a friend of mine who lived around the street corner as I passed her house which was already destroy by fire. At the police station I saw many people who lived around my neighborhood, they all looked frightened, sad, and were crying. Many of them had scrapes, bruises and cut wounds. I kept looking for Peiyammah and Periyappah.

We stayed there for the rest of the day and that night. The police station was very uncomfortable. Lots of mosquitoes and we had to sleep on the floor. No food was given to us and we were all hungry. I saw little kids crying for food and people begging the Police for milk and bread. But no one got any food.

The next day we travelled for a long time with the same policeman in his jeep. We went to a place called Negamboo. It was the Policeman’s home. Here we stayed for about 20 days still no word about Peiyammah or Peiyappah. Every day I waited for them to come and take me home. I missed my family very much my mom, dad and brothers lived in Jaffna. I was sent to Colombo for a better education.

The house we were staying in Negamboo looked like a mini camp. More people started showing up and they were relatives of my friend. We all got some used clothes from the people we were staying with as none of us had any. The children were told to play only in the back yard. I remember turning 10 here and had a mini birthday party with bread, butter and jam sandwiches instead of the usual cake.

One day in August my Peiyammah showed up in a Taxi. She thanked the neighbours and the others for taking good care of me and took me straight to the train station. We boarded the train to Jaffna and went home. On the way Peiyammah told me what had happened to her and Periyappah and their near death experiences. How they survived a mob chase and came home to an empty house. They had been looking for me and trying to get in touch with the neighbours for a long time. Periyammah got a visa to go to England shortly after that. Peiyappah lived with us in Jaffna till the Indian Army arrived in Jaffna in 1987 and we had to go through the same ordeal again.

My family left Jaffna in 1989 and came to Canada on a Ministers permit after loosing everything we owned to the Indian Army Era. I am thankful to Canada for welcoming us with open arms. I feel much safe here and my nightmares have subsided and I am able to live serenely again.

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