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Peri Casinathan

People try to forget their trauma’s and move on with their lives but the trauma my wife and I went through cannot be forgotten. It has caused permanent scars in our minds that will not be erased. We are not the only ones. There are several thousands who can relate to our stories and its tragic consequences. We are the fortunate ones who escaped with out any loss of life or limb. In fact, when the Canadian Embassy Official asked what we lost- I replied that compared to the people who lost their lives what we lost is nothing. Looking back at
the events, it is a miracle that we are alive.

It was a Saturday afternoon. I was working at the free trade zone when my friend called and informed me that 13 soldiers were killed in an ambush in Jaffna. He wanted me to come to Colombo because we had been living in Borella for three generations and I would be safer there as opposed to in Kurana, my present place of residence. My wife and the twins were in Colombo at my mom’s house for the weekend and I was to join them in Colombo that afternoon.

The company’s Managing Director was an Italian and I told him not to come to work on Monday. In addition, I informed the local director (who was the son in law of Cyril Mathew the architect of the riots). He concurred with my decision and asked me to stay in Colombo too.

When I reached Borella, I saw many of the shops closing down. It worried me. When I came home, my sister insisted that she would be safe. I decided to go back to Kurana the same night. On route, I saw the famous KG buses parked and ready for the night trip to Jaffna- however they did not run that night. Two weeks later, I would see the same buses - but they would be only burnt shells. That was a familiar sight during that period. When I reached my home, it was all quiet. The neighbors were more interested in playing with the twins- unaware about the events unfolding in Colombo.

On Sunday, we were totally unaware of what was taking place in Colombo. On Monday morning, my wife and I left for work. As I reached the plant, I saw the Managing Director white as a sheet and not able to speak. His driver told me that they saw bodies on the road and shops burning. My first concern was to send him back to Colombo. When I called my sister to make accommodation arrangements, she said mobs were passing the house and that our cousin’s and our family friend’s house had been burnt in the next lane. In our lane, we were the only Tamil house and they could not determine whether it had Tamil residents. In addition, my brother removed the Saraswathi (Hindu goddess) picture hanging on the front entrance on Saturday. All the while, my sister still insisted that our house was safe because Peter Kenuman, a communist Member of Parliament, was living opposite to our house.

I called my wife and she was asked by her Manager to go home. He gave her instructions to stay inside the house and to call him if we needed any help. We came home and the neighbors were assuring that everything will be fine. Members of the Sri Lankan Air Force came to my house and instructed me to leave otherwise we will be dealt with.

My wife called her boss and we were taken to Kochikade where one of the banks customers resided. On the car ride, I asked my wife to remove her nose stud but she could not. So the manager asked her to cover her head with a sari so that she could pose off as a Muslim. Once we reached the bank customers house, the twins were sent out to play since they could speak Sinhalese. The neighbors were told that we were Colombo Chetties.

We stayed for two weeks in Kochikade for a week. I decided to go to Colombo to see my family along since my sister’s phone was not working. As we traveled to Colombo, we saw numerous Tamil businesses burnt to the ground. My sister’s house was no different. The bank customer and I went to my sister’s house. It was as if a cyclone had gone through it- the entire house was destroyed. I looked down and saw my certificates on the ground with covered in foot prints.

When I inquired the neighbor, they said my brother and sister had left for our family friend’s house after which the whole house was looted. When I reached my brother-in-law’s house, it was a mini refugee camp. He was relieved to see me see and asked us to stay in to his house. However, I needed to make sure my wife’s family was safe in Jaffna. As we traveled to Kokuvil, we met many other families and learnt of their sad stores. Since then, we decided we could not stay in Sri Lanka. We came to Canada in 1984 but we are the lucky ones. We have left the shores of Sri Lanka but the trauma had not left us.

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