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Sugandhi Alias Andal Devanayaki is the story of Peter who, under the cover of shooting a movie, gets into the heart of the LTTE in Sri Lanka to search for his lady love Sugandhi.
When Peter Jeevanandam arrives in Sri Lanka to shoot a movie about a human rights activist ostensibly murdered by the LTTE, the government is more than willing to help. What they don’t know is that he is also searching for Sugandhi – an LTTE member, and the love of his life. As Peter stumbles upon and becomes part of a plot to kill the president, reality, history, myth and fiction collide in explosive, illuminating ways. Sugandhi Alias Andal Devanayaki is a daring novel that portrays the violence inherent in both fascism and revolution. Winner of the 2017 Vayalar Award and the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award.
He was Ananda – Peter Jeevanandam, my lover. Thoughts of love had never crossed my mind until I met him. But I fell into a sea of love from the moment I saw him. If I hadn’t seen him, my life wouldn’t have turned out like this. I would have died a martyr to the Iyakkam. I can begin my story only after bowing to him.
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I am Sugandhi. That is the name the Iyakkam gave me. My parents had named me Andal Devanayaki. I was born in Colombo and lived there until I was three. My father, Ratnasabapathy, was a Professor of Tamil in Colombo University. My mother, Kanakavalli, was a gynaecologist in Castle Street Hospital. Both of them had been born and brought up in Nallur, Jaffna. My brother’s name was Soorya Jyothy. I don’t remember their faces any more. My memories begin with their murder.
24 July 1983, Sunday night. I was barely three. We were in a car on our way home. When we reached the city limits, we felt something was amiss. There was fire and smoke everywhere. The shops were burning. When we reached Borella bus stand, a huge mob came charging at us with swords. They stopped our car and dragged my father out. They were not willing to listen. Shouting, ‘Tiger! Tiger!’ they stabbed him. Blood flowed. I don’t know whether they did it on purpose, but they set fire to the car with me inside. My parents and brother were writhing in the throes of death. I was surrounded by fire, smoke and horrifying screams. One of the assailants, a bit more humane than the rest, opened the door and pulled me out of the car. Caught among the dead and the dying, I lost consciousness.
I grew up in refugee camps in and around Colombo. I have never wept more than I did during my time there. A thin rice gruel poured twice a day into an aluminium pan was my diet. I had to sleep on the bare cement floor. The camp resounded with the abuses of the Sinhalese soldiers. Every time I fell asleep, I would see the faces of my parents and brother and wake up. By the time my mother’s brother, Kumaravel, who was doing research at the London School of Economics, could locate me and take me away, I was six years old.
It was my unfortunate childhood that led me to become a freedom fighter. Unlike many of the other women soldiers, I was neither forced into joining the Iyakkam nor were my family members threatened by them. It was because I had some misconceptions about it. When, at the age of twenty, I joined the Iyakkam in Anton Balasingham’s London home with the half- hearted consent of my uncle, I thought that it was a revolutionary movement, an armed leftist revolt to attain the dream of Tamil Eelam. That is how Anton Balasingham’s wife, Adele, convinced me. And it was that conviction which prompted me to give up my graduate studies at the London Film School to join them.
My uncle’s house was in Holland Park in west London. His Bangladeshi wife, Neelambari Chatterji, was a newsreader at the BBC. Perhaps because they had no children of their own, they saw me as their own daughter. The mental wounds I had sustained as a young child had begun to heal slowly with their love and tenderness. By the time I was ten years old, I would laugh, sing and play like any other child. It was then that I started taking pictures with my aunt’s Kodak camera. Later, this became my passion.
My uncle and aunt were very broad-minded. They gave me the freedom to decide what I wanted to do with my life. They encouraged my interest in films. That is how I enrolled in the London Film School. They had a realistic approach towards life. When I grew up, they told me who I was and didn’t conceal anything. My uncle didn’t agree with the ideology of the Iyakkam. It was his personal opinion. But when I decided to join the Iyakkam after being brainwashed by Adele, he did not stop me. He just said gently, ‘Your hands are not meant for carrying weapons.’ On the day I joined the Iyakkam, he said, ‘I knew you would join them one day. I won’t stop you.’ But his eyes were full of tears. It was the first time I saw him weep. ‘Call whenever you need me. Don’t do anything that goes against your conscience.’ Those were his last words to me. I never called him after joining the Iyakkam.
What happened in my life wasn’t something I could share with him. I have never seen him since.
My aunt Neelambari was born in Chittagong into a family with communist leanings, and she had close associations with the British Communist Party. The party members would often come home and hold lengthy discussions with her. But my uncle stayed away from their debates. He was only interested in research in his chosen field – economics. Still, both of them closely followed freedom movements across the world. They used to subscribe to several magazines and journals connected with those movements. I was inspired by their awareness of the multiple dimensions of freedom, their courage and their ideological clarity. But in those days I didn’t know of Rosa Luxemburg’s stand on nationalism, and it was only much later that I realized the Eelam movement was not a class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. I was only led by a thirst for revenge against the Sinhalese nationalists who had massacred my family.
Like other leftist intellectuals in London, my uncle also had connections with the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS) established by V. Balakumaran and Arul Pragasam. It was he who put forward the idea that Sri Lankan Muslims should also be included in the Iyakkam. He was willing to use his connections with the economic wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organization to help EROS. It was his association with the PLO that gave several Tamil Liberation outfits an opportunity to train at PLO centres. But when the Iyakkam drifted away from Marxist philosophy and shrunk to Tamil Hindu nationalism, my uncle distanced himself from the movement. Even when ideological fissures sprung up in EROS and people like Balakumaran joined the Tigers, my uncle continued his friendship with them while still maintaining that they had not chosen the right path.
I was a high achiever in Holland Park School – in studies, sports and music. I was not bad looking. I was dusky and had inherited a regal grace from my mother who belonged to the Jaffna royal family. I was trying to drown my sorrow in a sea of friends, romances, petty squabbles, Britpop, martinis and film school, when Adele Balasingham came looking for me. She fanned the dying embers of revenge within me. And then everything was lost.
Excerpted with permission from HarperCollins, from Sugandhi Alias Andal Devanayaki by T.D. Ramakrishnan (Author), Priya K. Nair (Author), available at bookstores and at Flipkart, Amazon India, and Amazon US
Header image: By Salix Oculus [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons and book cover via Amazon
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