I am a Tamil teacher
  Sinhala Buddhist children worship me on their knees; I can't bear it

     " I am a Tamil. Roman Catholic. I teach English to Sinhala Buddhist children The children come after school and touch my feet and worship me. I can't bear it because nobody has respected me that way in the past. I didn't have an experience of this sort of thing in Tamil Catholic schools,"  so says Jacinta teacher. She who values Sinhala Buddhist upbringing reveals a wonderful story to today's Divaina newspaper.

     This wonderful story which portrays the value of mutual understanding among communities instead of hatred is explained in the following manner.

     Wednesday is the Fair Day at Dehiaththakandiya. That day when a large number of people from Mahaweli 'C' Zone gathered, it created a very busy town. Many teachers of schools around the town come to the Fair when school is over. The sight of two young female teachers worshipping a middle-aged lady on their knees amidst hundreds of people last month during evening drew the curious attention of most of the people. A vegetable-seller who was beside me explained the situation, probably sensing my curiosity.

     "That lady is a lady who taught English at the Dolakanda School. Now has gone on vacation. But still teaches English to children. Teaches English even to teachers. A very kind and goodmannered person".

     Once again the trader began to shout out his prices. I kept on looking until the two teachers moved away from the English teacher who is now supposed to be on pension. She hid her tears with her pair of specs and disappeared from among the crowd at the Fair. It was because the sight of this incident was embedded in my heart that I related it to Pubudu Sampath, former Principal of Thuwaragala School that evening itself on my way to Aranagangwila and while in his company. Actually I was impatient to find out even a little bit of more information about this teacher. Maybe because of the same reason Pubudu's motor cycle travelled about a kilometre along the concrete road and turned right at Kadirapura Junction after passing Dolakanda along Aranagangwila Road and then stopped near an official residence which stood on top of the Kadirapura paddy field.

     "This is Jacinta madam's house. There are valuable things that she possesses about which you can write to the papers. I am also a student of hers."

     "Hello..... Pubudu, with a friend? Come inside". She welcomed us very mannerdly and invited us to sit down. When inquiring about us , Pubudu told her the reason for our visit. She who could use Sinhala, Tamil most fluently took a deep sigh and kept silent for a moment, fixing her eyes on us. In a moment tears began to roll from her eyes and she did not try to prevent it either. With tears flowing, she began to unfold the story of her life.

     "I am the fifth in a family of seven brothers and sisters. Three elder brothers, one elder sister, myself and two younger brothers. My Appa (father) at that time was the Aarachchi (Headman) of the village. His name was Ramanathan. My father fell ill and passed away when we were small. At that time we were in Batticaloa. Our village was Pilloomalai. I was 7 when father died. At that time we were rich people. We had three or four hundred heads of cattle. We had lands and paddy fields. My elder brother carried the burden on his shoulders taking over father's responsibility and looking after the house.. Mother sent us to school without a break. I first went to Pilloomalai Primary. After that to Kalmunai Convent. When we were advancing into higher grades, financial problems began to crop up. Mother taught us by admitting us to convents. After sitting for the A/L exam, sister got married. I did my A/L and worked as a nurse in a private hospital. When I was employed like this for sometime, I got a teaching post in 1979 at Amparai Tamil School. I taught English there. Most of those at Amparai were Sinhalese. Almost all of them were friendly with us. It was during that time I came to know Dharman who was in charge of the private medical centre. His elder brother was Dr.Nadarajah. Dharman was in charge of his elder brother's medical centre. However our friendship culminated in a love affair and with blessings of both sides we got married on 24th May, 1982.

     In the year 1983 I entered Palali Teacher Training College to be trained as a teacher. At that time there were a few incidents in the North and East. In 1984 the most sorrowful moment of my life dawned. We were at a boarding house at the Palali Airport. A group of students got together and started studying for the August exams when suddenly there was a terrific bomb blast. I got terribly scared and fainted and fell on the ground. I could remember only that. When I regained consciousness the 6 month year old baby in my womb had been aborted.

     Doctors at the Jaffna Hospital told me to make up my mind. I shouted and cried until the pain in my heart disappeared. I was in hospital till I was completely okay and after that I went to Training College. By the time my training period was over, my mother got sick and passed away. Her death was another incident that I couldn't bear". After that we could see her thoughts travelling far, far away. We realised that memories of her mother was still unbearable. But after a short while she once again travelled back into her past.

    After leaving College I once more started work at Amparai Tamil School. The 2nd of August in 1985 was yet another bleak day for me. My youngest brother was shot dead by the Tiger Movement. He was working at the Education Department and he had been shot dead in the night train leaving Batticaloa to Colombo. I can't still bear his death. After his death we lived in great fear. My younger brother was shot dead in Chenkaladi in March 1986. This crime had been committed for having gone against the Tigers. Our elder brother had spoken against the death of our younger brother. I was at that time pregnant 8 months. Doctors said that I was in a risk condition and to keep calm. After a few days, the terrorists came to our house and shot dead my elder brother too. It was because he had voiced his opinion against the Tigers. More than anything else, his departure was a tremendous heartache to us. At that time our greatest strength was our elder brother. After this incident, I fell sick again. On being admitted to hospital, doctors told me that my child had passed away because of shock and to make up my mind. The child was brought out as a corpse. They tried a lot to calm me down. I suffered a lot of mental pain because of that incident. I even asked God why He makes me suffer like this. To tell the truth, I cried like a mad woman. The other nurses who understood my heartache I saw had tears filled in their eyes. They were Sinhalese, but they treated me like one of their own sisters. With the ethnic problem that was flaring u at that time, I couldn't bear the love they showed me. Until elder brother's death we were giving 'kappam' to the tigers. But after his death we never gave anything like that. It was in the wake of this incident that we left our village and settled down permanently in Amparai. That was because we feared that some great calamity would befall on our family. This shifting was a big strength because my husband's elder brother too lived there.

   The Sinhala people in Amparai lived with us like brothers and relations. It was when we were living like this that another calamity befell us. It was 11th June, 1990. There was a commotion in Amparai. A few cruel Sinhala people had burnt down my husband's brother's pharmacy within the space of half an hour. They destroyed dispensary which provided medicine to patients in the whole of the Eastern Province. At that time it was a damage of about 85 lakhs. It was only we who had a scan machine, x-ray machine and ECG. All that were reduced to ashes within just a few minutes. After that they were searching for us, to kill us. We hid. We were ultimately rescued by a lawyer called Silva. He took us to his home. He asked us to take with us all the valuables. I took some gold articles. We had gold weighing about 10 pounds in the almirah, and   my husband was asking us to get into the vehicle . But when getting out at the gate, we saw an armed gang jumping into our garden. Even in Mr.Silva's house we were in terrible fear. My husband's elder brother had sent his wife and two children to Colombo. Lawyer Mr.Sunil Dissanayaka provided shelter to my husband's elder brother. When we went back to our house after 2 days, the whole house was reduced to ashes. What was earned for a number of years had gone down the drain. Only the clothing we had on our bodies were saved. We had come to live among the Sinhalese to escape the Tigers to find that this harm had been committed by some cruel people. However, we managed to save our lives because of a few Sinhala people who were like gods to us. We can't ever forget that.

   My second elder brother was a teacher. He had sent us a message asking us to come there. But before going there, we checked as to what happened to our elder brother. He and his 11 year old son had disappeared. His wife and the other child had gone to her village in Kalmunai. We searched everywhere for the brother. After about two days, my brother's and his son's dead bodies were found. Those people had assaulted them and killed them. Unable to bear this pain, we came to Colombo after a few days. We came to Colombo with the assistance of a friend of Dr.Nadarajah. Because of these troubles, the family of Nadarajah had got visas to go to London. My second elder brother retired and went to India with his children. I stayed in a refugee camp with my husband. My elder sister was married in Batticaloa. Though we were asked to come there because of the fright we had for the Tigers. From the camp I went to teach in a Catholic school in Rajagiriya. By that time I had only one saree. The Principal was one madam called Mudiyanse. It was she who provided me with clothing. For the whole month I received only 1,000 rupees in Colombo. My husband had no job. We lived with severe hardships. It was Mudiyanse madam who helped us to eke out a living.  She even cared to see whether we ate and drank. In 1991 we came back to Amparai because it wasn't possible to live with a salary of 1,000 rupees in Colombo. On arrival it was to meet Minister P.Dayaratna that we first went to meet. He was an intimate friend of our family. He said that we should live for some more time and therefore to arrange for a transfer and go to Dehiaththakandiya.

   We came to Dehiaththakandiya in January 1992. And on the first itself I got my appointment at Bakmeedeniya School. At that time, Dehiaththakandiya was not developed as it is now. Full of dust. There wasn't even an official residence for us to stay. So we stayed in a desolate sort of small room and taught English to the children in the school. We were actually stuck in that room. The only consolation I had for my life was the love of the children and the teachers. The Principal gave his maximum support.

   I am a Tamil and a Roman Catholic. I teach English to Buddhist children. The children came after school and touch my feet and worship me. I can't bear it because nobody has ever respected me that way. I never had an experience of this sort in Tamil Catholic schools. Rajagiriya school was a Tamil one no. The husband of the Principal madam there was a Sinhalese. That's how she got the name Mudiyanse.

  It was during that time that I got a transfer to the Dolakanda Maha Vidyalaya. There we got a good official residence. The Principal was Dhanapala sir. He and the staff of teachers were flowing with humanistic qualities. Even now when they come to my mind I feel a big respect for them. I taught both Tamil and English close to upon a thousand Buddhist children. Having observed my abilities, the Zonal Education Director recruited me to teach English and Tamil to the teachers.

  I directed the new course until recently. The loneliness and the heartache I suffered from the loss of my brothers and sisters was overcome because of the Dolakanda teachers and children. There are pupils of mine who are employed in government service. Some are businessmen now. If any of them happen to meet me somewhere, they would fall on their knees and worship me. I resigned on 10th October 1998. The Principal arranged to celebrate the occasion in the grandest manner possible. The Governor of the Eastern Province and a large number of officers attended the celebration.

  At that event, creations from all three languages of Sinhala, Tamil and English by children were on display. All of them wept. Even the teachers did. I was also asked to make a speech. I spoke only three words. I was of a different community, of a different religion. But none of the Sinhala Buddhist children, parents, teachers and officers of the Mahaweli 'C' Zone discriminated me because I was a Tamil. I said in that speech that they all treated me with love. It was the Governor who listened to this speech who provided me with an official residence in the Mahaweli and requested me to carry on teaching the children without leaving the 'C' Zone.

  As said, Mr.Indusena de Silva who was the DRPM of Mahaweli gave us an official residence. He was a man with exemplary humanistic qualities. We live in this official residence with blessings from everybody from 1999. But recently I came to know that the residence had been given over to the Kadirapura School. It is from this official residence that I still teach Tamil and English to children of grade 5 and upto teachers. Recently, the facility of electricity in the residence has been disconnected. I who bore all difficulties with children in this area have had to leave from here.

  It was with great difficulty that she expressed those thoughts of hers. A deeper sense of sorrow than what she underwent throughout her lifetime now seems to torture her. This could well be noted from Jacinta teacher's face which was lit from the light of the bottle-lamp.

  We will leave you here. Should we leave the ebbing years of the life of this gurumathawa who brought light to the lives of thousands of children amidst challenges of a varied nature without ethnic or racial discrimination in the dark?

narration -- Tissa Gunatilleka and Prasanna Silva
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