Sunset in Tellippalai


I joined my school mate Mano Sekaram to visit his village in Tellippalai in Jaffna last week, along with another friend Ruvindhu Pieris. They were two members of a team visting the North to empower the University students of Jaffna. It was a journey to impart knowledge. I have always enjoyed my visits to Jaffna. In a way its where I feel very comfortable rather than Colombo.

Rasu, who has worked for the Sekaram family for many years, welcomed us with lots of warmth, as always. Then there was the silver haired Subramaniam, who looked very serene in his sarong and shirt. Mano’s house was once used as an army checkpoint before being handed back to his family. He got the house since according to the Tamil tradition it is the eldest son who inherits the family house. Where the Sinhalese families are concerned, the family house goes to the youngest son. The old ancestral home was well refurbished with beautiful verandahs and a huge Meda-Midula (an open area inside the house) with a statue of Lord Ganesh.

The house has been furnished with armchairs, mats, and pettagamas (huge carved wooden boxes) used in Sri Lankan homes. This old house named Virndavan got the Southern, Northern and a bit of Dutch flavour. However, the villagers in Tellippalai call it the White House, not because they know of that White House in far away America, but, because has been painted white.

Mano tells me that though Jaffna women use Jasmine flowers all the time there is a shortage of Jasmine flowers in Jaffna, and the people in Jaffna could start a cottage industry instead of bringing it from Colombo. I saw Mano’s helper’s wife Githa take the trouble of growing Jasmine flowers in their garden. He says the youth in Jaffna have become lazy because the relatives, living overseas, send money all the time, even to buy saris for weddings.

My schoolmate proudly dressed in his Verti shows me his banana cultivation—coconuts, mangoes, teak and arecanut and, of course, the Temple flowers. Seated on the easy chairs in the verandah, eating murukku and sipping beer we enjoy the beautiful Tellippalai sunset, the silence and the peace of the night you never can find in Colombo. I go down memory lane; my many visits to Jaffna and the North during the conflict and the sound of mortars, gunfire and even the thunder of multi-barrel rockets and how people lived in fear. We are joined by a wonderful human being Dr Ravi Pillai, Consultant Cardiac Surgeon from the prestigious, John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. The man who left Oxford after 25 years to serve his fellow Sri Lankans and even did the first open heart surgery in Jaffna. He has so much to share with us. He is full of life and looks like a sage even with a drink in his hand. Ravi is married to the late President JR Jayewardene’s younger brother’s daughter. However, connections do not matter to Ravi or his wife.

We take a walk in the night; meet his neighbours and Bavan, who has built a nice house. He shows off the studio apartment he is planning to rent. With Mano leading the way, we meet and greet his friends and neighbours. We all are one family. I am happy walking barefoot in Tellippalai, the same way I walk back in Kurunegala. But, this place is much more peaceful than back home. Cycles are without lights and we don’t carry lights on our heads either. It is dangerous in the dark. But, these people have lived in danger for many years.

Mano is a bit saddened by the Indian architectural influence. "Our houses never had pink and red unlike in Chennai. We Jaffna people had our houses painted only in white before", said my friend. Having walked up to the Tellippalai railway station, we turn back to enjoy the tasty Jaffna roti prepared by Rasu and another round of beer and we talk about life, humanity and love.

Next Week: More from Tellippalai and Jaffna

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