Love In The Darkness:
The Young Sri Lankan Poet Who Swapped Bullets For Words
A young Tamil woman, who used to fight with the Tamil Tigers, has swapped her gun for a pen and published a book of poetry.
While she was in hospital in Colombo, the young Tamil orphan, Rathika Pathmanathan, couldn’t understand a word being spoken by the people around her. Everyone spoke Sinhalese and as far as she was concerned they were her enemy, despite the fact that the doctors in Colombo had just mended her broken leg.
Back then, the 17-year-old felt incredibly alone. She wrote her thoughts down in a small book to stop herself from feeling so isolated. Seven years later that book has evolved and been published. Called “There Is A Darkness Called Light And I Grope For Myself In the Thick Of It”, the book has been translated into three languages with a thousand copies available in each language.
Why do we kill each other? Why do we live separately? Love is an amazing thing.
“At the beginning, it was very difficult to write,” Pathmanathan, now 24 years old and working for the Centre for Community Reconciliation in Colombo, says. “I cried and I was shaking. I couldn’t speak like this in front of any living person. But when I wrote these poems, I felt stronger and calmer. Now I can even speak in front of an audience, in Sinhalese.”
Pathmanathan was orphaned when she was six years old. She had been living with her family in Kilinochchi, northern Sri Lanka, which was also the administrative centre and de facto capital of the militant organisation, The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, commonly known as the Tamil Tigers. After her parents were killed in fighting, she was left with one elder sister and two younger sisters.
“We were destitute, living in fear and hatred,” Pathmanathan says. “We saw bombs falling on our village and people being killed, women screaming and children groaning in pain. We spent many days hiding from the bombs, without any food and we couldn’t go to school. The Tamil Tigers gave us lectures and the way they spoke to us and the way they treated the wounded and the dead made us love them. We felt they were honourable.”
As a result, the young woman ended up fighting for the Tamil Tigers. This did not last though, as Pathmanathan realised the futility of the fighting. She managed to escape the frontlines but she broke her leg when she was caught up in another round of violence in 2009. At this stage, she was transferred from northern Sri Lanka to a hospital in the capital.
“At times I really did think it would have been better to die,” Pathmanathan says. “All the other patients had visitors, but nobody ever came to see me. Nobody was there to talk to me in my own language. I was absolutely poor and sick of living.”
However, after a while, a group of people became involved with the Tamil teenager, that included a doctor and several other charitable locals.
“They helped me study and let me feel there was somebody for me in this world,” explained Pathmanathan, who now speaks Sinhalese. “I am here today because of these people. I never even dreamed that there would be such good people among the Sinhalese.”
One of the most important is a local man named Upali Chandrasiri. His daughter was in the hospital at the same time as Pathmanathan and he began to care for the Tamil girl as well.
Today Pathmanathan calls him father and she works as a youth activist, who tries to build upon reconciliation between the two ethnic groups in Sri Lanka.
“Why do we kill each other? Why do we live separately? We should live in peace and help one another,” Pathmanathan says now. “Love is an amazing thing.”
She hopes that readers of her book will receive the message she has had both the misfortune, and the good fortune, to be able to learn.
“I wanted to show two sides in this book,” the young author explains. “One side is the suffering the people have had to deal with during war. The other is the new life I have, thanks to the love of the people I thought were my enemies. Thanks to them I have come to see how important it is that we understand one another. I don’t want this country to go through war ever again, I want children to be able to study and for people to live in peace.”