The wanted food connoisseur in the pool
I was reading Adele Balasingham’s autobiography The Will To Freedom, which I randomly found in a used bookshop. The wife of late LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham, she wrote a self-serving and blinkered autobiography, which is nevertheless interesting for her personal access to late LTTE leader Prabhakaran and other assorted terrorists. What I found most interesting was how total psychos tend to be humanized via food. She writes how Prabhakaran’s passion was food and cooking and how he often sent over dishes for her and Anton. She also details his fastidious dress and cleanliness habits and how he despised smoking and drinking. All very admirable and connectable human traits, but she entirely elides incidents like the multiple suicide bombings he ordered, or the hacking to death of border villagers, or the machine gunning of innocent worshipers in Anuradhapura. Instead, the story she wrote is about some pristine liberation struggle where Prabhakaran enters as a friendly neighbor, helping with food and travel arrangements. Interesting personal anecdotes, but not really representative of history. That is, even mass murderers must eat, as humans do. That doesn’t make them humanitarians.
I think it’s true that even the worst people must eat, and some of the most criminal people remain eminently personable. Human perception, also, is biased towards personal relations rather than any broader judgement. The salient factor is that someone is a ‘nice guy’, not whether he does nice things. Ms. Balasingham’s autobiography, in that sense, is clouded by her own personal contact with everyone. I think she’s tried to make it a record of the Tamil struggle, but she again glides over the LTTE’s bloody and ruthless elimination of other groups in a few sentences, entirely between the lines. Instead, she spends paragraphs describing how hard it is peeling small red onions and the troubles in running from safe house to safe house. There is never any introspection into or explanation of numerous LTTE atrocities and terrorist attacks, which would be interesting. Instead it’s a group of lovely people that she knows well, being troubled but external forces like weather.
Having at least enrolled in a social sciences course, Ms. Balasingham might no the biases one gets from sharing food and lives with a subject. Her main stories are of the logistical issues involved in the moving the sickly Mr. Balasingham, from planes to boats to safe houses. In once scene she describes how their boat was flanked by other boats laden with explosives, ready to die from them. She just says, ‘ah, noble struggle’ without ever questioning whether Mr. Balasingham and Mr. Prabhakaran were worth dying for, as most of those cadres eventually did. Indeed, it seems that she never questioned or analyzed the struggle since her marriage to Anton Balasingham, a time at which she also dabbled in supporting various ‘liberation’ movements across the world – from Africa to South America – with scant attention to the specifics or consequences of any of them.
One notable insights in her book, however, is that she credits the Indian government, particularly the Tamil Nadu government of MGR, with supporting and effectively making the LTTE. She details the military training they got, and how it went wrong when the LTTE stopped doing India’s bidding. From that point on the occupying Indian Peace Keeping Force is the ultimate villain in her book, but it’s also clear that India not only nurtured the LTTE, but also generally knew where they were and never captured them.
Everything else must really be taken with a grain of salt, liberally in Prabhakaran’s case, perhaps to get the taste of blood and cyanide out.
I don’t think Adele’s book is available in Sri Lanka and would probably be held at customs if one got it thru Amazon (what they search depends on the size of the order). I found it randomly at a used bookshop on McCallum Street, end of Darley Road.