2002 December 18th


Disowned and forgotten- Prabha's parents

Both Prabhakaran's parents live in a second floor flat directly above the pharmacy. His mother, Vallipuram Parvathy, is extremely ill and had recently suffered a stroke. Mr. Ilango along with his brother, who is a doctor, takes care of the two.

By Anuradha Herath

Like father like son indeed. LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran does not appear to have fallen far from the tree. His father, Thiruvenkatan Velupillai was stubborn, determined, rude, and more than a little racist.

But what more could really be expected of a couple who struggles to live a "normal" life after bringing into the world one of the most wanted men on earth? The sad truth is that the man claiming to be a freedom fighter for 'his people' has been disowned by his own parents. And sadly, they appear to be worse off than they were before.

First stop - Velvettithurai, Jaffna. Prabhakaran's childhood home, one that was most likely considered high-class during the pre-war times, now stands empty. There is half a roof, rundown walls and an empty well. Two prominent signs on either side of the small entrance read, "HONOURED VELUPPILAI PRABAKARAN'S HOUSE-THE PRESIDENT OF TAMILEELAM." The red-yellow flag on a twig stands directly in front of the doorway to the house. For the LTTE leader's parents, should they ever return to the country after their numerous requests, this is all that is left of their home sweet home.

Next stop - Tiruchirappalli, India. The city, also known as Trichy, hardly lived up to the reputation I, with a certain amount of ignorance, had granted it. The aircraft pulled right up to the entrance of the tiny airport, much like a taxi pulling up to a driveway to drop off its passengers. As I stepped outside, the hot wind gushed in my. For some strange reason, I had expected the weather to be different in a place less than an hour's flight away.

The possible consequences of this hasty trip dawned on me as I waited at immigration's filling out the disembarkation card. Address in India? I had no clue. While arrangements were being taken care of, this was a logistical nightmare.

At this instance, it didn't help to be a Sri Lankan entering a place that had outlawed the LTTE and suspected anyone associated with the country. I had underestimated the seriousness of the situation. Just then a billboard for a hotel in Trichy caught my attention. And there was my answer.

My address in India slot was filled and I was ready to go. I was relieved not to have brought my LTTE memorabilia I normally carry on such ventures to prove of my association just in case of trouble.

If I had, I would not have gone much further than the police station with which I did not have a cordial relationship either. Several days before departing for Trichy, an angry police officer answered my call to the police station at Musuri, where the old couple is said to be residing, approximately 30 kilometres away from the city of Trichy.

"Do you expect me to just give you information without even knowing who you are and where you're from?" he hollered. No I really didn't. But at least his enraged response verified the old couple's presence. A

fter all, if they weren't there, he had no reason to get so angry.

Trichy itself was similar to Galle in significance. It was relatively unclean, disorganized, dusty, and far from glamorous. Locating two people intentionally keeping a low profile was by no means easy - and against all odds. Ever since Marumalarchi Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (MDMK) party leader Vaiko's infamous remarks publicly supporting the LTTE, in Tamil Nadu, Sri Lankan means 'LTTE supporter.'

My half-Indian, half-Sri Lankan friend, having grown up in Madras, was acting as my liaison and translator. He casually informed me that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jayaram has ordered the arrest anyone found to be associated with the LTTE in any way.

I wondered out loud if that included journalists who have covered and associated with members of the outlawed group. He simply shrugged without any great attempt to relieve me of my anxiety. To make matters worst, we were cautioned not to mention our intentions to anyone and told 'not to be noticeable.' We first opted to locate the local MDMK office. It was somewhat risky. If anyone was to give a tip off, we would get ourselves hauled into jail. But, who better to know the location of Prabhakaran's parents than the party of his most outspoken supporter? Nonetheless, it was more difficult than it was risky. First, most casually but cautiously, we inquired from the receptionist of the hotel about the location of the MDMK office. Their response: a suspicious "Are you from the MDMK?" and a hasty "We have nothing to do with them".

It was time for the contingency plan. After strolling about the town for a while, we tracked down the three-wheeler that we took from the airport. The man appeared to be friendly and sincere. The trip to Musuri was a long one - 30 km in a three-wheeler. Perhaps with some gratitude for the day's profit, the driver responded fairly openly to our questions.

But he didn't know much. Once in Musuri, another three-wheeler driver claiming not to know the whereabouts of the old couple directed us towards a small pharmacy he knew to be run by a Sri Lankan. Little did we know then that the man most probably, intentionally led us directly to the place where the LTTE leader's parents were residing.

Amudha Medicals was an inconspicuous store with a stocky man behind the counter. Mr. Ilango seemed pleasant and friendly. As my friend befriended Mr. Ilango and popped the question, his first and most natural response was, "How did you know to come here?" But oddly enough, his guess was just as good as ours. Perhaps luck. Nevertheless, the conversation proceeded. Mr. Ilango's character did justice for his appearance. He was a kind man. He offered us plain tea and we accepted as we proceeded to tell him of our intentions.

Mr. Ilango claims to be Indian while his brother claims to be from Jaffna. Both Prabhakaran's parents live in a second floor flat directly above the pharmacy. His mother, Vallipuram Parvathy, is extremely ill and had recently suffered a stroke.

Mr. Ilango along with his brother, who is a doctor, takes care of the two. According to him, the old couple would like to return to Jaffna, but the Sri Lankan government has, thus far, not given them permission to do so.

After about a half an hour of conversation, Mr. Ilango went inside. Ten minutes later, he returned. We were given the opportunity to talk to Mr. Velupillai (the father) over the phone. While adamantly refusing a face-to-face interview, he did answer several questions over the phone.

We are here from Sri Lanka.
What do you want?

We'd like to meet you and talk to you.
Why do you want to talk to us?

We would like to talk to you about your son and the issues in Sri Lanka.
We have nothing to say on the issues in Sri Lanka and what my son has to tell he has told it to the press. Who is that you're there with? Is she Sinhalese?

We can't meet her. What does she want to know?
She wants to discuss issues in Sri Lanka, wants to know your ideas about the peace process, and about your life here.

We have nothing to say now and we are old and feeble, please don't trouble us. And regarding the Sri Lankan issue, we're happy if peace returns to the country and if the government allows us we are eager to go back to the Vanni. About my son, we have nothing to say.

Now that we are here, could we have the chance to at least meet you?
What do you get by meeting me?
Whatever said and done you are the father of a great man. Can we have the pleasure of meeting the parents of that great person?

Please leave us alone and we don't want to see anybody, specially journalists.
Although we failed to get the one-on-one interview, this was the first time the farther of the LTTE leader had spoken to any journalist. Mr. Ilango said, "We let you speak to him over the phone since you came from Sri Lanka. But if he refused to meet you there's nothing further I can do."

Being Sinhalese obviously worked to our disadvantage this time.Following the commencement of the current peace talks, many high profile local and international news agencies have approached the couple for interviews.

However, the parents remain inflexible in their stand. So much so that they refused a request by their other son (Prabhakaran's older brother) who runs a pro-LTTE web site in Denmark to publish a picture of them on the site.

The father, especially, has an aversion to the media and feels their privacy would be invaded if they agree for interviews.

The local police too has advised the couple not to risk meeting with journalists due to the great opposition to the LTTE in Tamil Nadu.

The couple seems to be leading quite a normal life under the circumstances. Mr. Ilango said, "On a regular day, they take casual walks in the evening." Several journalists have approached the couple in the past during their walk. However, they still will not answer any questions. He went on to say, "But now since they know you're here, they won't come out for about three days."

Mr. Ilango admits to being faced with quite an awkward situation when it comes to the parents and the media. "Many journalist have come here asking for interviews and we have had to turn them down. They think that it is we who refuse to let them meet the couple.

But the truth is, [the parents] threaten to leave if we allow journalists to visit them."

Mr. Ilango personally feels it would be advantageous if the couple agreed for an interview. "Since they don't talk to anyone, there have been reports that they are living a luxurious life and so on. If they speak out and tell the truth, people will know about their true state."
Their true state is less than mediocre and sad at the least.

The greater likelihood is that the old couple, physically weak and financially impoverished, is living a second rate life unable to return to what they call home while their son fights a "freedom struggle."