anti-government group, Black Cats, Colombo, Communist Party, communists, elections, Fr. Jude, government, JVP, JVP Politbureau, Moonemalle, Moonemalle Inheritance, Palitha, Palm Court, The Moonemalle Inheritance
That occasion however was the last. Already there had begun the unrest that indicated the JVP was once more a force to reckon with. This was quite understandable and some of us even sympathized, for the government, in not holding elections for eleven years and showing itself inclined to cling to power for even longer if possible, had driven opposition underground. This was a situation on which the JVP thrived. The party had been proscribed, along with two more orthodox Communist parties, on wholly trumped up charges of spearheading communal riots in 1983. Everyone however knew that it was in fact forces in the government who were responsible. The other parties had accordingly protested their innocence. The JVP Politbureau however had not argued at all. Rather they accepted the challenge and began to reorganize in the form that suited them best. Even those of us who found their tactics questionable had to grant that, had it not been for the agitation they spearheaded, which other opposition forces in turn then found courage to support, the government might never have held elections.
Unfortunately even after elections were at last announced the JVP, perhaps carried away by its success, demanded that the elections be boycotted. The other opposition parties refused to go along with them and the boycott failed. However the impact of the JVP boycott, violently enforced in areas where the government was weak, ensured a government victory, albeit for a different Presidential candidate and what proved a new dispensation.
Despite the general acceptance of the result, to everyone’s surprise the JVP once again called within just a couple of months for a renewed series of strikes. This was designed to make the country ungovernable again, and for some time in fact the struggle was evenly balanced. There were days on which no one went to work and the streets were empty; nights when no lights could be seen in much of the country, for the JVP had ordered a blackout and to disobey was to court summary execution.
Marie was not there for the worst of it. We had worried about her as a single lady with no one except an old woman for company night after night, but the decision that she in fact took caused us some surprise. It was to go away on the trip she had long talked about, but had kept putting off until we thought it would never be made. Just as the troubles were building up to their height then, she set off on a shopping spree that took in Singapore and Bangkok and Hong Kong, and included a long spell in Australia in between for her to visit all the friends and relations who had emigrated over the years.
She was gone for five months altogether and so missed the worst of the crisis. The house was shut up and the old woman sent back to Chilaw. Palitha however was kept on, with access to the garage and his mother’s room so that he could start the car and generally keep an eye on the house. Once a week he collected the keys from my mother to open and dust the rest of the place, except that is for Marie’s own suite, which had been double-locked and padlocked. Those keys Marie had taken with her, which my mother thought just as well, for she had had no desire to taken on responsibility for Marie’s papers and the various family heirlooms on which she set such store. On the rest of the house however my mother had been asked to cast an eye occasionally. She dropped in therefore every two weeks or so to ensure that all was well, and reported that it was kept as clean as even Marie could have wished.
I have to confess that none of us suspected anything. Indeed when Fr. Jude was reported killed, taken away in the middle of the night by men whom everyone knew to be soldiers in mufti, the Black Cats the government had set up to rival the JVP death squads, we were absolutely horrified. We had no doubt that his activities and his ideals had brought him into contact and even collusion with other anti-government groups whose methods were questionable. But that he should have been shot in cold blood came as a shock.
And it was an even greater shock when we were told that Marie’s house had contained an arsenal capable of blowing up a substantial portion of Colombo. That indeed was what it had been intended for. We could scarcely believe the story, but it was my cousin, who was in the cabinet and one of those most under threat at the time, who shared it with us. How close the city’s heart had come to being destroyed was something we would never understand, he told us.
He was able to keep the story out of the papers or, rather, the details. A report did appear, at the time the JVP leader and his even more dangerous deputy were caught, to the effect that the member of the Politbureau in charge of Colombo had also been captured along with a whole arsenal. That this had been kept in Marie’s bedroom suite was not made public knowledge.