The Village was still smouldering in places as they drove through, Phyllis’ cherished Village which she had held out constantly to outsiders as an example of communal harmony. Perhaps she was not far wrong. It was outsiders, they were told, who had swept in and burned and looted and killed. They had left Phyllis’ house untouched; but, drawn there by what seemed to be foreknowledge, they had set fire to the gardener’s hut at the bottom of the grounds. In it, they burned Krishna’s parents, his father deliberately, his mother because she had flung herself into the flames.
It is then a bleak picture we have before us this evening, in Phyllis’ drawing room as they sit hollowly before the television in anticipation of Tom’s long awaited address to the nation. Radha, Krishna’s younger sister, who has been spared the flames and had not sought them, feels guilt pervading her grief and buries her head in Phyllis’ lap without looking up. Krishna crouches beside her, his face blank and uncomprehending. Yet he has had earlier the relief of tears. Indra’s face beyond is similar, but rigid too. They have rung through to Colombo, and he has been told that Shiva also has died. It is not likely in such a situation that anything Tom would say could furnish much comfort. Still, it is something to cling to, imminent pronouncements of authority on the events, and they wait in hopeful expectation, for something that might divert their anguished minds.
It is with a horror akin to that they have already experienced, and which they never thought to have renewed, that they hear Tom declare that there is nothing surprising about the violence that has occurred. It was provoked, he says; and grieved as he is, particularly because of the damage done to the government’s development programme, he will take steps to ensure that the Tamils never provoke such violence again from anyone, least of all the Sinhalese, who are after all the most mild and peaceful of people in general…..
From the moment she had seen the smoke rising darkly over her Village, Phyllis had been determined that some constructive action had to be taken. She had administered as required to the emotional anguish of Indra and Diana and Radha and Krishna, and to some extent she had shared in it, but her own feelings she felt went much deeper. In a sense, it had been a relief to her when they left for Colombo for, concerned as they were with particular deprivations, they could not share with her the acute awareness of the general horror that gripped the land that was the burden and at the same time the prerogative only of those who identified totally with it. What had happened to the Village, what had happened to the old man and the old woman who had found shelter and tolerance and compassion for so long at the bottom of her garden, what had happened within the shadow of her bounty to all those she had known and even the very few she might by some chance never have met, all this has affected her profoundly. She herself had no right to go on living in her Village unless she could vindicate the rights of all those who had suffered, and reaffirm her vision of the common humanity which was shared by all its denizens, and by extension the denizens of the whole country in which the Village lay.
After much thought, and some rereading of the lives of her heroes of the twentieth century, those who she felt were perfect specimens of the humanity they claimed to represent and to lead, Gandhi and Tito and Mao Tse Tung, she decided that she would organise a march for peace. She went the rounds of the Village and, though on occasion she had to argue quite forcefully, very soon she could say quite truthfully that everyone was of one mind with her. Down they would all march together from the Village, surely picking up masses on the way from all the other villages through which they would pass, into Kandy and round and round all the temples there until several more people from several other directions had joined them. Then they would proceed to Colombo, the crowd getting even larger as it went, until they arrived outside Tom’s residence. There they would camp until Tom announced measures that would satisfy them, both to expiate the guilt that had been incurred by the holocaust and also to ensure that such an event could never recur.
The plan seemed to Phyllis quite perfect, except that she felt modestly that she was not quite the person to lead such a march. It did not take her very long to come to the conclusion that the most suitable candidate for the honour, both as President of the Human Rights Movement and as Tom’s brother, was Harry. Besides he was a religious leader who was unusually extremely popular amongst other religious leaders, even those of his own denomination. With him at the helm, Phyllis was convinced, no one of any integrity or decent feeling could possibly refuse to participate.
Having reached her decision, she promptly rang up Veronica to find out how the business could soonest be arranged. Veronica told her that, after his performance on television in London, Harry had been warned not to appear in the country. Phyllis however swept that aside, convinced that such a warning would only have enhanced Harry’s eagerness to fling himself into the fray. Veronica could not but agree to this. She was not as sanguine as Phyllis about the effect of a march, but she nevertheless promised to convey the request, in person, since she was about to meet Harry at a conference in Singapore of Christians Against Racial Prejudice, organised specially in the light of the recent happenings. Phyllis was quite anxious to proceed with arrangements and publicity for the march as soon as possible, so Veronica promised to send her a telegram as soon as she had landed in Singapore and been able to consult Harry. In return, Phyllis promised to keep Harry’s possible participation an absolute secret in whatever press releases she might issue before confirmation had been obtained. The precise date of the march it would be left to Harry to decide, but Veronica agreed with Phyllis that he too would probably think promptness was of the essence…..