Incognito – Theivigan Panchalingam – Translated by G. Kamalakannan

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Churches in Australia had requested the people to pray for the consolance of his soul, tolling at evening six, on the day of passing his Death penalty for Arulkumaran.


Thavaranjani was hitting the doors of the jailhouse hard, crying. Although, permitted duration for visiting Arulkumaran had ceased, she kept hollering with deafening voice unable to move away from the place. The scream that raised and pestering in her from inside saying that this would be the ‘final visit’ the words reverberated again and again. The remnants of that fervor ended with a sheer outcry: ‘they are going to murder my child.’ The holler that had traces of agony of motherhood echoed on those senseless walls of prison, unacknowledged. The guards were pulling her outside.

Akila, accompanying her crying, was also trying to pull her out along with the prison guards, only to find it impossible. Kaaralasingam, the husband of Thavamani was standing there, using his shirt collar to dry out the tiresome, drenched, reddish eyes of his.

‘Father, hold mother,’ after the call from Akila he went near Thavaranjani and took one of her hand and rested it on his shoulder and carried her away. She doesn’t have any driblet of energy remaining in her body. She went flaccid.

Once they reached near the giant arched steel in which it was engraved as ‘Kerabokan Prison’, the doorkeeper opened a doorway to a small resting hall for visitors. Everybody came out.

Various media teams along with their cameras, recording devices and speakers jumped surrounding the family of Thavaranjani. They besieged all three of them.

‘Is the execution of his death penalty confirmed for tomorrow?’

‘What Arulkumaran was saying as final.’

‘What Arulkumaran was eating as last.’

‘Did the Government of Australia give any assurance trying to save him at the last hours, anyhow.’

Thavaranjani took her hem of sari by one hand and covered her face, and with another she grabbed the shirt of Kaaralasingam and walked away scurrying.

Inside the sari covering the face, she was shouting : ‘No, no, Please.’  ‘Leave us alone.’ ‘Please, Please.’

In a cunning manner the media persons separated three of them. Some of them targeted Akila with their perplexing questions, while others were pushing the mouthpiece of mikes into the throat of Karalasingam. By following them, now they started encamping their vehicle too. They were shoving the recording devices and receivers inside through the gap of the car glasses. They were asking the same questions repeatedly. Driver locked every glasses.

The continuing onrush of the media persons from all of the four directions made the Driver to feel agitated. He was incessantly pushing hard to take the vehicle out of this stampede with great vigor. But the cameramen were in much zest to capture the faces of the family members of Thavamani in various angles for the purpose of printing them in their medias. Akila covered her face completely with the hem of her mother’s Saree. Thavaranjani buried her face inside her hands weeping. Karalasingam seemed upright. The agony of losing his offspring came as shocking darkness into his mind.


Snow was dripping through the leaves. Everyone finished training and fell into deep slumber, in the long cattle shed camp roofed with a bluish plastic tarpaulin. I turned to the side to look at Balan who was sleeping next to me. He was way far into sleep with drooling. Without disturbing his sleep I stood and looked at the ground, only to amaze with my eyes becoming wide open.

Previous night after we went to sleep, the rifles might have been arranged in an orderly manner, by the practicing team members of Master Velavan. The rifles had been arranged in the accompanying shed located lateral to the ground, in erect posture.

On seeing them, in a flash, I felt like the Sun entered deep inside my flesh.

I ran and woke up Balan to bestow the information. He came outside running hastily to gander it.

Those black steel weapons were standing erect with some palpable arrogance in air, waiting for us with a treeish color paint on its middle and lower parts.

Both started laughing and sharing glances between each other. Without conscious effort, I was caressing my left side elbow. For how many weeks we were practicing crawling and somersaulting with some wooden dummy gun. We hated wooden dummies for this reason, it created lesions in our calloused hands. We were thinking that if the rifle came into our hands it might be a shielding from any hazards.

An older injury was felt hardened on the unsmooth elbow.

Everyone had arisen.

Running on that day went more vibrant than usual. Balan ran with exhilaration and blissful jumping. Then came Master Velavan. He gave special instructions about rifles. After the session we received them by hands, one by one. We entered the number mentioned on the plate in register, and soon we felt the chillness of the metal, once it contacted the hands like the piercing of a bullet.

After finishing lunch we returned to the camp. There Balan started cleaning each and every parts of the rifle applying gentle pressure with the help of a cloth colored in a mixture of white and yellow. I have been watching him sharply staying proximal to him. First he would clean it by pressuring. Then, he would blow the handle. He would close one eye and look closely inspect as if there any dirt might still staying in it. Again he would clean it. He would notice myself enjoying these, with a silent smile in his twisted lips.

That day onward, I felt like a part of my life was loosened from myself to leave and enter into that steel to live inside it.

Ri 56. That was not at all a fresh model. It was captured from some other military camp, after an attack. But, that was received by force from someone. To gain this who knows how many might have died; Broken into pieces. I don’t know exactly about those events. But, definitely things would have happened. Not only freedom but also the weapons should be paid with life, is a situation only understandable to the person who would ever be in warfare.

After it got attached to myself, I started to value myself inferior.

During the times of absence of training or fight, I started to address my rifle. I was sharing the books I have been reading with my rifle, often. Once finished cleaning I would start to read some pages, some paragraphs, sometimes some lines, that is all. That would be the duration available. Balan would also listen to that.

Even tomorrow itself, if a bullet pierces my chest taking away my life, this rifle might fall into an enemy’s hand. He may confirm my death by shooting with this same rifle as if he would do a testing on me. After that, he might take this rifle to his camp. In a deserted space, this rifle might cry unsteadily laying on my side. At that point, feeling absence of my story telling, even this mighty metal would shed a couple of teardrops.

I believed, in every way, there was a life lurking inside this rifle. Like me Balan too believed firmly that there is a life available with his rifle for him.


That was my birthday. We had to stay for observing the military in the region of Palamottai forward safeguard. In the previous fight we took M16 with commandos, we slinked observing. We both had much love towards that American rifle. Apart from the status of capturing from a battle it had added special status of no previous ownership. A special bliss was storming inside both of us because of its presence.

We too well known that the enemy would know the sound of every steps put forward by his counter. As like always, Balan was staying aware more than me in my security.

Still he was feeling to do something on that night. Midnight arose – exactly at 12 – he wished me for birthday. He shot a round of bullets with M 16 into the sky outside the roof. Bullets were flying like fire-flowers piercing the darkness and then ceased. Then he turned to me saying proudly, ‘See, using Chinese crackers for birthday is for normal fellows. I fired American crackers for you.’ Those eyes were filled with elation.

Balan was killed by an enemy sniper on the battle next day. Balan was falling curled and collapsed in front of my eyes. There was no single movement on him. The sniper must have been waiting for the one who would come to take his corpse, with another target fixed via his barrel. I felt an urge to jump to drag Balan. A bitter fluid was started to secrete into my tongue. My chest and stomach were burning. The motionless corpse of Balan caused my whole body immobile and frozen.

The loss of Balan created a huge void inside me. The last laughter that fell from his face kept surging inside me. The affinity towards the rifle lost forever that night. And the life of militia too.


After being evicted from the war as well as motherland completely, I was sleeping and living under the tarpaulin roof which was given with the blessing of United Nation Organizations as charity, for the past two years. On one day, I woke up to visit the legal guard Vaishali. I started to converse with her, while she came as a translator for an UN official. In a way we had been speaking here and there, all of a sudden she came with a cake into camp, wishing me birthday. That came as a huge surprise to me. I was so happy on that whole day. That was the day on which I felt satisfied in an alien land for the first time. All of a sudden I stood from the sleep-bed before going to sleep, thinking. I was engulfed into the thoughts of Vaishali, forgetting that the day was the death anniversary of Balan and felt blameworthy to me. Beads of perspiration came out. After sunrise I could feel images of Vaishali filled inside me.

Vaishali belonged to Yazhpanam. Divorcee. She came here to Indonesia to be employed as a translator in United Nations Office. She had continuously learnt the citizenship Acts and had been working as a solicitor for refugees. In the camp they were gossiping about her that she married an Indonesian official and divorced him too for the second time. I had a firm belief,that one of the reason for her care over me is my non interference on her personal mishaps or affairs.

“How long will it take to exit from this camp and immediately to go for another country? Without transferring under another roof, by not knowing the illegal routes openings available for ___

“They are recruiting people for the division of prevention of drugs, once after getting free from here if anyone joins there there would be enough money, and it would create an opportunity to be proximal and stay alongside with the Government, giving it a try would be a decent thing to do as of now,” Vaishali finished her speech under the shade of a laavulu tree standing in front of the refugee camp.

It is comprehendable that those words were echoed like the sign of her untold love towards me, with its intangible care.

Vailshali knew which vegetable would come from which of the trees and how to ripe it on the very next day properly. She had known every nook and corner of my life. I firmly believed her if she showed me any pathway there wouldn’t be any barricades or snipers.

I learned Indonesian tongue to write as well as to speak fluently, in my stay of two years at the refugee camp, which seemed like very huge asset for me.

After getting released from the camp I was staying in a room that located in front of Vaishali’s residence. She then, thought that I liked that. Or she might have thought that I shouldn’t feel wrong about the help of parole, that it might be due to the affair. The day I was staying at her home, pouring caused a huge mess. Stream of water rushed inside the house. My single bed got ruined. I slept alongside Vaishali on that night.

The sky was pristine clear on the next morning.

Vaishali herself filled the documents for training for Eradication of illicit drugs from the website Indonesian Civil department painstakingly. She met with the concerned persons for getting signatures. Except going to the training classes herself, she completed all other procedures.

The training classes started at the Civil agricultural Yard Halls in Sugupatta, a place located just at the turn of miles from the capital Jakarta. I got acquainted with a guy called Kattona, with an protruded molars. He was born in Indonesia, raised in Indonesia and went to Indonesian prison. Although, his tip of the nose seemed bent similar to Balan, he would laugh at literally anything and everything. It seemed if he has to cry he might start with a laugh, after all.

Once training started, It became clear, the job was like hunting dogs, by catching and hitting the drug dealers and users without any compassion. The job simply was like this : after catching the persons with drugs we should suffocate them with the strict laws under implementation by state, later only to push them into the prison. The statistics shown in the training by an upright rigid commando, can be understood as that half of the populace of Indonesia ought to be behind the bars as of now.

One day, after lunch Kattona said in between two puffs of his cigarette -“In spite of our every effort to arrest and imprison someone, he might get out by bribing somebody easily. So, it is important not to be too rigid, keeping an anger along with law, therefore it would be better to receive the monthly pay and leaving happily towards home.” Even though, he said that with his usual laughter, I took the implied truth into me.

Later, he showed me a photograph of his three girls, and started to laugh again, reddening his bent nose.

“All the three of them girls?”, I asked him surprisingly.

With a load of shyness, “Oh, nope!” he said. “The middle one is my wife.”

On the sixth week of training we were taken to Pamuka islands, which is located very near to Jakarta. I hadn’t had a clue that the session would evolve into a weaponry training. The Iron Master informed that special jobs would be allocated based on the results of that training.

I told Vaishali the matter on that night itself. I was in fear that they might get a lead up to Palamottai, and pull and dissect my older files.

“No one estimate you negatively based on your skill in handling weaponry. This is almost as same as Government job. You will get additional allowances too. Don’t waste the time”, Vaishali finished again with her habitual touch of saying.

The convulsive images of my previous life with turbulent weaponry were haunting me then and then, without a miss, would end up in getting caught in her sharp observations. At once she would come up with a solution like a doctor in order to break away my chain of thoughts. Her speech was consisting of various things, of which that I had never had any chance of experiencing them. The thoughts which dispersed away at her presence, would return back like some low laying clouds over my head at once in her absence.

“Peretta,” was the name of the Italian revolvers being used by Indonesian special forces said Kattona. “The guns for inferior polices are being made in Indonesia itself.”

We were divided into two groups based on the skill exhibited at the end of seventh week of training.

A group of trainees were selected to do field work as Prevention of Illicit drug division. The officer wearing medals of various colors standing in front of the class shouted out names of everyone. I was waiting, gandering his lips for my name to be spelled out by him.

I didn’t got any mention from his mouth till the end. I glanced Kattona. He too, was struggling beside me unable to laugh for the first time. The trainees who were mentioned were taken to some other class. After the disappearance of the last one out of the classroom, three of the new officers in blackish uniform came into the class. They seemed like brothers to our Iron officer, by being so rigid. They had known our disarray. Among them an officer having five or more scars that looked like stings of wasp, started to address.

“Based on your skill exhibited in shooting, we are inclined to offer you places on special team of executing death penalties. How do you feel about it?” He just spoke plainly into the subject. All of a sudden I felt like a stone came blocking my throat.

“Special Commander will inform you about the privileges and special allowances for your job in detail. It is not mandatory to reply your say on this urgently today itself,” he ended his brief shocking speech with a thin smile.

After that, those were standing there started to speak many a things.

I came out running hastily and asked for a cigarette from Kattona. I took receiver to call Vaishali.

Vaishali repeated the same she was saying always. In addition to that she told one or two significant things. “Opportunities will come at unexpected points in life. You are in shock because you haven’t been experienced it before. This offer is given for your talent only. Other teams doesn’t got it. It came to you because you deserved it. Do I, in any way, need to explain about life with weapons for you?” Vishali questioned.

Second cigar too, ended in my hand.

In spite of myself distancing from weapon, coming of it again and again towards me like a boomerang gave me paranoia. The memories of Balan clutched me with my feeling of guilt strongly. Bunch of my untimely memories were starting to arise inside me like a dark smoke.

On that day, after eating me and Vaishali started out for a stroll. She could feel through my tribulations. Even before my talk regarding it, “Oh, you have been stained by rifle,” she said.

Once she told like that, all of a sudden I felt like she just got inside me. She told me watching my eyes. “We are thinking there are several rights in life for us. The societies, even the judiciary are positive in supporting that notion. But, the utter reality is totally different.”

Some of the labors were busy in covering a pit, to repair the water pipe, at the corner of her house. We went to the other side of it crossing the street.

“Husband, children and friendship all of them included,” she started from where she left. She added, “they might belong to us but we can’t own them.”

Then she walked in silence. That is the silence offered for me to contemplate, I gathered. Balan, rifle and revolt all came to my mind as chains of thoughts, floating.

The commander of the team of death penalty along with his committee took us to the island of Komodo. There we were given a super secret training additionally.

From the procedures of how the detainees to be shot in death penalty should be brought to the execution spot to how to dispose the executed body in the boxes, everything to be done as a team was explained there elaborately in that training.

The trainer advised that the strong mindedness and the patience to carry out these execution proceedings were the two significant prerequisite for this job. He lectured about the various methods of gruesome killing and tortures as punishments from history during ancient ages, in detail. On comparing those methods now a days they were offering very least painful methods to execute the perpetrators, he elucidated.

As a part of training sessions, there was an execution of death penalty for a Philippine perpetrator, showed in live telecast via television.

He was tied hard from feet to neck to a rod facing nine gun holders in front of him, after shooting he died flexing his flabby head down. It ended nothing lesser than a scene from an English film, and reminded me  some of my own warfare experiences. A chilling sense of touching a spot on foot after taking an old throne out, came with a flash in mind.

After that, they informed about our upcoming session in which they would take all of us to Indonesian Killing yards to show this act of execution by person.

All of us were taken to the island of Nusaa, near Indonesia. We had been offered our uniforms then. The military vehicles used to move from the mainland to that island through a gravel land bridge. The deserted land was identified as ‘ghost island’ by the people of the nearby villages, Kottan said. The big criminals of the Indonesian state were passed death penalties and kept there for execution. Probably there many of them  might undergo a very long period of punishment. Rest of them death penalty perpetrators. After the decision of Government, the perpetrators were taken very earlier in morning to a place called ‘Vaadimutram’ in order to get executed death penalty.

Blood and death were not unknown to me. I had been swam on them jubilantly. I had been grown up with the notion that the life means nothing but just bodies. I only had a soulful contact between me and my rifle. Apart from that I had a soft corner to Balan. I lost it in gruesome manner. Now Vaishali had been entering into that place. Deducting these would show me that myself also a rifle, nothing more. The feelings that belong to me stayed mostly outside me than inside me. I was too liking that kind of life merely.

In that case, the proceedings of this kind of death penalty and the dark truths surrounding them, seemed to me like some festivals occurring on another side of this world.


We, with the business of executing death penalties were called ‘mobi’ battalions. In my black uniform it was numbered as ‘mobi 16’. To execute death penalty orders everyone was given M16 rifle. American made. It was glittering. For the first time receiving it stirred the memories of Balan, as if he is standing and laughing near me. I turned and looked without any conscious effort. Kattona was standing there. That uniform made to be very tight to keep many essential things along with rifle. That was designed in mind, to keep other in fear about the persons executing death penalty. A tight mask covering head and face only exposing eyes and nose through very little holes. It is only possible to identify Kattona with his number in uniform.

The day we had gone to Nusa island we learnt that an illicit drug perpetrator from Nigeria, was going to be executed. While they took us in early morning, it was comprehensible to guess the job would be over very quickly.

That Nigerian with Blue colored T-shirt and Black trousers was brought to Vadimutram. Well build physique. It was invisible to find any hint of him entering for deathbed. Officials wearing masks were standing surrounding him. They were doing inspections of final hours in a way of confirming he should not in any case got away from this punishment. After tying him to the post a preacher went near him saying prayer. After that, nine gunmen came and took M16 rifles that were installed in order. They stood by placing their feet on a line drawn in front of the post. One of them went forward to the accused and placed his hand on his left chest where all the laser focus of all rifles got converged. Within a few seconds that official came near the gunmen. Lasers were staying motionless on that point.

I heard that in order to avoid the pain of last breaths the perpetrators would have been injected anesthetics. But, from inside the tight covers of that Nigerian some controlled moans were coming. I was thinking that might have been the prayer song of the preacher. But, now I could hear that very clearly. The lost voice of his, floating in air, in a cry and down cry.

Even though the shots would be fired from all nine of the rifles, only three of them would emit bullets, from whose, that no shooters would know. And also the persons who prepared merely wouldn’t know which of the loaded rifles goes to whomsoever. We learnt all this during training.

“Bang,” after the sound of flashing, the head of the Nigerian man covered with black cloth went down and laterally to his left side.

Every gunmen were staying in white line without moving a muscle. The head of the team went near the perpetrator along with a doctor wearing black coat. It was visible to see their inspection from distance. As a gesture of confirming death of Nigerian every gunmen came in an order and placed rifles from where they took them in an arrangement, and then went to the nearby hall.

The black smoke came from within.

Who is he? What is the need for me to target him to shoot down. Here there is no chance for reading books or doing adventures with my weapon. Here only the death of the person tied to a post, was what in demand. While he became a corpse and fell down, I should feel proud for protecting the legal construct of Indonesia. Of course, more money would be paid for me because of that pride.

The same bitterness that filed inside me at the death of Balan, came once again now seeing the corpse of this Nigerian, annoying.

But still I was unable to go beyond myself. For anyone who came after the military training, feelings are nothing but a worm moving over the body. Sometimes a feel of happiness can be felt be that. There won’t be any value beyond it.

I was thinking how I filled the mental pits during a stroll with Vaishali.

Our team leader instructed all of us to sleep as early as possible, because they had already been brought the perpetrator to be executed on the next day. He added that we should return to the island again at midnight.

We had been brought outside the island Nusa, and there we had been given convenience of lodging and food in a warfare. Everyone went to their concerned rooms, while I came to mine. After taking a bath I called Vaishali. While telling it was only possible to come after the completion of job, she found something in my voice.

“Nothing, we will talk once I reached,” I told.

“Is there any problem,” she asked again.


I fell into the cot.

I woke up only to find the time evening 7. Once again I took a bath and went to the battalion camp, where we were offered food in dining hall.

“Tomorrow’s death penalty is for an Australian, I hear,” Kattona spoke in low voice taking his mouth towards my ears.

We are going to hand a killing machine, is there any difference could it make on nationality? I would not guarantee about through which of the nine rifle the bullets come out. That gave me a sense of peace as for as the current anxiety concerned. I came out of dining hall after cleaning my plate.

Team head asked everyone to be in uniforms and return. Around 10.30 at night our black vehicle was moving towards the Nusa island.


The connection to the island, gravel bridge, was crowded by many people standing. Huge lamps were alight with the help of generators, flooding the street with light. Sidewalk fruit shops, food in stalls were selling busy. If any foreign perpetrator was about to be executed in ghost island, there would be a huge crowd like in any festival. For them at least two days of temporary shops would be opened. Kattona told there would be better sales for them.

The boys with pineapple baskets over heads on their way busy in marketing.

Since the entry prohibited inside the ghost island, media persons were staying ready with their cameras mounted up near the bridge. Their cameras started to cover our vehicle. The vehicle that was coming back to us protecting on our rear pushed a sound horn to disperse the cameras of the media people. There were policemen to handle the crowd. They removed the gawking people to both sides of the road to allow our vehicle to move forward.

Some people were standing under a United Nations tarpaulin nearby the place where media people stood.

Somehow we managed to get pass the police barricade.

Nusa war field as well as Vadimutram were floating the same as the previous night. It was glittering like a midday sun, on which even a tiniest grass would seem distinguishable. The team leader came and announced the list of the final nine, which included my name. Then came the doctor who checked on our pulse and blood pressure.

Exactly after twenty minutes from midnight nine of us were taken to white line. The American made rifles M16 were standing in orderly manner. We had been walking with rifles to the white line, when the Australian was tied to the post ready for us. Our team head came for check whether our eyes are properly able to see out of the hole of the mask, and left.

At that time, the same christian preacher went near the tied accused, walked around him and started to sing a prayer. Then once he left from there, our team head and the doctor both came and stood near us. I sharpened my ears and listened. There is no sound coming from him.

Three – Two -One, countdown is spelt out when we have to finish our job in the target laser circle.

I can’t believe that my hands once fighting for a nation’s independence are now holding a weapon for solving another job for a different reason in different country.

Where is the weapon that could save me from the turbulence between the life and the weapon?

Memories secreted again from the heart. Mouth felt a bitterness that had stick into my tongue. Chin felt frozen. Heart started to beat a mill. I could feel my face emitting hot air inside my mask.


The handle of the rifle kicked at my chest. I was standing frozen on that moment. Oh my God!


To witness the death our team head and the doctor, both went near the post. Attendants of Vadimutram came one by one to untie the corpse. The gradually took the corpse into a cloth stretcher and moved away.

Shielded vehicle came out of the gravel bridge the people of the committee, supporting the death penalty came as a group and enjoyed with crackers as a symbol of supporting the execution. Media came round and round with their cameras, taking photos of our vehicles. The sounds of the vehicles in that street looked like the night itself came awake for a feast dance.

A woman came running from the opposite of the street from a camp, fell on the ground and grabbed a handful of soil, she cried out loud throwing it on us, “Oh, damned! You killed my dear son, your family would never perish.” That cry came out in Tamil which caused me to shrink with shock. “Oh, damned! You killed my dear son, your family would never perish,” the Tamil cry rumbled repeatedly.

I was praying with my blood stained hands kneeling , “My land, Oh my land, Please don’t curse me,” towards the direction of that mother’s voice. But still that voice haunting me like an echo in a square.