Monday, 17 March 2014

Just Someone I Know

Ruki Fernando is my friend. I was introduced to him years ago when I was working on a film and needed some help. Another friend put us in touch with each other and ever since then we have remained friends, meeting spasmodically when he visits Britain. The last time I saw him was on a winter's afternoon when he came to lunch. I loaded up his plate with pasta fagioli and pesto and poured out some white wine.
'How much d'you think I can eat?' he asked in mock despair, staring at his plate.
He is a slight man with a slight appetite. It was the friend who he'd brought with him, who would polish off the rest of the food.

On that day, as my family came and went about their business, Ruki talked of the people in Sri Lanka who desperately needed his help. There was the widow whose cartoonist husband had vanished because of his work. And her children, deeply traumatised by their father's disappearance. There were the men and women who were gang raped, and tortured, the people who had lost loved ones simply because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tamil people, Sinhalese people, Muslims, anyone really, who spoke of Human Right's Abuse going on in Sri Lanka. And Ruki was taking on the dark heart of Sri Lanka, for this?
'Are you mad?' I asked.
'I am not alone,' he said quietly. 'And even if I were, how can I turn my back on these desperate people? They need my help.'
And his own life? His safety? Did he worry about that?
He looked at me and smiled, a modern day Schindler in the making.
'He's a saint,' his friend said, laughing but with a somber expression in his eyes.
The affection in the room between us was not of an ordinary kind. You do not meet saints on a daily basis. Outside the grey afternoon was closing in and the light was fading fast. Winter was at its deepest.

It was time to go for Ruki still had much to do before he left for Colombo the following day. I remember standing at the gate seeing him off, this handsome, unassuming man who reminded me so very much of my own relatives now long gone.
'Don't worry,' he said. 'Nothing will happen to me and if it does I know you will make a fuss.'
I supposed he said that kind of thing to all his friends. And so, I too laughed, waving him goodbye.

Then, late last night I received an email from the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice. It was brief.
'Ruki Fernando the prominent Human Rights Activist, along with Father Praveen have been detained at the Killinochchi police station.' That was all.
The unthinkable had happened. Ruki had vanished.

There is little I can do about this and even though the emails this morning came in thick and fast asking for help I knew all I have is the thing I have always had - the ability to write.
But who will listen?
All over the world at this very moment men are subjecting other men to the vilest of abuse. Listen to the news, watch it, see the anger writ large on faces where 'clashes of violence erupts'. Is there a place on earth where there is no clash of violence?
Why then should my pleas be heard?
Why would David Cameron take the slightest notice of any letter I might write?
I am told that if there are enough people who feel passionate about something, then something, some change will happen. I am told, even though I doubt it, that numbers count. And so, I shall send this Post out into the ether in the hope that Ruki will be released, unharmed. Not so much because I believe in Goodness but because Ruki is my friend and someone you know is more sharply focussed in your mind than those you don't.
I hope you are well Ruki, I hope no harm has come to you, that you will see again an evening sky and feel once more the tropical sea breeze of my childhood.

Since writing this I'm delighted to say we've just heard that Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Jehasa are being released. Perhaps there is power in numbers after all!


  1. Thank you for writing this. Reading your posts is always like hearing a familiar voice in the dark--such a relief to hear you, and it's been too long.

    Yesterday I sent a letter to John Kerry (since I live in the States) about the arrest of Ruki Fernando, Father Praveen, and Jeyakumari Balendran and her 13-year old daughter. I write these letters, as always, with a bitter feeling of futility, and I do it mechanically. I'm not sure if I'm helping at all or just trying to make myself feel better. I share my letters on Facebook, feeling rather silly and defeated.

    I can't help feeling defeated, isolated, and guilty. But if Ruki could keep returning to Sri Lanka--and with a smile on his face--I will certainly keep sending off my letters, like an SOS pinging in outer space, until we get help.

    While I'm relieved that Roma's voice persists, that this blog exists, and that there are never any dissenting comments here--God knows there are enough of those elsewhere--I do wish there were more comments. The ex-pat community may take some small comfort in their solidarity, but there are many 'outsiders' like me who are an invisible part of this community. Be visible here.

  2. beautiful, Roma. Many thanks. We must and will get him released.