The Story of a Starfish Thrower

Via Vanessa Marjoribankson Apr 29, 2016

Starfish article featured pic v2

I have always held a strong sense of right and wrong.?I have always wanted to help people.

Someone asked me recently why, and I responded that this was as much a part of me as the color of my eyes.
Then I realized that these innate characteristics were likely multiplied during defining moments in my own life when I wished for someone to help me.

I was the kid who found baby birds on the ground and took them home to live in our hot water cupboard.?I would enlist my friends? help to find bugs in the garden that we would mash up and painstakingly feed to the ?patient? with tiny pipettes. More often than not, the baby birds didn?t survive, which bought floods of tears.
Sometimes they did, though, and for every feathered life saved, the angst was worth it.? Continue reading “The Story of a Starfish Thrower”

Witness

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6th July 2005
?This man lying here, brought me to this world. He educated me, clothed and fed?me, stood by my own bed in hospitals, stood in the gap for me at school, prayed?for me unceasingly, blessed me, guided me and counseled me and gave me?strength to take the next step. Yet, I watch him lying here, and there is nothing I?can do to stop him from dying??These were my thoughts on a chilly morning in the last room on the left wing of?Lakeside Medical Centre in Kandy five years ago. I felt helpless and useless.
Here I was seated and watching his life ebb away and I could do nothing.?What use was I? Or anything else in this world, if it can?t save the life of a man?such as him ? my father. ?God, are you really there?? I asked a blank wall.?It was also Terryll?s birthday, so I had plans to go back to Colombo that day and?return the next day, to uselessly stand by him. Yet I wanted to be there, in my?desperation to share whatever he was going through. To let him know I was?there, because I believed that even in his comatose state, he heard our voices.

For only a week before, I had spent the whole day with him near his bedside and?sang all the old Tamil songs we used to sing as children. And I saw a smile and?a tear run down his cheek. So he heard me. And that tiny factor was comforting.?What was I trying to do? Ease my conscience? For all the time I did not spend?with him? For the trouble I put him through as a teenager? For the anxiety I gave?him as an adult? I didn?t know. Perhaps he knew. We bonded that day like never?before. Even in his state, we connected. Like we always did. My father and I.

I stood up to leave, my eyes never leaving the respirator and his one hand on?his belly moving up and down which was the only sign of life. And suddenly the?movement stopped. Just like that. I knew the end was here. I handed my baby?(Zoe was then nearly 2 years) to the nurse and although we were asked to leave?the room, I wanted to stay by his side. To make sure they did everything right.

Suddenly everything was clear to me. This was the end. It was time to let go.?This man lying here will no longer be my strength. I had to be his. I cradled his?head in my hands, I whispered ?Dada I love you. We all love you. Go in peace.??The medics turned him face up. He grimaced with his eyes closed. I put his?hands together, straightened his legs and once again held his head up so the?blood would flow out and not block his throat. I didn?t cry. I wanted him released.

His pulse had already stopped. The doctor asked if they could use the electric?shocks on him as a routine procedure. I told them to leave him alone. His face?relaxed, he looked so peaceful. I put my head down on his chest. There was?nothing. My everything was suddenly nothing. I still didn?t cry. I helped the nurses?take out the tubes and clean him up.

He looked so peaceful, in a long time. Yet through the 7 months since diagnosis,?he never once complained. Not even when they stuck needles in his stomach?to release the fluids. He would smile and thank the nurses and compliment on a?good job done. I turned around and held the doctor?s hands and thanked for the?efforts, I held the nurses hands one by one and thanked them too. That is what?he would have done. Blessed them and thanked them profusely. The pathologist?covered his face with his arm and sobbed against the wall. Dada had coaxed him?several years ago to pursue his studies and make a man of himself. There were?nurses in the room he had recommended for jobs.

I filled out the death certificate calmly. Everything was so clear and programmed.?Name of deceased: Walter Jonathan Sinniah. Time of death: 1.45pm. Cause of?death: General System Failure due to multifocal carcinoma of the liver. Parent?s?name: Peter Murugesu Sinniah and Mary Sinniah. Place of Birth: Deniyaya.?Place of burial: General Cemetery, Mahiyawa. Witness of death: Jeevani?Fernando. Relationship to deceased: Daughter. I couldn?t write anymore.?I wanted to remain a witness to his life rather than his death. I had witnessed 35?years of it that day. And even now, it is his extraordinary life that challenges me?on a daily basis. Not his death.

Jeevani Fernando

A Class Above

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Jeevani Fernando


We sat nervously huddled on the wooden bench of the Haputale Railway Station at 8pm last night, clutching our precious collections from the trip – kithul jaggery from Badulla and jars of orange marmalade, guava jelly and Nelli syrup from Adhisham for the two grandmothers.? Partly shivering in the cold, partly wondering how we were ever going to make the 10-12 hour journey back home by getting in to a train from a midway station with no previous booking.? We had taken a break on the way back to Colombo to visit the beautiful monastry Adhisham and didn’t realise the train will be full by the time it comes to Haputale.
“I love all kinds of people mummy, but I just can’t travel 3rd class on the train” said Mishka. We had just that morning taken 3rd class tickets from Badulla to Haputale and it was quite an experience when, after having paid for 4 seats, we were down to one, when Samaritan love overtook us and we gave seats to mothers with babies and grandmothers, also with babies in the hope of getting a sympathetic seat in an already overcrowded train. Mishka was miffed that people could assume we would feel sorry.?Little realising we were going to need that same sympathy soon.
I said let’s pray. Zoe said let’s throw some people out. Kyle said ‘don’t worry mummy, something will work out’.?15 more minutes to go for the train to arrive. I looked at my 3 fellows and thought I must do something. They had been such good troopers, climbing up and down mountains, trekking nearly 2kms in Indian sandals (bad preparation by the mother) to see and touch the Dunhinda falls, that majestically fell 190ft down creating a mystical cloud of spray and awe.?They had eaten noodles for breakfast and fried rice with no meat as it was the Buddhist festival where no meat was cooked.? They had slept in a mud cabin in the woods and no neighbouring lights, with absolutely no fear at all.?They had been thrilled at every little thing, the train rides through tunnels and around the mountains, the fiery short-eats and even the ghastly toilet in the train where they could see the tracks while doing their ‘little jobs’.
So I plucked my courage and told my three, ‘let mummy go talk to the station master’. The man at the counter had refused to even issue 3rd class tickets to us as he wasn’t sure if there would be room even to stand ‘all other seats FULL madam’ he had said a while ago.? So I by-passed him and walked into the station master’s office.? I made polite introductions in English and he asked what I was doing in Haputale and what had I seen, etc, etc. Then he asked me the wrong question ‘Are you Tamil or Sinhala?’ ‘Oh no!’ says Mishka, because she knows the tirade her mother goes into when that question is asked.? So I let him have it – about how this country got into this state because of questions like that.?And I thought, there goes any chances of getting seats.? Yet,?he didn’t seem peeved. He was in fact making very good conversation.? It ended with his promise ‘I will somehow get you seats but first get yourself on the train with 3rd class tickets’.?I saw Mishka’s face fall.
The train came. It was a mad rush. We managed to scramble into 3rd class. It was packed. It smelled of alcohol and it had no room even on the floor.? I was dismayed but was determined to take it.?I had just managed to put the bags up on the rack when the station master, uniform, cap and all, came running to our compartment and hurried us to take our bags and get off the train. The children groaned. We got off.? He signaled to a man in uniform where the reserved seats were and held up 4 fingers.? We were like refugees now running to the front of the train with bags and jackets and Ivndian slippers flapping under our feet. Passengers poked their heads out to see what was going on with the station master who was also running along with us. The engine driver was getting impatient.? A quick exchange between the two men and we were bundled into 2nd class reserved compartments.? Reclining chairs and all. All I could do was jump back down and shake hands with the station master and thank him profusely.? And as the train pulled away, he shouted ‘I don’t know why I did this but certainly not because you are a Tamil!’
I fell back on my seat laughing. Apparently some others had to be re-arranged to another compartment to fit us in there.? The children were giving hi-five’s to each other. Mishka had found a new hero – a tall, smart station master in Haputale. She was all starry-eyed. I was speechless.? The kindness people show others, in any dimension, makes such a difference to an individual, a family.? Never should one shy from going that extra mile, lending a hand or seeing to the comfort of another, to a strange mother with three children who believed in miracles.? The children will never forget this experience and also the belief that people in their country are helpful, kind and generous no matter what ethnicity they belong to.
And as the knight in shining armour blew the whistle, and Zoe cuddled up to me on the seat, happy she didn?t have to throw anyone out the window, I looked forward to the future of my children.

Fathers and Sons

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Fathers and sons

Subject: Thinking of you
Sent: 02/13 3:21 AM
Received: 02/13 5:09 AM
From: [email protected]
To: Pedro Meyer, [email protected]

Dear Pedro,
I have not written to you for a long time now. Things have been difficult here, and now with the elections only three days away, it is difficult to know what the next few days will bring. It is fairly certain there will be violence, but to what extent and with how many casualties, one can only guess.

I have been remembering you for very different reasons. For three days now my father has been ill. He has always been poorly, and with diabetes, gout, arthritis, and a failing heart, adding to his childhood bone marrow defects, he feels he has done well to keep going without any major mishaps. Yesterday, he had a blackout and slipped in the bathroom and fell, cutting himself on the head in the process. He was sweating when I found him, and as I changed his clothes and mopped his body with a towel, I found a new relationship developing between myself and this man who had fathered me. He was frail, and his skin hung loose, and he was slightly uneasy with this new role that we found each other in, but he did not resist, not because he was as weak as he was, but because he was brave enough to venture into this unknown territory at this late an age. A territory, I had never braved. I tried to gently mop the sweat from his body, feeling him lean on me, letting me feel his weight.
I had played with him as a child, but since then, we had had little scope for physical contact. I remember once, when I was twenty one, and about to leave for several years, that he stiffly held out his hand to shake mine. I went up to him, and his hug was so warm. Later, from a thousand miles away, I wrote to him to say that I loved him. It was the first time I had done so, but we had broken the ice. We wrote often since then, each time renewing and expressing our knowledge that we loved each other, but there had still been little to follow up on that hug. When I left for a visit, or returned, we would hug, a soft gentle hug, knowing, trusting, but still holding back ever so slightly.

He is sleeping now, in the hospital bed, and in the strange environment of the ward with the sound of sick and dying men all around me, I can hear him breathe. Even in his sleep, he knows I am here, and that is reassuring for both of us. I can feel his soft wet skin, the weight of is limp body. The almost imperceptible way in which he leaned against me as I held him. We have spoken very little in the hours when he has been awake, and much of what we’ve said has been functional, spoken while I have been feeding him, making sure the mosquitoes don’t bite.
Tomorrow I will be back in the streets, facing the inevitable police bullets and the teargas, in the heat of the battle perhaps I will forget this hospital bed, the squiggly lines on the oscilloscope, the gentle breathing, but I know he will await me. And tomorrow night, like tonight, I will sit by his bed, half awake, while he sleeps, happy in the knowledge that I have touched more than a bare patch of skin.

I remember you now, for the thoughts that ran confused in my mind as I watched “I photograph to remember” in a quiet corner of the gallery in Arles. I have my camera with me, but have taken no pictures, not yet. Perhaps I’ll wait for the skin to dry.


In loving memory,……..,
Shahidul Alam
…….



Subject: My father
Sent: 02/20 11:30 AM
Received: 02/20 12:35 PM
From: Shahidul Alam, [email protected]
To: pedro meyer, [email protected]

Dear Pedro,
The text is a bit formal. It will take me a while to write to people individually. I hope you will understand.
RENOWNED BANGLADESHI SCIENTIST PASSES AWAY
Professor Kazi Abul Monsur, a microbiologist of international repute, passed away on the 20th February 1996 at Suhrawardy Hospital of a heart attack. A brilliant scientist, Professor Monsur was a gold medallist from Calcutta Medical College, and was later awarded the “Pride of Performance” by the President of Pakistan. He developed the world’s best known culture media for cholera, known as “Monsur’s Media”.
He was the founder of the School of Tropical Medicine, and also the initiator of the first IV fluid plant in Bangladesh. His work brought international recognition and he served as the director of the Public Health Institute. Professor Monsur started his teaching career in Dhaka Medical College where he was professor of Bacteriology and Pathology, which was followed by many years of international work. He retired from Government service as Director of Health Services. Dr Monsur has left behind his wife, Dr Anwara Monsur, founder and principal of Agrani Balika Bidyalaya, daughter Dr Najma Karim, son Dr Shahidul Alam, grandchildren, and many well wishers. Dr Monsur was a director of Drik Picture Library Ltd.