Exactly eight years ago, the early morning of September 21st 2006 was very eerie for me in Colombo, Sri Lanka. There was that beautiful silence in the air but a whole lot of expectations were storming my mind. It was the International Day of Peace. And the war between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tiger rebels (LTTE) was reaching an alarming point.
It was just about 5 am when Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (popularly called as Guruji) stepped out of his room. He started walking towards the beautiful open courtyard of our host`s house and looked deep into the sky while I stood in silence. He then asked me “Are we ready to leave?”. I said “In a few minutes”. And he sat on the garden bench looking into the sky again and closed his eyes in bliss and went into meditation. My moods changed for the best.
I quickly rushed to the kitchen, picked up the lunch basket and placed it in the car boot and ran up to him to say that everything`s ready for the travel. Swami Sadyojathah who was leading our Sri Lanka operations then and Harish Ramachandran one of our senior Art of Living teachers were to accompany him to Killinochchi town, the LTTE`s war-time `capital – headquarters` to meet Prabakaran. Guruji cheerfully stepped into the car to leave for the Ratmalana (a Colombo suburb) helipad to fly to Omanthai town, the high-tension border between the LTTE controlled territory and the Sri Lankan Governments` area.
We had all valid permissions from the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. Both parties were extremely keen to consider the peace initiatives proposed by Guruji. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa granted immediate permission for the travel to Killinochchi including the provision of a special helicopter. I stayed behind in Colombo to co-ordinate with the Government.
After the helicopter touched down at the Omanthai air force base, Guruji and his entourage drove towards the Sri Lankan controlled border check-post after which there was a very long stretch of land called `no-man`s land`. This particular stretch of land between the `enemies` was under the supervision and authority of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as per an international agreement and anything that happened on this patch of land was neither the full responsibility of the LTTE nor the Government of Sri Lanka. However, this particular place did have a long history of indiscriminate shoot-outs.
Just a week prior to Guruji`s visit, Government officials in Colombo had cautioned me that they were not going to be responsible if a bullet or a multi-barrel rocket fell when his peace delegation was crossing the `no-man`s land`. One senior official particularly told me “Guruji has real guts to walk into the Tigers` den at this time…when the war is raging…hats off to him”. To which I replied “Guruji is a man of peace…not just a peaceful man”.
As they drove towards the no-man`s land, Guruji asked the car to be stopped. He got down and started walking on perhaps one of the most dangerous zone`s in the world then. A European officer from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was seated in his small cabin looking at Guruji walk on this stretch of land where no one dared to during those months of conflict. He walked up to him and welcomed him to his cabin. They were engaged in a brief chat. All this was happening when they were waiting for a green signal from the LTTE side to cross into their territory. The call came through after a two-hour wait. Swami Sadyojathah accompanying Guruji suddenly thought why such a long wait from the LTTE side when they had already approved of the visit.
It was well past noon and Guruji did not wish to have any food or even water. He had had nothing since that early morning I saw them off in Colombo. In the blistering heat of the day they had reached the LTTE check-point on the other side and were lead towards Killinochchi the `capital-headquarters`. A group of senior LTTE members welcomed him and engaged in pleasantries. They appreciated his trauma-relief work in Jaffna and charity initiatives in several parts of the world.
It was almost over fifteen minutes when Guruji asked them about Prabakaran`s commitment to meet him. They looked at each other intriguingly and one of them took the courage to tell him that because of security reasons and the war in progress, Prabakaran was unable to come. Guruji then went on to explain that his visit and mission was purely to build mutual trust for a lasting solution to the Tamils` problems and stop the loss of precious life on both sides.
Just as Guruji was about to leave he placed white shawls on each of them (as he usually does during his tours) and gave an additional one to be handed over to Prabakaran. He then told them “Choose peace…go for peace “. Guruji was seeing their future and giving a very clear hint.
One of the LTTE members who was a Christian then told Swami Sadyojathah on the sidelines “I feel Guruji is not just a Saint… but Jesus himself who has come to show us a way out…and our Thalaivar (meaning `Leader` in the Tamil language and referring to Prabakaran) has not come to meet Guruji….this sounds really very scary and indicates the bad times we Tamils are in for”.
Perhaps Prabakaran did not want to give peace, that one more chance. Guruji returned to Colombo rather disappointed (as he himself had publicly declared recently in a Satsang program) but not dejected. That same evening I received him at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo for their onward journey back to India. I pulled Swami Sadyojathah aside and asked him “What happened? What happened? ”. He said “Looks like they prefer to choose war…Prabakaran did not come nor even speak on phone to Guruji”. He added “Guruji did not eat the whole day nor did he have water”.
I then went up to Guruji and asked “ The lunch basket is full and heavy exactly as I had kept it…are you fasting for the people of Sri Lanka…for the Tamils…the Sinhalese”. He just closed his eyes. And a silent prayer was on his lips. The airport staff signaled to me that the flight is ready for boarding. I informed Guruji accordingly and he got up to leave the lounge. Swami Sadyojathah and Harish quietly followed him into the inner airport lounge, while I stayed back in Sri Lanka. For another seven years!!
Tears welled-up in my eyes as he left the lounge to board the flight. And a few minutes later i broke down inconsolably thinking of all the sacrifices Guruji had made over the years to bring peace in Sri Lanka.
The precious time, energy and resources that he dedicated to bring peace in that country and in many other communities and nations is simply invaluable. Such is the commitment of a man of peace that transcends borders, language, nationalities, religion or culture.
–Sri. Vidyut Udiaver with inputs from Swami Sadyojathah