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Prabaharan's Eyeglasses

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, May 2002 (ID.2002-05-02)

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The February 2002 Permanent Ceasefire Agreement between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was a major news item in many newspapers and other news media. Photograph of the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabaharan signing the agreement was flashed around the world. A few newspapers noted that Prabaharan was wearing eyeglasses (reading glasses) when he was signing the document. Do you know that a pair of eyeglasses played a role in the liberation war in another country in another era?

Roll back the clock over 200 years. Move several thousand miles across the sea from the Island of Sri Lanka. There was an armed freedom struggle (liberation war) going on against a colonial government. The soldiers and officers of the liberation army were not paid for several months. There were murmurs at first. Then there was talk of rebellion against the leadership amongst the officers. Commander of the liberation army wrote out a speech explaining the reasons why he was unable to pay them. He called in all the officers. The General went before them, took the written speech out of his pocket and started reading it. But he had difficulty reading. So he reached into his pocket and took out a pair of eyeglasses (reading glasses). The officers had never seen him wear glasses before. As he was putting on the glasses, he said, "I am already gray, in the service of my country. Now I am going blind too!" As he said that, tears swelled in the eyes of some of the officers. Historian Richard Norton Smith puts it thus: "rebellion melted into tears". There was no more talk of rebellion. The liberation war continued and they won independence. [When the General said, "I am going blind", he did not mean literally going blind; he meant hard to read. He went on to serve his country many more years.]

That Commander was General George Washington, father of the United States of America. 

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The name Prabaharan is spelled differently by different people. Some of the variations are: Pirabaharan, Prabakaran, Pirabakaran, Prbhaharan, Prabhakaran, Pirabhakaran]

(SUMMARY: A real-life story (anecdote) from Sri Lanka and another far off land.)

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