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A close friend asked me recently what ‘home’ meant to me. It’s not that we often delve into the philosophical during our frequent conversations together; she needed some information for a project she was working on and was interested in getting the perspectives of her friends and family. I was flipping through the answers she got from various other people and, in comparison to their one-liners, my own responses were rather long-winded. While this is laughingly typical of me (I have never quite mastered the art of being concise), I have a vague feeling that my answers to her questions were rather confused and convoluted. Weeks later, I still keep coming back to that question of what ‘home’ is and what it means to me – especially from my changed perspective as a fly-by visitor to the country I grew up in – a country I’m not sure I’ll ever truly return to again, except for periodic visits like this one.

It could have been because I lived a few of my formative years in Sydney that my bonds to Sri Lanka never felt terribly strong or permanent. I don’t remember much of my time here pre-Sydney. I was under 5 and have vague but happy memories of going to nursery and playing in my grandmother’s vast home and garden. Memories that old (or new, depending on how you look at it) are tied more to people, family and immediate environments rather than a country and sense of national identity. As children, I don’t think we ever dream there is a world outside the playgrounds we make for ourselves – except of course in the fancies of our imagination. For me anyway, anyone who wasn’t a fellow pint-sized sibling, or protective parent or grandparent, or stooping, loving Sumana, or sari-wrapped teacher, was either faceless or quickly forgotten. Continue reading Home

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May 28, 2011

14,000 things to be happy about

Settling down here hasn’t been easy – and that comes from someone who wasn’t expecting a fairytale to begin with. Still, I have to say I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it would be. A lot of the time it was like I was watching myself from a distance, with a growing sense of alarm as I floundered about in this new life, but unable to do anything to help myself out.

The first month was great: after months and months of waiting, I was finally here in Sydney. As with all new chapters, I felt awash with inspiration and hope, reveling in a fresh sense of freedom without all its worrying limitations. My parents were taking care of me until I got back on my feet, I had a great new apartment and after three long years, I was finally spending more time with my sisters. Summer was giving the weather its best shot before its imminent departure, so I spent many a morning rambling around either my neighbourhood or my sister’s in shorts and a tank top to stave off the heat (which actually reminded me a lot of home save for the lack of feeling like I’d be run out of town for wearing shorts anywhere other than the confines of my house or some remote beach). Life was good.

But soon, Summer waned, taking with it the warm security of the phrase “…but I just got here”. There was nothing for it but to start looking for work. And anyone who has been in my position (and by this I mean looking for that first job out of Sri Lanka) will sympathize because it is the single most demoralizing experience – ever. It is abominably cruel that we are meant to remain sprightly and brimming with self-esteem and worth when we’re met with rejection at every corner. So – being hideous at selling myself at the best of times – I had a truly ghastly time of it. I went from being headhunted in Sri Lanka to being at the bottom of the food-chain in Big Bad Corporate Sydney. Suddenly I felt like my experience amounted to nothing, that I was horribly unqualified and generally rubbish at everything. Applications got harder and harder to write, I started sending my CV out to places I wouldn’t have dreamed of applying to a month ago, and all the while alarm bells were going off in my head, accompanied by a voice that was telling me with brutal conviction that I was never going to find a job and would have to return to Sri Lanka with my tail between my legs come a month or two. Continue reading May 28, 2011

Vanna.

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Vanna

Looking oddly tough in her wife beater and a pair of her husband’s checked boxer shorts, Van comes to sit beside me on her sofa. “Dinner” she announces, and then pauses. “Now let me think”.

She glances over at the armoury of cookbooks sitting unassumingly on her coffee table and heaves them onto her lap. “How do I make mushrooms?” she muses to herself as she flips through them one by one. “Butter, garlic and fry ‘em in a pan?” I offer but she waves away this suggestion impatiently in her search for the perfect recipe.

I settle back meekly on the sofa and look on in amazement at this tiny girl’s energy. After a long, hard day at work all I want to do is kick off my clothes and shoes and collapse on the sofa for a good hour or two with milk and biscuits. Van, though, gets right to work, starting with her twilight brainstorming session on the couch as she decides what to cook for dinner each night.

I usually judge people’s ages against how old they seem compared to me. Tellingly, I have a tendency to think almost everyone is older than I am, but Van is a conundrum in this sense. Her tiny stature, unflagging optimism and ability to keep up a steady stream of chatter no matter what she is doing makes me sometimes feel older and thus very protective of her. Still, her endearing naïveté is offset by the fact that she is oddly street smart. I say ‘oddly’ because she is literally so tiny that one just assumes that she would get pushed around. But Van will have none of it. I commented on this to her one day. “Good things come in small packages” she replied with a big grin. Continue reading Vanna.

Conversation

Two women, awake when they shouldn’t be but unable to sleep, start to talk to each other.

Why are relationships so important to us?, the first asks, biting her lip. She is worried, sad about something, but doesn’t say what. They shouldn’t be.

The second shrugs. God knows. We should only depend on ourselves. Then adds ruefully, I used to believe that.

The two pause in their conversation, mulling over this strange phenomenon. The second breaks the silence, asking a question that she has pondered over for years:

I often wonder why love can make and break lives. Why we spend our whole lives in a search for someone to share it with.

Her friend doesn’t answer directly at first: Good question. I didn’t ask those questions when I was your age. I think it’s good that you are.

She hesitates before saying, I spent so much of my life looking for someone to love… and someone to love me. What a waste. Continue reading Conversation

Heated thoughts

The heat of the afternoon smothers her in an uncomfortable embrace. She’s desperate for escape but there is none.

She’s at her desk. Her work is open and politely asking for attention, but unrelated thoughts meddle with her focus.

If three’s a crowd, her brain is home to a multitude. She can almost feel them jostling, shoulder to shoulder, trying to push in front of each other, competing for prominence.

There are those beautiful people who she’s refusing to let go of. People who took her into their collective arms and provided her with a makeshift home and family at a time when she was surrounded only by the rubble of her past mistakes, ugly destruction. They made her sing. Their life and energy worked her stiff muscles, making it easier to move, to move on, to walk away. She misses them and wants them around her so that she can feel at peace again.

There is one who is experiencing that unimaginable pain of having to walk away from something that meant everything. She sees the invisible cuts, the eyes that pretend to focus while hiding wells of hurt, she hears the voice that rings out sweet and strong but knows it is on the verge of breaking, heavy with tears. She recognizes the symptoms of heartbreak and aches to ease the constant throbbing pain.   Continue reading Heated thoughts

Carols, friends and moving on

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I’m having fun again. Haha. Finally! The thrill of it made me want to giggle madly as I walked to work today, listening to Christmas carols for the first time for the year. I avoid local radio in any case, but I make an even more pronounced effort during November and December because hearing those godawful popped-up carols-on-acid never fail to kill my Christmas buzz. So it’s always special when I put on my standard Christmas CD – Carols sung by the Choir of King’s College Cambridge – and drink in those first strains of divine choral music. ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’ and it made me literally shudder with delight, happy to be alive and in this moment. That feeling was accompanied by another – a sensation of being slightly shocked to be feeling this way and after such a long time.

 

As I walked on towards work, trying vainly to stifle my grin, I thought about the people I’ve been meeting lately. Happy people, full of energy, refusing to be dragged down by all the stuff they’ve got going on. I love people like that. They inspire me, and make me even more eager to get rid of my blues. And though it’s only been a few days, I feel like I’ve made more progress than I’ve made in the past few months. These people may or may not know who they are but for what it’s worth, I just wanted to send a big THANKS out into the void. Continue reading Carols, friends and moving on