Living with the Other

Originally published on Groundviews.

Imaginary friend, by *V3Nr3VeNG3

I often have to remind myself that I live with a Tamil.

My housemate, Vanessa is a Tamil, married to a Sinhalese and I have been living with her and her husband for almost a year and working with her for over two. She is also one of my closest friends.

She is Tamil; I am Sinhalese. But even as I write, it’s hard to think of the two of us along those lines, because I can’t figure out what defines our identities. Even if I can define what makes her Tamil, I still can’t define what makes her different from me.

Is it colour? She is darker than I am, but we are both brown skinned.

Is it accent? She sounds no different than me, except for a tiny, pleasant lilt in her voice.

Is language? We both speak English. She speaks better Sinhala than I do, and fluent Tamil, of which I do not know a word.

Is it culture and customs? She married a Sinhalese, much to the horror of some of her relatives. But she is happy with her choice.

Is it dress? She dresses just like me and we are endlessly in each other’s wardrobes.

Is it in name? She kept hers. “I like my own name”, she told me simply, by way of explanation.

Is it in political affiliation? Her political views are as vague as mine. We are not for the leadership, nor are we for those who wish to topple it. If she doesn’t find today’s politics suited to her, I could say the same for myself. We both hope instead for something in between – something more palatable, more honest. Something we cannot see today.

Is it in parentage? Her parents voted for Mahinda. Mine for Sarath. Continue reading “Living with the Other”

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Sri Lanka: The country without citizens.

Edited version originally published on Groundviews.

NOTE FROM AUTHOR:

For someone who is not in the least interested in politics – and is more often than not bored by it – my reaction to the 2010 Presidential Elections was surprising, even to me. Strangely enough though, I found that a lot of people felt much the same way. We were repulsed by constant news of violence; inescapable hoardings with their proclamations that our politicians loved us; posters that made the city walls disappear beneath them; partisan media stuffing propaganda down our unwilling throats; the promises of candidates that we knew to be false.

Yet, despite all this, we cared – albeit, rather reluctantly and in spite of ourselves. We still wanted to be in the know; we still tried to separate fact from the politicians’ fiction. We still agonized over who to support, fought with our friends and colleagues about that choice, and later felt guilty that we might be making the wrong one.

I for one became obsessed with these dilemmas, and, as a first-time voter felt totally out of depth in the process. On the night of the 26th as the results started trickling and then pouring in I sat glued to my television set, snowy with bad reception, and wrote them feverishly down in my journal, as if my pen might help me make sense of the outcome. It didn’t – and at about 3.30 am my writing had become so unintelligible that I had to give up and get a few hours rest.

It was at least a small comfort that I wasn’t alone in my peculiar fixation with the elections. Being a heavy Facebook and Twitter user, I realized that many people I knew – no matter their age – felt similarly repelled and attracted towards this pivotal election. Some posted the entire election results on their blogs, others constantly updated their statuses with election-related news; some spent their time reading and sharing relevant material and others – like me – couldn’t stop writing about it in any and all fora.

This article, I guess, is proof that this process is continuing.

* * *

I’ve heard it said by a prominent artist that there is no such thing as a citizen of Sri Lanka. That, we are a country without citizens.

The statement stuck with me, purely because I had no idea what he meant. But watching the unravelling chaos the election brought with it in the past weeks, I’ve been able to form my own interpretation (although I can’t be sure that this is how he intended his statement to be read).

Sri Lanka is a country of many publics – too fragmented or just too different to form one cohesive whole. This election enlightened me to this in a way nothing else ever has. Continue reading “Sri Lanka: The country without citizens.”

Understanding Horror

guernicaGuernica, Pablo Picasso

I’ve tried to understand this war, and failed.

It’s made me feel rather stupid – this inability to wrap my head around 30 years of horror, why it all started and who is to blame. Everyone seems to talk about it with such ease – like it’s the simplest thing to understand. As if it’s effortless to take one particular view and stick to it. I listen to the sophisticated talk of politicians, of family, of friends and marvel at the sureness of their convictions with frustrated envy.

It could be my limited understanding of politics and history that’s to blame. I have tried to remedy this over the past year or so, and despite accusations to the contrary, I hope I am making some headway. The more I learn, though, the more that yawning chasm of untapped knowledge stretches. I wonder if I will ever conquer it. And if I do, I wonder what that will mean.

Because, when you think about it, is there any such thing as understandingthe war? Is there any way to rationalize what happened? Every gun shot, every limb torn away, every life snuffed out, every radicalized mind, every spirit shattered – how can we justify those things? How can we say, “it had to happen”? How can we blame it on a few people, sit back and feel better about ourselves? Continue reading “Understanding Horror”