being alive’ – diaspora short stories

Written by – K S Sivakumaran –

“The Surreptitious Cobras ” is the story by Ravi. It’s a satire on the mindset of a sample
character of a person belonging to the older generation and a set of young people running a flourishing restaurant in Melbourne. The so-called love for the birthplace (Valvettithurai) in Yaalpaanam (Jaffna) seems to be withering away in the light of materialistic reality in Australia.

The next story has a long title – Can the fragrance of the Land be Forgotten – and it’s by
Kallodaikkaran. The opening description of too cold Melbourne is well written.The character in the story is from Maddakkalappu (Batticaloa). He works hard with his machines and reminisces his fond memories in his own birthplace during the cold season in December. However, as the description goes “His whole house looked beautiful filled with many different electronic items
and beautiful furniture. Though his house was filled with prosperity, his mind somehow was not fulfilled. He felt an identifiable vacuum there.” This story would be interesting to a non-Thamil reader who knows English as it gives aspects of Lankan Thamil life and customs. The male character dreams nostalgically of the lost past in distant Lanka. His wife brings him down from the clouds saying: ” Look here! Please think practically about what I tell…Why do you want to spoil the happiness we have hereby always thinking about our home village?” The story is a
positive one in that it is not idealistic in the sense of blind mouthing of ‘patriotism’ from my point of view.

The late T Nithiyakeerthi wrote, “That was a Game of Age.”Here too the descriptive portrayal from the beginning makes one read further. Just two lines from the first paragraph: ” The cold air of Wellington coming through the space in the door was pricking her legs sharply and disturbing
her waves of thought. Vaani raised her legs and folded them over the chair” The writer’s evocative and effective writing is beautiful and so is the translator’s ability and I wonder which of the two did the rendition. This story is an unfulfilled love story of a married woman with her son in America liberating herself from her unloving domineering man. Though the story takes place in New Zealand most of the happenings told had been in a rigid closed class conscious Yaalpaanam (Jaffna)

A Chandrahahasan’s story “Riding a Horse in a Round Frying Pan” loses its focus point by the irregularity in the narration but picks up at the end. The hypocrisy among a set of Lankan Thamils in Sydney is exposed satirically. While the father elected as President of an association
wanted the parents to speak in Thamil so that their children would know Thamil, his wife scolds their son speaking to her in Thamil in public for she feared that the public would come to know that she couldn’t speak English.

” Meanings” is the title of Buvana Rajaratnam’s story. Hers is a story of a Grade 12 schoolboy in Australia, whose parents go for work before he awakes and they return only late in the night, thus depriving of his needs. Being frustrated he takes to smoking and drugs. The parent’s eagerness to earn more money to meet the expenses led them to ignore the needs of their son
who became a drug addict. It was too late for the parents to realize that their earnings were meaningless.

Nadean’s Story “Possums” (Mammals) is a sort of story that reflects racist mentality. I quote a passage that traces the history of human habitation in Australia: ” Before humans could possess Australia in this manner from time to time, the animals called ‘marsupials’ were living here’ Love for the humankind and love for the animal kind should be the same as what the writer
implies. It has a deeper meaning.

“Enmity” by Aavuuraan is about a Lankan family in Australia. Let me quote an observation by the
writer: “They were people of several different cultures living in the province of Victoria. Perhaps the permanent Australians had the fear that their benefits and identities may change in the future ” This is a nice story reflecting love and human kindness transcending racial prejudices. But the writer forgets that in a short story particularity is essential instead of going here and there in the narration.

Ruthi’s story “A Pang of Guilt” has nothing to do with Lankan people although for a brief presentation of a Yaalpaanam Tamil woman in Chennai. The story is about two Malayalam couple and an exposition of the Mother -in -Law problem which is common in India.

Aasi Kantharajah’ “The Stolen Childhood” is about a Lankan girl studying in 4th standard in Australia. The typical insistence of mothers particularly that their children should be the first in class and force them to attend all the tuition classes without having a breath of freedom to enjoy the children’s childhood dreams. The satire comes through well.

” Turning Point” is the story by Arun Vijayarani. It’s an assurance of a disabled Lankan woman who was a victim of shelling in the North. She regains confidence in life in Australia after seeing a less-abled white woman driving a car and getting down from it and wheeling her chair with
ease into a store. Her tomentation and the indifference of her husband makes her choose to live
with her child in Australia. She asks her husband to leave her and go back to Lanka.I feel that
the story could have been structured well. The translation too could have been better.

“Yet to Learn” is the title of L Murugapoopathy;s story. it’s an interesting one as it calls the relationship between a teacher and a student both of whom now live in Melbourne. Writing about life’s journey, the conversation includes this passage: “They (the Sinhala brethren)” says the teacher “tapped in 1958, tapped in 77, tapped in 81.tapped in 83. The people who were asleep have woken up brother…of those who woke up one section lost their lives….another portion like we found our way into foreign countries…the rest who could not have a way out, are under the bombing and shelling, holding their lives in their hands and keep moving and moving. Thus is a story with no end..”

The narrator in the story (the student) adds: “Master-a widower and a father who had given away his son to the freedom movement-was narrating the world affairs very enthusiastically while driving a car in a foreign land”

What most of the stories in this collection do as in this story is to narrate some aspects of life experienced by the diaspora in foreign lands. The Lankans who emigrated to foreign lands did so out of helplessness but they made their homes in foreign climes reassured and begin to erase out the bitter memories of their native land-Lanka.

“Those Transient Days with a Young Princess” by Aaliyaal is a well-written story in the first person present tense and translated beautifully by N Rajadurai.(This is the only place where the translator’s name is mentioned). But to be honest I didn’t understand the significance of the story. What I learned was that the conversation is between a grey-haired person and a boy whose mother is a ‘blend of Afghan and Pakistani Kashmiri races’

T Gnanasekeran’s story “Earthworm” is the story of Lankan grandparents witnessing shocking scenes in Sydney on their visit -for instance, two white Caucasians embracing as lovers in public places- The grandfather was shocked to hear from his grown-up grandson of the ‘Gay Festival’.But at the same time, the expatriates have not forgotten their cultural customs as one person in the story says -Even if they have migrated our people have not let go of the culture and traditions. Even here it is all celebrated like back home. Makes me very happy to see it” It is a fine story of the generation gap showing the reality in a fast-changing world.

Finally, a story by T Kalamani called “Michelle”. As the narrator in the story says ” The illusion to’lie like an Australian in Australia’ became the darkness in my life”. That is part of the theme in the story in relation to a co-worker in a factory -Michelle. But the story ends with a twist showing Michelle not as a flirt as generally believed by gossip mongers but a person who loves her lover who lost his fingers in the factory. I liked this story.

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