Ceylonese Singaporean

I am so excited that a novel set in Sri Lanka has been shortlisted for the 2022 Booker prize and I’m hungry to read it. My partner was the one who alerted me to it. He knows me so well.

There are so many books set in India, but hardly any from the isle of serendipity and the pearl of the orient. Terms of endearment of the ancestral land, that I somehow have never forgotten since childhood.

I know that as a child I was made to feel only pride about the place my grandparents migrated from. I heard stories of how my grandmother, although eligible for a pink identity card, held on to her blue one.

I watched ads on tv describing Ceylon as an island paradise rich with flora fauna and natural resources. I longed to set foot on a place where you could find gem stones like the blue sapphire and golden beaches. And of course the best tea in the world.

Later on from the stories my aunt S told me upon her visits there, I long more for the cool misty hilltops where tea is grown. Nuwara Eliya.

But was that just a dream when in reality the letters sent to my dad, always asking for more money, reflected a very hard existence indeed. One of sorrow and suffering. I was shocked to see how one of his beautiful sisters K had aged over the years. I used to gaze at her picture as she looked the most like my dad and had such a pretty sunny smile. That’s what a hard life will strip from you. Seems so cruel. I just felt extremely fortunate to have escaped all that. Also I feel a heavy guilt, so I can’t imagine how my father must have felt.

My father always shared with me how his very smart sisters were denied an education. He said the youngest one was very good at Math. He was really fed up with his father for that backward, shortsighted and sexist decision. He always sent back money to his sisters, even as he grumbled they were always asking for more.

As I reached teenhood, I grew ashamed and horrified that people of my ethnic group were responsible for terrorists acts. The person who detonated a bomb while falling at the feet of Rajiv Gandhi was a Tamil Tiger. Oh the ignorance in being a pawn in someone else’s scheme. The fanaticism that grew out of desperation.

I didn’t want to be associated with this in any way. It was so utterly horrific I thought. Barbaric. There is always an anger within me when I read about terrorist acts.

The country did so badly that the women ended up as domestic workers in Singapore. Often this is when there is no choice and it’s the best option financially.

I had classmates from Sri Lanka who were here on scholarship. I felt so disconnected from them. They grew up where my grandmother grew up but they felt alien. They always acted like they were superior but that often stems from insecurity.

I was annoyed when they boasted about Sri Lanka saying how wonderful it was. Better than Singapore, they had to emphasise.

I was quite disgusted when they said they would readily fight with the resistance fighters and they had deep hatred for the soldiers. They had real anger and spoke of rape and atrocities that were spread through the grapevine, but not reported in the news. They were the tender age of 14 and spoke happily about taking down the bad soldiers.

I read none of this in the news, so I had no idea if it was true. Probably was.

They were very ambitious teenagers, saying they would only marry a doctor and they were studying to get into medical school as well and would accept nothing less. It was really off putting to me, but maybe it was because I lacked direction and ambition and was secretly jealous of their resolve. They just seemed so egotistical and ethnocentric. Now I wish I had asked them more questions to truly understand their situation.

In reality I am so disconnected from the land of my ancestors. I have mixed emotions. Shame that I don’t care more, and longing for the beauty I’ve heard about and all the troubles to end.

Also I know there has been genocide of those of my ethnic group, but journalists have been silenced. That is why there should be more writers on the subject so that more truths can be revealed. Perhaps my ex-classmates with the maturity of adulthood would be able to write the truth now with better understanding.

I don’t really like to use the name Sri Lanka for many reasons. It has always been Ceylon to me growing up. The name change came with discriminatory acts towards my ethnic group. Imagine overnight when the official language changes. All previous job prospects down the drain.

In Singapore those of Tamil origin were identified as Ceylonese. My close friend from school was Sinhalese. It’s a bit like a Ukrainian and Russian being friends. A Palestinian and Israeli. I think you get what I mean. People are never enemies, but it is corrupt politicians who make it so.

We were so removed from that civil war situation in Sri Lanka that it just seemed like such a pity. On my part I felt it was fanatical, but desperate people who roped in reluctant villagers to their cause. These I gathered from the letters my father received from his sisters in Ceylon from the 70’s onwards. They spoke of a relative loosing a leg to mines.

No one in the village wanted any part of the war. They just wanted to live in peace, but were accosted in all directions. Even if they wanted to leave they had to pay the freedom fighters. So they were wronged in many ways, by their own people and the government.

I was glad when the civil war ended, but now we see that corrupt politicians have robbed the people of their country & sold them out, borrowing heavily from China. Unable to repay their debts they have practically sold their port to China which was probably their aim anyway.

On my friend’s part she thought that Monks were abusing their powers and interfering in politics. She’s Buddhist and I’m Hindu by birth but essentially we are both just spiritual and free thinkers. We both assumed some blame for the strife on behalf of our ethnic groups and yes all of that tinged in frustration and pity that the beautiful country was being destroyed by its own people. Well namely the politicians. As I get older I realise more and more now it is the fault of corrupt politicians, as it always is in history.

Singapore will always be home to me & fellow Singaporeans are whom will understand me best. My favourite food will always include Wanton mee and Hokkien mee (Sri Lankans I’ve met don’t like these, but need their string hoppers).

I can comprehend and speak Singlish. My childhood memories include trips to Yaohan. Those closest to me include Singaporeans of a different ancestory, and even relatives in Sri Lanka are like strangers to me. I’m not being cold, but these are just the facts due to circumstances of birth. The deep disconnect.

Worse when I faced discrimination at work here. Then I felt like I belonged no where truly. I would always be treated as a minority on this earth.

I may be ethically ceylonese, but culturally I am very different from the people of Sri Lanka today. I’m different from the Sri Lankan diaspora in Germany, Norway, Canada or Australia. But I’m so keen to learn about each of these difference life experiences.

Perhaps I’m most similar to the diaspora in Malaysia because Singapore was part of Malaya after all.

And the people of India do not consider me to be Indian and I’m not part of their diaspora even though in most forms in Singapore I’m expected to put myself under the 4 races is others. Seems pretty archaic these application forms.

I’m Ceylonese Singaporean. A term that is foreign to Sri Lankans, but that’s me. My friend identifies as Sinhalese Singaporean and not Sri Lankan. The diaspora in Canada for example call themselves Tamil Canadian like the Star of the Mindy Kaling produced Netflix show, ‘Never Have I Ever’.

I don’t think this should be controversial (even though race is a social construct), but each individual has a right to identify as what suits them best. A right to value their culture.

(I know Singapore is tiny but to know that Sri Lanka is 91 times bigger is kinda mind boggling because they could be doing so much better)

About bookjunkie

Blogging about life in Singapore & recently cancer too.
This entry was posted in Culture & Society, family, Midlife Musings, My Childhood, my teenhood, Singapore Living and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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