‘SEEKING THE INVISIBLE HUMANNESS IN AN ALIEN LAND’ A review of the Diasporic issues as revealed through the selected Short stories of V.N. Giridharan

– – Dr. R. Dharani M.A.,M.Phil., M.Ed., PGDCA., Ph.D. Assistant Professor in English, LRG Government Arts College for Women –

DR_AKILDHARANI_25Migration is a customary and acknowledged activity not only of animals and birds, but also of human beings. People move from one place to another for different purposes from the historical times. If the origin of the English Language is examined, the reason would be the migration of the people who were living around the Black sea towards Western and Eastern directions by around 3000 BC. The movement formed the Indo-European family of Languages from which the English Language evolved. Roughly speaking, the term ‘Diaspora’ is a synonym to the term ‘migration’. It refers to the scattering of ethnic population forced or induced to leave their traditional home countries, being dispersed throughout other parts of the world. and resulting in the development in their dispersal and culture.

The single term ‘Diaspora’ conveys different meanings at different levels. The theoretical strength or weakness of the term ‘Diaspora’ in its current usage is that it can refer to a wide range of situations. Traditional, historical, social and cultural implications are suggested by the modern application of ‘diaspora’ in different contexts. The traditional notion of diaspora indicates a certain dislocation from the normal or ‘natural’ place of living or way of life. Sometimes the dislocation may be on a level of involuntariness or helplessness. The dislocating force may be direct and very much external or diffused and subtle. The term ‘Diaspora’ comes from the Greek word ‘diaspeirein’ (speiro = to sow and dia= over) meaning to disperse and scatter. The term indirectly suggests the idea of dispersal and fragmentation among a group of people. Either the people are much willingly getting dispersed or they are forced or induced to leave their traditional ethnic homelands. These people move from their native lands towards different parts of the world and settle themselves for some convincing reasons. Historically, the term ‘Diaspora’ was used to refer to the citizens of a grand city who migrated to a conquered land with the purpose of colonization to assimilate the territory into the empire. It is also used interchangeably to refer to the historical movements of the dispersed ethnic population of the British colonies. Though the dispersal of people and communities is an age-old happening, the concept ‘diaspora’ got its significance only during the twentieth century, as the century continued to witness massive ethnic refugee crisis due to some political reasons. The first half of the twentieth century witnessed the movement of millions of refugees across Europe, Asia and America. For the betterment of their conditions of living, the migrants fled to different countries, especially towards the western direction.

Depending upon the nature of dispersal of the people, there are ranges of diaspora to be found in the globe. Among the different diasporas, the Jewish, Indian and Chinese are considered to be some of the vibrant ones with a global dispersal. The reason is very simple that the Indians and the Chinese excel in their population and these countries are still in the developing status. Diverse streams of Indian population have fed into the Indian diaspora in the modern age. While a professional elite found its way to the United States, Australia and other nations of the ‘Developed’ West, the labouring poor were recruited to build the shattered economics of Britain, Holland and Germany.

Among the different diasporas, Indian Diaspora constitutes an important, unique force in world culture. The Indian diaspora consists approximately of 20 million people all over the world. Historically speaking, the Indians moved to other countries initially due to the subjugation of India by the British and its incorporation into the British empire. The people of India were made to work as labourers in the countries where the British had extended their colonial rule. Over two million Indian men fought on behalf of the empire in numerous way including the Boer war and the two world wars. Some stayed in the homeland to fight for their own freedom struggle during the nineteenth century. Many patriots like Subhash Chandra Bose and his followers took shelter in other countries.

Finally, in the post world war II period, the dispersal of Indian workforce both educated and uneducated has been a nearly viewed as a world- wide phenomenon. Indians and other South Asians provided the labour that helped in the reconstruction of war-torn Europe, particularly the U.K. and the other neibhouring lands. In the present scenario, the people from South Asia contribute their physical ability in work and they are the main force in the transformation of the physical landscape of much of middle-east. In the higher level, Indians exhibit their supremacy not only in software field, but also in literature. They establish their strong presence in their professions in the other nations such as United States, Canada and Australia.

The Indian diaspora can be grouped as the People of Indian Origin (PIO) and the Non Residents of India (NRI) according to the meanings of the terms ‘exile’ and ‘diaspora’ Though both the terms indicate the involuntary nature of the movement or migration, it is possible to observe Indian people who willingly move across the world. Of late, there are many NRI to be found in the western countries, especially in US and Canada. The NRI may be the people who have migrated towards US and Canada to improve their status. The reasons for their movement might be like high salary, better living conditions, other allowances and so on. The NRI can come to their homeland anytime when they wish, provided they get enough holidays. They are the willing migrants with a plan to bring up the social status of the conditions of their family. In the field of literature, the Indian diasporic writers tend to depict the problems they face in the alien land, where they have taken their shelter, wherever they may be. There are so many eminent writers of Indian Diaspora like Bharathi Mukharjee, Rohinton Mistry, Salmon Rushdie, V.S.Naipaul, Meena Alexander and Jhumpa Lahiri who rjee, Rohinton Mistry, Salmon Rushdie, V.S.Naipaul, Meena Alexander and Jhumpa Lahiri who have been discussing several matters concerning their homelands and the land in which they live. They belong to the NRI and they are very much free that any time they can visit their homeland

The other group of Indian people has moved to other nations as refugees and asylum – seekers due to some political and social pressures of India. This phenomenon which continued over centuries on a small scale has of late resulted in mass migration with a common identity on a global level. Critics sought to distinguish between ‘exile, expatriation and economic migration’. The dominant notion of diaspora was still one of victim-migrant and close to that of exile. One of the most discussed and theorised , but also controversial, applications of the exile/diaspora can be seen in the attempts to define historical as well as contemporary experiences found in the Tamil community of the United States and Canada. Canada has a large concentration of Sri Lankan Tamils, almost 90% of the Tamil population, approximately amounting to 3,00,000. The ‘Tamil diaspora’ is a term used to denote people of Tamilnadu and Srilankan Tamil origin who have settled in many parts of the rest of India and Srilanka. They are also known as ‘Jaffnese diaspora’ and ‘Ceylonese Diaspora’ refers to the global diaspora of the people of Srilankan Tamil origin. It can be said to be subset of the larger Tamil Diaspora.

The status of Srilankan Tamils in other countries have been called the ‘Asylum diaspora’, reflecting the claims that they have made in order to stay in the countries in which they sought protection. Like other Diasporas, Srilankan Tamils are also scattered and dispersed across the globe, with concentrations in Canada, India, Europe, Australia and the USA. For a very long time, over a decade, Canada was the place to give shelter to Srilankan Tamil people. Toronto has more Tamils than major Srilankan cities such as Colombo and Jaffna and it may be considered to be the largest Srilankan Tamil city in the world. Though the Government of Canada gives a warm welcome to the Tamil, their presence is not welcomed by the natives of Canada. In Canada, Srilankan Tamils tend to identify themselves as ‘Tamil Canadians’, while Indian Tamils identify themselves with the greater Indian community.

The Tamil writers of Canada constitute the Tamil diaspora, which naturally belongs to Indian diaspora, since Tamilnadu is one of the southern states of India. Canadian literature incorporates many renowned writers from Srilanka, including Shyam Selvadurai, Micheal Ondatjee and many others who had contributed their works to the refugee land. While this privileged group of writers could articulate their emotions and experiences in English, there is other group of writers who represent the tenuous nature of freedom of the Tamil and tend to reflect not only of the deep and sturdy roots of their struggle in an alien land, but also of the growing and deep felt need of Tamils, living as political refugees to go back to their roots – in search of their own identity. Some had given expression to this need in English (because their early education as a result of foreign rule was largely in English). The literature of these people is called ‘PulamPeyarnthor Literature’ (the literature of the expatriates).

Since ‘Indian Diaspora’ is not to be underestimated as the term connected only with those who can express their views in English, in this paper, the works of an emerging Canadian writer in Tamil, V.N.Giridharan, have been taken for study. V.N.Giridharan, who is basically a Tamilian of Srilanka had moved from Srilanka to Toronto at his very early age. He is the chief editor of the E-magazine ‘Padivugal’ which brings out all possible news from different fields of the society. He has published many articles, poems, collections of short stories and a novella. For this paper, three of his short stories (translated versions) have been chosen namely – ‘Co(w)untry Issue’, ‘Manhole’ and ‘Husband’. Some of his short stories have been translated into English by Mrs. Latha Ramakrishnan. He is the author of five novels published in Canada. Some of his novels and the collection of short stories have been published in Tamilnadu by Kumaran Publishers and Sneha publishers (Chennai.). One of his short stories ‘Co (w)untry Issue’ had been incorporated into the book titled ‘Paniyum panaiyum’ (‘the snow and the palmra’) edited by Indira Parthasarathy, a renowned writer of Tamilnadu. One of his novels ‘Pondhu paravaigal’ (Birds of burrow’) had been prescribed for the students of Tamil in Singapore Government. In addition to that, he was the instigator of two newsletters namely ‘Our Universe’ – the theme being the preservation of the environment and ‘The world of Computers’ a few years ago. Currently these newsletters are not being circulated.

An earnest attempt is made in this paper to bring out the focal points of the writer concerned with the plight and problems of his native land – Srilanka. The ‘strange climate’ of the land that has given him shelter is inevitably compared with the memories of his home land. Based on the author’s own experiences as an asylum seeker in Canada, his short stories illustrate an amalgamation of themes of the political unrest of his homeland, to ascertain his identity in a foreign land, his love for the environment and the lifestyle of the natives of Canada contrasting with the life of the refugees. As it would be the case of most of the writers of the diaspora, he has also focussed upon the issues of colour, the influence that the new surrounding has over the lives and thought- processes of the native land, the conditions of women and the other ethnic problems. The stipulation of his life style in a ‘new situation’ always strikes a deep chord in the mind of the author. His love for his native land where he is not allowed to live a peaceful life makes him shed his sickness through his writings.

In his story ‘Co(w)untry Issue’ , the hero who is on his way to get his vehicle serviced, witnesses the strange fight for freedom of a cow on the main road. The cow has somehow managed to escape from the nearest slaughter house. It has blocked the road and many people are trying to bring the cow under their control. With great wonder, the hero watches the cow’s strong determination to restrain the domination of the people. Immediately he can not help thinking of his own native land, where many people are in the same situation as the cow, trying to win freedom for them and their family. The status of his people there is that either they have to ‘do’ or ‘die’, just like the position of the cow. Either it has to oppose the crowd or it will be put in the slaughter house again. He is so moved by the plight of the cow that he wants to help the cow by buying it and taking it to his own apartment. But he himself is in the position of the cow, which has escaped from its destined position and he is not in a position to help a cow in that foreign land. He thinks that if it had been Jaffna, he could tie the cow in the backyard, but it is not possible in his narrow apartment. Finally, the cow problem comes to an end by shooting it with a tranquiliser. Though the cow has been taken into the slaughter house again, the author cherishes the cow’s love and zest .The heroic fight of the four-legged animal for freedom makes him feel a kind of respect and reverence for it.

In his other story ‘manhole’, he painfully expresses the condition of most of the refugees, who take the manholes to be their shelter. In this story, the author brings in the characters of not only an Indian Refugee, but also a Nigerian taxi-driver, who proudly calls himself a ‘chief’. The sufferings of the blacks are also as prominent as the Indians and Srilankan Tamils. The affinity towards a fellow-sufferer is articulated apparently in the story. The narrator watches a mysterious sami (saint) sitting on the manhole, looking sarcastically at the Parliament building. Though he is starving, he is so enthusiastic that he often cracks jokes. He has good wit and sense of humor. He says that Indians are overflowing all over the world. They discuss the view that the Canadians refer to Indians as Paki and call Pakistanis Indian. One final day, the saint like man’s life comes to an end in the manhole itself. The Nigerian taxi-driver feels pity for the condition of this fellow-refugee along with the narrator. The author ends up the story with a paradox of the glowing light of the Ontario Parliament building with that of the darkness of the manhole.

In ‘Husband’, the writer clearly brings out the condition of the migrants, who have to occupy the ordinary jobs in the new land. His work is ‘Playing guitar’(it is the code-language for ‘washing the dishes’ in a restaurant). He recalls his work in a ship with Greeks, before coming to the restaurant. He compares his position with the Greeks who are also very fond of talking about their past glory.

The narrator of the story faces the problem of getting severe head ache, because of the bad climatic condition of the winter at Toronto. The thought of his native place would invariably turn him nostalgic. The very thought of his homeland brings joy in his heart. Though the thematic outline of the story is a thin line suspicion in the mind of the husband about his wife, most part of the story is devoted to the narrator’s (husband’s) melancholic memories about his motherland.

In a short story titled ‘Where are you from?’ the writer discusses the issue going on between the native Canadians and the asylum-seekers. The native in the story chides at the origin of the narrator. The narrator gets irritated by this mockery and in return he asks a question ‘Where are you from?’ The native is shocked to understand the deep-rooted meaning of the question which indirectly attacks the origin of the natives of Canada. He threatens the narrator by saying that he has insulted a citizen of India.

Though the writers of ‘Indian or Tamilian diaspora’ are recognised by the society, where they live, it is obvious that these people are always given the status of the ‘Other’. This status may be referred to the status of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’, who is addressed as the ‘other’ by Iago. The diasporic writers are inclined to express their sorrows and sufferings through their writing and literature is a channel for them to pour out their passions and emotions.

V.N.Giridharan has shaped the stories on all that he has seen and experienced in the land wherein he had sought refuge. In most of the stories, an interlinking of his life with the characters and projecting himself as an essential character could be observed. The author has adopted the first person point of view technique in narrating the incidents of the stories. He has advocated the problems of not only race, but also the fellow-refugees from other countries, especially, the Africans. The humanistic consideration of the author is much prevalent in all his stories. As an immigrant writer, he is concerned with the miserable condition of the people of his native land even today. In his novella ‘America’, he has dealt with the rules and the realities of America in a humorous way. He has conveyed the position of the refugees in America, how they are handled and treated by the American laws, through this long story.

From his short stories, it is very much apparent that V.NGiridharan has proved himself as a very promising young writer in the present scenario. He is a talented author with good future prospects. This story-collection is also noteworthy in another aspect, in that it establishes the fact that books written in English on the predicaments and troubles of the expatriates as well as the ‘the sons of the soil’ can never be as effective and informative as those written in Tamil.

A suggestion is made that these writings of ‘Tamil Diaspora’ should be translated into other regional languages of India and into English also. Another scope of the paper is to bring out the writings of the authors like V.N.Giridharan into light and to incorporate such writings in the curriculum of the students of Tamilanadu so that they would be exposed to the sufferings and struggles of the native Tamilians in alien lands.

Works Cited :1. Giridharan, V.N. Padivugal. ISSN 1481-2991
2. Dowell Mc. A Tamil Asylum Diaspora: Sri Lankan Migration Berghahn Books : 1998
3. Brah..A. Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities
New York: Routledge, 1999
4. Manas : The Indian Diapora
< http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/Diaspora/diaspora.html&gt;

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