Reviews

The Dark Night of the Soul: A Study of the Existential Crisis of the Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees as depicted in the novel An Immigrant by the Canadian Tamil Writer V.N. Giritharan

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

Abstract
Any journey in life is blissfully ever sought by human travelers across the globe. However, there are certain migrations by specific ethnic groups who are left with not much choice except for a disagreeable movement, sometimes hazardous ones too. Life and journey go hand in hand in a pleasant manner for any human being with comfortable existence. Crisis occurs only when life becomes uncertain in the homeland and to enter an alien land. Srilankan Tamil people is one such ethnic group who have been going through the crisis of existence for having born in a land that coerces cruelty upon them. The writer V.N. Giritharan was born as a blessed being like others in a Tamil family in Sri Lanka. He grew up as a writer as well as an Architecture graduate with great sensitivity towards the land and people around him. However, his state of affairs did not remain the same, as there were the chaos and brutalities of the ethnic conflict between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil. The only way to survive was to leave the homeland with a heavy heart and to move towards an asylum. This journey is the most pathetic one in any man’s life. His sufferings have been portrayed vividly in the novel An immigrant in which the protagonist named Ilango lives as the replica of the writer V.N. Giritharan himself.

The paper attempts to explore the existential predicament of the protagonist of the novel An Immigrant whose personal experiences demonstrate the physical, psychological multicultural, ethnic, political and socio-economic issues of such immigrants across the globe.

Key words : Canadian-Tamil Writer, V.N. Giritharan, forced migration, Diaspora, Tamil ethnic race, refugees, unwilling immigrant, identity crisis, political asylum.

“I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.” (St. John of the Cross)

Literature is the outcome of multiple outlooks of the creator, well or ill reciprocated by the society. Fictional world is crafted out of the composition of the original passions. The concepts of the imagination could exemplify the unfeigned nature of the situation of the author. Such is the situation with the writer V.N. Giritharan, the popular Tamil writer of Canada who is presently publishing an on-line Tamil magazine known as pathivugal from Canada. He belongs to the family of Tamil in Sri Lanka who had to migrate from his homeland to an alien land for political causes.

Being a child prodigy, he exposed his writing talent even at the very early age of 10 years. From his childhood days, he has been a keen observer of the people and the events around him. It is this observatory quality that has made him a creative writer who blends facts and imagination. He is the author of many articles in various magazines along with poems and short stories. He has 5 books to his credit, originally written in Tamil and later translated into English such as ‘The Voice of Soil’, ‘America’ -A collection of short stories and a novella- ‘Rise the  Superhuman’  – an anthology of revolutionary Tamil poems, ‘An Immigrant’ – the novel taken for the research paper, ‘Nallur Rajadhnani City Layout’ – a critical study of the interior architecture and the planning of the city Nallur during the 16th century and some short stories too. It is evident that he is a multifaceted person with the genius of touching upon various genres of literature with ease. Though he was born and brought up in Sri Lanka, where he obtained the degree of architecture from the University of Moratuwa, he along with his fellow Tamil group, had to leave his motherland in the crisis of the 1983 ethnic conflict.

The research paper makes a modest attempt of the issues related to the refugees from Sri Lanka to the USA and Canada, which have been offering political asylum to the Sri Lankan Tamil people. The novel An Immigrant echoes the predicament of V.N. Giritharan himself through the major character Ilango. As the title suggests, the novel revolves around the various aspects of the immigrant Ilango in an alien land. His journey from his motherland to a new soil forced on him. The odious expedition of the young man of Sri Lanka involves multiple layers of meaning. The existential struggle of the protagonist as portrayed in the novel An Immigrant can be evaluated from the viewpoint of the following themes.

The physical adversities
Psychological anguish
Social injustices
Cultural incompatibility and multiculturalism
Economic deprivation
Political encumbrances
Linguistic inability

The basis of any human existence lies in the freedom of choosing one’s own life. In the case of an Immigrant like Ilango, the Protagonist of the novel, his existence is transformed into a form of survival. In the very beginning of the novel, Ilango spends a sleepless night in the detention camp contemplating his uncertain future. In his diary, he refers to the physical brutality enforced upon fellow Tamil people in Sri Lanka. To quote the words of Ilango,

When we were running to safety, huddled inside a State wagon thanks to the grace of an Indian engineer in Colombo, the thugs had poured petrol over a mini-van carrying Tamils and set it on fire, eliminating them cruelly. They had caught hold of a hapless Tamil youth riding in with his bicycle and bashed him to death. Another Tamil had been disrobed by them, humiliated and was subsequently set ablaze. In Kirulapanai, they had killed the little sister of a young Tamil woman right in front of her eyes, so turning her into a psychological wreck and then subjected her to gang-rape before finally killing her too. As is the rule, this time also, the labourers of the Tea-Estates in the mountain regions – the Tamils of Indian origin – have become the target of wide-spread arson and violence. (19).

The violence on the physique is the most ruthless and mean form of showing authority. Though Ilango has not been violently treated physically, the distress of his friends and the family intimidate him, and agitates him to the extent of leaving his homeland. The memories of the past and the nostalgia are the two important issues that cause dejection and depression in the immigrant. When it rains in the alien land, Ilango recollects his homeland – the land that celebrates the Rain God and the Mother Nature. A chapter in the novel with the subtitle “The Heart that gets into the trance in the rain” (24) is devoted completely to the reminiscences of Ilango associated with the torrential shower in the “Long island.” The craving to be with the family in the homeland remains unfulfilled in the life of an immigrant like Ilango. He happens to negotiate between the past and present incessantly.

The loss of identity is another major issue to be noticed in the novel, which has the effect of fracturing the psyche of the already distressed refugees. Ilango flees his homeland along with other victims to a land that might offer him an asylum. Unfortunately, the most essential thing he has to forgo is to lose his identity as an individual. All who have sought an asylum are viewed as criminals and illegal immigrants since most of them do not have the legal papers that are expected in the rule of immigration. There are exploitations at the working place since these people do not have appropriate legal documents. Some agents or anti-social elements tend to manipulate pathetic situations of people like Ilango. In such situations, an even righteous person like Ilango has to compromise with the expectations of the inhuman employer for the sake of his survival. However, when the dreadful nature exceeds the limit, Ilango retorts:

“Don’t you like the work here?”
lIango decided to speak the truth as far as possible, being true to his conscience, “It is not that I don’t like the work, but – ”
While he was half way through his sentence Napoleon cut him short and shot another question, “Then, is the work difficult to do?”
“That is the foremost reason. Working for too many hours, non-stop, and when I return home at last, it is just to go to bed, sleep and get up early and return to work. This is what is proving very hard. The body feels terribly fatigued and broken. Then…”
“Secondly…”
“The income is not proportionate to the hard work. It is not something easy to do, the work of two single-handedly.”
When Ilango uttered these words, they must have made Napoleon a little startled. His next question made it clear, “What? Doing the job of two? Who told you so?”
“Where is the need for anyone to tell? The mere quantity of work tells it all. Don’t you see?”
Ilango’s blunt words must have saddened Napoleon a little. “Being here is illegal. In such a condition what better job can you expect?”
The way Naopoleon stressed the illegal immigrants pitiable existence angered Ilango. In a voice that expressed his anger, which was rarely shown by Ilango, “Though my stay here is presently illegal, I have the relevant documents with me, you know. True, I have entered this country as an illegal immigrant and circumstances have thus forced me to come and stay here.” (44)

As a chain reaction to the loss of identity, the immigrants tend to compare their original culture with the new one. The habits and the manners of the alien land are very shocking to Ilango and Arulrasa. However, they become accustomed to the culinary habits and the societal mannerisms of the new land. An assimilation of two cultures is evident in the life of the refugees. Food is an important aspect of any culture. Being Tamil people, the two characters Ilango and Arulrasa pine for the special food prepared and served on the long banana leaves. After the search for a dwelling place ends with the a rented home, they immediately plan for cooking their favourite meal:“Cooked, hot rice and an excellently fried chicken side-dish, chicken soup, fried potato chips, boiled egg-pieces, and another side-dish made of grains and one more with vegetables and a beverage made of ‘Iraal’. We have all the facilities there. It will not be hard” (31). It is evident that Tamil people are fond of spicy food that is not available in the western regions of the world.

It has always been a matter of economic crisis for any refugee that encounters a new land. Leaving all wealth behind, in the process of rushing to a new country, the basic need for any person is enough currency to take care of the day-to-day expenses. Ilango and his friend Arulrasa struggle hard to find a job and a place to live in New York. They are offered a shared dwelling place with Gosh, a Bengali for a weekly rent thirty dollars in the home of Mrs. Padma Ajith. This is a temporary relief for them. The next major challenge is to find a suitable job for their living. Ilango, who had a respectable job in his homeland Sri Lanka, is now in a state of apprehension about his jobless present and the uncertain future. Ilango asks, “Gosh, is there any way I can get a job without delay? I don’t have any relevant certificate, which could fetch me a job. I am presently trying to apply for a Social Insurance Number”(32). Ilango and Arulrasa are warned of their status as illegal immigrants with no Social Insurance Number in a city like New York. Finally, they resort to the aid of a man named Peter from Greece, whose sole occupation is to supply temporary jobs to these kinds of illegal immigrants from whom he used to take a commission of eighty dollars each.

Agent Peter is a man who is an opportunist in a way to make use of the financial scantiness of the illegal immigrants. He offers a job to Ilango in a restaurant only after waiting for five days in the office of Peter. Ilango is instantly happy to have got a job, and joins his work the next day. His work is explained by his chief Mark:

You have to wash and clean the cups that the female attendants would be bringing every
now and then. You have to wash them in the ‘dish-washing machine’ and keep them in
their places. When you are doing so, you are not to throw away the butter-pieces, jam and
all that were left unused in the plates and cups. Instead, you should collect them in another cup. With that, you should also collect the peelings of lobsters that would also be left unused at times. That is your first piece of important work. If you are slow in doing this, the female attendants would become disorientated and their work will suffer. So, the moment they come and place the cups and dishes, you should wash and clean them at once. Secondly, you must cooperate with me. I would keep the pans that I use for frying fish and other meats in those wash-basins over there. While washing the cups and dishes, you should have an eye on those wash-basins too. When you see the basins filled up to a certain level, you will wash them (and any utensils you may find). The next important chore is washing and cleaning the kitchen floor, which becomes dirty and sticky every now and then. Not just the kitchen, if required, if asked, you should clean the floors of the restaurant too. (42)

Ilango becomes speechless about the descriptions of his work, as he never used to do such
manual labour in his past life. His status as a refugee and his financial crisis in an alien land
has brought such an unfortunate situation in his life.

Politically, the issue of the Sri Lankan people and the Tamil ethnic race is the cause for the suffering of countless Tamil people like Ilango and Arulrasa. The migration is forced upon these so treacherously that the respectable people like Ilango have to seek an asylum for their future and to opt for blue-collar jobs. Ilango directly accuses some political leaders of Sri Lanka for the agony and the desolation of the Tamil Ethnic race. He writes in his diary:

As soon as J.R. Jeyawardhane won the seat of the President of Sri Lanka in 1977, there was
a terrible ethnic violence on an enormous scale. And the present President described it as the
outcome of the Tamils voting in favour of a separate State, saying “WAR MEANS WAR:
PEACE MEANS PEACE’ thus worsening the current state of affairs. It is indeed very apt to
describe J.R.Jeyawardhane as the most experienced and cunning jackal in the political arena.

It was he who, by the undertaking of a ‘paadha –yaathraa’ to Kandy, forced the agreement
that was between the then Prime-Minister Bandaranayake and S.J.V Selvanayagam to be
torn to pieces. He was an expert in using his power and avenging his political opponents. It
was he who had made the premier Sirimavo Bandaranayage lose her fundamental political
rights. This time, arson and violence against the Tamils in a well-planned, systematic
manner were unleashed with the blessings of his cabinet ministers. This was used as another
excuse for the killings of the Sinhala Policemen, who were shot at the election meeting that
took place in the courtyard of Naachimaar temple in Jaffan, in the year 1981. Now, right
under the nose of ministers like Gamini dhisanayake, ethnic violence was unleashed onto
the State and the Jaffna library was burnt to ashes. The office of Eela Naadu Daily was
ransacked and set afire.(19-20)

The malice and self-centered motives of some political leaders devastate the lives of the Tamil ethnic group and the genocide. Ilango feels desperate about his helplessness as a refugee in a country where he can never use his melodious Tamil Language too. In all his losses in life, he considers the loss of his mother Tongue as the dominant one. His love for his mother tongue Tamil and Tamil Literature has to be forgotten temporarily as there is no such scope in the alien land. However, his thoughts revolve around the rebellious poems of the Tamil poets and Eelam writers such as Bharathiar and Kavindran (Aa.Na.Kandasami) in times of depression to him. These poems supply extraordinary energy to his sorrow-stricken psyche.

The Novel An Immigrant articulates the existential crisis of a Tamil refugee who seeks asylum in a land that might offer him a political shelter. From the detention camps of America, Ilango (the author V.N. Giritharan as well) finally reaches Canada where he can feel safer compared to the stringent rules of the USA. However, as discussed above, the losses of Ilango are not compensated. In the journey of Ilango, the path is thorny, unclear, foggy, hazardous, and there is the low prospect of reaching a blissful destination. In addition, the journey was not a willing one. The political and the social instability thrusts the migration upon the Tamil race.

To conclude, the story of Ilango in the novel An Immigrant is not just the tale of a single person. It incorporates the woeful tales of infinite number of the Tamil ethnic race who have been brutally assaulted in riots – some escaped, some murdered, some survived as mere vegetables, some committed suicide and so on. Ilango identifies their group as “Pulam Peyarnthor” (means migratory people). It would be appropriate to quote from the novel itself. Starting from the line from Silappadhikaaram which says,” KALAMTHARU THIRUVIN PULAM PEYAR MAAKKAL’ migration takes place due to various reasons. And, today’s immigration takes place mainly for socio-political and economic reasons. Ilango continued with such thoughts as he remembered the poignant poem of the
renowned poet of Eelam, V.I.S.Jeyabalan that has the following lines:

Myself,
just like the camel
that has lost its way and
have arrived in Alaska being in Oslo

A poem that speaks to any migrant whose purpose was to move due to the prevailing socio-political and economic reasons. Be it Musthafa or Michael or his own self – they all
appear as the camel that has lost its way and has landed here. The fact is, real camels may have not even survived in Alaska, but these human camels would surely find ways to
survive and get along with life. Or at least venture on all possible roads in order to do so. (38-39)

From the above lines, it is clearly inferred that the existence of such people who are forced to migrate to an unknown landscape with unfamiliar customs would be beyond description for an ordinary man. Among the challenges and the issues faced by mankind, forced migration due to political reasons is a prominent one. The plight of the Tamil ethnic race that had sought an asylum in various countries for so long has expressed their crisis through literature. Promoting literature that deals with such issues would at least make the reading public sensitized to the crucial issues of forced migrants like Ilango.

Works Cited
John, St. of the Cross. Dark Night of the Soul. Poet Seers. Ed. Abichal Watkins 14 May,2002
http://www.poetseers.org/spiritual-and-devotional-poets/christian/the-works-of-st-john-of-the-cross/dark-night-of-the-soul/ accessed Jan. 15.2017. web.
Giritharan, V.N. kudivaravaravaalan. Oviya Pathippagam, December 2015. Print.
An Immigrant. Trans. Latha Ramakrishnan. Geocites.com. Feb.14 2013. <http://www.geotamil.com/ctamils/vng_novel_AN_IMMIGRANT_february142013.pdf&gt; Dec. 07. 2016. Web.

Courtesy: ‘Scholarly International Multidisciplinary Print Journal’ (January -February 2017)

Categories: Canadian Literature, Reviews, World Literature | Leave a comment

Nallur Rajadhani by K.S. Sivakumaran

kssivakumaran_newLanka born Canadian Thamilian V.N. Giritharan writes fiction, poetry and prose writing in Thamil. Some of his creations are truly remarkable. His books are of interest and in fact exposes of the pattern of living in foreign claims by former Lankans. An architect (from the Moratuwa University) he is also a qualified. electrical and electronic engineering Technologist. He has wide interests in the sciences, history and children’s literature. On top of it, he is serving a useful purpose in the Cyberspace.

While there are more than a dozen websites in Thamil promoting literary and cultural events of the Thamilians in Thamilnadu in India, it is Giritharan’s ‘Pathivukal’ e-zine that gives almost exclusively a comprehensive coverage of the Lankan Thamil literary scene, apart from other subjects like politics.

One other Thamil website, also from Canada – the e-zine Kuviyam – also covers a larger area of Thamil studies and related matters in a broader scope.

Thamil literature But the accent in ‘Pathivukal’ is on contemporary Thamil literature including what is produced in India. Both Giritharan and Pon Kulendiren accommodate me with my contributions in English in their e-zines. It must be also said that Giritharan’s daughter has her own website,booktrain.ca, for the kids, in English. She, herself a 12 years old, writes to the Toronto newspapers.

My difficulty in writing in Thamil via the Internet is that I cannot typein Thamil and also I don’t know how to use any of the fonts available. That is why I was unable to send any material in Thamil to Lankan newspapers and magazines via the Internet. Thus my computer literacy is incomplete. But I am trying to master the technique.

Here in the West, they never say die. That positive attitude drives them to reach greater heights. May I say that most Lankans have negative attitudes and rely solely on the Karmic theory. This is why some of us are sluggish and not hardworking as others.

Reverting to Giritharan’s books – most of his contributions in Thamil and translations are available in his own website – I must say that his books are works of an investigative mind. The titles of such books are self-explanatory: ‘Nallur Rajadhani ‘, ‘America’ and ‘Mannin Kutal’ (meaning the Voice of the Soil) are few of his titles.

Let me introduce to you the book on the architecture during the existence of the Kingdom of Yaalpanam (Jaffna). We know that the last king of the kingdom of the people in the northern part of the country was Sankiliyan.

The late professor in Thamil, K. Kananapathipillai had written a short play in that title. Sankiliyan ruled from Nallur (Nallur means a Good County or City or Village). One is reminded of the existence of Nallura in Panadura. Again Panadura could mean the port the ballad singer had landed. Nallur remains thesymbolic representation of Lankan Saiva Thamilians of the northern Sri Lanka.

Essence
Let me begin with what the foreword of the book tells us. I give below the essence of what a distinguished writer, a fine stylist and a columnist in Thamil, S Yoganathan has said in his preface: “… The Thamil Brahmic inscriptions belonging to the 3rd century B.C. were dogged out during the excavations in Kantharodai and Aaanai Kottai. This discovery revealed to a great extent of the existence of a fine Thamilian culture in the Megalithic age. The Romans, the Arabs, and the Chinese have had direct trade relations with the Sri Lankan Thamilians. There are records to prove that in the 5th century A.D., the Lankan Thamilians had had an advanced cultural inheritance. A Saiva (meaning a branch of Hinduism) Thamilian kingdom evolved in Yaalpanam in the 13th century. But with the advent of the Portuguese rule in Sri Lanka the fall of the kingdom was inevitable.

Historians belonging to the Thamil community have not sufficiently unearthed historical facts relating to the history of Thamilians in SriLanka, although academics in the calibre of Indrapala, Pathmanathan, Sittampalam and Raghupathy have endeavoured to do so spasmodically. Raghupathy’s book ‘Early Settlements’ in English is a forerunner to young intellectuals and researchers. V. N. Giritharan is such a researcher, although his discipline is architecture.

Despite gathering sufficient evidences, he has written this guide in anexemplary manner…” This book was published eight years ago (1996).

Research
nallurOne must appreciate the fact that this talented writer now in Canada could have really ventured into more historical research had he been living in Sri Lanka. Raghupathy, a great scholar with whom I had the fortune to move with, while both were teaching in Male’ in the Maldives. Raghupathy, I believe, is now in Mysore in India where he had his postgraduate studies.

In the absence of historical researchers from the Thamil community in SriLanka, we have to rely on researchers like Sudharshan Seneviratne and Deriniyagala and a few other scholars for impartial and objective findings.

The new woman member of parliament from the Mattakalappu district, K.Thangeswari writes in Thamil only, because she graduated in that
language. Her books should be translated into English (and even Sinhala) for proper evaluation.

May I be permitted to say that another academic from Mattakalappu, whose field is Thamil, has researched on the subject of names in the northern areas of Sri Lanka. This too is ironical for two reasons: He is not from the North and he too is in Canada now. In the same breath, I must say Indrapala is either in Australia or New Zealand was also interested in Thamil theatre.

He and the academic in English Tiru Kandiah adapted Irish playwright Synge’s play ‘Riders to the Sea’ and staged in Peradeniya and Colombo in the 1970s.

So, If we were to call our history, a Sri Lankan history, we must objectively and in an unbiased manner do research on the past history of the people, places and events of the Thamil speaking. The truth is not totally white or black, it is also grey.

The author, V. N. Giritharan says that he was stimulated to do some research on Nallur while attending a lecture in the university by academic Nimal de Silva. Since this is a subject which I am not very familiar, let me give me some idea of the book by way of giving the titles of his chapters.

They are self-explanatory: Nallur and Singai Nagar, Nallur and Yaalpanam, Historical Evidences of Nallur Rajadhani, Nallur Kanthasamy Kovil, The Fortress of Nallur and Ramparts Around It, Data on Field Studies, The Entrance Gate of the Fortress, the Fort and the Veiyil Uhantha Pillayar Temple, Ancient Works and Architecture, Town Planning of the Hindus and the Caste System, South Indian Temple Cities, Structure of the Nallur Town in Nallur Rajadhani.

This little book of merit has also a few photographs and designs to illustrate what the writer finds in his research.

It would be interesting for the selective readers to learn about the titles of some works which Giritharan mentions as references: Conquest of Ceylon – Queroz F vol 1 & 4, Tamils and Ceylon – C.S.Navaratnam, The Kingdom of Jaffna – S.Pathmanathan, Urban and Regional Planning -Rame Gowda, Urban Geography -Jeyasingam. Early Christianity in Ceylon -Fr. Peiris, Fr.Meersman, Living Architecture: Indian -Andreas Volwahsen, Monumental Art and Architecture of India – K, Sundaram, The Arts and Crafts of India, and Ceylon – Ananda Coomarasamy,’The Ancient Town Planning of Anuradhapura’ Rowland De Sylva The Kings of Jaffna during the Portuguese Period – Fr. Gnanapargasar. Articles in Thamil relating to the subject are also mentioned by the author.

These articles include those by Kula Sababathan, S. Rasanayagam, A. Muttuthambipillai, K.S. Nadarajah, B.S. Acharya, R.P. Sethupillai,
C.K.Sittampalam, K.Gunarasa, M.K. Anthony Sil. The writer has also referred to the maps of the Survey Department, and Jaffna Town Planning Assessment Surveys.

The book is published by Mangai Pathipagam, Toronto, Canada.

Contact: kssivan@juno.com
courtesy: Daily News (Sri Lanka)

Categories: Reviews | Leave a comment

New Tamil Writer

– S.Ganesalingan ; Translation By: Latha Ramakrishnan –

ameri1Epics were being written in the poetic form itself. At the same time verses that lacked the essential rhyme and rhythm were also being written in the magazines. Right from the period of Sangam literature these trends could be seen. This remained the profession as well as the heart’s content of the poet’s clan. But, listening to the tales continued to be the prime interest of the general public. From old to young, people loved tales. A period of illiteracy when people didn’t know to read or write. The tales of the rural side, moral stories, stories from epics and anecdotes were used to satiate this appetite of the general masses. In the last century, with rise of capitalism and that of the middle-class which is literate when people started leaving their native villages and came to settle in the towns and cities and lead a kind of secluded life new literary forms such as the novel and short-story came to be in simple prose style so as to fulfil their emotional needs.

With the development of printing technology these new literary forms too developed and it resulted in the decay of the ancient forms of poetry and verse. If we leaf through the pages of the popular magazines of today we can perceive this all too clearly. Their will not be totally gone or done away with. But, just one or two pages alone are being allotted for these old forms. Poetry will always remain intact to be sung with music. It endeavours to stay on with new names as like Prose-Poetry, Neo-Poetry, Haiku poems and so on. All these also would be seen mostly as but a feeling or message usually conveyed in Prose-style , having been said in several lines with the words and lines arranged in such a way as one below another so as to give it a semblance of poetry. The rhyme, metre and rhythm are not to be found anymore. Mostly they are statements. Because of this, with the poems joining hands with the musical art forms and so staying on, the verse form is fast losing its poetic characteristics. This is my perception. Novel and short story are developing into the neo art forms. In the last one century the short-story form has come to have a great hold and influence on the Tamil literary field. Every year thousands of short stories are being written by hundreds of writers. So far, there has not been any hard and fast rules formulated for this literary-form. Works of such veteran writers as Pudumaipithan have become models for the growth and development of this form. We can evaluate short stories and novels on the bais of the very basic perceptions, which hold that for any form of art, there are what we call a structure, social relevance and responsibility, form and contents.

I was given the anthology of short stories written by Sri Lankan Tamils who are immigrants. Titled, ‘Paniyum Pannayum’ meaning ‘The snow and the Palmra’, the book was given to me by the sub-editor of ‘The Hindu’ for review. When I read all the stories in the anthology ‘A cow’s tale’ cought my attention very much. In my review I had made especial mention about that story. Before two months when I was conversing with Mr. Nithiyananthan who was formerly a lecturer of the Jaffna University, before he left for Paris. I told him that this was the story I liked most in the anthology. He too expressed the same view. It was through that story only that I was introduced to Mr.Giritharan, the author of this book. Going down the memory lane and relieving all those momentsI read this anthology eagerly.

Giritharn has shaped the stories on all that he has seen and experienced in the land wherein he had sought refuge. This would be something very new to Tamils, Sri Lankan Tamil and to the foreigners. No doubt about that. Mostly entwining himself into the story as an essential character and adopting the first person figure of speech he has tried to fell the story and its incidents. This very trait can make the story authentic and enable the reader identify himself/herself with its course and characterizations. The author has also tried to give a profound message in each and every story in the anthology. One can say that it was that drive that had him impetus to write. In his first story, he brings the man who dies after living his entire life by the side of a manhole to stand before he who was formulating laws in front of the Parliament of Ontario. In the story ‘Ponthup Paravaigal(The Hollow existence)’ he shows a man living in a small room and going to work with knee problem being saved from fire by a black-man of Jamaica who has been looked down by the former all the time, and so upholds a humanness that has no caste, color or creed. In the story, ‘A Co(w)nference Problem’ (Oru Maa(naa)ttupp Prachanai), a Cow which escapes from the slaughterhouse desiring to have the freedom to live causes traffic jam. Through its struggle the author describes the present condition of the Sri Lankan tamil. The style and the content of the story makes it a striking example of a good short story. That the source of human life, sexual needs are the same for one and all irrespective of their class and caste is told convincingly with absolutely no obscenity in the depiction of those walking hither and thither in Young street. With the help of a little rat he has tried to speak about the significance of existentialism that has man at its center. In ‘Kanavan’ and in ‘Oru Mudivum Vidivum’ he highlights the idea that one shouldn’t worry about the days of hi/her life -partner prior to their marriage.

‘America’ is the longest story of the collection. In this he has dealt with the rules and realities of America in a humorous vein. How refugees are handled and treated by the American laws are brought forth in a detailed manner in this story. Giritharan proves himself as a significant Short-story writer from Srilankan Tamil in the ever-widening expanse of the Tamil literary field. This story-collection is also noteworthy in another aspect, in that it proves once again that books written in English on the plights and perils of the refugees as well as the ‘Sons of the Soil’ can never be as effective and as informative as those written in Tamil.

Categories: Reviews | Leave a comment

Fractured Self: A Study of V.N. Giritharan’s Selected Short Stories

Fractured Self: A Study of V.N. Giritharan’s Selected Short Stories A dissertation submitted to the University of Madras in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Master of Philosophy in English under choice based credit system By M. Durairaj…. Read More

Categories: Reviews | Leave a comment

The ‘Translocal’ Nationalism of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora:A Reading of Selected Short Stories of V.N. Giridharan

 By Dr.Gnanaseelan Jeyaseelan.

The Pain of Living Away– the Ethno–cultural Alienation, the Sense of Guilt, and the “Translocal” Nationalism of the Srilankan Tamil Diaspora– A Study of the Selected Short Stories of V.N. Giritharan, presented at the UGC National Seminar Session on “Issues of Identity and Culture in Recent Asian Diasporic Fiction”: Department of English, the New College, Chennai–14, on March 13th and 14th 2007: ..Read More

Categories: Reviews | Leave a comment

Void Within – The Migration of an Albatross into an Unsolicited Province – A Study on the Writings of the Canadian Tamil Writer V.N. Giritharan

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

DR_AKILDHARANI_25[March 1, 2013- Recently, a conference on canadian writing was held in the National college , Trichy. Called ‘Canada:A Multitude of Spaces’, the conference was spearheaded by the Indian Association of Canadian Studies. The following paper on V.N.Giritharan’s writings was submitted to the conference by Dr R Dharani.]

Literature, in a way, is a manifestation of an individual’s or a community’s elusive experiences. A grand procession of happy episodes alone in a life is highly impracticable and astonishing, as life itself is, and in most cases, akin to the tragi-comedies of Shakespeare. However, in the history of literature across the globe, catastrophe gained more attention than romance, chivalry and happy endings. The misfortunes of African- American writers have ever earned them the proper justice. The sorrow-stricken lives of a community who had been intimidated simply because of their ethnic background have been the cause of many social changes in western countries. Of all the complexities of life, the crisis of a survival stands first in the life of any human being. This is not the case with any other living creature in any part of the world. In any piece of literature, it is not uncommon to unearth such a theme intertwined with many other themes. Man struggles to locate a place of his own on this planet to ascertain a sense of identity of his life. Nationality, nativity, society, family, tradition, culture, language are such things endorsing the survival impulse of a man. Depending on the needs, man sets the priority for concepts like nationality, family and other matters.

Literature, being the replica of reality, has been communicating the indispensable impulse of human survival in various forms for ages. The predominant theme of many writings is of life and how to live it. There always appears to be an empty space in the psychic sphere of human beings, specifically in the modern ages. Waging war made the ancients lose their stability in the earlier times. There are no explicit wars today. Nevertheless, the same kind of callousness makes modern men desperate with the loss of their identity. In the name of Globalization, the entire world shrinks into the palm of a human. However, there is a giant void within the human heart. Such a void shall be discussed here.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Canadian Literature roughly began with the writings of the travelers, explorers and settlers of Canada. There were themes of adventures, landscapes, patriotic fervor of the natives and the reflection of the life style in Canada since the beginning. In the modern times, writers like Bharathi Mukherjee, Michael Ondaatje, Vassanji have moved from the eastern zone to Canada only to settle there for one reason or another. Most of these writers, though known as a group identified as “Writers of Diaspora,” with their spontaneity of expressions in English have virtually turned out to be the natives of Canada.

For many years, Canada has been a safe haven to the Tamil community who had migrated from Sri Lanka. The motive behind the migration was not to just improve the conditions of living or to earn a high salary. Unfortunately, the hunted and tormented Tamils of Sri Lanka, have sought the helping hands of Canada for some political reasons. Toronto has more Tamils than any other major Sri Lankan cities. It would be hard for common people with no such grief to understand the pain and anguish of those who were forced to move from their mother country where they had their strong space of identity.

In Canadian Literature too, it is probable to notice delicate voices of deprived souls who wish to enlighten the world about the plight of being aliens in Canada. One such writer is V.N.Giritharan, a Sri Lankan based Tamil, who had moved from Sri Lanka to Toronto. “Padivukal” is an internet Tamil e-zine published and edited by V.N.Giritharan since 2000. He has authored six novels, a grand collection of short stories and poems. In an e-mail interview with V.N.Giritharan, he says “My two novels on my American experience and a few of my short stories have been translated into English by Latha Ramakrishnan. My short stories, novels , poems and articles were published in ‘Thedal’, ‘Thayagam’ , ‘Pothikai’ and a few other Tamil news papers published in Canada. My Tamil short stories were republished by many Tamil weekly newspapers (even without my approval). A collection of my Tamil poems ‘Eluga Athimanuda’ and ‘Mannin Kural’ (another collection of poems, essays and a short novel) were published in Toronto Canada. ‘Mannin Kural’ (published by Kumaran Publishers in Chennai), is a collection of my four novels including the one published in Toronto.” He is one of the most vibrant and committed writers of Canada who intends to bring out the issues of Canada and Sri Lanka, but also the essential themes like protecting the environment and the world of Computers. The paper deals with the short stories of V N Giritharan.

It is apparent that V N Giritharan could be recognized as a writer among the Canadian writers, though his writings are translated into English from Tamil. His works deals with the complexities of existing as the “other” in Canada on different planes. For the research paper, the psychological complexity of existence of the immigrants in Canada, as expressed by the author is discussed. Three short stories namely Husband, Homeless and Mice (translated into English by Latha Ramakrishnan) are taken for the purpose. Basically, all the three short stories deal with different themes at the surface level. However, in the deeper level of analysis, it is to be observed that the author writes his views as a Canadian immigrant through the characters.

In Husband, Sababathi is the protagonist in the story whose situation is best known to the readers by his thought-process. There is no direct conversation at all, except for the one that Sababathi had with his colleague Christina in the Greek restaurant. At the outset, the theme of the story appears to be revolving around the suspicious mind of Sababathi about the past of his gorgeous-looking wife Banumathy. However, there is an intense emotion of suffocation expressed by the protagonist- the misery of being an alien to a refugee land. The suffocation is the result of the void within his mind – an emptiness produced as he is being dispossessed of his own land. Sababathi thinks, “human animals suffocate within the narrow walls of these concrete jungles.” The contrast, he sees in the weather of Toronto and the climatic conditions of his motherland strikes him very hard.

the yearning to recline near the Navali sand mounds and enjoy watching the fields spread far and wide, the crownland seashore that could be seen faraway, ‘Kallundai’ space, the palm girls swaying in the wind would grip him painfully

In addition to the weather, the immigrant thinks about the drinks that his people used to take in his native land. The comparison of “Panag Kallu’ and ‘Kuranku’ (palmwine and arrack)” with Tequila and Marguerita illustrates the plight of Sababathi that he craves to be in his own bucolic space than to be in a sophisticated place of total emptiness. The luxurious drinks do not offer him any console as the memory of his native land does. He recollects his apprenticeship in a ship where he mingled with people from various other nations. The survival anxiety makes him learn so many new lessons from his acquaintances. In this way, Sababathi acquires a good deal of knowledge about the Greeks – Archimedes, Plato and Aristotle – that he makes use of in the Greek restaurant where he works.

The author attempts to bring out the pathetic condition of the people like Sababathi who are brought to Canada though agents. Both Sababathi and his wife Banu had been uprooted from Sri Lanka, when the situation became too worse to live in. They had to depend on the agents who could almost use them as commodities. This is the real cause of the suspicion in the mind of Sababathi, as he imagines that Banu might have had an affair with the agent who retained her for a month in Singapore in the past. It can be inferred that Sababathi or Banu did not willingly choose Canada to be their refugee land. It was the agent who chose the immigrant country for these unfortunate souls.

The cultural suffocation in the story is another layer of outlook that shows the hollowness of Immigrant existence. Sababathi lives in Toronto, works in a Greek restaurant, moves along with the Canadian people like Christina, but is a typical Indian husband, believing highly in the ethical values of the chastity and loyalty of women towards their husbands. Christina is shocked by this attitude and she refers to the Epic Ramayana:

Did Seetha go to Ravana willingly? If the Epic was written in such a way that the people suspected her chastity and fidelity but Rama accepted her back whole heartedly with no doubt whatsoever then Ramayan would’ve been my favorite story. Look us at us. Till we get married we are living as we please. After marriage we are not bothered about our past lives. But you Indians, you would go with any number of women. But, your wife should be chaste and loyal.

This is a blow to the disgusting attitude of a narrow-minded husband who suffers from the disease of suspicion. This cultural suffocation makes Sababthi’s plight much worse. The readers feel sorry for him rather than to be angry with him. The emptiness, a kind of less, or no, space at all around him makes him a pitiable immigrant. Finally, he makes up his mind to welcome his wife with a hot cup of coffee, again a typical Indian attitude.

The story Homeless, as the name suggests, communicates the weirdness of the behavior of an immigrant. The speaker in the story is a working- man who is returning from his daily labour every night. The story is narrated in the first person point of view. The speaker witnesses an African homeless man who diplomatically begs with a plastic container. “On that it was written ‘Clarke for Toronto Mayor’ in English.” Though stunned by this, the speaker donates two dollars, and tries to shoot questions regarding this odd behaviour. The black man “introduced himself: “Friend, my name is Clarke, I am standing for the election of Toronto Mayorship. I am homeless”.”

This answer reminds the speaker about an incident in Sri Lanka where the Sri Lankan President once visited a mental asylum, and introduced himself as the Sri Lankan President to one of its patients. He said, “Sir, I too had uttered those words and as a result had been trapped here ever since. Don’t you dare tell that again to others, that which you have told me now. Then, you will also suffer the same fate.” The speaker humorously compares the inmate of the Sri Lankan mental asylum with the homeless African in Canada. He is sympathetic towards the homeless man, as he himself is in the same – a strange albatross to the Canadian mariners.

It is really a startling matter that a homeless immigrant, an outsider, aspires to become the Toronto Mayor, not only for the speaker in the story, but for the readers too. With increased excitement, the author asks him for the reason why he wishes to become a Mayor. The reply is:

“If I were to be seen by the policemen they won’t leave me. They won’t leave you too. But, do you think that such a situation would befall a white-man? The immigrants, minorities are the ones affected and suffer a lot. I should help them all. And that’s why I am going to stand in this Election”

At the outset, the odd behavior of the homeless appears to be comical, as the author himself is reminded of an inmate of a mental asylum. The homeless suffers from a space-less life in a country, which offers more space to the majority. The emptiness of the mind makes the African behave in a mysterious way. The speaker somehow identifies his own self with the homeless, who at least has a space to imagine about his role in the Mayor Elections of Toronto. Moved profoundly by the story of the homeless, the speaker finally passes a comment “Just like this mysterious city, a mysterious man.”

Mice brings out the philosophical view of the survival impulse of both the author as well as the mouse that torments the family by its mere existence. In a way, the author expresses his existential struggle through the mouse. He uses words like “defeat” and “victory” as if he is in a battlefield. The agony of living with cockroaches and mice is not destined to the elite group of immigrants in Canada. There is a choice in being an immigrant. For the Sri Lankan immigrants, it is an imposed one, as in the case of the mouse. Wherever the mouse could get little food, water and a small hole, it starts occupying the place, not bothered really about the original owner. In the story, the author’s better half is very obstinate in getting rid of the mouse in the apartment.

The author takes the mission in his hand to encounter the mouse in the battlefield. He keeps the trap ready on the dining table with some rice and flour to attract the enemy foe. The author watches each and every movement of the little mouse with awe-stricken eyes. He marvels at the existential ventures that the tiny animal risks for its survival. A sudden enlightenment must have come to the mind that a mouse too needs fortitude to maintain its space. He ponders:

My wife’s grumbling and complaints to find a way to do away with mice came to mind vaguely. Oh! My foolish woman, don’t these mice also have their family, kids and such other relationships, just like us? And, who can say how many lives are there relying on this one tiny life? Just because it eats a few grains or food particles, say what at all do we lose…?

Apart from the humanistic appeal that the author makes, it is obvious that the author relates his own immigrant space as an unwanted visitor of the new land through the story. It is painful to be an unsolicited visitor to a new province. The mouse escapes the fate of being killed by the author, unlike the albatross that was shot dead by the Ancient Mariner in the poem of S T Coleridge. The inner consciousness of the author wishes to be free of any sort of subjugation.

V N Giritharan shares his views about his short stories as, “The problem of color is a very important issue that one has to face in an immigrant existence. It is something that every immigrant is bound to face.”

The negative space of such immigrants in the alien land makes them an addict to their complex memories. The bliss of motherland memories relieves them with interim space. The immigrants portrayed in the short stories are torn between the present and the past with a query about their future. The present state of their rootless existence chokes them with much pressure from the inside, though they appear to be natural on the outside. The result is that there is a void within. In the case of V N Giritharan, the Canadian Tamil writer, the emptiness he felt in his heart was shaped in the form of stories. He painfully acknowledges that he is not able to forget the travails and traumas of his motherland, and at the same time he could not free himself from the clutches of his new surroundings in a different country.

——————————————————————————–
Bibliography> Giritharan V.N. “Re: Re: A Paper on your work.” Message to Dharani. R. 20 January, 2013 6:33 AM. E-mail. Giritharan, V N. Trans. Latha Ramakrishnan. Husband. 28 Jan.2013. . Giritharan, V N. Trans. Latha Ramakrishnan. Homeless. 28 Jan.2013. < http://www.geotamil.com/vng/vng_story_homeless.html&gt;. Giritharan, V N. Trans. Latha Ramakrishnan. Mice. 28 Jan.2013. Giritharan, V N. Trans. Latha Ramakrishnan. My Stories. 28 Jan.2013. < http://www.geotamil.com/vng/vng_on_mystories.htm

Categories: Reviews | 1 Comment

‘An Immigrant’: A poignant autobiographical sketch of V.N. Giritharan.

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

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested” -Sir Francis Bacon English author (1561 – 1626)

DR_AKILDHARANI_25

An Immigrant is a giant leap in fiction for the Canadian writer of Sri Lankan Tamil origin V.N. Giritharan. This is a book to be read with utmost “diligence and attention”, as it deals with the existential crisis of a desperate soul in an alien land. The story is inspiring and lights up the spirit of every heart. Although the emphasis of this work is more on the survival struggle of a man known as Ilango, the protagonist, it bears a strong testimony to the brutal genocide of Sri Lanka, which is still infuriating to people across the world. The author V.N. Giritharan has presented in his book, his first hand experience of how the Tamil people are being victimized by the brutalities of the Sinhalese hoodlums who harrass the Tamil. It is also a unique tribute to those Tamil people who lost their lives, families, belongings, nationality and even the identity of being a human in the 1983 July riot that took place in Sri Lanka. In the first few chapters of the book, the author vividly illustrates the plight of the young man, Ilango, who is caught in the riot. In his own land, Ilango feels trapped by the racists and tries his best to escape the monsters. It is a heartrending narration of the author of the riot through the eyes of Ilango.

To the casual reader, this book will be exciting because of its straightforwardness both in the theme as well as in the style. However, it is so astonishing that the book carries multiple layers of meanings, dynamic profundity in the description of the details and critical complexity of notions. It is not just the story of Ilango who escapes the riot in 1983 to reach Canada. But, the author discusses various challenging issues like the illegal immigrant status forced on an innocent man, denial of the Human Rights in a developed country like the USA, the horrible life in the detention camp, job-seeking crisis of a man without a Social Insurance Card, the tricks of the road side vendors, like Haribabu and Henry, the exploitation of agents like Peter and Pablo, the cowardice of Anisman, the advocate, and most of all, the denunciation of the so-called illegal immigrants who live in the City of New York. The other side of the fascinating City jolts not only the protagonist, but also the readers.

Ilango is seen as a simple innocent youth of Sri Lanka in the initial chapters of the book, who, then, develops into an extraordinary man with impressive qualities even amidst of his adversities. He is a poet, pragmatist, writer, idealist, humanist and an optimist too. In a somber state of affairs in his life, he recalls his readings of the poems of Bharathiar, the renowned poet of Eelam, V.I.S.Jeyabalan and another Eelam poet ‘Kavindran’ (A.N.Kandasami). These renderings provide him with immense strength. When Ilango is not certain about the resolution of the unbalanced predicaments of his life, he gets himself transformed to a philosopher. He considers his life like a tree log that swims along the current of water. Ilango’s positive approach to life is another trait that needs to be appreciated, which is very rare in most human beings.

His philosophies are outstanding, as they tend to transcend the individual philosophy to a universal one. He writes in his diary: ‘Why should people, who are living in a small blue-hued planet called Earth get entangled in all kinds of divisions and partitions and so lead a life of enmity and misery? What hinders them from turning wise and mature? What hinders them from a life of peace and harmony based on the ideology – Yaadhum Oorae; Yaavarum Kelir , Everything is our place and everyone is our kin. Why is this world so full of discriminations and disparities? This is a planet that travels at a great speed through the universe. Its speed proves beyond comprehension. In this vast universe, its petty, narrow-minded dealings remain hidden and incomprehensible. Yet, people who are at various levels of intelligences, fight with each other. With wars and disparities, this beautiful planet is turning from bad to worse with each moment. What a terrible bloodshed we have so far witnessed… still witnessing… oh, what a wonderful place this small planet is! What all wonders it has in store for us… and, where is the need to sabotage and destroy it, without realizing its wonderful state? Why are we not able to live along the poignant line ‘ meaning ‘your job here is to love, you know!” (204)

The narrative shifts from the present to the past via flashbacks and memoirs. The book can be compared to “The Diary of Anne Frank” written during the Holocaust period. Ilango dwells more in his memory than in his present state, as his native land and his family are only in his memory. His survival struggle in an unknown soil does not allow him to enjoy the glamour, the gala, and the glory of the objects around him. He feels himself “like a dry leaf swirling, thrown away into the wind, unable to choose its own direction or destination.” In a desolate state, he poses a question to the Statue of Liberty, “Why should those who have come seeking shelter here, be subjected to such a pitiable state of affairs?” (163). As the answer is not a readily accessible, Ilango can only salute the Statue of Liberty, forever standing alone for a common cause.

The book is a rare blend of prose with dazzling poetic elements. The author’s use of metaphors and similes renders a magnificent grace to the narrative. Examples like “The beautiful damsel called Earth was bathing in the soft cool twilight of the evening sun”(120) and ““Oh, you beautiful ladies called stars! Are you grinning at me? Making fun of me, perhaps? Go ahead… have a good laugh” (206) would validate the poetic expressions of the author. Further, the author is, very often, inclined to personify the objects in the world. The protagonist addresses his diary as “ My Diary,” and “his diary rejuvenates his sagging spirits.” Some of the words like “‘Kaadaiyargal,’ ‘paadha –yaathraa,’ ‘Nadutheru Narayanan,’ ‘Peeththal Parangi’” and ‘Mulaikeerai’ are in transliteration so as to preserve the intense emotions that are associated with them.

The use of condensed snippets such as “On one side, stood the abode of education. And, on the other side stood the great centre of sex” (75), “This is a world where dogs eat dogs,” (134), “Wherever the cursed went, there were pits and wasteland all over” (122), “The youth’s miserable posture with eyes full of fear and his body bent and folded appeared as the very symbol of the sorrow of the Eelam Tamils”(106), add tremendous vitality to the theme of the story. The author has incorporated at least a representative from each part of the universe such as Henry -the Eskimo, Pablo – the Spanish, Gosh- the Bengali, Haribabu- the Maharashtrian, Ranjit Singh and Mansingh – the Punjab wallahs, Padma and Ajith – the Indian couple, Michael hailing from Ghana and Musthafa from Afganistan. All these characters, though some of them have only a minor role to play in the novel, substantiate the author’s reference from Silappadhikaaram “KALAMTHARU THIRUVIN PULAM PEYAR MAAKKAL”(80)

What is more appealing in the book is the daunting courage of the author to pin point the historical accuracies of the time of the riot and the people who instigated it. The author does not seem to hesitate in corroborating the facts with legitimacy. Like a single sword cutting across the bosom of an opponent, the author is straightforward and plain in exposing the causes of his misery. It is pathetic that he has not done any crime to encounter such miseries, excepting that he was born as a Tamil in Sri Lanka. The sufferings endured by Ilango are, undoubtedly, the sufferings of the author himself, as the book can be claimed as a poignant autobiographical sketch of V.N. Giritharan.

Categories: Reviews | Leave a comment

‘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;

Categories: Reviews | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.