Diaspora, Identity, Peace and Conflict

Life is no better for many migrants in UK

When I came to Britain for the first time in 1976 there were hardly any Sri Lankans except those who came to study. If ever I saw a Sri Lankan I was more than thrilled and I never turned down an invitation to a meal since I was surviving on fish and chips and the occasional long-grain rice and curry with green pepper instead of chillies and throwing in papkrika for chilli powder.

This time round in 2001 I could not walk the streets without spotting a Sri Lankan shop selling everything from spices to Karuthakolumbu, from dried fish to fresh seer fish. You are practically at home in London. But all is not well with the Tamils in the UK.

Having lived my younger days in Jaffna where divorce was unheard of, domestic violence only among a very few, I was shocked to find that quite a number of Tamil women are subjected to beatings and verbal abuse on a daily basis but they never talk about these openly for fear of reprisals and stigma. Families are splitting up at an alarming rate. I will not go so far to state that every Tamil man beats up his wife. But I have seen enough domestic violence and in my part-time job as interpreter I was dumb-founded at the level of domestic-violence very often directed at wives and children. More often than not severe alcoholism and over-crowding are the underlying causes, according to the police and the Department of Social Services. Depression and suicides are on the increase.

The Social Services handle more than their share of divorces, separation and children being taken into care and I came to the conclusion the Tamils who came circa 1990 particularly those from villages were suffering from culture shock and they were not prepared for the completely modern life that lay ahead of them.

Gang-violence which plagued Europe including  UK led to the London Metropolitan Police to set up a Tamil Squad. It was no longer the Blacks who led the drug culture; it was the younger generation of Tamils who were quite literally a confused youth torn between the mores of a backward tamil culture and the peer pressure of the modern western youth culture.

It was difficult for the juxtaposition of their entrenched Tamil culture and the Western way of life which had become too much of a strain; they had no orientation from their own community charities in these matters that sprang to help them and were not geared towards addressing these issues unlike the African, Middle-Eastern or Afghan refugee communities. Instead these charities taught Bharata Natyam, Violin, Tamil and cookery instead of teaching integration into the wider community.

Many households I have been to still do not use toilet paper despite being here for more than a decade due to the cost! But they will subscribe to Tamil channels at nearly £100.00 per channel and you can tell it is a Tamil household when the curtains are drawn even during the day to watch Tamil shows. And oh, the tap water is not good enough for them. They buy bottled drinking water although tap-water in UK is the safest.

Owning property in the Tamil psyche has not left when they fled from the war in Sri Lanka and when Labour government took hold in 1997 they also offered bank loans for first-time home buyers without a penny in deposit. Banks and finance companies did not go into your declaration that you are earning £30,000 when in fact a family’s combined earnings were not even £12,000.

So you took a mortgage on a £250,000 property paying premium insurance and interest rates. You declared you were self-employed catering to the tune of another £20,000. Banks believed you or could not care less. If worse comes to the worst the property would be confiscated for non-payment.

Credit cards were also handed out willy-nilly and everyone knows what their interests are; astronomical. Now, where’s the money to pay back all these? You can only take in so many tenants who are often asylum-seekers. You work day and night in sandwich factories, bakeries, shops and you do not have time for family life. These take a toll on family harmony. Children hardly see their parents and they are like the old British latch-key kids. Ping nuggets and frozen pizzas on microwave, take-away during weekends and off to violin classes and back at home watching Tamil channels.

I do not want to generalize but the greed for owning property has sent many a family into a hell-hole it can hardly get out of. Instead of parting with their hard-earned money to demonstrations for independent homeland they could get together and organise community organisations to educate themselves into integrating into the community in UK rather than living a frog-in-the-well life.

Once this piece is published the Tamil refugees would have my guts for garters but thankfully they would not know my face and I will carry on merrily.

On a serious note, I want my Tamil brethren to take stock of their lives and cherish why they came to UK in the first place; which is to get a better life than they did fleeing for their lives all because their beliefs were obfuscated by politicians bent on instilling into their confused minds that they were the saviours of Tamils; in the wake of having the LTTE vanquished but nevertheless carrying on its fight for an independent homeland for Tamils.

What really matters is that Tamils are their own saviours. They do not need Sinhala chauvinism. Tamils lived with this since 1948. Britain gave them an opportunity to clear steer of racial prejudices and make a mark for themselves. It bent itselves backwards to provide them with the opportunities they were deprived of in their motherland.

On the plus side the offspring of refugees are doing well and in fact certain failing schools in London in late nineties had their grades marked up with the influx of Tamil refugee children whose one and only aim is to excel. These kids are now in Oxford and Cambridge reading science, psychology and new media among others.

But when it comes to marriage they had better stick to their castes and very often they would leave their lovers in the lurch to get married to an import from Sri Lanka who would come with a fat dowry or someone who need to get a PR status in the UK.

The Tamil diaspora still have not integrated with the wider UK community never mind the Sinhalese. Both the Tamils and the Sinhalese eye each other with suspicion you would rather find a needle in a haystack than have Tamils invited to a Sinhalese home and vice-versa. I think Tamils and Sinhalese despite all the manipulations of the politicians integrate better with each other at home than abroad.

What needs to be done under the circumstances is for the Sri Lankan High Commission to incorporate the youth in community and social activities particularly during these festive times.

  • Shaad

    Dear Pearl Thevanayagam,

    I love how you have called a spade a spade in your description of the life in th UK is.. However, in terms of mortgages, I reckon its not only the tamils, but also local british and all others living in the UK had issues with the crash in the housing market. Furthermore, the life that you described is more or less the same for the rest of the british community as well, not just the tamils… Divorce is a major issue to all communities all over the world. The divorce rate is at its highest in Sri Lanka today than it was 20-30 years ago. Same with even highly conservative societies such as Saudi Arabia where the divorce rate is unprecedented. Therefore, it is indeed the same for all communities ALL OVER THE WORLD, I felt it was unfair highlighting on the tamil community in the UK.

    You also rightly pointed out the culture shock experienced by tamils coming from villages in Jaffna; Well, I was born and bread in Colombo and I have been in the UK for less than 9 months now, but even I went through a severe case of culture shock. So did my fellow flatmates from Qatar, France, Italy, Bulgaria, India and Iran. This is experienced by anyone really, even europeans and americans. I have an American professor who migrated to the UK 30 years ago and he confided in me that even after 30 years he still doesn’t feel at home.

    On the plus side though, I would in fact forward your blog post to anyone who is thinking of a life here in the UK. It is indeed hard and tough and it is certainly not for the faint hearted. To all those who think Sri Lanka is a hell hole, this post should highlight what an open prison the life in the UK really is. Some think when you come to the UK, you automatically become rich and have a good life… I tell you, the good life was always there in Sri Lanka… It took me 3 million rupees and a trip to the other side of the world to realize that.. shame on me.. 🙁

    My critique, Mr. Thevanayagam on this post is that the content doesn’t correspond accurately with the title. It would have been more valid and credible had you focused on all migrants as opposed to pinpointing the tamils alone. I am sure you are certainly not ignorant to the fact that almost everyone here in the UK have the very same issues you have just mentioned (migrants from countries such as Nigeria, Somali, France, Poland, Germany, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China just to name a few)..

    As for me, if it where not for the large loan I have to pay back (which I intend to pay back within two years, God willing), I would have taken the next flight back home at the end of my degree…

    Home is truly where the heart is…
    God bless my motherland…

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    Dear shaad,
    Just a tiny correction. I am a woman.

  • Shaad

    Dear Pearl,
    Please accept my sincere apologies on my oversight.. I genuinely did not in anyway intend on offending you…

  • Thank you, Mrs. Thevanayagam, for this wonderful post.

    I’m in Sri Lanka and nearly completed my higher studies. Whenever some of my parent’s friends ask me what I am doing and I tell them of my status, the first thing they ask is “Appo velinaatukku pogalaya?” (for the benefit of those who don’t understand Tamil, it translates to “So, aren’t you going abroad?”).

    Generally, they ask if I’m not going to London.

    Perhaps it’s because I was born and brought up in the Middle East, but I have never felt an overwhelming desire to go abroad for work or for migration. Perhaps for vacations, but nothing long – term. I’ve spent nearly 2/3rd of my life abroad and know how great it is to live in Sri Lanka.

    Being able to go and visit my relatives at the hop of a bus can’t beat anything. Being able to speak Tamil/Sinhala wherever you go is a truly wonderful experience which you won’t often get when you go abroad.

    There are 2 main reasons why people of my age are always wanting to go and work abroad:

    1. Relatives or friends who come from abroad always come dressed with nice bling and stylish clothes. The way they come, it is as if they are the owners of the Chelsea Football Club. However, only they know that they had to work 70 hours a week to have a semblance of a decent lifestyle.

    The worst part is that these people never tell these youngsters how hard work is and that work here is comparatively easier. Instead, these people paint a very rosy picture and, if one goes by what these people say, a place like England offers 20-hours-a-week work for £3,000 a month. However, this is rarely the case.

    2. People here do not realize that £1,000 in England does not have the same value as Rs. 175,000 (£1,000 converted to Sri Lankan Rupees) in Sri Lanka. In most parts of England, if I am not mistaken, a bachelor will incur nearly £900 pounds a month in living expenses. However, people here feel that Rs. 175,000 is absolutely fantastic money. There is no doubt about that as not every CEO earns over Rs. 150,000 here. However, they do not realize that the cost of living in England is much higher than that in Sri Lanka.

    Again, thank you for the great article, and I will forward it to as many people possible!

  • wijayapala

    Pearl,

    Both the Tamils and the Sinhalese eye each other with suspicion you would rather find a needle in a haystack than have Tamils invited to a Sinhalese home and vice-versa.

    My cousin in UK married a Jaffna Tamil and they recently had a child. I haven’t seen them in years but I was at the wedding, which was a Hindu ceremony. I was surprised at the party after the ceremony that almost all the songs were Sinhala baila- there were only 1 or two Tamil songs even though most of the guests were Tamils!

  • Brilliant post Pearl! I am not a migrant, I am a student here in London. But what I have observed is that most students (some who may eventually chose to live here) replicate the exact lifestyles they had back at home i.e. engrossing themselves in movieslcricket matches round the clock and accomodate this style of living by doing part time jobs, this unfortunately renders them several miles behind the others living in Britain and makes them a very unproductive lot.

  • TMama

    Pearl,

    I enjoyed reading your article – agree with most of what is said .

    Re violence a home – whether houses are overcrowded or not violence will remain. In fact floor areas may be more here than Sri Lanka and specially so for poorer folks living in council flats. In fact single rooms for teenage children is rarely available in Sri Lanka.

    Maybe the factor overlooked is that the lifestyle here does not have the vast comfort of the extended family circle, respect for the elders, women and children that comes with it. Domestic violence is a fact of life among all Asians perhaps Sri Lanka leading the way.

    I could not understand whether you are an advocate of the arranged marriages or not as that US novelist Gangatharan puts it in her debut novel – Love Marriage.

    Many Sri Lankan boys as well as girls after the first phase of puppy loves opt for the certainties of traditional marriage to a more pliant wife / domineering husband of the same caste, topped up with parent’s life savings coming as a dowry, perhaps it is in their jeans. Despite university degrees in Medicine, Engineering or sciences like Physics etc folks still believe in horoscopes, nandivakyam and the whole package.

    I find among my circle of friends – ex Uni early 70 emigrants, races mix reasonably freely. One negative fact I observed is aversion to discuss politics; they think it is not a done thing among ‘gentlemen’ peraps not to disturb the inner compass. This may have cotributed to the absence of a more open dialogue and the rise of one sect.

  • Gabriel

    If this is the same Peral Thevenayagam who was very active in London not too long ago in addressing the Eelam cause and even participating in demonstrations against Sri Lanka she seems to have had a change of heart and now wants to blame Tamil politicians among others for misleading the Tamil people.

  • Burning_Issue

    Though I feel that, the author of the article has generalised a greater extent, I am pleased that these issues are out in the public. It is because Ms. Pearl T is an interpreter thus exposed to many of such issues and overwhelmed feeling that they are endemic to the Tamil community.

    My wife is a Child Protection Nurse; she is privy to many unspeakable social and sexual issues involving all communities that I have no clue about! One has to remember that, the size of the Tamil population in the UK is very big as a result of mass migration since the year 1983. Many Tamils arrived in the UK first time crossing Colombo for the purpose of leaving the country. They are not equipped with to handling complex family and financial issues one would face in a country like Britain. Back in Sri Lanka, they would not have encountered such issues of this magnitude, and all of a sudden, they have been thrown into such a situation. I am not excusing the wife beating; such behaviour should not be condoned at any level.

    In the Western world, it is not acceptable to for a husband to beat his wife and the society to overlook as if its a family business; not anymore. The wife beatings still take place among the British too! If one wants to live in a country like Britain which treats men and women equally in the legal sense the least, should also accept that, there are organisations which advice the families of their rights unlike in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, people do not go through divorces purely because of the stigma of the society in which they live, and such pressures are not there in Britain! I feel that, if married couples cannot get on after exhausting all possible avenues, they must consider separating, for the sake of their future and children. I cannot judge others on the basis of how things once were in Sri Lanka; this change would have happened at some point in the future for the Sri Lankans of all races; the sudden change of living condition has speeded up such events!

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    Dear Gabriel,
    I organised a protest among exiled journalists for my former slain editor Lasantha outside Downing Street.
    I visited the demonstration outside parliament to find out what exactly was happening.
    These are the only two demos I attended in UK to date.
    Please get your facts right and do not mix apples and oranges.
    I wrote this piece from the bottom of heart since I could not bear to see Tamils working tirelessly and not getting rewarded.

  • Chandra

    Nice. Despite generalisations from small samples of evidence, you are touching on serious social problems. You did not mention Tamil children getting beaten for not achieving high grades (not high in absolute terms, but higher than the Tamil neighbour’s child) in the competition for entry to selective schools in London. I was recently told the story of a Tamil family where the child phoned the police when his parents beat him (for not doing his studies to high standards, of course). Following strong police warning, the family apparently decided to pack up and go back to Sri Lanka. Once they got off the plane at BIA and reached the arrival hall, the little brat got the severe thrashing he supposedly deserved for telephoning the police! Home sweet home, no?

  • Clean Guy

    “Many households I have been to still do not use toilet paper despite being here for more than a decade due to the cost!”

    C’mon Mrs. Pearl. What kind of a Sri Lankan would use toilet paper? Its not even a cost issue, its a cleanliness issue.

    I’d rather use the water/sabung than toilet paper.

    Haven’t you noticed the bowl next to the toilet?

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    Dear clean Guy,

    In SL you can clean your bum with water and sabang but in the UK you are talking of sub-zero temp. and there is no bowl to cleanse yourself unless you are very tall to get your bum into the bowl. You use toliet paper first and then you clean with water and sabang. Of course you have wet wipes. But if you are too stingy to buy toilet paper you can say good-bye to wet-wipes.

  • Sinhala_Voice

    At least this article does not blame the Sinhala Buddhists for everything that is bad in the Tamil Community.

  • Clean Guy

    C’mon Mrs. Pearl, almost all Sri Lankans have mastered using bowls in toilets! for sub-zero temps…you just turn the hot water tank kno..Wet wipes are for babies. 😀

    Perhaps you should invest in a bidet. Long-term investment, long term returns. 😉

  • Arunan

    Thiru Cumaran,

    There is no place like home, where the heart is.

    However, migration is a the ‘world is a village’ phenomenon. It is the history, present and future, it just does not pertain to Tamils nor Sri Lankans.

  • Dilantha

    Shaad and Thiru Cumaran should write an article themselves. They echo the same thoughts I have had after getting an American education from a reputed university, and working 70 hours a week for the next two years. My visa ends this year and I am going home. For I would rather die poor there than slave here for nothing any more.

  • ModVoice

    Dear Pearl,

    Good article.
    By the way, how would you measure one’s integration into the host country?
    For example, many of the issues you have described (i.e. domestic abuse, gang violence) are often associated with the working class irrespective of whether one is an immigrant or not. So, how do you know this is a problem of integration rather than that of a socio-economic position one leads?

    Nevertheless, issues such as Tamil gang violence are the direct consequence of ghettoization that comes along with mass immigration and the pre-exposure to violence from back home. I do not disagree that there needs to be better integrative mechanisms available to help the new immigrants to fit into the wider society. I too see it as a pity to see cultural values erode among younger generation in particular, hence, the rise in divorces, etc.

    With respect to “independent homeland” – even if the diaspora let go of the idea, I do not think Sri Lankan gov’t will let go of it, otherwise, they cannot do propaganda work based on “western conspiracy with the Tamil diaspora to threaten the national sovereignty.”

    On a positive note, I think some Tamil organizations have been contributing largely to the local projects as well as helping disaster victims through INGOs. So, that is a commendable aspect and strength of the community.

  • I read Pearl’s article with great interest. The comments too are very interesting.
    Pearl has been very outspoken. I commend her for that. However one has to remember that quite a few of the immigrants to U.K. and other countries do really have security concerns back home. Many of them get out of Sri Lanka at great cost and once they are out they have to find ways of paying back to those from whom they or their parents had borrowed or to compensate for the belongings they had to part with to meet the cost of getting across. These are the people who often find themselves as square pegs in round holes in the country to which they had migrated.
    There are however many migrants from Sri Lanka and of course other countries who leave their country expecting a better life, especially in UK. They need to read your article for them to get to know what life in UK is really is. Often they are dazzled by what they hear from the Sri Lankans living in abroad visiting Sri Lanka for a holiday. The culture shock is something for which they are not prepared. These visitors hardly talk of what they miss while living abroad. Undoubtedly life in Sri Lanka is what most of us living abroad miss, but for the political and, law and order situation in the country. There is hardly any likelihood of the situation improving in the near future. Hence those of us who left Sri Lanka in view of that situation, may not be able to get back to our dear land that soon. And there will be more migrants.

    I wish this article and the comments are translated into Tamil for the benefit of would be immigrants to the UK or other countries. They are the ones who actually need to know and benefit from the contents of this article. Pearl has done a good job with it.

  • Sachi

    No matter which developed country they live, your article is very interesting and applicable to all the imigrants (including myself) came from our side of the world. Your pore out my heart.

  • Sinsin

    I think the diaspora could work towards attempting to integrate the immigrants into the local culture.

    The tendency for recent immigrants to cluster in ghettos is not new. The diaspora could fund education programmes to train immigrants in useful skills and wean them from the ghetto.

  • Nimal Sandaruwan

    “The Tamil Diaspora still have not integrated with the wider UK community never mind the Sinhalese. Both the Tamils and the Sinhalese eye each other with suspicion you would rather find a needle in a haystack than have Tamils invited to a Sinhalese home and vice-versa. I think Tamils and Sinhalese despite all the manipulations of the politicians integrate better with each other at home than abroad.” Well said!

    There were no Ellawala Medhanandas, Athuraliye Ratanas, Champaka Ranawakas , Wimal Weerawansas in 60s,70s or early 80s. Of course there was KMP Rajaratnes whom were nobodies.

    People must examine who promoted these figures since late 80s and the circumstances they were able to become the agenda setters for the Sinhala nationalism.

    Why have the Sinhala migrants who live overseas become the most virulent Sinhal nationalists than the Sinhalese live in Sri Lanka? Are noy they the people who initially backed (financially and morally) JHU, Sihala Urumaya, Veera Vidahana, Mawbima Surakeeme Sanvidanaya, Jathiya Galawaganime Peramuna, Gunadasa Amarasekera, Nalin De Silva, etc. SPUR in Australia and NZ are good examples. There are similar organisations in UK, US & Canada.

    If you visit Buddhist Temples in western countries or attend Sri Lankan cultural festivals, you would be embarrassed to see the extent the organisers of these events go to recreate ancient traditions.

    These people’s lives are wracked with these huge contradictions which will not resolve just because they live in societies rid feudalism long ago.

  • Indian

    Thanks for the article.As a Sri Lanka who has a lot of Sri Lankan friends living in South Harrow I have witnessed many Tamil gang fights.I could not believe one day one Tamil man verbally abusing a Lloyd’s Bank clerk who refused to change his cheque because some letters were different from the name of his passport.He used “F word ” many times and it was really embarassing as there were many customers as well.But thye white woman clerk just said thank you for every time she heard the “F word from this violent and ignorant man who was a Tamil.Anybody can see how these Tamil youngsters hang around with baggy jeans dropping from their bums and with bandanas on their heads. I do not see any Singhalese thugs here may be due to the reduce numbers of Singhalese population.As the article said many Tamil youths here wasting a chance which could made them high class citizens of any country of the world and their acts make the hard working and respectable Tamils ashamed and discouraged.What a waste!

  • lanka peiris / sanasuma

    Pearl,

    The whole problem Tamils face even in the UK is integration. As an ethnic group tamils have stuck on to to the caste creed prejudices for ages. Please note the dfference between a Colombo Tamil and a Jaffna Tamil! Those in Colombo mix weel and integrate into the greater community. Even in a small country they tend to have tamil communes like Wellawatte, Kotahena etc. This maybe the sign of sheer insecurity. This pattern is continued even in the UK. Integration and not segregation is the answer. However Tamils who were unable to mix and live with Sinhala brothers and sisters will find it hard to mix with the ‘Suddahs’ and once they produce the ‘Kalu puka Suddas’! it will be a right royal mix!

  • After a very long time I enjoyed a good read.
    Thak you one and all
    Manmathan
    I catogarise people into 1= cultured,2=experienced,,3=educated ,4=poor

    or–may be 5=rich

  • Maithri Gunsekara

    I agree with some of what you say but the London culture you describe is alien to most of us in the UK who live outside London. The Londoners pretend every one is a stranger in their over congested city and would rather read the advertising panel above the head of the passenger in front of them rather than have eye contact even in the tube. I an also a migrant from SL who came in the early 80’s but chose to live in a fairly rural town. Life still requires hard work a concept many in SL do not grasp, but the surroundings are great, we have both the bowl and the toilet paper-even bidet’s in our spacious homes and mix freely with all the communities-yes even with the Tamil community with whom we share most of our cultural identities! I take great pleasure when ever I visit SL as it will always be my homeland no matter what my passport says, sadly I am too old to go and live there as I do not know how the system works-Pagawa etc.
    So life in the UK and life in London is two different things, whenever I mention where I live to a Sri Lankan from London the eyes roll up and I might as well come from the Jungles of Monaragala or the Vanni!

    Me and my other Sri Lankan freinds who live around these parts regularly laugh about this and share Vada, Chinese rolls, cutlets etc over the odd glass of Arrack or scotch listning to Baila whilst the kids play.

    There, two versions of the life in UK. The streets are not paved in gold but our horizons are broader and have mote grass and greenery on the foreground!

    I admire you for starting the discussion-freedom of speech a precious commodity!
    Maithri

  • jayathilaka

    Hats off to the writer for the golden piece of advice.since the article is an eye-opener for novice who are looking for greener pastures.

  • Hello all,

    I think this is a fair article but not necessarily the truth. When I came to UK good 10 years ago my friend said, you will cry two times. No surprises I sure did. Not only me every immigrant would have done so. But the key is to be focus and have a plan and you will enjoy it. Its sad to say SL embassy and other places are not helpful. Few months ago purely for that reason I set up a website for the SL immigrants called http://www.lankaunited.com. I hope this will help some one.

  • I miss one important fact in Perl’s article as well as in the comments: the low willingness of the immigrants to integrate into the society where they live. The Tamils who speak Sinhalese in the south or central SL survive the political (racial) situation better than the ones who do not speak Sinhalese. Of course this process need a necessary openness to the “new” and a basic level of knowledge on the norms and the customs of the major society. If the parents of imigrant children are not able to communicate or with conservative background, they always have a fear of doing any harm to the future of their offspring or running into any risks. But I should say its not a general problem of Tamils or the Asians but of all immigrants. However to see some Indians who have enormous influences in the governments and economy of the countries where they live, even “countries” like Honk Kong, one should accept, that they arrange themselves with the majority with their traditions and moods and handle according to it, even though at home they are more traditional Indians. I remember reading in the book ” the holocaust industry” of Finkelstein, a Jewish Professor from US, the most important thing a Jewish child being taught from his parents after his birth is ….you are different but very important because you are a Jewish child…(wherever he lives). … and this child would be most probably brought up with Jewish traditions and can speak Hebrew. To see how successful and influential the Jewish are in whatever nation they live, its is not necessary to maintain a distance from the traditions of the major society to be successful or at least feel at home in an alien country but the willingness to adapt and to know these traditions. The people who are ready to take challenges and risks manage to lead a successful or a happy life wherever they live, and the others find excuses like …I am a Tamil in SL or I am dark skinned or I do not speak German / French/ English… for their misery, of course I admit there are influential factors from outside too like political motivated discrimination, but most of the barriers come from inside and our unwillingness to accept the “new”. Jumba Lahiri, an indian in UK expose this issue of lethargy (of Indian immigrants) in her successful book “Interpreter of Maladies” .
    I remember a German saying “Every man is the architect of his own fortune” and the people who realized it cherish their life wherever they are.

  • Pasad

    Dear Ms Pearl

    What a great artical. Its nice to here from a Sri lankan about the fellow tamils who live in the UK. Well Life is so different in Australia for the people who had migrated weather you are Tamil or Sinhalese. My best friend was a Tamil who came from Jaffna and I was from Colombo and a Sinhalese. We studied together at the same University. he left Sri Lanka during the trouble times. We are still good friends still keep in contac since he left to Canada.
    Well most of the Sinhalese and the Tamils who had migrated Australia came with nothing. But Its so nice to see most of them own 2 or 3 houses. There children are intergrated very well and having a very bright future. So People who read this article should not be discarraged by this facts. Well Come to Australia. Sinhalese the Tamils if you are living in UK why not live in Australia Insted. Well I know not every one can migrate to Astralia but for the students who are thinking of studing in UK think towise. There are worlds leading Universies here. Live is rated as one of the best in the world. So forget UK come to Australa.
    I still eat Murunga and Pol sambol yammy Australia.

  • Nithyananthan

    Dear Pearl Thevanayagam! Greetings to you!
    You blow hot and cold in different wave-lengths. Your narration appears as a running commentary on day-to-day life and lifestyle of the average Eelam Tamil living in the UK. It’s quite interesting to read the way you presented from your point-of-view; and it calls for its due share of appreciation. Having read your postings and comments on various subjects here and on others sites, for sometime, it makes me believing that you are enjoying or craving to enjoy the best of both worlds at no cost.
    There’s nothing wrong if we act / behave like Romans when we are in Rome. We should be so. People ran for safety and security away from persecution by both at home but not to assimilate or integrate thousands of miles away from home. It reminds me of two things. One is about a cine song, perhaps at your age of schooling, by the late Kannathasan ‘Parama’Sivan Kaluth’thil Irun’thu Pa’ambu Kaeda’thu Karuda Soukiyama; and other is a colloquial Tamil saying that the daughter of a tamarind vendor on the street asked her princely lover while horse-riding under tamarind trees ‘Darling, What are those curled and twisted fruits hanging on the trees? I feel like eating it!’ Thanks, Nithy!

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    Dear Mr Nithiyananthan,
    Of all the positive comments I received yours was the one that went straight to my heart.
    Savarithambar aka Sivagnanasundaram was a dear friend of my father ( an artist by profession and a civil servant in the Dept of education) and I empathise with your allusion regarding the tamarind and the man who could not remember her mother was selling tamarind to send him off to England.
    Unless we shine the torch inwards we would not get very far.
    I will cross my heart and say that Tamils are delusional and hung-up on their castes.
    The Sinhalese despite their belief in their entrenched position of being the inheritors of Sri Lanka are a very accommodating lot.
    When I worked at Daily News I had the support of all the Sinhalese but a senior Tamil journalist who would go to the extremes of erasing out my byline out of pure jealousy.
    He is now writing for Bottomline.
    If you are any relation to Rajini Thiranagama you might understand my viewpoint since she chose a Sinhalese to wed.
    It is imperative that we Tamils prove to the Sinhalese that we bear no grudge; which is not to say we do not condone injustice.

  • After reading this, I can honestly say that I’m blessed not to be a Tamil.

  • pam

    Hi Pearl

    It was with great interest that I read your article. I feel sorry for the kids who have to suffer due to the entrenched, bad notions of the elders of a society.
    I understand the pain and betrayal the Tamils would have felt, especially after the 1983 riots. As a Sinhalese I’m terribly ashamed of that, but yet I know that my feelings about it is not going to do any justice to the ones who suffered that day.
    However, I could not understand how a part of the Tamil Diaspora went on sponsoring a brutal terror machine that killed so indiscriminately. That was not “hit back in pain” at the point of infliction of pain, but methodical, well-planned and never-ceasing revenge.
    I always wondered how a human being (in this case a whole group) could go on hanging to that self-defeating revengeful attitude for so long.
    What motivates such callous indifference to the murders of children and women (men too) and simply innocent by-standers for 30 odd years?
    Why is it that the Tamils (not just them but most humans) never take look back at history and see the end of violent movements and people?

    Yes, I have this experience about Tamils not mixing well with the Sinhalese. Why again?
    Not all Sinhalese have done them wrong.
    I attended a private Christian school in Colombo. Sadly, even there we had a separate Tamil medium class. So we had 3 classes in the Sinhala medium, and 1 class in the Tamil medium. There were just one or two students with Tamil names who were with us in the Sinhala medium class. We had a nodding acquaintance with most of the Tamil students and even had few conversations with some of them, but I don’t think any of us managed to make lifelong friends with any of the Tamil medium students. I look at my facebook account now and see almost all of my classmates (Sinhala, Musilm and the couple of Tamil students) from school days in correspondence with me. Sadly, I have no idea where any of the students from the Tamil medium class are living now. I don’t think any of us do.
    So this weird separation goes on.
    Are adults to be blamed? I know that my parents had no part in this. They never uttered a word against the Tamils and hence I was not prejudiced. Was the school system to be blamed for this separation? Whose idea was it to separate us at even that stage? Why not mixed classes (all races) with English the common language of instruction?
    Were the Tamil parents biased against the Sinhala students and so cultivated such an attitude in their offspring? I don’t know. I hope that things will change and students will get a chance to study, play and have arguments together in school, rather than be separated into different classes.

  • Jak

    You are man or a woman doesn’t matter. My pointer view you don’t know any thing and I feel What ever benefits you are getting from Sri Lankan government your doing your part very well, but reality totally wrong. UN and UK government also accuse Sri Lankan government Killed own people in own land. You have to show your face to public then you talk.

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    If I am getting benefits from the govt. I would not have been made to resign my post as new editor of Weekend Express because I exposed Chemmani Graves and the rape and murder of Chrishanthi Kumaraswamy, her mother and murders of her brother and a neighbour in 1996 by no less than 13 soldiers at a Jafna checkpoint with the help of the Late Kumar Ponnambalam.

    I was also accused of breaching the censorship for starting Missing Persons Bureau in Weekend Express andIi had to go into hiding in the hills before migrating to UK with a death threat hanging over me from the Eastern Commander.

    These aside I always remain a journalist seeking truth and justice. I do not care for narrow political agenda be they Tamil or Sinhala and I do not condone killing either by the state or rebels.

  • pam

    Hey Jak

    [Edited out]

    Whenever somebody decides to write something as that person sees it , he or she is exercising his /her freedom to view things and form their own opinions. If you don’t agree with what Pearl says here, argue with her on the points of disagreement. What you have done by calling her a “govt paid beneficiary” shows your depth of intelligence. If you can’t argue with someone in an respectful and intelligent manner, just shut up.

    This attitude to call anyone who differs with our opinion as “Sl govt paid agents” is hilarious and frankly stupid. Maybe some are, who knows, but you can’t generalise and hide behind that argument.

    One more thing, I don’t care what the hypocrtiical Western govts has to say about SL, I’m glad, REALLY glad that the LTTE with it’s manic and idiot leader was annihilated and and erased from the face of the earth.

    Those who take up violence and/or condone it (whether it is the now DEFUNCT LTTE or the SL govt) will have a day of reckoning. There is proof of that, as the LTTE who lived by the sword (in this age, guns, bombs, machetes, etc.) also perished by those same tools.

  • Dilan

    How about we all stop whining about how everything in Sri Lanka sucks, and try and make excuses for immigration based on self-pity, and try and come together to improve the situation? For those of you who say “hey, we’d come back, but we have security concerns you know…”

    Every one of us has security concerns, whether we live in SL or not. You are no safer, for the most part, in any other country than you are in SL. Most migrants are living under the false delusion that things are better off abroad, although they are now living in a crappy one bedroom apartment, have taken out a 100 year mortgage, and are up to their eyes in debt, working 90 hours a week just to keep the family afloat. Unless you’re a journalist or a rival-politician in Sri Lanka, you don’t have a whole lot to fear if you’re willing to work with the system to change the system, instead of thinking you’re the best in the world and everything you want should happen immediately.

    And what have these migrants achieved beyond an apartment and a crappy car, and bragging rights about “life abroad?” I can think of perhaps a handful of academics and Raj Rajaratnam who have achieved more as immigrants than they could have with hard work and perseverance in SL. I am especially saddened by those members of the medical profession who have milked the Lankan system for all it’s worth, got a free education, and then gotten out to make money abroad, blaming it on the “corrupt medical system” in SL, which is only corrupt because migration is one aspect that has also stifled our economy, leading to that corruption in the first place.

    This attitude of “we’d come back if things got better” is not going to MAKE things better. For as long as those who can make a change keep leaving the country, there WILL BE NO CHANGE. I came to this realization during my current stint in the USA, and plan to come back for good in 3 months and make something of myself.

    If you want change, then work from within the system to change it.

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    Well said Dilan,

    I understand your frustrations and they are justified.

    Only when you leave the shores of your motherland and realise there is a pot of gold waiting for you then you realise these ar e but illusions.

    We have had suicide bombers, hapless civilians enmeshed in detention camps but you are always home when you set foot in that golden soil you call Mother Lanka.

    It is incumbent on all the people of this nation to work together for unity and peace; you will still encounter racism but not to the extent that you will encounter in the wilderness of a foreign clime.