Longing and Belonging series: The science of planning in Jaffna

The throng of devotees and tourists visiting the Nallur festival had receded and life slowly returned to normal in Jaffna. I stayed behind to see if I could persuade others visiting from abroad to be a part of my Longing and Belonging series. I was especially interested in those that were engaging in a sustained manner, in contrast to the charming young family that I had met at the height of the festival. This however proved to be a challenge. I met many who were engaging with projects in the north, but who were uncomfortable with being open about their views, preferring instead to keep a low profile.

One man who was willing to be involved was Dr Narendran, an associate professor who had worked for many years in Saudi Arabia, and who was now back in Sri Lanka, spending most of his time here.

We talked over coffee at the famous Malayan cafe in the heart of Jaffna town about his ideas for an agriculture and animal husbandry project on the islands off the Jaffna peninsula. His plans were still in their infancy. The government had offered him large tracts of state owned land to use for his project. It occurred to me that Dr Narendran had no qualms about working closely with the government, something I knew would be unpalatable for many of the diaspora that I had met during my visits to London.

Later, we took a taxi to the arid environment of the islands, which Dr Narendran compared to the deserts of Saudi Arabia. As we talked about his plans I thought that while I didn’t agree with everything that Dr Narendran had said to me during the time we spent together, he wasn’t expecting me to either. I sensed he knew I likely held different views, but that didn’t deter him from speaking to me with respect. He just wanted me to listen. I have to be honest here – some of the things he said to me, for example, about the Tamil diaspora taking responsibility for their part in dealing with the devastation in the north made sense.

Meeting Dr Narendran and other individuals on this assignment underscored what he had told me – that the diaspora is not a homogenous entity. It is a diverse group, with myriad perspectives, motivations and experiences. Dr Narendran was positioned somewhere along that spectrum of views.

Also see From London to Jaffna for the first time, Returning lives, rebuilding limbs, and Diaspora shorts

  • http://bishansworld.posterous.com/ Bishan Rajapakse

    Kannan Arunasalam’s video series is a very well crafted segment of interviews and cinematography – thanks for sharing. I particularly enjoyed watching the segment from Dr Narendran, and the courage given by the author to highlight this gentleman’s perspectives even though it differers from that of the author. Only by giving value to differing perspective that may not be intuitive, but still understandable will we see the kind of progress that everyone wants to see in the North and the East and in Sri Lanka in general – no matter what view one holds.

    Here’s to Dr Narendran’s great work, and also artistry of the film maker!

    Thanks also to Groundviews for showcasing!

  • Orion

    Dr. Narendran,
    Your comment about the diaspora Tamils is derogatory and not true. Yes, they differ with you and others like you. It is true the Tamil diaspora is not united in everything. No groups in this world have unity in all issues. The degree of unity changes with different issues. Within a group, composition of members changes with the issues raised. But a substantial majority of diaspora Tamils are united in some issues. If you have not read it, here is a link to a a unity view on Human Rights and War Crimes:


    Thank you for your efforts in improving food production in the Islands. Hope you are in consultation with the Northern Agriculture Department and the Faculty of Agriculture Univ of Jaffna. They do have the soil survey. That and the Islands peoples wish (Not those of political parities) should help. I also hope it is a civilian effort and not a combined project of your group, whatever it is, and the military. The military should not be overloaded with civilian affairs and neglect their constitutional duties.

    Mr K.A. Thank you for giving gigabytes to such views also.

  • Don

    Dr. Narendran,
    I spent some time travelling in Jaffna and the north last year and salute you for trying to do something positive to give hope to this beautiful part of Sri Lanka.
    The government has and is doing a lot. All those residents i met along the way were getting on with their lives once again after three decades.
    The diaspora as you said is not the connniving lot or the noisy lot toting red flags in canada, UK, switzerland etc.
    It has a well educated, refined,decent silent majority like yourself which will hopefully slowly come back to help get Sri Lanka economically and politically to a place that gives everyone their rightful place in the country.
    We are one country and one nation and i would love to see the Northern province develop and catching up with the western province.