[Editor’s note: The following is a spoken word piece on identity and language. The author’s grandmother was born in Jaffna, and briefly lived in Colombo but decided that Jaffna was her home.

Featured image courtesy Pinterest]

My mother parts my hair in the middle,
Places the Uchipattam at the center.
It rests on my forehead.
It feels cold.
She tells me that I look like my grandmother;
Not the woman she knew but the one who came before her,
The woman who knew my father,
The woman who made him man.
Standing in the mirror,
I see the resemblance.
She would spend her afternoons teaching me Tamil.
The language I was intended to inherit,
Until being third generation caused language to become a thing of convenience,
Rather than conversation.
She would draw the curves of each letter on my palm;
Curves these hips would soon possess,
Curves my tongue could never confess.
Searching for the vocabulary I have left,
Always short of breath.
As of late she has been slipping away,
My language goes with her.
Now, I am neither here nor there;
Trying to relate to a people
That I have never belonged to,
That have never belonged to me,
Always caught in mid-sentence,
Not knowing how to end it.

I don’t visit as often as I should.
When I do, she talks of stories that happened before my time.
My face looks like the person she chose to forget.
She forgets the faces she chose to remember.
I try to speak to her in the way I know how
I try to speak to her in the way I know how
I try to speak to her in the way
I try to speak
I try to speak
How?
Somedays it’s just one huddled mess.
Her mind, my mind
Our minds without identity,
And through it all
The fear of loss, still hits me.
But does it matter?
When everything you stand to lose lies in the in-between.

She is quiet now
She no longer speaks her mind
Reasoning feels more like a broken compass swaying from side to side.
She tries to hold fast to the things that are familiar,
Things that would keep her grounded,
But trying to remember the breath that birthed you
Leaves you exhausted.

So, I part my hair on the side,
Speak this language clear and bright.
Use my hands
And my eyes,
Hoping to God that it is enough
That it makes me enough,
Hoping,
They don’t realize
I’m not saying anything.

If you enjoyed this piece, you may find “The Other Side” and “In Absentia” illuminating. 

  • Vinu Mendis

    Beautifully expressed, Tashy. I too am from circumstances similar to yours, and as an adult old enough to be YOUR mom, I can say that it’s NEVER too late. I didn’t see the need to relate, as I had a whole set of “Westernized” relatives who were more or less lie me, majority-language educated but with “minority blood” in my veins. I see now that my relatives who fled the country due to various reasons, have preserved their ethnic roots so much better than I have, having lived here all my life.
    Yet, as I had the privilege of my paternal grandmom living to a blessed old age, I fished out old photographs from relatives, made those my conversation starters, and bit by bit captured for my children, glimpses of their lost heritage. It’s not a lot, but it’s something. The very fact that you have the maturity to recognize that your reality could have been different had circumstances been otherwise, THAT is the beginning of a journey of self-discovery. I wish you the best:)

  • disgustman

    Many,many are in this plight and the speed of time in their life makes them forget

    the past. The last lines are drawing near. See
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXbtqSB2MqE

  • Decko

    Enjoyed reading it, also I imagined you and grandma together