Groundviews

My Uchipattam

[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.