Monday, August 22, 2016

Your memories may not be welcome

It's not that I wanted to stop thinking about Sri Lanka. It's that I had to get back to "here." The immersion there was deep and subtle, permeated by sounds and visuals that are pretty well inexplicable in our world. Nothing to explain to people here. And no one wanted to hear. In conversation, as I'd predicted, us bringing up our Sri Lankan experiences in parallel with what people here experienced at a given time was, well, unwelcome. Instead of lingering on the experiences of almost a year I realized, and quickly, that I had to sweep it away like a strong cold front moving through. Clear skies after thunder. 

So much of the time there was waiting. Waiting. I felt like a spider in its web waiting for prey, or maybe more like a sponge at the bottom of the ocean waiting, more passively than a spider, just a sponge you see, for a bit of nutrient to fall my way, to filter through to the dark depths. What were "nutrients" there? A word, a taste of language, a sentence of heartfelt opinion. Someone else's. Always I was waiting. Waiting to hear what was on people's minds, what they were experiencing or had experienced or what they expected out of life. Too much to ask? Maybe. What do we hear from people at home?

Looking also for secret moments in the hour before dawn or the deadest times of midday. Looking for the collection of electrons or information bits that got together to make an image, a flavor, a discernible time in space. Who would think now that I've been home two months that I could find dozens of Tamil devotional pieces on YouTube and relive the sound waves of those mornings where every kovil played its canned music and filled the airwaves with sound? What did that mean? Did anything hold meaning? Can it have had more or less meaning than the dawn minutes here or the quieting moments of late afternoon when the rattling of air conditioners falls to a sickening hum?

On bicycle in Batticaloa I saw people had less of the "gracefulness" I'd witnessed in other parts of Sri Lanka. Less of the "composure" we'd thought we observed early on. You might call the Batticaloa look a natural clumsiness. And why not? The killers on the other side moved like eels, sleek, doe-or-dead eyed, graceful and slim. But in the east, and could this be attributable to their torture in the war, their horrors of tsunami, their natural stance (?) people moved more normally. Not like the baby face who will stab you in the back. A fact of human evolution: Neanderthals were wiped out by their cute small-boned cousins who had a better facility for making sharp things and aiming them. 

Our Thavarajah though. That was something else. Something for a whole different chapter or two. He moved gracefully and his wife Grace more so. She was a dancer since a young age and moved like that. Classically. Gracefully. He a feline with catlike instincts. How else did he tread the thin line of war and oppression and hate and violence and threat? How else did he emerge, a quiet hero, a defender, a father, a builder? There were hatreds there within him, he told me. But his mild demeanor belied their presence. He had salvaged a piece of Tamil life in his corner of Sri Lanka and he did it without violence. But sent all three of his kids out of the country for good. But another time for Thavarajah. And more space as I recall him. Not now. 

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