This poem by london based writer and poet Indrani Balaratnam sums up the emotions felt by many in the Tamil diaspora upon being able to view their villages & homes for the very first time after three decades of conflict. Thanks to the introduction of Google Street View in Sri Lanka, accessing streets in the ancestral homelands of millions of displaced Tamils in the diaspora is only a click away!
THE OTHER SIDE by Indrani Balaratnam
A glimpse of the streets we would have called home,
I’m laughing in the park, climbing the coconut trees,
Cycling through the dusty lanes, playing at the local spots.
It’s a strange relationship: Caught in opposition of the surveillance state,
And, gratitude, for finally seeing the corners we’ve never seen.
No war, no displacement: what would our lives have been?
How would the fight for our liberation have compared
with the struggle against white supremacy?
What would have replaced the anxiety of oppression?
The effects on the psyche – to be accepted,
Not longing for belonging, nor grappling for identity:
We look the same.
We talk the same.
We eat the same.
We breathe the same.
But when one battle is removed, another is present.
Would we be strapping ourselves to the frontline
Trying to tear down class and caste boundaries?
How would we destroy these indoctrinations?
Would the effects of colonisation flow more deeply
through the veins of our community and be more evident there?
Is there a similarity between being
a black woman, in Clinton’s America; and
a Tamil woman, in Bandaranaike’s Sri Lanka?
They stood on the backs of the most marginalized,
To stretch out, reach out, and crack the glass ceiling.
Walking these streets, imagining our lives,
Children of refugees longing for the homeland,
Children of immigrants straddling the borders, confused.
‘The grass is always greener,’ they say,
and certainly if we lived there, we’d long for the opportunities here.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t acknowledge
what could have been.
What might have been.
What we know, deep down, is missing here.
A town we’ve never seen,
Streets we’ve only heard rumours of existing,
Years wandering what it must be like. And now we know.
It’s dirty, it’s cultural, it’s desolate.
It’s warm, it’s underdeveloped, it’s beautiful,
and it has a rich history… our history.
It’s the life that might have been; it’s a home I don’t know at all,
A town so far away,
And yet… a strange familiarity lingers.