How do you know you are Sri Lankan ?

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(August 08, 2014, Bradford UK, Sri Lanka Guardian) You cover the settee with polythene and sit on chairs. You put away microwave oven, liquidiser, food processor and grinder which were kindly donated by relatives toiling in Middle East or Europe inside the showcase with ceramic plates and china tea set which you have not taken out since you got married and was presented with as wedding gifts.

You also have a what-not with empty foreign liquor bottles alongside plastic flowers in a ceramic vase.

Starters for a meal for guests are always cutlis with MD chilli sauce, patties and mutton rolls although the filling is pilchards and potatoes and not mutton. The inimitable finger bowls are produced at the table so the guests do not see the mayhem in the kitchen with all the frying and currying. Tasselled cotton serviettes are a sine qua non and you provide toilet papers bought for the special occasion with a bucket in hand in the loo so they feel more purified and sanitized.

You invite guests for dinner and even when they say they have had enough you pile their plates repeatedly. You give them tea with three spoonful of sugars and sweetened condensed milk which stick both your lips together even though you may be showing signs of diabetes.

Your fridge is not in the kitchen but in the sitting room or hall where it rests with the television. You watch television while entertaining guests thereby being utterly rude while your little brats lie on the floor watching Tom and Jerry or Ha ha hari hava. You produce photo albums from your childhood and bore your guests to death.

Then you are surprised how little Malinga, Raghavan, Douglas or Imtiaz had grown since they saw them five years ago. It does not dawn on them that they should not have been arrested in a time warp and remain babies forever. Sizing your guests from top to toe you ask how much they paid for the jewellery on the wife’s self and proudly boast you paid just Rs one lakh more for yours.

This brings me to an anecdote a teenager told me how her relative in London was making a living by cooking string-hoppers 24/7 and distributing to restaurants to send her sister in Colombo her rent and expenses. While she despatched goodies to her sister through a friend he was invited to dinner. Strangely there was no smell of cooking and all of a sudden there appeared on the dinner table string-hoppers, sothi, sambal, mutton curry and prawns ordered from a take-away.

By the way it is not uncommon to see die-hard Hindu Tamil women selling liquor in off-licence shops across London whereas back home in the North and East they would be pariahs if they so much as were seen near a tavern. The stench of fish is more prevalent in Hindu Tamil homes than Christian ones. The Hindu Tamils frequent Billingsgate, the wholesale fish market in East London, and have deep freezers to stock up for rainy days with seer fish, crabs, paraw fish, mackerel, shark, prawns etc.

If you think Northern Tamils are starving, think again. Their age-attaining ceremonies and weddings are generously funded by relatives who never let out they are cleaning toilets or working for three pounds an hour in super-markets and restaurants run by Asians and particularly Sri Lankan Tamils while sharing a room with seven others. They would not bat an eyelid when they fork out Rs 5000.00 for a dinner plate at a five star restaurant since …………..foreign currency from relatives who slave in the West feel they need to look after their relatives who have undergone hardships to send them abroad in the first place.

Little do they realise these hapless relatives are merely existing and not living a life of luxury. Diaspora Tamils sweat it out in the West to feed their relatives who believe they are living a good life. They work in sandwich packing and vegetable processing factories just to meet the mortgages on their homes. They are cannon fodders to their employers who exploit them to the hilt since most of them do not bother to learn English nor do they mingle with other communities which is pitiable.

When bills arrive they dump them in waste-paper bins since they cannot comprehend they would be charged interest at a premium rate. It is only when bailiffs arrive they awaken from the slumber and seek solicitors to plead their case. Once again they are ripped off by the solicitors whose hearts are made of stone and nary a kind thought for their clients except to rip them off of their hard-earned money. They mesmerise them into imparting their money procured from pawning the wives’ jewellery and their savings towards engaging barristers who are in cahoots with the corrupt solicitors. Many a Tamil solicitor firms have been struck off Law Society although they re-surface under different names.

Diaspora Tamils think nothing of fleecing their own kind since their only motive is to accumulate and to hell with others. Is this what war does to those who had to duck and dive to survive and then they lose all the morals and beliefs they were brought up with.

An interesting observation is that during school holidays Sri Lankans visit Europe where their relatives live and instead of visiting places of cultural interest they stay indoors with curtains drawn up watching Sri Lankan programmes on television, making Idly, thosai, pittu and gossiping which is pretty much what they were doing back in the UK. Sri Lankan diaspora do not care two hoots for European culture and they remain isolated so much so Norway, Switzerland and Germany keep them far away from their citizens in enclaves demarcated for refugees. They are treated on par with the Maoris of Australia or the Red Indians in the US.

Given the golden opportunity due to their refugee status where they have free housing, healthcare and education one would think they would want to progress. No sirree, they want to crawl back into their own protective shells of being Tamils and clinging onto their culture and nationalism. They are immune to anything outside their periphery except making money at any cost.

Getting back on track with what distinguishes Sri Lankans living in Sri Lanka from others be they Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims, Malays or Burghers is that they have this laissez-faire attitude and they think nothing of entertaining their guests with the best they can offer no matter how hard-up they are. Times are changing of course and now each one for himself and God for us all is the urban attitude although Sri Lankan hospitality is still prevalent in the villages.
When you bid adieu to the guests, they dither on the doorsteps for a good half hour saying how they need to go home and you wish they get the hell out so you can stretch your legs and enjoy some peace and quiet after pretending to enjoy their company.

With all their quirks and idiosyncrasies I wish this island restores peace and harmony among Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims, Malays, Burghers or native Veddahs since they are the salt of the earth which I proudly call Sri Lanka.
May this isle retain its past glory and may it be blessed by the almighty God, Allah, Hindu deities and Lord Buddha and save it from racist elements.

(The writer has been a journalist for 25 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at