Mr. Doolittle and the Tamil Diaspora Seek Help

by Satheesh Thadchanamoorthy

My generation never had the luxury of time that my fatherís generation had.  I did not get the chance to read A Tale of Two Cities that my father said he had to read as part of his curriculum.  I have not had the chance to read Tolstoy, Trotsky, Marx, Lenin or any one of that caliber of author when I got thrown into the midst of things.  I learned what I could as I ran.  My knowledge of sociology is largely personal experience, with little or no theory to shape it.  The Indian army beat me while I was in my school uniform.  I learnt the capability of the Indian army to inflict pain onto innocent school children before I had the chance to understand the thing called "geopolitics."

It was a common scene in those days to see the cohorts of my farther and the generation after passionately burning the night discussing theories, quoting various thinkers, whenever there was a break from the Sri Lankan and then the Indian armyís shelling.  Even though I enjoyed what I heard them discuss, part of me felt that it was a total waste of time.  As our own people were setting numerous examples in the field, I felt it was an insult to be quoting a foreigner to explain our plight.

I fled my sweet home at a tender age as a refugee, having read not a single work of any author cherished by my previous generations.  I became busy forming myself into a Canadian.  As was the case with the majority of my generation, I pursued my education to become an Engineer.  Technical thinking made a lot of sense as it stuck to the point and had measurable results.  I hated people who wrote a paragraph to state a point, which only needed a line. I did not have the time.  I did not have much respect for people who had to quote a "someone" to make any point.  I felt they lacked originality.

Then I got married and became a father.  I started panicking.

When I was born, my father had read many theories, but had not lived through a war.  Growing up, I did not read many theories, but had witnessed the gruesome details of war and gained the practical knowledge of human behavior under helpless and extreme conditions.  Fate would have it that my sons are now going to be growing up, for the large part, in a world of theories.  What seemed obvious to me due to the environment in which I grew up, may require convincing to my sons.  My generation is isolated again.  I need to learn the language of poor souls-- people that were not fortunate enough to acquire a wealth of firsthand experience.  I must learn the theories.

My sons are only learning their alphabets now.  A perfect time for me to start learning the theories that I may later need.

Although I seldom paid much attention to the parrots, some writers, who also happened to quote frequently in their writing, won me over by the their pure talent.  Two people whose style of quoting other people has made me become interested in quotes are: the respectable V. Balakumaran, senior member of the LTTE, and Dr. Sachi Sri Kantha of Sangam.  Unlike the many who love to quote at every opportunity, mainly to show off, the above two and many more writers in Eelam have the admirable ability to create original quotes from existing ones.

Very recently, Dr. Sri Kantha quoted a passage from Bernard Shawís work in his article titled "Democracy Dance in Diapers."  Inspired by it, I made a trip to the local library to sign out a copy of Apple Cart; a political extravaganza.  Yet, as I had feared, that location of the Library did not have the copy.  So, I checked for other works of Shaw and got home with Pygmalion.  Now that I have finished it, I thought I would write this reflection.

As the reality of Tamil Eelam is fast approaching, many social scenes these days, especially in Canada where Tamils have comfortably settled in as Tamil Canadians, are entertaining discussions on resettling in our beloved homeland for good.  The longing is obvious and the mind has already resettled.  Yet, among close confidantes, people are reluctantly opening some of their fears surrounding resettling.

The discussions usually span the following flavours:

"ÖIím sick of the stressful life Iím leading here.  I know Iím missing out on a lot, such as spending more time with my children, yet I canít stop my routine, Iím running so hard, Iím tiredÖI want to go backÖ. But can I really?.."

"ÖI canít help but to wonder why I never heard of the many medical conditions that are common here such as depression, anxiety, postpartum illnesses, etc. back home.  I want to go back to the peaceful life that got stolen from me.  But Iím nervous to think about resettling..."

"Ö I fear that the longer I put off resettling the higher the risk of my children longing to come back here as I am now longing to go back there.  But, then, it no longer seems straightforward for me.  The decision to resettle in my birthplace, as guilty as I feel, does not seem straightforward to me anymoreÖ."

"Ö. Iím worried whether Iíll be robbing the opportunities of the west from my children if I settle them back homeÖ."

"..I despise the education system that I went through back home, which catered only to the conventionally smart and never bothered to identify the smartness of different kinds in each kid.  I adore the education philosophy here.  I want my child to have access to this systemÖ"

"ÖIím intimidated by the thought of missing out on the health care that is accessible to me here.  I cannot imagine loosing a loved one to a curable disease, especially now that I know the kind of treatments available hereÖ"

"Ö.Iím a little afraid to go back to face the venomous snakes and the chasing stray dogs that I knew then, but have forgotten now how to handleÖ"

"Ö.I visited my homeland during this no-war period, and I see happiness in the people I met.  I know that the young man who served me at Pandiyan Restaurant in Kilinochichi, whatever his monitory status may be, is much happier than I am. Yet, Iím intimidated by the need to forgo all the things I have become accustomed to hereÖ"

"Ö..Why?  Why did I get to know this way of life?  But Iím not happy here!  I wish I had roughed it out and stayed home throughout the war years.  In the worst case I might have died, but I know I wouldíve died in peace.  Never did I imagine that it would become this complicatedÖ"

Well, I cannot help but to draw parallels to the dilemma faced by the character David Doolittle in Shawís Pygmalion.  Mr. Doolittle, having inherited unexpected wealth and having become and lived a wealthy man for a while, wants to go back to his old life.  He is not happy with his new life.  Yet, he is intimidated by the need to let go of his present unhappy life in order for him to go back to his old happy life.  He describes his state to Mrs. Higgins as follows (dialect quoted as is..):

"MRS HIGGINS: But, my dear Mr. Doolittle, you need not suffer all this if you are really in earnest.  Nobody can force you to accept this bequest.  You can repudiate itÖ"

DOOLITTLE; Thatís the tragedy of it, ma'am.  Itís easy to say chuck it; but I havenít the nerve.  Which of us has?  Weíre all intimidated.  Intimidated, ma'am: thatís what we are.  What is there for me if I chuck it, but the workhouse in my old age?  I have to dye my hair already to keep my job as dustman.  If I was one of the deserving poor, and had put by a bit, I could chuck it; but then why should I, acause the deserving poor might as well be millionaires for all the happiness they ever has.  They donít know what happiness is.  But I, as one of the undeserving poor, have nothing between me and the pauperís uniform but this here blasted three thousand a year that shoves me into the middle class. (Excuse the expression, ma'am; youíd use it yourself if you had my provocation). Theyíve got you every way you turn: itís a choice between the Skilly of the workhouse and the Char Bydis of the middle class; and I havenít the nerve for the workhouse.  Intimidated: thatís what I am.  Broke.  Bought up.  Happier men than me will call for my dust, and touch me for their tip; and Iíll look on helpless, and envy them.  And thatís what your son has brought me to"

Mr. Doolittle had Mr. Higgins to blame.  We have Sinhala hegemony to blame.  But at the end of all the blaming, should we, like Mr. Doolittle, succumb to the intimidation and continued to suffer the unhappy life?

I kindly request the likes of Mr. Sri Kantha to write a piece, quoting from the land of theories and literary work, which would address the above dilemma.


Posted September 26, 2005