| by V.N.Giritharan
[Translation By Latha Ramakrishnan; Proofread & Edited By Thamayanthi Giritharan ]
( February 26, Toronto, Sri Lanka Guardian) I have already written a novella, AMERICA (Within The Walls), in Tamil, based on my life at the detention camp. The journal, ‘Thaayagam’ was published from Canada while this novella was serialized. Then, adding some more short-stories, a short-story collection of mine was published under the title America by Tamil Nadu based publishing house Sneha. In short, if my short-novel describes life at the detention camp, this novel ,AMERICA (Beyond The Walls) , describes the struggles and setbacks a Tamil migrant to America faces for the sake of his survival – outside the walls of the detention camp. – V.N.GIRITHARAN
CHAPTER 1 – I AM BORN ANEW TODAY
From the fifth floor of the wartime naval force office building, which also functioned as the Correctional Facility, Ilango looked out to the streets of great, grand New York City. Situated on Flushing Street, the place had doubled as a detention camp for illegal immigrants and had been his only home for the past two months. Darkness from the night continued to seep through with all kinds of thoughts swirling Ilango’s mind. At last, the dream of escaping this detention camp would soon become a reality.From tomorrow onwards, he would be a real free bird. The Court of Justice has allowed him, who hitherto, has been detained in prison as an illegal immigrant waiting to be released on bail. Now, he could hope for the solution of demanding refugee status. He can go out without any constraint and face the challenges that life has in store for him. But before we continue, it would now be helpful to the readers to learn some details about this man.
Ilango: He is a Tamil citizen of Sri Lanka. A young man. One of the thousands of Tamils who fled from their Mother Land following the 1983 ethnic riots. The conflict, wrath, and hostility between the two main social groups – The Sinhalese and the Tamils – are known to have a long-fought socio-political feud of over two thousand years. However, since 1948, when the foreigners who had last ruled the island (e.g. the British) left Sri Lanka, the ethnic clashes resumed. The past historical events of the island greatly contributed to the current situation. Beginning from Thuttakamini/Ellaalan, continuing through Rajarajan I/Rajendran, then Singai Paraasaran, and ending with the king of Kandi Sri Vikrama Rajasinhan – such a lengthy history cannot be brushed aside with one stroke. The enmity and distrust between these two ethnic groups gradually intensified to the present stage of treacherously raging fire. Further deliberate, strategic settlements on the basis of ethnicity, the method of grading in Education, political priorities on the basis of religion have just added fuel to the fire, so to say. But, these are all superficial reasons. The deep-rooted causes are really the distinctly different traits, problems and conflicts on both the socio-political and economic fronts.
A grand procession all over the sky. Near the Moon, a few sparkles lay. The sky of the city; the sparkles of the city; the Moon of the city; the flash and glitter of the city. Its pomp and colossal extravaganza are not just affecting the Earth but have a miserable impact on the sky too. That is the reason why the innocent and gullible villagers are migrating from villages to cities and from the poor soil to the rich foreign lands. Migration takes place everywhere in numerous ways and due to numerous reasons. There have been migrations in search of treasure; migrations for the sake of women; migrations for the sake of very survival, fleeing from one’s own bomb- ridden nation… and for those forced to exit their land and enter another for fear of their lives, this sky and the moon and the glow and the sparkles therein would always give solace. Oh, how many poets have turned towards the Moon in times of gloom, within and without- to get some peace and hope!
Once again, Ilango’s mind turned towards his future. There were many compelling reasons for his migration. Many political and economic compulsions. His very survival demanded that but the additional responsibility of bringing up his family made him adhere to this course. Once he left, there are so many problems awaiting to confront him. New place, new set of people, new culture; the incessant struggle to keep going in a new habitat. He has to keep his body and mind intact to keep his struggle for survival fresh. He had not more than a mere 200 American dollars in hand. Keeping this meagre sum as some sort of investment, he continues his struggle.
“What is it that you are so deeply contemplating?” asked Arulrasa, standing in front of him. He is another Sri Lankan Tamil who migrated as a refugee. Out of all the refugees who had come to stay with them, and later going away one by one, these two remained alone. They didn’t have any familiar people here. So, both of them resolved to face life in New York, together. The others had someone or other known kin living in New jersey, Connecticut, Long Island and in several other places.
But, sadly, these two didn’t have any. Therefore, they resolved to face life with a connected front.
Back home, Arulrasa had worked as an accountant in a reputed firm.
“Well, tomorrow, after going out where do you plan to stay?”, asked Ilango.
Arulrasa showed him the India Abroad advertisement and said: “Here you can have a room for 30 dollars weekly rent, the ad said. First let us go and stay there for some days. And, from there let us try for some job. I have three hundred to four hundred dollars. You have some two hundred dollars. This is enough for a beginning.
I tried to contact them over the phone, in the afternoon. It is a Marathi family. There are a lot of people staying in those rentals, it seems. First, let us go there. What do you say?”.
“Ok, sounds good. We can also seek some suggestions from those living there. So, let’s go there first. Then, we can discuss any further plans. First and foremost, we should step out of this cursed prison”.
After that both of them sat along with the others detained there and watched old movies being shown in the T.V., placed in the hall, for some time. When that became tiresome, they ticked the time away playing ‘table tennis’. Feeling tired with that too, they came over to the dormitory and stretched themselves on their respective ‘bunk-beds’. It was nearing the hour of midnight. Along the corridors that linked the halls, there were guards of African-American origin, half-asleep. The official-in- charge for counting the prisoners had also come and gone. Prisoners belonging to all nationalities… from Afghanistan, those from Central America, from the Caribbean Islands – so many prisoners, prisoners of all kinds – illegal immigrants, those imprisoned for petty crimes, those awaiting the day of their deportation – almost all of them were sleeping. Arulrasa soon plunged into sleep. But, Ilango couldn’t. At such times, he would generally write in his diary. As usual, he took out his diary from under the pillow and read several pages of it for a while. His heart could experience small ripples and bubbles of joy once again! He wrote further: “INDRU PUDHIDHAAI PIRANDHAEN” – Today I am born anew. His heart became lighter. He viewed those humans sleeping there. ”YAANEDHARKKUM ANJUGILAEN MAANUDARE!” – I Will Fear Nothing, My Dear Fellows!”. With new dreams and fresh hopes, bubbling with joy, Ilango fell fast asleep.
To Be Continued…….