all towns are
one, all men our kin.
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Home >Tamil Diaspora - a Trans State Nation - தமிழ் அகம் - ஓர் உணர்வா, அல்லது இடமா? > Canada > Being At Home
On 2 October 2006, the CBC News World aired the first episode of a three-part documentary series titled EQUATOR in which Simon Reeve, a BBC Journalist, travels—with his camera rolling-- through countries that lie on the equator. Africa is the continent of choice for the first episode and Reeve gives his viewers a synopsis of what life is like in these African nations.
While on the surface the documentary is lightweight entertainment, there are segments that scream much deeper messages. For example, in Congo-Brazzaville, Simon travels by boat on a narrow river that runs through a shantytown. Along the coasts of the river are substandard, primitive, unhygienic dwellings of the locals. For us, the viewers of the documentary, it felt as if we could sense the rotten smell of the setting right through the television-set. Yet, at the sight of Simon--a well-groomed journalist—a local shanty-dweller yells, “White-man your breath stinks!
To me, this scream screams a much bigger meaning.
In our world filled with conflicts, economic burdens and globalization, increasingly, we are living in
places far away from home—both in distance and in customs. Irrespective of the degree of hospitality and
warmth extended to us in our new environments, there are never shortage of elements, small and big, that
remind us that we are not at home. Only those who live away from home are capable of understanding this feeling.
To me, it was this drowning feeling of homesickness that was momentarily brought up to the foreground of my thoughts by the Congolese scream. Why?
While among ourselves-- the citizens of this world—we agree to disagree, embrace our differences and cherish
diversity, there is a permanent identifier, if you will, that is ingrained in our brain that defines who we are. There are some settings that put us more at ease than the others. But it is at home that we are at total ease.
For many members of the Diaspora communities, each day, significant portions of our energy and capacity is unknowingly directed towards imitating someone that we are not. While all cultures are precious and the different
value systems are explainable, only in our own can we truly be comfortable, effortlessly.
For example, a Tamil man, say in Canada, who daily enjoys a spicy meal of rice and curry, which he eats by his right hand while in his “Heavenly Invention” called sarong, would most likely not embark on this very routine if a non-Tamil co-worker was visiting. Likely, he would ditch the sarong for a pair of pants and pick up a fork and struggle with rice in an attempt to feel comfortable. However, if this situation were taking place in Jaffana, the man would not feel such an urge to hide his tradition that is different from the western norm. Hence, the reason for his behavior in Canada is his subconscious realization of the ‘living away from home’ phenomenon and the courtesy resulting from it. In other words, a deep inner voice reminds him that he may be in his home but not at Home. Of course, this example cannot be generalized to all Tamil men, but equally it is not out rightly deniable.
In our adopted homes, irrespective of how assimilated we are and how much warmth is extended to us, for many of us there is always that inner voice that keeps reminding us that we are away from home and that voice demands us to act accordingly. We are constantly trying hard, with or without realizing, to comply with value systems that in some cases, we don’t even fully understand to begin with. Under these circumstances, even watching on TV a shantytown dweller in Africa teasingly remarking to a well dressed, well groomed-- according to western norms of course—white journalist that his breath stinks makes many of us immigrants curl in awkwardness. Like an abused child that freezes whenever it encounters anger in its life, many of us immigrants freeze when we see such judgmental slurs, irrespective of how frivolous they are.
However, chances are that neither the white-journalist nor the African shanty-dweller would have felt the way some of us immigrants feel, because they both are comfortably nurtured by their own homes. The shanty man is in his own home where he knows that he is only joking and according to his value system such joking is acceptable. The Shanty man never left his own home and therefore does not understand that his joke, in fact, exhibits an underlying prejudice. Further, the potentially painful effect such judgmental remarks may have on the recipient is incomprehensible for the shanty-man who always lived in the total comfort of his own home. As for the Journalist, he knows that he is only visiting some one else’s home and all along anticipates that some or all of the host’s children could potentially be mischievous and ruckus. Further, the journalist knows that at the end of the day he has his own home to return to. But, we immigrants, at least some of us, we feel the way we do because we are not just visiting, we came in Aeroflot with a one way ticket!