Udaya R. Tennakoon
Biography of Udaya R. Tennakoon
Brief Overview: A Diaspora writer and a researcher. Living in Switzerland.Graduated from University of Colombo, Sri Lanka(BA) , University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka (MA and University of Basel, Switzerland (MAS) .Currently a student in University of Innsbruck Austria.
Identity Vs Identities: From Rural to Global = Outcast?
To the author’s introduction, I wish to write about myself in brief in terms of my socio-political vision and experience of my present and past life. If I look back at my past, the most important thing is to realize who am I and what is my identity, which will perhaps help me to deal with my creative works, especially as a poet.
I have been influenced by my education and especially, some people whom I have met over the course of time left a significant impact. Most of them were teachers in one form or another, both academic and non-academic fields. I was also inspired by Western and Buddhist philosophies. Emerging myself in philosophical theory helped me a lot to think broadly (out of the box. Outside the common norm/understanding) and I found some ideas that I took with me as principles for my life (based on different philosophers from Socrates to Sartre up to modern day philosophers. Since literature is big part of my life, I love to read and to use different ideas that I relate as a springboard for my own thought. As the following lines of the poem last stanza? Stopping by Wood on a snowy evening? by Robert Frost, inspired me.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep- But I have promises to keep
and miles to go before I sleep-And miles to go before I sleep. (Frost 2014)
The way my life-journey took made me a different person and on the way I collected a few different stories of identity, highlighting the many different identities? from past to present? that make up who I am today. Now, I am standing on a land without soil, without a legacy as a motherland, even though I have a birthplace. I live in Switzerland as a refugee, but am originally from Sri Lanka. Even though my identity, cultural and political background, and the way of thinking are different from the culture and identity of Switzerland, I am trying to stand with my two legs and am searching for my new identity in this new homeland. It is not only from a legal acceptance but also from life style. But it is still a puzzle, whether I can stand steadily with my both legs. In that feeling, I would say something like: In order to give a glimpse of who I am today, let me unravel a bit of my past even though as it is painful.
The effect of my family identity: My first identity that I can remember is in relation to birthplace, being the son of my father. My father was a farmer but in addition to that profession, he illegally brewed local alcohol for selling. The villagers considered my father a bad person and that affected how people, especially the kids at school perceived me. Most of the parents did not allow their children to play with me and to come to my home. Villagers identified me by adding the adjective of my father’s profession. Like for example: Vedage Putha (Alcohol doctor’s son)
Rural identity: When I went to study from my village school to the nearby city school, I was now identified as a 'rural' person because of the difference of my native dialect, which showed people where I was from. It gave me another identity and it made me feel vulnerable at my school. This city was also rural when it compares to the big city centre, nevertheless less rural from where I came from. Because I felt like an outcast, I could not study there well and I missed class often till I finally ran away from school. At grade eight, I stopped my studies.
Transformative Identity: After about two years (there are some more stories in this time too) I decided on my own to leave my home to pick up studying again and I went to stay at a Buddhist school (Pirivena) with the intention to finish my studies well. This time when I came home to my village, my identity transformed from 'bad' to 'good' and the prejudices of villagers transformed. Now they considered me as an exemplary symbol for other children 'how a bad family child became a good one. (When I was arrested branding as a “Sinhala Tiger”, my identity shifted from bad- good to traitor)
When I was in the capital city and engaged with political, social, literary, art and cultural activities, I modified my name. I wished to be called by that chosen name. I used it and became relatively famous with this name as a poet, a dramatist, a writer, a teacher etc.
Leftist Identity: According to the political situations in the country, I was inspired by left politics and because of that I had/ have a different identity as a 'leftist'. In the ethnic crises in Sri Lanka, my empathy and ideological understanding was different from other popular left and I stood for supporting minority rights and even for a separate land for Tamils, if they wish. In that sense I engaged with politics, art and cultural works for peace and human rights and also I expressed my ideas as a writer, journalist, poet and dramatist. Because of that reason, I was arrested and Government and Media gave me a new name? now I became to be known as a one of member Sinhala tigers? Sinhala Koti.
This identity was strong enough to delete all my other identities. It affected me and even my related family. My whole life changed and I lost many things after this new public branding defining my public identity
Prison Identity-6868: In prison, I was given a number in addition to the name. It was more important than the name. In the prison, being a political prisoner is different from other prisoners. This political prisoner identity is a privilege for a political person. Not so in my case, I was identified as a traitor of Sinhala Nation and also as a terrorist. This image was bad and made me vulnerable to be with my same ethnic group. However, as I was seen as a traitor and terrorist? and in this sense I was lucky? they put me in the prison with the Tamil prisoners. The Tamils respected me and loved me because of I tried to advocate for their rights.
Refugee identity: In Switzerland my identity is very crucial. I feel that I am as stranger: politically, culturally and socially. When I became a refugee, I lost my country status. In the beginning I believed that I would be able to be with persons like me (I mean other people from Sri Lanka) , because of the status of refugee. However, my ethnic back ground was a problem most of the time when I tried to engage with other Tamil people (not all) in Switzerland. Tamil refugees suspect me even though I can now tell my truth, that I am Sinhalese. I was faced with a few experiences that made me feel very uneasy. One time, I participated in a demonstration of Swiss Tamils demonstrating for their rights. When some Tamils identified me as a Sinhala man, the news spread all over the event and soon enough others started to follow me, suspecting me to be a spy for Sri Lankan government. In contrary, I cannot keep a relationship with Sinhalese people who are living in Switzerland either. When they ask my story, they are afraid to continue the relationship with me right ahead. That leaves me with very few friends that also come from my home country here in Switzerland.
In terms of my identities, it is very difficult to come to a centre. Strangeness always turns me out. Even in my family with two children, I am an outsider, though the people think that I am an insider. This error cannot be corrected and it is not the fault of others as well. I think, that it is me. It is my life. I can say you that I changed. It is true, but how I define myself this strangeness in order to the context of change. That is my struggle to define it either. I think most of the time I feel that I am an outcast to the whole society. Even to my family and to myself; that I have become to love. Sometimes, I feel that the changes of life may work in people's favours to be heard, but not for me. I believe that the whole entity of my identities will guide me in future to do a constructive work for the society and people, though I have not a definition to myself. This might be interlinked globally as well as on a transnational level with other works. Perhaps, if I will go back to my country, it will be difficult to place my new identity and will be a clash with traditional and formal contexts of cultural, political and so called ethical contradictions.
I have travelled by passing through almost a half of chapters in my life. The rest is an extra part in terms of the incident I had. This moment is very crucial to me for many reasons, if I go back to my past and reflect to myself, it is important to me for realizing that I have the rest of my life ahead of me. If someone asks about my plan for future, it will be a difficult answer to enhance or to describe how it might be. According to my understanding, it is one part of my identity and the other will be the part of society where I lived and am living.
These two parts are always interconnected and interrelated and perhaps it crosses and works together and separately too. I think that there are core-working principles behind that and it always guards and guides me, develops and protects me.
Udaya R. Tennakoon
Udaya R. Tennakoon's Works:
•Namuth Nihandai (But also Silent) 2012 September
•Badulla Pillar Inscription, tenth century and Re- reading(Badulu Tam Lipiya saha Dahavenisiyawasa Navethakiyaweema.) 2006
•Visanyojanaya - (Deconstruction – an introduction to post colonial Radio drama) 2003
•Sand Box and Classical Plays(Valipettiya Saha Sambhavya Nattya) - Translations of four classical play writers' short plays) 2000
•Andona (Lamenting -poetry) 1995
Udaya R. Tennakoon Poems
I Am A Star Because Of You So Far
I am a star Larger than the moon Size cannot be seen I’m because of so far
My bag with me like shadow Comes without a word Hanging on my back Bearing burden inside
Aimless mind slap bang Coated out to spring Dressed up, bear body hiding Set out the old road along
Flock Together To Defeat Evil
Swarming you from out and in Rising in all around Come to advance To defeat the evil
When hunger came I went to kitchen Cooked rice Made a soup of chicken
Above the space Among countless stars The moon was rising
Room In The Heart
The apartment of the heart A reserved room of vacant Every day clean at night Close the door and switch off light
To The Daughter
The time it was insisted In torrential rain of thunder To exile and to say good bye You may have not known
Poem And The Thesis
While reading and thinking From somewhere else Disturbs me You come to me
In an exercise of Psychopathology Students are told To find
Bearable winter Blanket covered cold Attacked by white Gas of Fallen Snow
Laid things Here and there Unedited reality Seems to be natural
No More Rely On
The dawn wakes up With crowing songs of cocks The Sun puts on its dress For the journey
Whisky In Oval Glass
Oval glass Like your waistline Touches my fingers
You are like me
Who haven't a way to go
And to stay
I have seen you
In my home country
Even before sun set
Hiding and peeping