Monday, September 29, 2008


(Sri Lankan) Tamil stories?

Most Tamils have some knowledge, albeit sketchy, of our history but it seems to me that we lack story, more precisely, stories emanating from, and set in, the Island itself, relating to Tamil characters and happenings, be they fictional, imaginary or real.

To make clear what I mean by an apparent dearth of Tamil story, let me turn to the Sinhalese. They have, for example, their story of the arrival of Vijaya and his men. Within that story, there are several incidents, mini stories, and whether received as actual history or as foundation myth, they are interesting as narrative, as story. There’s the story of young Duttugemunu lying curled up in bed because the sea was on one side and the Tamils on the other. (It leads on to the story of his preparation for war, and his defeat of Elara.) The Sinhalese have stories emanating from resistance to Portuguese, Dutch and British rule, the last including the uprising led by some members of the Kandyan nobility. Moving outside myth and history, there is the story of Sardiel, the Sinhalese Robin Hood from Kadugannawa, eventually captured and executed by the British. Altogether, the Sinhalese have a rich stock of stories. What’s more, these stories are very much “alive”, are told and known widely among them: they are “common currency”

These Sinhalese stories may, at times, be told and transmitted with an ulterior political motive but they are interesting in themselves, and are narrated as entertainment among adults; are told by adults (by grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts) to children, particularly in the evenings and at bedtime; narrated by teachers to pupils; by monks to the laity. They are told over and over again: if there is pleasure in hearing a story for the first time, there is also the pleasure of hearing again a familiar, well known, tale - rather like meeting an old friend again. The point is that these stories are familiar, widely known even by simple illiterate individuals and groups living in (comparatively) cut off rural areas. In other words, they are popular - remembering that the word “popular” is linked to “people”, the folk.

We Tamils seem not to have an equal stock of story (a) emanating from within the Island; (b) stories that are very much alive and present in popular, folk, knowledge, memory and imagination. If this is so, does it matter? Aren’t stories for children, non-serious adults, and for those with no better way of spending their time?

Stories are an integral part of the collective (group) memory. They help powerfully (if unconsciously) to create, preserve and strengthen ethic identity and cohesion. Stories matter. They can help counter attempts at cultural genocide.

The last few decades have furnished Tamils with material for many “stories” and the effort must be to record, and tell and retell them so that they become common currency within Sri Lankan Tamil culture, in turn, helping to build identity, pride and self-confidence. It will take many, many years to make familiar Tamil “stories” - and many (writing) hands and voices. Those will knowledge must tell these stories which then must be recorded (published) by those with narrative talent and imagination. Thereafter, they must be made available within the Island, in Tamil and in English. The process of dissemination and percolation will take much time, but a start can be made.

I attempt no more than to offer this thought and suggestion to fellow Tamils.

Sarvan charlessarvan@yahoo.com

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