ASPIRATIONS OF A FOREIGN MIND, CAPTIVATED BY THE INDIAN HEART
I was born and brought up in a family of girls, went to a girls' school and taught five years in another girls' school. I could never use 'let the boys do it' as an excuse, there were no boys!! To compensate for the lack of boys, our parents and school made sure we learnt everything from gardening, cooking, sewing, camping necessities, fixing a bicycle, broken electric plug points and fuses as well. It was all about being independent, self-reliant and ambitious. When I say ambitious, it was in a positive, very progressive way. My grandmother always urged us to study and be independent so we don't have to "ask for money for our own clothes" when we get married. Both my parents believed we could become anything that we wanted to be, as long as we truly aspired and worked hard towards it. My school got us girls talking about what we wanted to become, what we wanted to achieve and how we would give back to the world at a very young age. But the political situation of Jaffna (in Sri Lanka) was adverse. There was constant fear of losing what we had. I was born soon after the civil unrest started in Sri Lanka and it went on until I finished school and started working. As a result of which, we saw more than 25 years of deprivation of essential facilities like electricity, petrol, public transportation, news media and bans on daily commodities including soap!
When I look back and reflect on our then lives, I realize, it
was our dreams and ambitions of becoming something, doing something worthwhile that kept us going. I guess we also had a lot of time and opportunity to dream as well, since there was no other entertainment, not even TV. We were restricted from traveling out of the North. Travelling outside was not possible, as it was unsafe. But we still had our little cycling escapades, finding new ways to get to school, exploring beaches and on lucky occasions, running into some temple festival or a cultural event. We just cycled and cycled all the while, feeling that we will reach a step closer to our destinies with every passing mile.
Both my parents had already seen a fair share of the country, having studied and worked in different cities in the South before the war started. They would tell us how there was a world outside of Jaffna, how there were different people who spoke different languages, and who had different religions! I still remember how my father made up for the lack of newspapers and TV with just maps of SriLanka and the world on the wall. We knew the countries, their capitals and the currencies. The only foreigners we saw in Jaffna were the ICRC staff members. My parents, seizing this opportunity, would invite them home and made us talk to them in English. Once in a while, we got magazines and some Colombo newspapers our friends stealthily brought in, when they went on vacations.
I would always dream of going to all these places, meeting people who spoke different languages and wore different clothes. At that time we were not sure if it would ever be possible. But I thought I would be ready, in case there was a chance. I studied languages in school; I learnt to write letters in English; started reading about countries and customs.
The war came to an end and the roads to the South were opened. In 2007, I got an opportunity to go to India, when my younger sister got scholarship and went to Delhi University. I applied for passport, got my first stamp to India, to visit my sister in Delhi, and then there was no looking back for me. Filled my first passport with just Indian visas!! Then, I got a second passport. As if they were waiting for my new passport, a few other countries lifted their bans on Sri Lanka as well and the rest of South Asian countries relaxed their visa regulations too. I worked seven days a week at one point, so I could save enough money for my traveling plans and take a long break from work. I could travel to five countries (and in India 20 states) with my savings. I am back to teaching children with Special Educational Needs, with many stories to tell them. I'll take another long break when I need and can afford it, and can keep on ticking places off my bucket list.
I teach children with different abilities. They can't do certain things which other regular developing children can do. But I encourage them to dream. They want to be pilots, hairdressers, chefs and politicians. And I say why not! But if you want to fly a plane over the Amazon river, you better do your math sums and get your English grammar right. When hard work walks with a dream, it becomes true.