Typical Tropical Woman in Berlin

So it’s Berlin 2010. It’s the fall. The maples are caught in the Autumn fire. The sun mellowed down and sentimental. My  German colleagues tell me I’ve brought the sun with me, since it’s out again after weeks of rain and meek weather.

And this time, as I was walking through the clean streets, with polite traffic, across city squares with guitarists and lovers and children engrossed with their ice-creams, I felt truly peaceful inside. Unlike last summer, I wasn’t haunted by a heartbreak or an unresovled past in Europe. No guilty feelings. Just me and the summer. I admit, every moment did include a parallel moment, in which I was sharing that moment with G. It was magical. But still, I was not homesick or lovesick, and I was truly present in the moment, fully awake and conscious and absorbing what Berlin had to offer. What a GREAT feeling!

So, the first thing I step into, right after the airport, is a taxi, with a driver who fled Baghdad 30 years ago, for political reasons which he doesn’t want to share with me. But ofcourse, he’s mad about Hindi films. He’s seen Arzoo and Ai Milan Ki Bela. He loves Sholay. And Vaijayanthi Mala is his favourite.

Tumse mohobethain…he crooned as he drove, overenthusiastic to find an audience who knew the same songs. And knew what they meant, as well.

Thanks to globalisation, I was thoroughly entertained all the way to Movenpick Hotel.

And I recollect the same feeling I had, coming to Europe the first time in my life. Just getting out of the train in to the city square, and strangely feeling at home. Surprise! Surprise!

Sunday afternoon; Alexander Platz with Kristin. I take the subway, and momentarily held by this subway singer…

And another one in Alexaner Platz…

Ask me what I appreciate most about the European cities…yes, there are many things a typical tropical woman could appreciate, but what strikes me most is this ‘Love is in the air’ mood. You know the lovers, walking hand in hand, kissing in public, cuddling in the sun and all. (ya, it’s a couple kissing in the background!) It’s this freedom to love, and to express love in public. And I can’t help remembering how wonderful it was to be in love in summer europe, and how dismal it is now, by comparison, to be in love in my tropical isle sometimes…

To generalise, if I may take the liberty to, our men are a bit paralysed in this department. I mean, they are fantastic in bed. They can compete there, at an international level, in terms of technical perfection of the art. But in the art of affection…oh dear…I wish I had never experienced love in Europe now that I have to live with this permanent Rebecca syndrome. I don’t wish to look down on the men in my country. I’m a tropical woman. I want to love one of my own kind. But I couldn’t escape globalisation. So I had to go through all these experiences. And I can’t help these philosophical observations! It’s not criticism, so if you are a tropical man reading this, don’t take it personal.

OK, you’ll say it’s not our culture to display affection in public. But then, do our men display affection in private? Or do they just do it because they are expected to. Some times I feel they do, simply because it’s what our sentimental women kind want. Something just to get over with. Like an obligation.

Life is an obligation. To be faithful to your wife, to love your mother, to fight for your country!

Ha! Ha! Ha! That’s my only reaction!

Of course, I am not saying all our men are like this. I have indeed met a few wonderfully affectionate men in Sri Lanka. But overall, when I listen to my friends and observe the world around me, I feel that our society has crippled our men, hip upwards, I mean. They are denied the right to express themselves. They are denied the right to feel, to be emotional. And I often find them uneasy, when a bit of affection is expressed in public.

I don’t know why people only talk about liberating the woman in this part of the world, because the men, oh them poor souls, they so need to be liberated themselves. Being a man and being human must be difficult, come to think of it.

In Sri Lanka when a bit of affection is displayed in public, the public scoffs right back at it. It’s considered ugly, uncultured and vulgar. What’s ugly, uncultured and vulgar about a man loving a woman, and expressing that in public? I don’t get it. I think it’s at the core of the sexual frustration and violence of this society – the big secret everybody knows but nobody talks about. Without allowing the men to be human, to be affectionate, we will never liberate our women. (That’s my ‘loud and clear’ to the feminists!) It’s not just enough to talk about sexual harassment in public transport, you see – something I have never experienced in Europe and experience daily in Sri Lanka.

I mean, it’s simple right?

High degree of sexual freedom, acceptance of affection, flexible gender roles – low levels of sexual frustration, harassment and violence (summer Berlin or Sweden, to quote an example I know better)

Low degree of sexual freedom, acceptance of affection, strict Victorian mores and gender roles – high level of sexual frustration, harassment and violence (our tropical paradise)

And I don’t know how to change this society around me; or to liberate a man, (or myself for that matter), but I know I can love. Not in a possessive way – not to hunt a man down and put him in chains of lifetime bondage (aka marriage) but in a way that redeems. In a way that supports both individuals to grow, to explore, to be more affectionate beings, not just unto themselves, but to others as well. One could also do all these things within a marriage, or without it. The choice is personal.

I feel this is the key to the politeness, the gentleness, the ‘culturedness’ that I sense in the European public life. Now don’t call me a post-colonial Eurocentric rootless bastard of globalisation. I’m just expressing my opinion. I’m entitled to one.

So to get back to Berlin – Tacheles. I want to talk about Tacheles. It’s this run down building which belonged to East Berlin before. Now, the area is transformed. The Big Bad Banks have come in. So have Gucci and Prada. And the government wants to pull down Tacheles because it’s an eyesore in the middle of a chic commercial district.

And the artists resist!!!!!!!!! The very next day there was a peaceful public demonstration, not devoid of music and dance.

So the call to rally goes:

To enforce art piece Tacheles

We save the creative centre of Berlin – We build a city

The pillage of Berlin by banks, investors and neo-liberal pseudo-politicians must stop!!!

Performance-Demonstration

Monday 20th September 2010

And they’ve been successful in resisting the demolishing of the building since the 1990s.

For more on Tacheles go to the Wikipedia entry  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunsthaus_Tacheles

and then walking through the graffiti covered walls, exuding an anti-capitalist verve, I come across this great poster shop. The work is bold and gripping. (Btw, that’s Kristin in the photo thanks to whom I visited Tacheles)

So why do I feel like this is another important element missing in Colombo. Just the space to have ‘honest straightforward talk, purpose’ (that’s the meaning of the yiddish word ‘tacheles’). Now where’s that space in Colombo, or anywhere in Sri Lanka? Ours is a society of stifled emotion, come to think of it. There is no space to come together and to have a dialogue. No public space for people to meet and talk (leave alone kissing!). In Colombo, the Galle Face Greene is the only ‘public space’ and in the evenings no wonder it is overcrowded. And still, it is NOT a public place. Because, people don’t come there to meet new people and to have a chat, they just come there with their families to fly kites! It’s just an escape from the four walls of an urban home. Nothing more.

So, our civil society  – sorry, but there is no ‘society’ in that sense. It’s only a collective of individuals, families and organisations, struggling in their own small worlds. And that lonely struggle embitter them. No wonder, when there is no space, like or unlike Tachales, to bring people together to share things that are common. And our pseudo coffee houses like Commons (which has nothing in common with the common of our country), or Barefoot which has nobody who ever had to go barefoot, offer no ‘public space’. In fact, they form status hierarchies that the middle class has to struggle to access, in order to be ‘cultured’. (Btw, this also makes me a pseudo-intellectual, because I also grace these places despite my criticism.)

So in that sense,  we need to pay attention to these words like ‘civil society’ and ‘public space’, because I am not sure that we have these in the true sense of the word.

So, no wonder we are crippled, not only in terms of showing affection in public but also resisting power in public. There’s no culture of peaceful public protest. And our protests, forgive me for being brutal here, but they are soooo boring. And sometimes even sponsored by organisations (like the one I work for, so I am not innocent here, you see!) I mean I do have a soft corner for some genuine individuals who repeatedly take to the streets and I do respect them sincerely. But the truth is it is not in our ‘culture’ to protest peacefully.

We deny the issues till they brim over the top and every 10 year cycle we have a violent revolution or a guerilla war of some sort that can only be countered by terror and suppression only.

And the only way I see out is to work systematically to build these ‘public space’ to be affectionate, to create, to express and to protest!

Ok, this is getting too long. And beginning to sound like a sermon, so I’ll have to skip the rest of the travelogue, in which I visit Fusion Street, a creative organisation working with marginalised and immigrant kids in Berlin, the visit to the New National Gallery of Modern Art, the Pergamon Mueseum…maybe some other day…

At Colombo duty-free I bought a Bailys, a Semmilon Chardonnay, a Chivas Rose and a French Brandy. They are all locked up in my grand ma’s closet right now, which is full of duty-free spirits! You see, my family culture is not one that encourages drinking. Like my mom asks ‘who on earth are you going to go drinking with?’

So you see, if I want to  promote dialogue, I can start at home!

Nevertheless, let me raise my glass!

To Love, Art and Politics!

Summer Memories

Sometimes, in the most unexpected moments, random things fall into place, fitting together like in an Italian mosaic and you discover certain truths about yourself, that you should have known long ago.

The last two weeks in summer Europe had a moment like that. I was on a train from Bern to Geneva and looking out of the window came across this perfect rainbow over a field of sunflowers. The rainbow traveled with me for a while, as if to show, life is as vast as this, so smile…

This picture will stay with me, crystallized in to a Van Gough painting. I was leafing through Devisidero by Michael Ondaatje, casually mixing those words with the residues of my emotions over Sujee. It was as if I could turn my head and see him returning from the restaurant car with a cappuccino. His presence stayed with me those two weeks… with this book he gifted me, with his little note and signature on its inner folio…

Devisidero talks of the delicate violence in our lives. About relationships left without closure. And I suddenly realized why I sulk over coming to Europe so much. I love the European  summers. Walking on small footpaths hemmed in with blue berry bushes and crab apple trees. The blood maples. The sun light on your skin…and yet there is this strage foreboding I have that makes me want to rush for the next flight back home. And I realise now, that it is my past in Sweden. The summer trees return to haunt me about relationships I have left behind without a closure some years back. And I remember the plum tree from Ulla’s garden…the lawn I used to mow for her…

I had left Sweden promising to return 3 months later and I never did. I somehow feel guilty about entering the inner circle of the Wingmark family and then having to leave it. You can’t enter in to peoples hearts randomly and walk away…there’s an unbearable amount of guilt invovlved in the act. You can’t have two families at two corners in the world. And my circumstances were such that I would have felt terribly guilty which ever I chose to be with. But this must be what I must reconcile with.

There are so many things about the choice I made to stay in Colombo something I do not regret; and am truly happy with. However these occasional visits to Europe bring me these past memories of summer time and days of love and being a part of someone else’s life. There’s an aching when you know that you cannot bring these two worlds together; that they are separate, and you are the thin stretched line between them.

And I see my ghost walking down familiar footpath from my home in Hjarup to the bus stop on a similar summer day, the silver Birch shimmering in the sun…

Landscapes I have once loved and abandoned…

Loudes reminds me Sanduni

Baby Loudes is born in the Kiliveddy IDP camp. Though I am concious of female aid workers posing for photographs carrying malnourished kids, I couldn’t help reaching out for Loudes. At least, I am not an aid worker. And I wish from the botton of my heart that Loudes would never suffer from malnourishment.

I don’t know why, but some babies seem to choose me. Loudes did. She just stared at me so long I felt like carrying her back to Colombo with me. But she has a mother, albiet internally displaced mother.

Loudes also reminds me of Sanduni, another baby who chose me, long time back when I was working for a local NGO with a wing for abandoned babies. It was my first job. I used to finish work and hop across the road to the baby orpahnage. At the time there were around 18 babies, all crying out loud for love than milk really…something that the staff there just couldn’t give enough of, though they all had big hearts. Sanduni just stood in her cot and wanted me loving her. I learnt that she was found by a bus driver somewhere on the route from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa, inside a shopping bag, hanging from a branch of a roadside tree. The driver had thought someone had left a kitten in a bag, when he saw something moving and kicking inside. At the orphanage she was named Sanduni, and treated for the rash she aquired from being inside a polythene bag in the dry-zone heat. 

And that’s how I ended up adopting her as my babe for a while. I would run to the orphanage in the morning, before work began, to feed her. Run back in the lunch hour and after work. Buy fruits and stuff from the measly salary i earned at the time. I just fell in love with that babe like crazy.

Single women can’t adopt in Sri Lanka. So I could never adopt her. Besides, I was only 23 at the time. Economically unstable and emotionally volatile. Almost persuaded my parents to adopt her, though my father decided he was not taking another daughter he had to put through school and college. He probably calculated the whole investment he had in me from birth to then, ha ha!

So anyway, I never adopted Sanduni. One day when I returned from a long overseas trip I found Sanduni was tranfered to another orphanage since she did not deserve intensive care anymore. I created bit of a scene at home, saying I want to go see her. But ofcourse, that never happened. Somewhere down the line, I realized it wasn’t realistic. And I put Sanduni out of my mind. It was a bit like getting over a boyfriend, I felt.

It’s five years since. Everytime I hold a baby, I think Sanduni.