The Astrologer’s Misstep

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There was once a Brahmin astrologer, Inkaraikudi, who lived in the southern part of Tamil Nadu. He was renowned for predicting the future of the people living in his hometown. He often looked up at the night sky and predicted the happenings of tomorrow just by looking at the stars. It was said that even sardars from Northern India would travel south to meet him and look into their future.

One day, the astrologer was walking through woods while scrutinizing the stars that were of a peculiar nature. Aghast, he fell into a deep well. A narikuravan (indigenous gypsy) who overheard the wailing of the astrologer jumped into the well to save him.

Let me digress. I’d like to talk about the Tamil diaspora. What does it mean to be Tamil? From Amarnath Amarasingam’s research paper, Sri Lankan Tamil identity appears to be heavily tied to the events of Black July, a tragedy that took place 33 years ago. The leaders and politics of Tamil organizations seem to revolve very much around the idea of creating an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka.

Within the realm of the diaspora, people who suffered under these circumstances identify as Tamils. Yet Muslim Tamils, Burghers and Indian Tamils who share a common language, culture and value system seem to be omitted from this identity spectrum.

As a “transnational Tamil”, I have lived in various parts of the world. I have lived in Malaysia and Singapore, two nations with a Tamil identity that extends over two centuries – far longer than the Western Tamil diaspora. Both these nations have a Tamil identity that is somewhat of a mix of Sri Lankan and Indian Tamil, along with other South Indian ethnicities. Though accents and certain colloquialisms may vary between Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil, language forms the basis of the Tamil identity of these two nations.

Yet despite being a small minority within these nations, Tamil language, culture and identity continue to thrive. Vibrant second language schools with a focus on Tamil literary competitions and debates, Tamil newspapers, television, movies and other entertainment outlets function to preserve the Tamil language and identity. One also has to note that this was strongly embedded before the arrival of Internet technology or affordable air travel we are fortunate to have now.

In Canada and elsewhere in the Western diaspora, Tamil identity is strongly tied to the concept of Eelam. Yet for how long will an expat Tamil and his generation of children who do not speak Tamil or have a Tamil life partner be proud of being Tamil – let alone be proud of a country that does not exist?

Tamil identity is tied to the Tamil language. Without language, Tamil will cease to be an ethnicity. How long will this identity last? With many young Tamils forgoing the language which forms the basis of Tamil identity, what will become of Tamil identity in the future with progressive Westernization?

Will the current Tamil diaspora eventually assimilate into the Canadian mainstream? What is the purpose of seeking an independent state in Sri Lanka while assimilating into the multicultural commune of Canada? Why are Tamils comfortable assimilating into a wealthier nation such as Canada while resisting the multiculturalism of Sri Lanka?

It is time that the Western Tamil diaspora reinforce their Tamil identity, just as their Tamil brethren in Southeast Asia. Unless language and identity are given a good grounding at home, we will lose our identities and betray the cause of an independent Tamil homeland.

Let me go back to the story now. After saving the astrologer, the narikuravan asked, “Swamy! Who are you?” The astrologer asked “You don’t know me? I am the famous astrologer who can prophesize tomorrow just by looking at the sky.” The narikuravan replied. “Great. Sometimes you have to look at the ground too.”

Related articles:
The Future of the Tamil Community
Why Don’t Tamils Speak Tamil?
Finding Tamil Identity

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29 thoughts on “The Astrologer’s Misstep

  1. Great thought-provoking article.
    With Tamil immigration slowing to a trickle, rising interracial marriage rates, low birth rates and a growing number of our men and women unmarried and childless, it’s likely that the Tamil community has already peaked, and will shrink in the coming years.
    And this is where we must ponder our future as a community. As the first wave of born-and-bred Tamil-Canadians enter their child-bearing years, will our children share the same sense of ethnic solidarity and kinship? Will they keep the vibrancy and strength of our community alive?
    Or will we be Tamil in name and appearance only, with little ties to language and traditions as with West Indian communities? Will we simply vanish and blend into the broader Canadian mosaic in three generations as has the Japanese-Canadian community?

  2. A very snide article slamming Jaffna Tamils in Toronto.When the author compares Malaysian Tamils, Singapore Tamils, he has to understand one thing. Most of the Malaysian and Singapore Tamils were off Indian descent and were migrating from poverty stricken areas of rural tamilnadu. They were some sort of bonded labours and certainly did not enjoy a high standard of living even in the countries they immigrated to. Even after three of four generations,Malaysian and Singapore Tamils are still economically and socially backward. They also faced discrimination in the host countries, thus succumbing back to their respective identities.On the other hand, Most Jaffna Tamils were “higher breeds” even in Malaysia. They worked for governments,knew English and were well connected in business circles. The Srilankan Civil war gave these group a wonderful opportunity to move to west during the right time. Yeah I said it. Opportunity. Not flee civil war. (300,000 in Toronto, 200,000 in England, 150,000 in Germany.) Other than the bunch of rebel fighters and their families, the rest of the community used the opportunity to gain prosperity. (I would do that in their situation too.) So all these “Eelam”, “tamil homeland” baloney wouldn’t last the next decade. From politicians to businessmen, everyone has an ulterior motive when they use the term tamil eelam. So comparing the two communities is not relevant. Its like comparing apples to peaches.

  3. In our defence there are many legitimate SL Tamil refugees. I know people who hid in bunkers while being subject to aerial bombardment by the military and bombings by guerrillas.
    Some of us genuinely came here fleeing for our lives. Also mixed in there are the frauds like those who claimed asylum while coming from Germany. But it’s unfair to paint all of us with the same brush.
    I get your point though. Of course SL Tamils could have easily sought refuge next door in Tamil Nadu (“land of Tamils”) to live among our 70 million Tamil cousins. Same language, same culture, same religion, similar lifestyle and no fear of persecution. And we can preserve our identity while living among our own people. Sounds great right?
    Except we decided instead to make the long arduous journey all the way to the wealthy white countries – Canada, UK, Australia, Germany, Norway etc.
    There are still boatloads of SL Tamils going to Australia claiming asylum! Why not claim asylum next door in South India where it’s perfectly safe for Tamils?
    Clearly there is an element of economic opportunism. We cannot and should not deny this. And as an Indian Tamil who worked his kundi off to get here legitimately, you clearly resent us for taking a shortcut to enjoy Western life!

  4. “1991–1997: Canada received 609 Rwandan refugees who fled the genocide of the Tutsis by Hutu extremists. The estimated number of people killed in the genocide ranges between 500,000 and one million.”
    http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/games/teachers-corner/refugee/refuge.asp
    I wonder why there are very few Rwandan refugees in Canada. Nearly 1,000,000 people slaughtered and we only took in a paltry 609 refugees!
    Meanwhile there are ~200,000 Sri Lankan Tamils here in Canada. Makes you realize how fortunate Tamils really are.
    SL Tamils had the means to flee our ‘genocide’. Rwandan Tutsis truly had no hope of getting out.

  5. No resenting but the amount of people who hop on the victim bandwagon makes me cringe. If you’re born in Canada and you get into world of crime, you shouldn’t blame Srilankan Civil war. Its stupid and disrespectful.That’s when it gets irritating.

  6. I passed my O/Level in the Tamil Medium. I cannot read Tamil anymore. I am trying to read from all your posts. I sometimes give up.There are certain letters, which are new to me. I do not think that I encountered them before.Thank you for posting them in Tamil.

  7. @Sean “why not claim asylum next door in south India where it’s perfectly safe for Tamils?”
    First off, India is not even safe for its own citizens.
    Another thing we all should never forget is India was a key player in the genocide. E.g. IPKF
    One can forgive the racist sinhala because their hate is in their blood. But, you cannot forgive a traitor. India came in for peacekeeping but murdered hundreds of innocent Tamils.
    You really think, the majority will favour India than a safer safe haven elsewhere.
    ” wealthy white countries” at times were harsh but most of the time they welcomed the refugees and gave them a fair trial. A fair trial one would never get from India.

  8. “You cannot forgive a traitor?” HAHAHAHAHA. You mean like LTTE who killed Indira Gandhi’s son.

  9. Your are right Sir, 99% Tamils of my country are tamils by appearance only, In language we are very poor though we follow our traditions and culture.

  10. Rajiv Ghandi was the traitor, he was scheming to kill Prabaharan as per the request of the SL government. Tamil Nadu General tipped Prabaharan off. So Rajiv was killed for trying to stop the uprising of the LTTE. What’s with the fake account, are you some kind of troll?

  11. Many languages and cultures faded away over the ages, we must protect and preserve the culture at all cost.Remember there is over 100 million Tamils, but we dont have our own country, We are a nation without a country, no voice in UN, Our brothers and sisters were mercilessly slaughtered in Sri Lanka, the UN and the world was silent…because we were voiceless….In South Africa not many speak Tamil, but we keep the tradition and culture alive….I cannot read and write Tamil , but I know Tamil history, therefore I am prepared to die for Tamil…TEACH TAMIL HISTORY TO CHILDREN , PROUDLY TALK OF KUMARI KANDAM…The west is now admitting TAMIL is the first spoken language on earth….Tamil is the only language of India spoken all over earth…also appears in the currency of India, Sri lanka, Malaysia, Singapore…I BELIEVE TAMIL WILL LIVE AS LONG AS MAN LIVES..

  12. ராக்கெட் ராஜா oh yeah the great Rajeev Gandhi who sent Indian army for peace keeping to the northern province of Sri Lanka?? The great Indian army that took pleasure in raping killing and looting innocent Tamils ? Do you even have any idea how Tamils were not WELCOME to TN during 1980 ?? I lived through eezham
    War and ppl like you make my blood boil… WTF do you know about what we went through back home? Have you been subject to all the torture and discrimination because you are Tamil? Have you had to hide in man made bunkers ( literally digging a hole in your garden, not the bullet proof one) while SL army was bombing anything and everything in the northern province ?? No so STFU!!!????

  13. I don’t have the ability to speak Tamil yet I identify as Tamil since I have ancestors who came from Tamilnadu. I do not identify with most of the culture and I can’t stand the movies yet I still identify as one. Languages are kept alive by people who speak them. Culture changes though, and identity I guess is based on how each person perceives the world.

  14. Clearly this foolish statement made by this guy, calling people getting bombed to bits an ‘opportunity’, ridiculous!!!! Tamils qcreated an opportunity perhaps through great suffering. But it’s not as if they were given an opportunity. What they were given is either the choice of death or running away, in which case you may also die, and even getting to another country doesn’t mean success, but perhaps a new start. Then our mothers and fathers faced tremendous discrimination trying to get jobs and loans. I saw many parents struggle very hard to raise their kids having left SL. But our parents made it through due to tremendous sacrifice! This fool has the nerve to say they were ‘GIVEN’ an ‘OPPORTUNITY’….. Get educated fool!!!!!

  15. Indonesian Amy was abusing people of East Timor. Chinese Army was murdering Tibetians. Rwandans were massacred as Tutsi and Hutus. In a war, every country goes through this. No one denies it. But you don’t see 200,000 Rwandans,or people of East Timore in the west here, do you? The point is yes, people were murdered and killed. But opportunist in Jaffna Community outrun all these. Do you really want me to get into the guys who raised funds for LTTE and kept it for their own well being? BTW, a new start in Toronto is way better than a new start somewhere in coimbatore.What kind of social assistance/health care would you get in coimbatore? Free Canadian healthcare, free housing,free language and cultural sensitivity training.. all in the expense of Canadian taxpayers and you have the nerve to say you faced discrimination.

  16. Yes I faced discrimination in UK and Canada. If you think there is no racism here, you clearly have NO CLUE!!! Yes all these assistances are there, but not always available to everyone. Yes fighting happens in many places. But the reason why there are so many Tamils here is because people made a very hard choice to come here. Many Tamils are also well educated even as refugees. The Rwandans and others were not so educated. So the Canadian government took many people admitted many Tamils because they NEEDED an increase in educated population to run their economy better. Plus immigrants and refugees will work hard at the jobs that no one else wants to do. Low wages and terrible hours to support their families. If you want to over simplify these truths and call it an opportunity, well then like I said before, you need EDUCATION fool!!!!! Lastly, I’m not a fan of the LTTE….. But I will tell you one thing…. If it wasn’t for the LTTE, Tamils in SL would’ve possibly been wiped out or would’ve had our population even more drastically reduced on the island. So when none of these western countries wanted to help Tamils, we did it ourselves with the LTTE. But of course money and power can corrupt people and it’s very possible this was the case in the LTTE higher ranks. But still many LTTE sacrificed their lives to save their Tamil brothers and sisters. But an idiot like you doesn’t make proper distinctions in a complex issue like this….. Fool!!!!

  17. “Idiot”, “fool”, capital letters, very classy argument there. You already made a valid point that Tamils were educated while rwandans were not. In 1980s, education was not even a priority in South Asia. Only the elites had that luxury. That’s my point of my original comment. You guys had the edge. When someone gets emotional, it means there’s some element of truth to what I said. Adios hahahahaha

  18. And I love how you call out racism in Western countries. Mate, you don’t know what’s racism till you live outside of your land anywhere in Asia. Western countries have human rights to protect you. Everywhere else, you’re second class citizen.

  19. The morals and values my culture has taught me is something I’m more proud of than being able to speak a specific language.

  20. Author is living in the first world country with all benefits, he / she has no economical problem and enough time to thing about tamil. He/ she is very fortune guy. Other tamils they do not have time to thing about tamil when they wake they worry what to feed their family and how to pay the school fees and how to find the transport money. Please don’t use tamil for your benefits. So many srilankans politicians did it. Go and work and do something positive in your life. Do not divide people, base on colour/race/language /religion. What is language? Language is for two people to communicate. What medium they use doesn’t matter.

  21. Nothing protects you from racism. It doesn’t become a lesser form of racism because of a country. Racism is racism, it’s like saying people hate you different in Canada than they do in India. No. Hate is hate. If I am a store owner, and you come in my store, I can refuse to serve you. It’s illegal to do so based on race. But guess what? The court has to prove that is the reason. Until then you are out of my store or I call the cops. I can make up any legal reason. I can say I just don’t want to serve you, and not even state why, and I did nothing illegal then. Sadly Canadian laws don’t protect you as well as you think.
    Every country has laws, and people will violate them. Just last week someone got stabbed outside York University, and I think it might have been racially motivated/hate crime (though unsure, i didn’t read much about it). Coming to Canada of course is an opportunity, but you still are faced with differing hardships.
    What I don’t agree with is minimizing someone elses experience, or devaluing it. Like saying “I have a harder life than you, you don’t know what sadness or hurt is.” No. *you* actually don’t know what they are feeling, you can’t feel how sad, or hurt a person is, that experience is theirs alone. Therefore, it’s not very accurate to say their experience of racism is nothing compared to yours, even if yours was very violent. They may actually feel the same as you do, perhaps worse. There may be more violence in other countries of course, and so you not only have to deal with racism, but then the added violence that comes from it as well.
    Anyway the other thing I don’t agree with is the idea that culture dies. I don’t want to get into much detail, but this isn’t exactly true. Ultimately what everyone has to accept is that the universe is always in a state of impermanence and uncertainty. Things change always, they are meant to. The sooner humans can accept this, the sooner they can be happy and live fulfilled lives, without trying to control everything.

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