Recently I've been thinking about the idea of what home means. This could be looked at as the building you stay in, space you may go to, or the country that you live in. "Home is where you feel home and are treated well" says the Dalai Lama, who was forced to flee his home of Tibet in 1959. He now calls India his home and for six decades has been living in exile in Dharamsala. I had interesting feedback from investors who analysed my personality."He doesn't feel home anywhere" was one of the feedback that I received. They further went on to explain that I'm always looking for a sense of belonging. As I pondered on this, I started to reflect on all the countries that I've traveled to and lived in. Let's look at each of the places, examine what I learned, what was missing, and figure out why I don't feel home anywhere.
I was born in Jaffna, Sri Lanka in 1991 when it was a major stronghold of the LTTE. Due to the occupation of the peninsula by the Armed forces of Sri Lanka, I became a refugee along with 500,000 other Tamils that fled Jaffna in October 1995. My memories of Jaffna up until this point was a good one, family time was a big part of my life. I remember visiting families, going to Nallur Temple and eating ice cream from Lingam Cool Bar. I recollect being outdoors a lot, baking cakes, which was interesting because you would blend the ingredients and take it to the nearby bakery and watch it bake in their ovens as ovens were not common in Tamil households on the island. The games we played as kids were somewhat related to the war. I remember the word "Kfir" being very popular. It's a type of fighter plane that used to fly, dominate our skies and took the lives of many. As kids, we would pick up a stick and point to this monster pretending to shoot it down. We would sometimes run into the bunkers by our home, which was the routine where these monsters dropped bombs from the sky. Reflecting back now, the scars of war have become part of my DNA. Even though Jaffna was intense and a war zone, the feeling of living in your motherland was home for me. I did revisit Jaffna on multiple occasions, as recently as 2019 for 6 weeks. I felt like an outsider on my island. With our land continuously being colonised, the people being oppressed, and all my relatives scattered all over the globe, I'm not sure if Jaffna will ever feel like home.
Fast forward to 2000, after a long journey around the world as a refugee, I arrived in the UK as an asylum seeker. I grew up in Wembley, north-west London Suburb. In the early 2000s Wembley, Harrow, East Ham, and Tooting were hotspots of Tamils refugees fleeing due to racial persecution on the island. As with any influx of refugees, when mismanaged, it can bring a small percentage of poverty, crime, and social inequality. There was an era of gang violence that tarnished the community's reputation. At the same time, for many being in London was a dream - it allowed them to work, build businesses, kids to go to universities, and of course treated equally. The Tamil community in London went through the various phases to the strong community it is today, producing doctors, engineers, bankers, entrepreneurs, and politicians. For many years, I told myself that this is my new home and I should learn to accept it. I used to listen to my parents speak of their childhood in Jaffna, friends, and all the mischief they got up to. As much as I tried to have a "normal" childhood, I realised I was living in two different worlds. I integrated into the British way of life as much as I can but it often clashed with my Tamil upbringing at home. I am often faced with an identity crisis of who I really I'm. I grew up, studied, and worked in London. I'm a proud Londoner but I never truly felt like I belonged there.
Between 2006 and 2008, I studied at Good Shepherd International School in Ooty, Tamil Nadu in South India. This was one of the best experiences I had. I can safely say that being in this highly competitive environment with all the opportunities, I felt privileged. I went from barely studying much at my comprehensive school, getting in trouble, suspensions, and detentions to a prestigious private school. Ooty was great, even though we mostly spoke English, I was able to speak Tamil with some of the teachers, students, and staff. Tamil Nadu has been like a second home for Eelam Tamils, as we share a common language, culture, and customs. I visited other parts of the state; Coimbatore, Chennai, and Salem. It's a special place that I felt comfortable and owe a lot of my success to. I’m not sure if I would call that my home either.
After spending nearly 18 years in the UK, I decided that it was time for a challenge. I wanted to move to Asia because I felt I wanted to be closer to the motherland, to explore and experience the diverse Asian culture and look at opportunities. I've visited Singapore on multiple occasions; it has always blown my mind. The infrastructure of a developed nation, a melting pot of cultures, and an interestingly competitive society. Singapore ticked many of the boxes, it provided easy access to Sri Lanka and other Asian countries. It was similar to London in some ways but also very different in others. I always felt like I needed to be close to my community but also have the opportunities to mix with other cultures. Tamil is one of the official languages with a sizable population; I felt like I'm coming home. I wouldn't be the first Jaffna boy in Singapore, many have come before me and achieved great things and contributed to Singapore. From the likes of S Rajaratnam to Tharman, all with Jaffna roots have made a name for themselves in Singapore, I aspire to be like them. I've now been here for 3 months, it's honestly one of the best decisions I've made. I would be lying if I said I feel home in Singapore already but I'm starting to feel comfortable and being treated well. It's interesting that I'm now labelled an expat and no longer a refugee. Does holding a British passport change who you really are?
Naturally, I often feel nostalgic about Jaffna, Ooty, and London. I will cherish all the great memories and friends I've made in these places. They have definitely shaped me to be who I am. I wonder if I will ever feel home anywhere. I yearn to see a free and liberated land that I can call home and where my people live with dignity and respect. It all seems like a dream so far away right now. Where do you feel at home? Have you been through a similar identity crisis?
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