The Origin of the Species

Warning: this post is as long as the book, and not nearly as interesting.

The Sri Lankan High Commission is holding a food fair today. With my mouth watering at the thought of freshly cooked hoppers (try to imagine a crepe cooked with coconut milk and palm sugar), I asked my father if he was interested in going. He paused for a while (I know he was thinking about those hoppers) and then he said that he just did not feel he could go to the Sri Lankan High Commission after everything that had happened.

Let me caveat this post. I am Sri Lankan Tamil, born and raised in the West. I have Sri Lankan Sinhalese relatives and friends whom I love, obviously. When I meet Sri Lankans, Tamil or Sinhalese, I do not think about the conflict. I am most likely thinking about hoppers. Warm, coconutty, heart-attack inducing hoppers.  This post is not about the conflict in Sri Lanka, it is about my attempt to explain it to a seven year old and her ability to explain it back to me. And it is about hoppers.

I will never understand the intensity of my father’s feelings about the conflict in Sri Lanka, I guess because I simply was not there. But whenever he feels the need to make a futile stand (in this case by denying himself fresh hoppers), I feel the need to stand by him. I suppose it’s because he is half the origin of my species.

And so I had to explain to Prima why we were not going to the Sri Lankan Food Fair. Trust me, I thought about lying but a behavioural child psychologist suggested to us recently that we shouldn’t do this so much. She obviously wasn’t Sri Lankan.

I started with, “There are lots of different types of people in the world Prima. They have different languages, religions and ways of thinking. The differences are interesting. Usually all these different types of people get along very well because really they are just people underneath.”

Strictly speaking this is not exactly true. Human beings seem more likely to fight with each other than not, but Prima is slightly neurotic and she already has trouble sleeping. I did not want her stocking up on dried goods, anticipating a foreign invasion at any moment.

I then continued with, “There are two types of people in Sri Lanka, the Tamils and the Sinhalese. Both of them are very good people.” I explained that we were Tamil and talked about who our Sinhalese relatives and friends were.

We then moved onto the war. Prima explained that a war was when people fought with each other using armies, guns and light sabers. I told her that in Sri Lanka people had been killing each other for a very long time, and just in case she was a closet sociopath incapable of distinguishing right from wrong, I reiterated that hurting and killing people was bad. I then told her that the war was over.

Prima: So why can’t we go get some hoppers?
Me: Because some people are still upset, hurt and sad about the war. They have to learn to forgive each other and look after each other.
Prima: Like how I look after my brothers?
Me: Exactly.

I then felt compelled to “test” Prima’s politics, in case I had inadvertently prejudiced her for life.

Me: Are you upset with any one about the war?

Prima succinctly and insightfully gave her perspective on why a new generation of Sri Lankans, Tamil and Sinhalese, born away from the conflict, should be able to break hoppers together.

Prima: No, I’m not upset. I wasn’t there. I just want some hoppers.

Then the control question: Do you like Tamil people?
Prima: Yes
Me: Do you like Sinhalese people?
Prima: Yes
Me: Why?
Prima: I like all people.
Me: Why?
Prima: Because all people are important.

Whilst I said a quick prayer of thanks to God in all his multi-faith, multi-regional, multi-galactic forms, that my daughter’s young and beautiful mind was still open, Prima said: I bet the monkeys never fight like that.

Me: Monkeys? What monkeys?
Prima: You know, the monkeys. You said millions of years ago we were all monkeys. Charles Darbin wrote about it in his book, The Orshin of Species. Monkeys are so playful, I bet they never fight like this.

I got very excited, thinking that Prima would grow up to be the greatest social anthropologist of our time, because at seven, she clearly saw how ironic it was that we considered our own species so advanced and yet even monkeys didn’t engage in prolonged armed conflict.

Whilst I was still marvelling at her insight, my little genius said, “Mummy I love monkeys. Can I have a pet monkey please, please can I? And a hopper?”

Today, instead of going to the Sri Lankan High Commission’s food fair, we went to the Carmelite Chapel’s annual fete. A nun told me I had lovely children (those nuns don’t get out much) and then she asked me where we were from. I gave the usual answer: “I was raised in Australia and my family is originally from Sri Lanka. We are …” The ending to that sentence is an automatic response. A conditioned response. I usually say, “We are Sri Lankan Tamil.”

Today, for a change, I stopped myself short and just said, “We are Sri Lankan.”


About Shankari Chandran

Six years ago we returned home from London to Sydney with our four young children and life has been chaos and comfort chocolate ever since.
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7 Responses to The Origin of the Species

  1. e says:

    i have loved every post you’ve written in this blog, but i think this is my favourite.
    i’m amazed you find time to write whilst being a mother to 4 young ones, but i’m so glad you do.

    • duckformationfamily says:

      Thank you both very much for commenting. I must admit I felt pretty nervous about posting this one, but it is part of our family life and this blog is supposed to be an honest exploration of that. Plus, the children say the most beautiful, simple and funny things, don’t they. x

  2. AAR says:

    Nice approach to this difficult subject. It is time for more of this I think…

  3. pints says:

    i really enjoyed reading this blog 🙂 kids can come up with the most profound insightful comments and it just goes to show that we must have done something right 🙂
    I have more to add to this…but will do it in person.

  4. Ramona says:

    I wish we could see things from a kid’s perspective sometimes. Life would be so much simpler.
    Thanks for the blog… although i don’t post a comment all the time, know that i am reading them religiously. 🙂 Keep them coming…

  5. Tara Hilton says:

    Hi Shank
    A beautiful post! And here’s to a new generation of Sinhalese and Tamil children who are oblivious to the painful past!!! xxx

  6. Lashitha says:

    Great post. My children are too young to have asked questions about my past. We came over as refugees from SL when I was 7 – our house was destroyed and we lost all our possessions in the 83 riots. I guess because I experienced it first hand, my emotions still run high on this topic at times. However, I don’t want to taint my children with this. This post has reminded me of how important it is to remain impartial when explaining this to my children.

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