Manvaasanai: The Beginning

Painting by Keera Ratnam

Painting by Keera Ratnam

Written By: Keera Ratnam

Manvaasanai is a new feature by Keera Ratnam that tells stories of back home. Keera is an avid artist and writer. Keera Ratnam was the recipient of the Top Talents 2013 Visual Arts Award. 

March 26 2012  

Mother nature was not doing me a favor, the weather was sticky and
humid. The change from 14 degrees to 38 degrees was too drastic for
me to handle. I felt sweat drip down my temple making a trail that
lead to the bottom of my ear. My eyes red, face swollen and limbs
aching, all from the uncomfortable 10 hour transit at New Delhi
Airport and lack of sleep since the day of my departure from Canada. I stood with all my backpack holding on to my father’s hand luggage. He
was in deep sleep and didn’t even realize that we reached our final
destination. I tapped him, “Appa…Appa…we’re here,” I said. He
opened his eyes and looked at me. His eyes were red and his face was
also swollen. He held on to my arm and tried standing up. His back was
hurting and couldn’t stand properly. “Ennum konja thooram than
..Appa…elumpungo“. I told him we only had to walk a bit more. He smiled
and took his luggage from me.

My father was a darker gentleman. He was
in his mid 60’s. He had difficulty walking on his own due to his
spinal injury. There was a long line up, the only way in which we were
told to assemble to depart the plane. As my father and I reached the
exit, a air hostess from Jet airways  wished us a good trip and helped
my father down the stairs. As I came down the stairs I looked around
and saw nothing but trees and cement. The air was extremely humid, but
had no scent and no breeze. I felt like I was an egg frying in pan and
at that moment only one thing came to mind was I just wanted to shower
my self with ice cold water, this was the only way to freshen myself
up. As we waited by the plane a streetcar pulled up to retrieve
passengers, we got on. The streetcar lead us into the Sri-Lankan airport. It
was definitely not what I had expected. It was small, but very clean.

As my father and waited in line to show our visas and passports, my
father asked me if I remembered this airport. I was young then my
father said. He said, “I visited this airport twice, once when I was 18
months old and when I was 3 1/2 years old, when I migrated to Canada”. 
He remembers the day that he left my mother and I behind to migrate to
Canada, and how we waved to him farewell in this very airport. Things
changed over time he said. Yes, he is right, things did change but I
was just too young to remember.

As I glanced around I felt like as if
I was at a shopping mall in Canada, but with very low
air-conditioning.  After clearing thing at the customs office, I
headed down the escalator to retrieve my luggage. Stacking all of our
luggage on one trolley, I told my father to follow me. As we walked to
wards the exit an officer stopped my father asking to see his
Sri-Lankan passport. I walked towards the officer giving him my fathers
passport and told him that we don’t have Sri-Lankan passports. ” Oh you
only have Canadian passports?” he asked. I nodded my head.  ” You are
only Canadian citizens?” he asked. “Yes”, I replied. He nodded and
wished us the best of luck on our trip. As we walked across to
passenger pick up I noticed that, those who had Sri-Lankan passports
were asked to open up their luggage for inspection. I was amazed with
the power of my Canadian passport and was happy that my belongings
weren’t examined.

At the passenger pick up my cousin and aunt waited for our arrival. My
cousin noticed my father and waved his hand. I quickly pushed my
trolley towards them and waited for my father to join. My cousin and
aunt looked at me with happiness in their eyes. “It’s been 18 years my
dear, we missed you so much” she said as she gave me a warm hug and a
kiss on my forehead. My cousin whom I call Anna, meaning big brother
took my luggage out side. Out side the air-conditioned Airport it was
10 times the heat.

Wiping my sweat off my forehead, I took off my
cardigan. Within 15 minutes our van pulled up in front of us. I sat in, removing my shoes and letting my feet breathe. Next stop, Vavuniya
said my cousin with a smile.” Aaru manithiyalam edukum Vavuniya poha,” my aunt said. She was
explaining to my father that it takes 6 hours to travel from Colombo
to Vavuniya. I looked out side the window. I saw palm trees, coconut
trees and colourful tropical flowers. It was a country filled with
lots of vegetation. After a long six hours in the van, my cousin
finally said that we have arrived at my aunt’s house. It was late at
night, 10:15 pm to be exact. It was dark, but I could still see the
silhouettes of the tree and houses. There were lanterns and small lights
that helped view things in the dark.

I stepped out of the van, holding
 my shoes in my hand and my backpack on my shoulder. I placed both
 feet on the ground, feeling the soft soil with my toes. It felt nice
 and moist. The air smelled fresh and sweet. It smelled like fresh
 soil, something that I could recognize but I wasn’t sure what it was
 exactly, but I knew I liked it.”How do you like it here so far?, asked my father.”  “Its nice Appa I feel like Im at home, the air is
sweet I can even smell the soil,” I said.  ” Ithu thaan pillai
manvaasanai” he told me. The smell of soil is what my father said, but
it was something more than that. It was indeed the smell of the soil
mixed with the sweetness of the palm trees and the warm air. But aside
from the nature, it was symbolic, it held more value. It was the
smell of home, a scent that I recognized because I was finally home
after 18 years. This was something that Canada didn’t have and
something money couldn’t buy, it was the smell of belonging. I felt it
in the wind, saw it in the sky, touched it with my feet as I squished the mud and taste it in the air. I was definitely home.

It is then that I realized that there is so much more that I have to learn, and understand. There is a lot to see and feel. I closed my eyes tight and took a breath. This is not a trip to reunite with my family, but where I will rebirth as I unravel my identity as to where I came from, who I am, and the history that my ancestors have carried. This is just the beginning.

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