The other

T. Arasanayagam, poet and English teacher, talks about his childhood in Jaffna and his discovery of “the other”. He also reflects on his experiences of violence up close in Kandy. Photography by Kannan Arunasalam and Menika van der Poorten. Archive photographs from Studio Times, Colombo.

Join the discussion: 2 comments

  • Kannan Arunasalam says:

    Arasa is Jean Arasanayagam’s husband. Jean ( is probably the better known of the two and so probably gets more requests for interviews. When I visited Jean for the project, I hadn’t planned on interviewing Arasa, but during my conversation with Jean, Arasa often interrupted, adding a point of detail or correcting a date. Of course they experienced many events together, but unlike Jean’s Burgher roots, Arasa had a very different childhood. He was brought up in Jaffna and Colombo with Hindu customs and traditions. Jean had mentioned that the inspiration for some of her writing came from Arasa’s Jaffna roots, and so I persuaded Arasa to let me interview him the next time I was in Kandy.

    The opportunity to sit down with Arasa came months later. Arasa spoke with energy and I had to keep up with him. I made sure I had everything on tape. Many of his stories and reflections melded with his idea of discovering, and then becoming, “the other”.

    Arasa also spoke with honesty, which was unsettling at times. For example, when he described his feelings the time his daughter saw how terrified he was during the violence that was taking place around their Kandyan home. He had experienced almost every occasion of communal violence in Sri Lanka and often frighteningly up close. But despite these experiences he made Kandy his home, and as an atypical Tamil, shunned many of the negative aspects of Jaffna customs and traditions like caste, that he had been brought up to observe. He learned Sinhala from a Buddhist monk and is recognised on the streets of Kandy.

    I wanted to know what Jaffna meant to him now. Where did he feel he belonged? How did he live with his experiences of treating people differently because of their caste? Most people, even those who have listened to their conscience, would be too ashamed to tell you, but not Arasa.

  • Thrishantha says:

    Good point. This whole notion of “we” and “them” is created by politicians to cover up their political weaknesses. Ultimately, we find ourselves in this blindfolded “us” camp without seeing who blindfolded us.


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