The essence of this project is to analyse the novel When Memory Dies by Dr. Sivanandan by applying the psychosocial concept of the ‘other’ on it. The prime objective of the work is to revive the dying memories of every suffering soul in Sri Lanka. Beginning with the initial classification of mankind as slaves and masters the paper attempts to trace the travel of the concept from the state of invisibility to visibility. By the term ‘invisibility’, it examines the psychological provocations within the people of Sri Lanka to behave against one another. And by the term ‘visibility’ it juxtaposes all the social cultural behaviour of the people belonging to both the ethnic groups, separately. It mainly focuses and captures the palpitation of the ‘othered’ Tamils from the early history till the present. It also carefully sorts out the historical events and the facts that had made the Sinhalese perceive the Tamil minorities as the ‘other’.
Soon after the inheritance of man into the world, knowingly or unknowingly, one mastered the other and the other served the master. This classification was taught to man by nobody, but by himself. Ultimately, this classification abscinds mankind into two groups. When one dominates, the other group concedes itself to be dominated. It depends upon every man’s understanding to identify himself either with the group that dominates or with the group that submits.
This classification remained harmless till man received the contemporary civilization. Man’s intensified urge to grow politically, economically and intellectually powerful, simultaneously grew this classification into stratification. Further, as stratification expanded its empire, groups started excluding one another resulting in social exclusion. Department of International Development (DFID) defines social exclusion as “a process by which certain groups are systematically disadvantaged because they are discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, caste, descent, gender, age, disability, HIV status, migrant status or where they live” (Reducing Poverty by Tackling Social Exclusion: A DFID Policy Paper 3).
The aspect that figures out the basis of this classification in man is nothing, but the concept of the ‘other’ introduced by the Sociologist Emmanuel Levinasand popularized by Edward Said. In order to understand this sociological explanation of the concept, a psychological study on the social animal was required. This requirement was fulfilled by Jacques Lacan and Sigmund Freud.
This simple term, the ‘other’ has a complex meaning in post-colonial era. ‘Otherness’ is a condition of difference that is imposed on another group. To put it simply, ‘othering’ is a form of social exclusion of a particular group by the most powerful group. This particular group may belong to a particular race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion etc. It sought to bring about negative impacts ranging from labelling to eradication of that particular ‘other’. According to Mackey, the conception of the ‘other’ is more to verb than a noun.
Famous psycho-analyst Freud, says that unconsciousness represents the ‘other’. Every ‘I’ has an ‘other’ within itself unconsciously representing itself. According to Jacques Lacan, a child’s first enemy is its image, which is the ‘other’. Hence, the theory of ‘othering’ emerges even at the childhood. But, it is not made explicit until the child grows. When the child grows, it starts to view its surroundings and people differently. When this happens classification begins. It is at this stage, the ‘othering’ in a child gets transformed and gets passed to another. Which means, the grown child no longer sees itself as the ‘other’, but the different as the ‘other’. A. Sivanandan’s When Memory dies, is deeply entangled with the second part of Lacan’sconcept.
The process of ‘othering’ and its consequences are indeed experimented in reality in the land of Sri Lanka. For considerable years the world has been witnessingthe state of varied conflicts between the Sinhalese and the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Ambalavaner Sivanandan, a Sri Lankan Tamil was born on 20 December 1923, in Colombo. He is a Sri Lankan novelist, and director of the Institute of Race Relations, a London-based independent educational charity. His first novel, When Memory Dies, won the 1998 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in the Best First Book category for Europe and South Asia and the Sagittarius Prize. He is the son of Mr. Ambalavaner, a worker in the postal system who came from the village of Sandilipay in Jaffna in the north of the island. Sivanandan was educated at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, where he was taught by J. P. de Fonseka, who inspired him with a love of the English language alongside his native Tamil. He later went on to study at the University of Ceylon, graduating in Economics in 1945. He went on to teach in the Ceylon “Hill Country” and then worked for the Bank of Ceylon, where he became one of the first “native” bank managers.
During the late 1950s, Sivanandan started his career in London as a clerk and then, moved to be a librarian in Middlesex libraries. He worked variously in public libraries, for the Colonial Office library and in 1964 was appointed as the chief librarian at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) in central London. The library on race relations built up by Sivanandan was, moved to the University of Warwick Library in 2006, where it is known as the “Sivanandan Collection”. In 1974, he was selected to be the editor of the IRR’s journal Race, which was renamed Race & Class.
Sivanandan’s books: Race and Resistance: the IRR story, Different Hunger: writings on black resistance, Communities of Resistance: writings on black struggles for socialism, When Memory Dies (a novel) and Where the Dance Is (short stories).
Sivanadan’s Articles (1960s to 2000s): “The Ceylon scene”, “Fanon: the violence of the violated”, “White racism and black”, “A farewell to liberalism”, “The politics of language 3: Ceylon, an essay in interpretation”, “Culture and identity”, “Revolt of the Natives”, “Skin: a one-act play”, “Report from Sri Lanka, August 1977”, “Sri Lanka: uses of racism”, “Sri Lanka: racism and the politics of underdevelopment”, “RAT and the degradation of black struggle”,
“In the castle of their skin”, “The sentence of racism”, “Britain’s Gulags”, “The enigma of the colonised: reflections on Naipaul’s arrival”, “Whatever happened to imperialism?”, “Black struggles against racism”, “Letter to God”, “The rise and fall of institutional racism” and so on.
This Sri Lankan Tamil moved to Britain after witnessing the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka during the 1950s. Having faced the ethnic riots in early 1958, Sivanandan has boldly attempted to pen down the reality using imaginary characters in his novel with regard to the concept, to revive the dying memories of the world regarding every suffering soul in Sri Lanka. The author’s segregation of the novel into three parts has optimally done its job of projecting the segregation within the ethnic groups. The novel not only traces the social history of Sri Lanka, but also the history of the conflict. By the history of the conflict he thoughtfully attempts to sketch the deterioration of the relationship between the Tamils and the Sinhalese from the period of colonization till the present.
Sivanandan’s book is a vivid telling of three generations of a Sri Lankan Tamil family (Sahadevan, the father, Rajan, the son, Vijay, the grandson) and of the disintegration of ethnic harmony on the island. Having fled Sri Lanka after the 1956 riots Sivanandan’s novel is remarkably even-handed and captures the humanity on both sides. Sri Lanka’s post-colonial history is one of failed expectations and avoidable disasters. The tragedy of the estrangement between some of the key Sinhalese and Tamil characters in the novel is all the more poignant considering that Sinhalese nationalism and Tamil Eelamnationalism are painfully intertwined. During the period of colonization, Sri Lanka’s political administration was under the control of the Britishers. The westerners spread their influences through language and ideology. “English” was the main language. Those with a good understanding of the language and the ideologies of the British were put into administration irrespective of their race and ethnicity. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Tamils did well and got seats in administration. In this situation not only the colonizers were looked as a threat, but, the intellectual Tamil minorities were also confronted as a threat by the Sinhalese. Before colonization, the Sinhalese had no chance to let out their consideration of the Tamils as the ‘other’ because of the natural submission of the minorities. But, once when the British’s rule proved that the Tamils are intellectually sound than the Sinhalese, the invisible sense of the ‘otherness’ peeps out to be visible. However, the Sinhalese forced the concept to be invisible till they could receive liberation which could be possible only with the unity of the ethnic groups.
The second part of the novel begins with the end of British colonization and the beginning of the conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. It is from here, the novel starts to depict the intensifying moment of the concept. When the first part of the novel transports the sense of ‘otherness’ from the state of unconsciousness to consciousness, the second part further brings it from, the consciousness to the explicit state. As the Sinhalese, the dominant group is free to suppress the ‘othered’ other group, to its original state, they start to discriminate the minorities by prohibiting them from improving themselves academically, politically and economically. Since, the aspect of language plays a major role, the Sinhalese attempt to employ the “Sinhala Only” policy which would possibly block the growth of the ‘other’. The author makes us travel along with Rajan, to confront every aspect of discrimination of the ‘othered’ minorities.
The third and the final part of the novel juxtaposes the violent outburst of the ‘othered’ Tamils. Among the three parts, the third appeals stronger to the reader because of its exact portrayal of the present. The ‘other’ that is pushed to the margin, to be excluded from the nation tries to get in through negotiation in the beginning. Later, as the situation prolongs to be unbearable, as an insect that bites out of fear to escape, the ‘othered’ group ends up by employing violence to include themselves in their native land. The roles of the armies play a vital role in this course. The third part also intensifies the plight of the character Vijay who struggles between his identity as a Tamil as well as a Sinhalee. Being born to a Sinhalee father and brought up by a Tamil father, Vijay gets stuck in the middle. At the crucial stage of not only executing the Tamils but also all those Sinhalese supporters of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, Vijay had to live all his life in fear and insecurity. Sivanandan has captured the contemporary Sri Lanka’s tension in the final part thereby announcing the pitiable state of the ‘othered’ Tamils to the world. Thus, this victimized author’s depiction of the state of his ethnic group in relation to the concept of the ‘other’ will be analysed in the chapters that follow.