I carve out a slice of sky
And eat it
savouring the taste of freedom
on my tongue.
She awoke slowly, taking twenty minutes to orient herself from the dream world to reality, cocooned in her rumpled duvet. Max was at work. Tamil checked her morning breath and winced. She sleepily contemplated, is there anything worth getting out of bed for? Lethargy, trauma and resilience held hands, swimming in her blood, as she lay there motionless. Is there anything that calls me out of bed and to action?
She waited and waited.
Eventually - led by a slither of hope that this new day would bring progress – she dragged herself out of bed, and languidly shuffled to the bathroom. In her mind, Tamil replayed the conversation she’d had the evening before with her mum, Avvaiyar,
“Tamil Kutti, I’m glad therapy is going well - and you’re getting better - have you applied to work in schools again?” Avvaiyar’s voice wavered; her concern palpable.
“Yeah amma - I’ve been looking for jobs - It’s just difficult”, Tamil spoke like a deflating balloon “- to find something right now.”
Within a beat, the feeling of being unworthy and a failure grew like weeds from the pit of her stomach. Tamil had always been grateful that Avvaiyar had consistently shown unconditional love, affection and steadfast faith in her, even when she had no faith in herself. She was in awe of how her mum had built a new life in London and thrived in the face of hardship since she’d uprooted from her home in Sri Lanka. Tamil felt shame in not being the success that Avvaiyar had dreamed her to be despite the support she’d received and how easy she felt she had it in comparison to her mum.
Avvaiyar was raised on a farm in Jaffna, as one of twelve children. From the age of seven, she was made to labour for the whole family, cooking food in clay pots over open fire, from which she suffered burns, as well as being made to care for all six of her younger siblings. She did her A Levels in secret, as her mother would beat her and burn her books if she ever caught her studying. When the war began ravaging her village, Aivvayar fled to the UK. She never spoke about the war to Tamil, but growing up Tamil could feel the presence of its impact like an elephant in the house. Despite all these traumas, compounded by the ones inflicted by the British State’s hostile environment after her arrival in the UK, Avvaiyar managed to save money and start a successful little Tamil restaurant, alongside raising her children (Tamil and her older sister) as a single mother by the age of thirty.
Tamil remembered her father as a cheerful man with smiley eyes, who would blow raspberries on her belly and play with her. He left them when she was four, to start a new family with his colleague, with whom he had been having an affair; an English lady called Margaret. Avvaiyar strived to fill the appa-shaped hole in her daughters’ lives. After telling bed-time stories and cuddling Tamil to sleep, Avaiyarr would whisper in her ear “you want to be a lawyer when you grow up”. She strategically imposed her ambition for Tamil in both conspicuous and subliminal ways. This added to the inner conflicts that drained Tamil.
Tamil’s attention returned to the present. She noticed that her grip was tight around the handle of the toothbrush, she consciously relaxed her hand, spitting out toothpaste and blood. For fuck’s sake I should have taken more care brushing my teeth and gums. My teeth are going to fall out at this rate. Tamil berated herself, she was working on this in therapy. The fire-coloured flowers on the windowsill caught her eye; her face softened. Okay, let’s oil-pull, that usually strengthens my gums and reduces bleeding. She was determined to love herself against all odds.
Morning sunlight poured in and filled the spacious living room with a stillness. Incense smoke danced in the golden rays. Tamil sat at her desk by the window with a journal, cup of tea and bowl of mutton kothu roti that Avvaiyar had bought the day before. She loosely held her pen as it frolicked on the page. Her thoughts spilled:
How am I feeling today?
I am feeling calm; beautiful piano and bass music playing from the flat downstairs. I’m also feeling tired and in despair. So sick of the rejections. My relationship with Max is a burning house. Insecurities working their dark magic, tying my mind’s tongue into knots and clouding its vision. I feel like my wings have been clipped. The phoenix on my rib cage is waiting for me to take flight with her. I am usually driven, but I am now unmotivated. Just sinking. The rope is there but I am not grabbing on, and I am not hoisting myself up. I feel both physically and metaphorically like a dead weight. Am I mentally, physically and spiritually rested? Yoga and meditation would help.
Tamil had been practicing yoga and meditation for years, as it made her feel balanced; especially during times of turmoil. She believed that inner transformation is inextricably linked to changing the outer world.
She had previously journaled, through practices such as yoga and meditation, we are able to calm and clarify our mind, cultivating inner awareness and inner peace, enabling us to make better decisions. The action that we take in this world should come from a place of peace.
However, these days she struggled to take the first step and roll out her mat, unconsciously spending more time on social media instead. Just then, her attention diverted to a notification on her phone. She’d received a message from one of her new friends that she’d met at group therapy, Sangama: just a gentle nudge to get your yoga mat out; I know it’s difficult, but I know you’re going to feel so much better for it! Lots of love <3 <3.
A nudge was all she needed. Tamil felt a moment of deep gratitude toward Sangama and encapsulated it in her journal:
I’m grateful for how you came into my life
Like an oasis in a desert,
Our connection waters my roots,
My spikes are falling away,
My leaves are growing,
Thanks to you.
Feeling flexible with gratitude, Tamil rolled out her mat, and began with laying down in Savasana, gently closing her eyes and focusing on her breath.
Later that day, under an ocean of stars, Tamil bolted out of Liverpool Street tube station, the golden heel of her thigh high boots clinking against the pavement, she was running late for pole class,
“Oi oi sexy curry! What’s the rush?” slurred a drunken suit.
“Fuck off yer racist wanker!” Tamil explosively cursed without breaking her pace, her middle finger high in the air. This fucking racist, capitalist and patriarchal society embolden these wanker bankers to be both misogynistic and racist in one breath, Tamil thought to herself as she approached the building.
Panting, Tamil entered the studio.
“Hey Tamil! One; two, one and two!” Zahra’s eyes sparkled with light and power, her contagious energy dripping from each movement of her strong yet soft body. Tamil always felt that her heart was wrapped in silks of peace, protection and joy when she saw Zahra. She marvelled at her free and fiery spirit; a dancer, pole champion in the thirties category and writer, who lived life on her own terms. She felt that Zahra reflected the inner calm, confidence and oozing sensuality that was buried within herself. After stripping down to her sports bra and booty shorts, Tamil quickly joined the others, following Zahra’s counts and circling her hips to the ground. Tamil’s hair flew like flames as she whipped her head up and rolled her body. She swung her hips with force and grace that pushed her worries away. Tamil’s eyes were bright with euphoria as she twirled around the pole; every movement an expression of pure joy, strength and liberation. She felt her feathers unfurl.
“Woah, Tamil! You’re doing ‘the swan’ amazingly!” Zahra's eyes were wide, impressed by how quickly her student had learned pole and developed her strength. “Thank you” Tamil beamed and blushed, as she held Zahra’s gaze just a little longer.
She loved the atmosphere of pole class; it always made her think of Audre Lorde’s ‘Uses of the Erotic’, as women and non-binary folks leaned into their inner goddess power, cheered each other on and shared joy in class. I demand nothing less than this vibe, from every aspect of my life. This level of things felt right and real, thought Tamil.
On the tube returning home, feeling high on endorphins, Tamil typed notes:
There is magic in the women who live by their hearts. This cruel world may be against us, but we hold each other’s hands, singing to the moon and dancing as the sun rises. They want to burn me at the stake: I do a fireman’s spin, followed by a sun warrior spin, around that stake. This witch dances in and rises from the flames, like the phoenix tattooed on her ribcage.
Is a feathered creature
That is free
Rises from ashes and fire
With bright flames for wings
Fierce in its purpose
A sight so brilliant
That it’s believed
To be a myth.
Frosty wind whipped Tamil’s face as she stepped out of Westminster tube station. Fuck. So. Many. Police. Vans. Okay, Tamil, no turning back now. She had come alone, and was aware that the police (and whole system) saw melanin as the enemy. Tamil slowly joined the march from New Scotland Yard. She felt as if she was part of a large living organism; an extensive root network of connected beings. From her tote bag, she took out her pre-made slogans, holding them up high in the air. They said, ‘WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED’ and ‘END STATE TERROR’ in multi-coloured oil pastel. She listened closely to the passionate speeches given by activists, which spoke of not only ending the violence and inequality inflicted by racist and patriarchal State, but building communities of care, support and celebrating peoples’ differences. Tamil felt inspired, energised and in solidarity with all these strangers – a mixed crowd - around her. We know what’s happening, even though it’s not being shown on any mainstream media outlets. We are taking a stand against it. Peacefully protesting against authoritarianism, misogyny and racism.
Tamil – feeling inspired on the tube returning home - typed notes:
Your voice matters. Your dreams matter.
You are warrior
You are celestial, radiating cosmic energy in your every breath.
Your heart is as expansive and beautiful as skies aflame in a sunset.
Your existence in this body, is as beautiful and ever-changing as autumn leaves.
Sorubiha Kamalanathan (she/her) is part of تحریر // Tehreer, a 6-month writing group housed within The Rights Collective which supports writers who identify as South Asian to develop their own voices in writing about social justice. She is an educator, creative, advocate and activist, passionate about education, social justice, self-care and self-expression. Amongst other things, she writes about the experience of Tamils, linking history, politics and identity.
Article co-edited by Huma Riaz Khan, Lead for the تحریر // Tehreer 2021 cohort.