Between Two Worldsby kenneth
When the appointment letter for a new job in Sri Lanka arrived via email last September, I knew a decision I had toyed with for almost a year --- whether to leave Japan、my home for almost three decades to return to the country of my birth—had finally arrived at a conclusion. The long chewing process on the prospect of going Home, had till then been an experience that swayed between been troubling and pleasant—the latter mostly for who could not but dream of the sandy beaches of a tropical island while squashed in the rush-hour in Tokyo trains. And, I thought back wryly, I had, indeed, allowed such an important step in my life to play its course. Indeed, by embracing a defined purpose—a job--- instead of being lured by the deeper emotional attachment to the place where I had grown-up, there was a sense of relief almost as if I could not take the responsibility of this dramatic development. Lets admit it, that gnawing apprehension of what to expect after such a long absence, was something I was not ready to reckon with. With my return email accepting the new position, even those dreaded commuter trains were beginning to feel like luxury carriages for the first time.
Stay with me while I walk you through the saga of my learning to live Between Two Worlds something that could be described as the difficult combination of a country that represented my enchanted childhood spent among mango trees and spices, the other being my adult life encompassing university and work that comprised juggling business suits and high heels along with family responsibilities--- the so called Westernized super woman of the nineties. “What on earth is the matter with you” queried my Japanese husband, in bewilderment when accosted with my long-drawn out dithering. For him, who has never lived abroad more out of choice rather than opportunity, my quandary to return to what he thought was most obviously where I belonged, was beyond comprehension “What`s so fearful about going back to Sri Lanka, ” he stated rather than asked. His opinion symbolized the luxury of never doubting where Home should be. Born and growing up in one single country lends that person a definite and, for me, an almost enviable identity defined by the nurturing of a distinct language, food and society that entwines and embraces the growing years and moulds the personality. Sushi ,lets say for the purpose of international readers, symbolizes, for my husband, a deeply powerful sense of belonging that I can recognize in myself as well. Yet that cultural significance parts ways with my Japanese spouse in the debate on a particular identity for my other world has its own symbolism. Indeed, I share the Sushi identity with the Sri Lankan curry--- that experience of the mouth warming mustard fish dish served steaming hot by my grandmother when we spent our school vacation with her remains an imbedded past. In this sense Home is a loaded word for a traveler who decides to return home.
Life in Colombo now can be compared to a peculiar kind of dislocation that is followed by the search for a sense of unity . Perhaps I have confronted the beginning of this change in the last three months――in order to survive I have, for instance, stopped comparing Tokyo`s pristine orderliness to the circus of muddles confronted in Sri Lankan daily life, learnt to recalculate the meaning of “cheap” when paying a few dollars for a smashing meal and become resigned rather than tear my hair when the maid calls in the morning to say she has yet another funeral to attend blithely breaking promise to clean by kitchen, a decision that would have horrified the Japanese.
Last night represented a small but significant success in the dislocation cum unity process when I managed to hand over my ID card to the security check on the road without wringing my hands too much over how the legal requirement had infringed on my human rights as it does in other countries. And today as I lie in my hammock watching the clear blue sky above the tiny verandah of my flat, I reassure myself that it is indeed wonderful to live in Sri Lanka again, never mind the wretched happenings outside.
The phone rings. It is my Japanese husband, who is grilling slices of salmon marinated in sake and soy sauce to be served among a crowd of mutual friends. “Hey, when are you coming back home,” they ask. “We all miss you.” “So do I” , I reply, trying to choke back the sudden lump in my throat. Then comes the hard one—should I say I am coming Home in July to return Home in August, or instead take the safe road by saying, “ see you in Japan in July but will have to leave for Sri Lanka the next month.” The telephone lines are clear and the other side is waiting for an answer that I do not have.