Why Stay and the Mission

Andre’s passing brings me such deep sorrow.  I feel very in touch with the pain of humanity and how disgustingly unjust things are.  Human society causes so much unnecessary suffering.

Near 30 days of Andre’s passing, I went 3 days with only 3 hours sleep– which might have been a first for me.  Part of being so physical and aging is that I like a lot of sleep.  The sleeplessness sharpened my sensitivities and made most humans unbearable.  By the end of the third day I was in such deep agony, it seemed my heart ached with each beat and no breath could fill my lungs.  Only talking to the Spirits seemed to bring me comfort.

Andre’s passing thrust me back into comforting intimacy with Papa– my grandfather who became my guardian angel when I was 6 years old.  Amma had told me that Papa taught her that praying was just talking to God.  And that lesson poured into me as Papa transitioned from human to spirit form.  As a child, I talked to him daily.  I feel Papa has witnessed my life through my eyes, believes in me, and understands me in ways my family has been unable to.

This time has also brought me spiritually closer to my grandmothers– Grandmummy and Ammama.  As well as, so many of my ancestors.  Grief, I’ve been reminded of, is ancient.  This time has opened me to what my bones have carried from thousands of years before this time.  I feel my ancestors praising André for bringing me into deeper connection with the Ancestral Realm.

After 72 hours with only 3 hours sleep, the pain was so overwhelming, I began to ask the ancestors why I am still here?  Why be here on earth amongst the humans in this wretched way of being?  I know after-life to be bliss. I can feel Andre is free, no longer suffering.  I can feel his magnificent love, care, and peace.  Why should I remain on earth to endure pain, when I know what is beyond is freedom?– I’m too sensitive for the violence of humanity.  Too empathetic.  Too connected.  “Why must I stay here?” I asked.  I could feel my grandmothers talk to me.  The message I received was that: I have writing that must be done and that I need to return to Ilankai to teach our peoples what I’ve learned.  I was shocked by the clarity of inter-generational purpose.  I understood that it took time and work for me to come to these lands.  To learn all that I have.  And that I must return with the stories and knowledge that I’ve gained.  My ancestors have me here on a mission.  Once I’ve completed my charge, I can be free to leave.

The healer/fighter in me envisions this quest as one that carries me into elderly years,  overcoming the many challenges this life brings, and permitting me to witness the children in my life care for children of their own.  The wounded weary cynical part of myself is gearing myself up to finish my mission and let the ancestors take me.  Interestingly, both parts are deeply aligned.  Both parts of me, understand writing as essential.  The healer knows that writing is what I need to heal.  The wounded recognizes my mortality and the need to leave a path for our descendants to our ancestors and vice versa.

So with this understanding, I begin this stage of writing.  I do hope you will witness me emerge from this grief into a joyful healing magic that carries me through other inevitable loss and obstacle into peaceful elder years.  That is my goal.  And what Andre has also taught me is that just because one fights with all they can for life does not mean they are granted a long one.  So I must stay focused on my missions.  Love, love, love to all of y’all who read this.  I am so thankful for you.

 

let’s evolve not erode our ancient practices of grief

When I was young we had no choice but to gather quickly & often after a loved one passed.  There was no social media or cell phones or google sheets or cash apps or texting.  Our peoples would gather immediately to assess the situation.  Make sure that those mourning were not falling ill.  That grief did not pull anyone else across to the Spirit realm.  Make sure that the weight didn’t break a family, especially if life had already been squeezing them.

Our elders would gather resources and divide responsibilities. 

When we were children, we were all stuffed into one room, unsupervised with no bedtime.  A big slumber party with all our cousins, blood & chosen.  As young teens the “girls” and “boys” were divided.  The daughters were deployed serving coffee & tea, short eats and meals, gently tending to those too sad to eat “at least try a mutton roll?”  We learned our rank in the kitchen.  Assessed: who would make the better wives. 

I’m not sure what the sons did…. Were they being recruited into swallowing sorrow?  Learning to loosen the muscles gripping the ache with sips of arrack?  Were you blessed with a man who taught you that grief includes unpredictable tears and laughter? Forgiveness and fissures?  Shameless song and dance?  Irreverence and scolding?  Were you shown how to move through the pain with care, tenderness, connection, and love.  Or were you shown how to numb and ignore it, welling up the weighted layers, floating silence? 

It was a mix for us deemed to the feminine sphere.  Swallowing, welling, silencing, weighing our own feelings, maneuvering in order to float others.  And there were also those who showed us how to wail, cry, scream, sing sorrow at the top of their lungs.   There were people of both ways that healed and people of both ways that harmed.  Both capable of shattering tight orders into starry spaces and simultaneously magnetizing worlds, solar systems away.

In my later teens I loosened loins gripped by patriarchy through clandestine frequency at the dance clubs.  Here was a place for my body & spirit to be free.  Allow myself to ease into my intergalactic ways– unbound by the gender and cultural norms of humanity at this point in history.  It is where I learned Gay, Queer, & Trans culture.   Back then we had to gather in person.  I didn’t have an email address, yet.  There was no craigslist or grindr or tinder.  There were personals in print newspapers.  The club was a quicker way to meet people.  Even if you weren’t into dancing, folks went to the club, because that’s where you’d go to be yourself, be free.  And that vibration attracted other free-thinkers & freedom-seekers.  We were a mix of cultures, experiences, ages, genders, orientations all dancing, mixing, fighting, loving, and exchanging with each other.

Our club elders in the their 40’s experienced the free love of the 70’s and survived the worst of the AIDS crisis.  They had learned how to grieve together.  Like my Tamil elders in the diaspora mourning loved ones at home, ravaged by escalating war, our peoples knew the roles– what needed to be done.  Phone tree the news, taking note of how it hit.  Make sure that all loved ones were notified.  Liason between blood and chosen, if such an opening was possible.  Coordination of tasks.  Those responsible ensuring remains and belongings are attended respectfully.  Those in charge of ceremony and ritual.  Those who ensured those in deep grief were okay.  It was a given that if you were in the life, that your blood families would not know how to honor you when you transitioned.  Even straight people got that.  Chosen family would make sure that our Souls were given the proper support and respect.

Sometimes early at the club was the best place and time to meet and figure things out.  Who has our beloved’s keys and can get the sex toys out before Grammy comes to help attend to belongings?  Folks hailing from all over merged the best of their ancestral ways of grieving, breathing life into collective wisdoms and ceremonies.   There would be rituals, potlucks, stories, poetry, home visits, and dance parties lifting up our new ancestors and caring for the ones they left behind.  Us young ones, we learned their names.  We offered our dollars and fives to the collection.  Witnessed our elders mourn, remember, celebrate, and honor.

In addition to mourning my beloved Andre.  I’m also mourning the erosion of a simple ancient practice of gathering in the midst of loss.  I’m mourning a New York gripped by capitalism.  Once upon a time in New York City, ancient peoples from all over the world came together, reuniting with their separated tribes to counsel, tell story, make magic, and live freedom—especially in the face of the violent & subjugating….

I finally got to speak to someone who knew Andre & I’s relationship when we were young.  She said that she imagined me so devastated that I couldn’t get out of bed.  That it must have been one giant slumber party of crying, cuddling, and comfort.  On the contrary,  the week after Andre passed not one person in New York even offered to come over and give me a hug.  I wavered through the world, unable to collapse.  Much needed to be done.  The roles once divided by many were suddenly all mine.  Wailer, care-giver, coordinator, liason, gatherer.  A friend recovering from a traumatic brain injury, living over five hours away, left her partner alone with their toddler to come see me 6 days after I received the news.  She was the first to come visit my home.  

New York— BROOKLYN, I almost broke up with y’all over that.  I thought there must be some place in the world where I would be better attended to during my time of need.  I thought to myself, New York, I don’t really need to tell Y’ALL that Andre is my brother, do I? That I am mourning the loss of a family member?  After-all, y’all witnessed us for 18 out of 20 year relationship.  Now, don’t let those words hit you like poison.  We’re all hurting enuf.  I get it.  I love you.  And even tho culturally I experienced that first week as neglect, I know that y’all love me, too.  Let my truth be an invitation.  For us to resist these corrupt forces not only by fighting,  by not only preserving what so quickly eroded— but also deepening & evolving what it means to be community.  

This Step On The Path: Growing Liberation

My family is ethnically Tamil and are from the war affected North & East of Ilankai/Lanka/Sri Lanka.  Like many people in our communities our family faced discrimination by the majoritarian ethno-nationalist policies of the post-colonial government of Sri Lanka that came in power.  My grandfather and other elders during my parents time supported Satyagraha or nonviolent demonstrations that were tear gassed by the government.  My mother and many other relatives have been amongst those tear gassed.  These responses by the Sri Lankan government narrowed space for nonviolent movements and garnered support amongst Tamils for militant resistance from my parents’ generation.  My father as a teenager was amongst those involved with militant youth movements.

In 1983 my mother’s sister, husband and my baby cousin barely escaped a horrific state sanctioned massacre of Tamil people that often marks the beginning of Sri Lanka’s Civil War.  Though those responsible for the killings of Tamil people were of the ethnic majority–Singhalese, my Aunty always complicated the story by reminding me that it was also an older Singhalese uncle who hid our family in chicken coops and helped them survive.  She believes that the divine can work through anyone.

The ’83 massacre and the bloody military offensives that followed made many Tamil people feel that a militant separatist movement was our only means of defense.  One militant group –the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or more commonly known as the Tigers) rose to becoming the sole representation of the Tamil people by ruthlessly eliminating all other militant groups.  The message was clear– Not standing in line with the Tigers was punishable by death.

Growing up in the Tamil diaspora in the 80’s & 90’s was complicated.  Many in our communities had been traumatized by the actions of the Sri Lankan government.  Almost everyone knew someone they loved who had died at the hands of the army and felt they had no choice but to support the Tigers.  The Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora in the west was responsible for contributing to the funding of the Tigers.  Tamil nationalism gripped the diaspora– we were only to speak of the atrocities committed by the government– the crimes of the Tigers were silenced.  The Tamil Tigers cultivated a culture that sanctioned tracking teenagers– raped by the Sri Lankan Army and Indian Peace Keeping Forces– into suicide bombers: martyrs for the cause.  They evicted thousands of our Muslim neighbors.  Killed Tamil politicians, human rights activists, and freethinkers that refused to adopt Tiger dogma.  And the Tamil diaspora continued to collect money for the Tigers.

As I came into political consciousness and claimed my artistic voice in the late 90’s, I had to contend with this context.  Would I remain silent about the Tigers and only perform stories about how my family was oppressed by the state?  What was my responsibility to my fellow Tamils who suffered under the gun of the State and the Rebels?  Could I or my family withstand the backlash if I publicly stand against all armed actors that exploited our communities:  the Tamil gangs, the Tigers and the Government of Sri Lanka?  Would my communities sabotage my voice and dismiss me as a traitor? My family begged me not to get involved with Sri Lankan politics.  I was in America. I was safe.

Yet when I graduated university in 2000, the US experienced the dot com boom– a new generation of Tamil and Singhalese Americans my age in IT, business and finance were becoming the new funders of armed actors on the ground while my cousins ducked shells and evacuated their homes.  I became close friends and collaborators with a Illankai Tamil American cellist & teacher, Varuni Tiruchelvam who’s uncle –a well know human rights activist, Neelan Tiruchelvam was assassinated by a suicide bomber.  Varuni challenged me to step beyond what Tamil nationalism conditioned me to think and do.  As I quietly expressed my critiques of the Tigers, more and more Tamil people who had lost loved ones to the Tigers came into my life.

I was nervous of the commitment growing within.  I was feeling called to speak to the many truths that impact our peoples.  But we had been taught by our community that it was irresponsible and dangerous.  It was safest and most strategic for our people to stick to the single narrative.  The last thing I wanted to do is betray my community.

Yet as I began to get more deeply involve with progressive movements and learn of other liberation movements throughout history and the world, I came to hunger a higher standard of liberation for our peoples.  I began to understand my silence as the true betrayal of our peoples.  I had to join other dissenting voices and demand a liberation grown out of my grandparents’ –and the ancestors before them– dreams.

The challenge became how.  What was my role as someone born and raised in outside lands?

In the US it was far less likely that one would be assassinated for speaking out against the Tigers or the Government of Sri Lanka– though the possibility always hung in Illankai Tamil American minds.  With this privilege comes responsibility.  A responsibility to amplify the silenced messages, carve space for a fuller discourse.   People with a politic alternative to the dominant nationalisms that gripped our communities were very careful.  They warned me to be practical. “Once you come out publicly against the Tigers or State, you can’t go back.  You don’t want to lose access to community.”  So Varuni & I took advantage of being positioned on the margins.  The power of being a young non-threatening woman, no one pays attention to.  The power of being an underground performer. The power of being different.  The power in invisibility.

Through the impermanence of performance I accessed young people of our generation undetected.  We pried open room at the edges, carved space for the most vulnerable to heal & speak, and challenged the most privileged to question where they sent their money.

I performed and facilitated dialogue in living rooms, women’s shelters, convents, refugee camps, girls’ homes, hostels, political meetings, classrooms for two, five, twenty, sixty, two hundred people at a time.  Pushing the edges and opening space wherever I could. I have spent years organizing rallies & press conferences.  I spoke in front of over hundred thousand people on Feb 15th 2003 against the US War on Terror.  I’ve performed at countless protests, events, meetings, conferences, and universities.  I’ve organized direct actions and have been arrested for civil disobedience.  However, the practice of opening space through performance for dialogue in places sealed by militarism both in Sri Lanka and the diaspora has been one of my most powerful practices of radical nonviolence.  This is how I grow the legacy of my grandparents’ dreams.

The beauty of this journey has been knowing that we are not the only ones—dreaming, questioning, and working for a different way of being. We are not the only ones who believe a deeper vision of liberation is possible.  We have been growing for sometime.

 

Your Help Going to South Africa

YaliniDream has been invited with her partner Jendog Lonewolf and long term collaborator Varuni Tiruchelvam to perform at the at the Opening Ceremonies of the War Resisters International Conference in Cape Town, South Africa on July 4th at the historic Cape Town City Hall for an audience 1000 people!  Archbishop Desmond Tutu will also be giving a message!  We will also be performing and collaborating with anti-capitalist Hip Hop Collective Soundz of the South.  We’ve raised half the funds, but still need your help to get there!

Click Here to DONATE.