Ice-cream box of frozen curry by Jasmine Ann Cooray

four_generations_handsAs we slowly make our way to the voting booth for the EU referendum, what has struck me is the divide between the young and old; opinion polls show an almost equidistant difference between the young who want to remain, and old who wish to leave. But this type of generational divide can be seen in lots of other ways; different histories of course, which then influence the socio-economic and thus political positions of the young and old. One problem, at least the higher income countries, is the gap between the baby boomers who are being blamed for keeping all the post-war socially secure wealth (e.g. pensions), and the millennials who will have to work forever, which is okay because technology will allow us to live that long.

But one of the age old (sic) differences is of culture; especially for those whose parents come from a different country, who may be more conservative or religious, and wish to pass on their ethos to their children, which they feel is the natural job of a parent. From my own background, my friends were made to go to church, but would often just nip in at the start of a service to see who the Priest was, then spend the next hour round the back smoking before going home and saying that Father such and such was the man at the altar to prove their presence to their mother.

JasCooray1Jasmine Ann Cooray’s poem, Ice-cream Box of Frozen Curry beautifully expresses this generational difference from her experience being of Sri Lankan and mixed European lineage. The poem conveys the journey of a newcomer to the country, the people they leave behind (“Dear village leavers/Dear fortune seekers/Dear don’t forget us/Dear whispered prayers”), and the new rules and racism the leavers experience (“Dear name,/Dear get to work/Dear roads and railways/Dear NHS/Dear filthy Paki/Dear bite your tongue”). This is an immense a coming-of-age/rights of passage story that is both funny and sad, matching the older generation (Dear ice-cream box of frozen curry/Dear tiny aunts with iron grip/Dear random portly shouting uncles/Dear grandma wince at dodgy hip) with the ways the younger generation try to create their own identity (Dear make-up practise after lights off/Dear boyfriend legs it out the back/Dear promise I was in the library/Dear shaving threading bleaching wax).

Ultimately however, there is a coming together and a clarity in the younger generation of what they would like to learn from their elders how to best get on with life, in whichever country or dominant culture they live in (Dear elders shrinking into silence/Dear complicated drum beat/Dear tell us what you remember/Dear show us how to find peace//Dear give us tools for our tomorrow/Dear teach us all your ancient arts/Dear pass around the seed of kindness/Dear show us how to make it last). It is that journey of the dependence of the child, the independence of the young adult, to the interdependence of fully grown.

Here Jasmine gives us some background to the poem. “My father came to live in the UK in the late 60s, and struggled for a long time to make his way. I looked at his experience, and the particular cultural climate that I, growing up with two sets of influences, had to grapple with. How to belong here and still fulfil all the expectations of staying connected to Sri Lankan culture? How to fit in with family and fit in with my friends? The poem ended up as a kind of chronology- from the journey that so many South (and East) Asian families take to the ‘developed’ world, to what everyday life looks like, to what happens when you realise there are other influences that are shaping you, and finally, to the longing that many of us feel when we realise that there are cultural traditions that we have not grown up steeped in, but are part of us anyway. I found myself very emotional writing this piece: my father is now deceased and I think making the piece was in some way a way to say yes, you and everything you gave us was important, the journey you took was important.”

 “In May 2016 I was asked by the digital programming department at the South Bank Centre to take part in a project they were running for the Alchemy South Asian Arts festival this year. The project was called Almanac of the Future, and was designed by Annette Mees as an inter-generational conversation about what we want from the future. Initially, the hope was to have 15 year-olds and 65 year-old British Asians take part, but because of participant numbers the project turned into a set of interviews with random members of the public who attended the Alchemy Festival. The poem was a response to a brief that wanted an exploration of the British Asian experience across generations, and to capture what the dreams were of the interviewees. What struck me was how many people- of all ages- talked about alienation. They wanted their communities to bond again, they wanted to preserve culture, to learn the things that they felt estranged from, living in the UK. They wanted more compassion and conversation between family, and they wanted cohesion- for people to work together despite differences. I found myself overwhelmed: how could I successfully represent all these voices? I decided to start with me.”

Jasmine Ann Cooray is a poet and therapist from London, of Sri Lankan and mixed European lineage. Spurred by a silent adolescence, she now designs and implements a variety of projects that cultivate emotional literacy through poetry. In 2013 she was Writer in Residence at the National University of Singapore and has just finished tenure as a BBC Performing Arts Fellow with Spread the Word. Her first full collection is almost complete, and she is working on a collaborative poetry and aerial arts show with Upswing about what it means to trust. To balance her frequent reclusiveness, she does an excellent line in hugs.

www.jasmineanncooray.com @JasmineCooray

 

Ice-cream Box of Frozen Curry

Dear village leavers
Dear fortune seekers
Dear don’t forget us
Dear whispered prayers
Dear check your papers
Dear ship voyage
Dear Queen-saluting
Dear side-parted hair

Dear name shortened,
Dear get to work
Dear roads and railways
Dear NHS
Dear filthy Paki
Dear bite your tongue
Dear keep your head down
Dear try your best

Dear sending for your wife and children
Dear colour riot flooding streets
Dear neighbours peeking through net curtains
Dear huddle in the winter sleet

Dear noses twitch at frying spices
Dear Southall for the best mangoes
Dear show the girls at school your mendhi
Dear Bhangra Baila Rock ‘n’ Roll

Dear ice-cream box of frozen curry
Dear tiny aunts with iron grip
Dear random portly shouting uncles
Dear grandma wince at dodgy hip

Dear mothers at the cash and carry
Dear daughters always at the sink
Dear chubby sons stuffed with seconds
Dear father has another drinks

Dear make-up practise after lights off
Dear boyfriend legs it out the back
Dear promise I was in the library
Dear shaving threading bleaching wax

Dear bragging round the kitchen table
Dear doctor lawyer engineer
Dear look at everything we gave you
Dear mother spilling ready tears

Dear load of strangers at the wedding
Dear spend the whole time on your phone
Dear don’t know how to do the ritual
Dear feeling crowded and alone

Dear tongue is losing all the language
Dear stories melting into mist
Dear have to google wrapping saree
Dear still have no clue how to fit

Dear countries sinking under water
Dear populations under threat
Dear clueless bhindi wearing ravers
Dear don’t know what we’ll have left

Dear elders shrinking into silence
Dear complicated drum beat
Dear tell us what you remember
Dear show us how to find peace

Dear give us tools for our tomorrow
Dear teach us all your ancient arts
Dear pass around the seed of kindness
Dear show us how to make it last

Dear Brick Lane, Bradford, Leeds, Hounslow
Dear Delhi, Dhaka, Colombo
Dear keep the conversation going,
and make sure no-one’s on their own.

 

5 comments

  1. I don’t think the divide is between young and old in the EU referendum. How do you define old? No-one I know across the ages is voting Leave. Think you might need to look at class, disaffection, austerity……. Great poem by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment Marilyn. If you click on the link, the polls tell a different story (as do others from all political persuasions); although I would concede they didn’t get it right last year, I don’t think we can solely judge on who we know. Yes, I would agree that it is more complex than just an age divide, and certainly class comes into it – but there are divides within the same class who would agree about the negative impact of austerity. To be honest with you, I’ll be glad when it’s all over.

      Like

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