Christmas and New Year time, is one of those times, when we, wanderers, start to re-connect with our families and friends far and beyond. In fact today, more often than not, our families and friends that we grew up with, are gradually scattered about in this melting pot of a world! Add to this, most of us get an urge to re-connect back to our homelands and our origins. It is also one of those times, when we start to feel the need for at least one day, for all those jigsaw puzzles to come together – to give us the picture of togetherness, that sense of wholesomeness. That is to say, an unrealistic wish to have every person who has helped shape our identity, to be in one place at a given time, so to give us a sense of belonging in a nomad’s land!
For parts of my life, when I was growing up in a tiny town near the capital of our very small island of Sri Lanka, I feel all I’ve been wanting was to grow wings to explore the world. Now after having seen, touched and tasted most of it, moving from land to land for long periods, what I yearn is to re-learn my roots. I have this urge to visit the periods of our ancestors and experience some of their very real struggles (sadly all too taken for granted today). Perhaps this is far more pertinent at present, as it’s connected to raising a child. And tagged with this responsibility comes a strong desire to pass on to him a strong heritage, hence a confident, clear identity, in his already wandering life at 4 years!
Our son, born in Switzerland, is a product of Indian and Sri Lankan-British parents, possibly having 4 identities, that of where he is born and that of his parents’ birth and resident lands. In his mind, he has also made some connection to other countries he has visited. He sees Buddhist and Hindu practices at home, Christian practices within school and neighbourhood. On questioned where he comes from, he gives our home address in Geneva! India and Sri Lanka are to him, annual holiday destinations with London familiarised with his grandparents and uncles. Geneva to him is where he will always live, unbeknown to him that we are temporarily set up here until our next adventure beckons us! I do wonder from where he will draw his identity? What will he see as his heritage? Where will he picture his roots? What will indeed become of his sense of belonging, floating across lands in this big wide world (in fact not so big and wide in today’s context!)
As an Arabic proverb goes ‘blessed be that which gives your children wings and roots’. Roots – a place where we are born and raised, to which we feel responsible for. Wings – where our travels meet our imagination, making the path for us to get to know and learn from others’ roots.
It is not too long until we, as parents, start to realise that we cannot allow our children to wander too far, as their origins are already marred and drawn across many a line! Not that lines are needed in a war-ridden world! But he certainly needs to know his father’s ancestral lands in the North of India and his mother’s in the South of Sri Lanka. To speak the native languages, hear stories of our ancestors, taste the local foods, celebrate the local festivals and divulge in religious practices, all of which he can draw his connections from to make sense of his own fusion of heritage. His own heritage and unique identity that indeed in the future, he himself will be free to choose from out of this wealth of strong bonds to both his parents and his own open-mindedness.
It is important for him to feel proud of how far and deep his blood runs and feel connected to all the lives before him; also pass on and make sense to all the new fresh blood that’s to come in the future. We, as parents, hope to practise equally both our customs and traditions, irrespective of where our wandering will take us! How else will our son have the building blocks to form his own heritage, the means to keep the traditions going and get the blood pumping in an Indo-Lankan heart? A proud and strong sense of identity is far more significant; particularly in the case of being a world citizen, sensitive to all kinds of differences in humans be it race, gender, colour or religion, who we certainly hope he’ll become.
Wings without roots are indeed an isolating prospect, particularly considering the future of our children!