23. HEADING TOWARDS LAWYER ANISMAN’S OFFICE!
– I have already written a novella , AMERICA , in Tamil, based on my life at the detention camp. The journal, ‘Thaayagam’ was published from Canada while this novella was serialized. Then, adding some more short-stories, a short-story collection of mine was published under the title America by Tamil Nadu based publishing house Sneha. In short, if my short-novel describes life at the detention camp, this novel , AN IMMIGRANT , describes the struggles and setbacks a Tamil migrant to America faces for the sake of his survival – outside the walls of the detention camp. – V.N.GIRITHARAN –
Distributing the advertisement pamphlets for Carlo in the evenings gave them yet another new experience. At the intersection between Fourth Street West and Sixth Avenue, Ilango began his work of distributing the advertisement pamphlets. Arulrasa worked at the junction where Christopher Road, Seventh Avenue and Fourth Street West met. They had no real stress in distribution. The initial feeling of hesitation and embarrassment were all gone with the wind in just a few minutes. “Two for one …two for one…” “Buy one; get one free!” Such phrases were the slogans for Carlo’s “throwaway price” sales. And, soon it became easier for them to shout the slogan words and distribute them to the passersby. A few people stopped to inquire about the sales and asked for advertisement pamphlets as well. They had to distribute at least one thousand pamphlets, each. Carlo said if one thousand were distributed, at least one hundred would pay a visit to his shop. Of them, at least ten or fifteen would buy something and go. As they continued with their distributions, more andmore the pedestrians stopped and inquired, thereby making the whole process easier with time.
Pedestrians were all of different ages, different nationalities and different races, speaking different languages and belonging to different religions. Many of them stopped to have brief conversations with the two foreigners. Some asked what their background was; some others posed questions in order to reveal their geographical knowledge regarding the hometown of these two, as if some sort of guessing game.
For Ilango, distributing flyers served as a gateway for meeting new acquaintances. He easily got along with some and earned the friendship of several persons. Of them, one was Ingrid, who belonged to the Hare Krishna! Hare Rama Movement. Wearing a sari she looked every inch an Indian woman. When crossed Ilango’s path for the first time, Ingrid who was also distributing pamphlets of Hare Rama! Hare Krishna! Movement on the opposite pathway, came over and introduced herself. “Hi, My name is Ingrid. I am working as a volunteer for Hare Rama, Hare Krishna Movement. For whom you are working? What is that? What is that you are distributing?”
Inquisitive, she was. Ilango answered, “We are distributing the advertisement pamphlets for Carlo’s garment/textile shop. Now, there is a grand sale going on… “Buy one and get one free.” If you wish, why don’t you go there once and see for yourself?” He gave her two more pamphlets. She read them for a short while and then opined, “Indeed a useful discount sales. I should visit the store one day, after work.” She was even more curious of his situation and was willing to listen to Ilango’s journeys on the American soil thus far.
Taking pity on both Ilango and Arul, Ingrid gave him a valuable suggestion, which would prove beneficial. “If you come to our place of worship, you would get real good meals, try to come there now and then. You can get food and also some rest from this high-strung city life that makes you all tense.” With that, one day, she took them both to the Hare Rama, Hare Krishna shrine.
And so, with experiences like these, the days passed on. One day, a New York lawyer, Anisman, had asked the two of them to come visit him. His office was on the thirty-fourth floor of the tall structure called the Empire State building in Manhattan, which was splendidly grand back in the day, well now too. He had asked them to come and meet him without delay. He also expressed his wish to have a dialogue with them regarding their appeal for refugee status and applying for temporary admission certificates in order to get some decent job.
When they set foot on the floor of the world famous structure, the Empire State Building, Arulrasa said, “Just a few years ago, I could only ever dream of visiting this world-famous site. Amazing.”
Ilango wanted to reply in such a way that sounded just as genuine as his friend’s words. “In a way, what you say is very true. I had never visualized all these things even in my wildest dreams.”
Ilango and Arulrasa continued their conversation when Ilango started wondering why Anisman had finally called for them. “Arul, we must have a detailed conversation with him regarding how to get the permission letters for securing jobs here and refugee status. But, I can’t help feeling surprised by his sudden call.”
Arulrasa said, laughing, “Ilango, after all we are going to meet him in a short while! Why don’t you ask him then! What is the hurry?”
As Arulrasa spoke this, with a wide grin, Ilango blushed a little. Trying his best to cover it, “Expecting to get a thing done from this New York Immigration Office is like peeling the skin of a stone. Let us see how efficient Anisman proves to be in doing exactly that, right now.”
“The Jewish have always been so clever and intelligent. Look at Karl Marx! Look at Einstein! Freud! And, today’s Chomsky! It is these Jews who shine in every field, you see! It is they who take a deep plunge into the field of Trade and Business and retain substantial savings. And, it is these same people who taught the revolutionary ideology of Socialism, doing away with Capitalism! Isn’t it surprising?”
Till then, Ilango had never thought of things in that perspective. Only when Arulrasa observed this, he started comparing and contrasting things to the best of his abilities. Surprising indeed! With such thoughts, they entered Anisman’s office.
CHAPTER 24. ANISMAN’S ADVICE AND SUGGESTION!
“Welcome my dear friends! Good morning! There is a very important reason why I wanted to meet you today. But, before that I would like to know about your life. How is life? Is there any urgent need which I could address at once?” With these words of concern, the lawyer, Anisman, welcomed them.
Arulrasa looked at Ilango and signaled to him to reply. Understanding his signal, Ilango began to narrate in a slightly detailed manner. “Good morning. Let the day be good to you, dear Mr. Anisman. We thank you for your kind inquiry. We have come here because you have wanted to meet us urgently. Yet, we have been thinking of meeting you of late… but, before we could we received you call, which is very much appreciated…”
Anisman kept on looking at Ilango, showing him that he wanted him to continue. And so he did, “The main issue that is confronting us now is acquiring a Social Insurance Card. Without this card, we cannot do anything. Even our passports are now with the immigration officers, who snatched them away from us back in Boston. Without these official cards, we are not in any position to secure any legally permissible job, you know. We cannot open bank accounts either. We request you to help us in this matter somehow. We are unable to get into any permanent job. Each day proves to be a terrible uncertainty…. We keep struggling to make ends meet…”
The lawyer Anisman attentively listened to his words and said, “I can understand your situation quite well. Definitely, I will do whatever I can to help you get the required documents. Further, if you can get a letter from some business man outlining your work for them, we can use it by showing it to them and by explaining your present situation to them so that we can so apply for the Permission Letter and obtain it from the Immigration Office, which would enable you to acquire some kind of permanent job.”
Arulrasa still had his concerns, however. “Yes Sir, we would somehow get such a letter that you have mentioned. But, what guarantee is there that we would be able to get the Social Insurance Card, even if we are to bring the letter?”
“Of course, nothing has a one hundred percent guarantee…But, there is nothing wrong in giving it a try, is there? If you have such an official letter – it would prove to be very useful for your situation.”
Hearing his words, both Ilango and Arulrja agreed. Ilango voiced their consent, “True, what you say is indeed correct. We would somehow get such a letter and bring it to you as soon as possible.” After that, their conversation changed course and focused on the applications for refugee status. Anisman informed them that there would be a communication informing them of the date on which their application would be taken into consideration and when an inquiry would be conducted on their requisition. But, prior to that, he would meet them one more time, he said, to get the full details of their requisition for granting refugee-status to them. He pointed out that their main problem was securing the social insurance number. And, it definitely was an important issue. Thus, discussing the pros and cons of all related issues, Anisman arrived upon the point that he wished to discuss with them all day.
“This has got something to do with your situation here.”
Arulrasa was anxious to know of what he spoke, “We don’t understand Sir, please explain.”
“As for you, you have not come into this land in an illegal manner. Your aim was to go to Montreal in Canada.”
“Of course Yes! Yes! What you are saying is true!” Ilango excitedly confirmed. He went on to explain, “That was our only intention. That is why we were on the planes; we never had any intention of entering into America as illegal immigrants. Our bad luck, the Delta Air Services, which was to fly us to Canada, refused to have us on board. That’s the reason why we are languishing here. That is the one and only reason for our being here. What you are saying is indeed true.”
Anisman understood his need to say what he said, but intervened and continued, “True indeed. It is indeed sad that you who had no intention to enter this country illegally but you must now languish in this fashion. As a citizen of this country, I feel really ashamed. This dire turn of events has been a nuisance to both you and I. And, that is the reason why I explored various possibilities of atoning the situation for you and I found something that could help you with this. That’s why I sought for a meeting with you.”
Ilango couldn’t help but show his gratefulness, “Thank you for your magnanimity. We feel very proud to see what a noble-hearted person you are. In what way do you think you can help us in getting justice, please tell us.”
“In fact, I do sincerely feel that in your case, human rights have been grossly violated. For, in your case, you had proper permission to remain in this soil for eight hours. It is also important to note the issue with the visas and your misfortune of having the Air Service refusing you to fly you to Montreal. So, when it was decided that you were to be sent back, you needed to prevent it by applying for political asylum here. And, you had sought political asylum when you were staying here legally. But, when the eight hours had gone by, you had lost that legal status. At that juncture, you had the chance to come out on bail. But, instead of giving that to you, the immigration officer, who had mistakenly regarded you as illegal immigrants, confined you inside the detention camp. The period when you were confined in the detention camp is the period where you were denied your human rights. And I strongly feel that you have every reason to seek compensation from the American Government for this gross injustice meted out to you. Hence, if you wish, I am ready to file a suit and argue your case in the court of law. And, I am prepared to get my fees for this service after we succeed in this lawsuit, from the compensation amount that comes your way. What do you feel about my proposal?”
As the lawyer spoke so, both of them were taken aback and were dumbstruck. Anisman picked up hi conversation, “Both of you should have a detailed discussion about this and then let me know of your decision. Further, if you file a case against the government in this manner, the possibility of the government better considering your request for refugee status might becomes much stronger.”
Anisman then left the pair alone to discuss their plans. Ilango immediately asked Arul, “What Arul, what do you think of his proposal? Do you think that we can believe this fellow in this?”
“What he says does make sense, I feel. And, if we do win the case, it would be a jackpot. Who would let go of the lottery winning that comes his way …whatever we get, it would be a profit, wouldn’t it? As for me, I think that it wouldn’t cost us anything to give it a try, what do you say? Maybe, it could prove to be helpful to us in our request for granting refugee-status as well. It could give us some bargaining power in that, I think…Basically, I think we should try it.”
An intense discussion followed and they ultimately agreed to give it a try. When the lawyer returned, he asked, “Yes, my friends, what have you decided?”
“Sir, both of us had discussed the pros and cons of your proposal, and we feel that it is valid. So, we agree to it,” stated Arulrasa.
This brightened Anisman’s countenance, and a wide smile erupted across his face. “Good, you have man an excellent decision. Come again tomorrow. By that time I would have all the relevant documents ready. And, you must sign them.”
CHAPTER 25: A CLEVER AGENT CALLED PABLO!
From Ilango’s diary…
Life goes on, as usual. Sometimes physical and psychological fatigue take the upper hand with hope depleting. At such times, in order to not be afflicted and paralyzed with any kind of negative thoughts, I would keep on wandering all over the city, it doesn’t matter what the hour may be. Even Arul would find it difficult to cope with all my wanderings around the city and would decide to stay in our room. During these walks, I would think about the city and the people, the prevailing environment and the social life, in order to gain more knowledge about them. Occasionally, I would visit the main library in the city. Sometimes, I would visit those friends who were detained in that Brooklyn detention camp and spend some time with them, trying to encourage and console them in any way I could.
Since our last meeting with Anisman the lawyer, we managed to obtain some sort of an appointment order, from a Gujurathi couple running a grocery store in Manhattan. With that, we applied for the official letter of approval from the immigration office. And, as advised by Anisman the lawyer, we simultaneously submitted an appeal seeking redress from the American Government for the way we were kept in the detention camp and the gross violatiuon of basic human rights that ensued.
Many days had passed since that meeting. But, nothing happened. Like usual, we resumed our job-hunt during the day. Days passed by in this fashion. However, one day, in the early afternoon, I came across Mahendran. He worked aboard a Greek ship for many years, but when it made a stop to New York City, he stayed back for some reason. Now, just like us, he still searches for a job. One day, after wandering the whole day as usual, I took a resting break, sitting on a bus stop bench along Forty-Second Road. He came to me on his own and introduced himself. He told e that he was to visit his agent, one who specializes in finding jobs for people like “us.” Mahendran invited me to come with him, if I wished to do so. The optimism in his words, along with his bubbling enthusiasm, proved to be the consoling that I needed for my desperate heart. To be more accurate, there was one particular thing that he had said, which caught my attention. He said that, from what he had gathered, this agent would send those who went to him for jobs would often be immediately sent to work. “That was his specialty,” announced Mahendran. He really appeared to be “god-like” to the illegal immigrants living on American soil, especially those living in New York city. Mahendran went on with such acclamations about the agent that I couldn’t help asking him, “Where did you learn of all these details?” He responded by saying that a Spanish man, whom he had never met, gave him all this information, giving him a magazine with a copy of the advertisement (representing the agent). Mahendran made sure to make a special note of the next fact: the agent was such a skilled person in finding immediate placement to whomever called for him. I too was impressed and I too developed some sort of good opinion about this agent. As a result, I agreed to go with Mahendran and meet this man. After all, it is in our incessant endeavours that the very success of life lies, isn’t it so? Try and try till you succeed.. even our good old Avvai had said thousand of years ago that we should never lose our spirit and become lethargic and desperate…
Pablo was a Spanish agent. He had a very handsome face and physique and a fabulous voice, with an incredibly mesmerizing effect. He owned a small business in a small office that stood next to the main bus terminus of the city. He was his own master. When both of us went to meet him, he was not all that busy. There were just one or two people waiting to have a consultation with him. Soon enough, the two were called up to meet with him. He listened to our woeful tale with concern and compassion. Then, he said, “Just like you, I too had come here from South America with many dreams. I can understand your feelings and I am able to empathize with you. It was due to those horrible, heart-rending experiences that I had to undergo then that I have created this Employment Bureau to help people like you, people like me. The fees I get for this service are not high. It is very nominal, you know. It is just fifty dollars.”
After that, he gave us the application form for finding a suitable job and asked us to fill it up. He said that he was going to send us to a nice factory and that the form should be filled up with relevant details for the proposed jobs. He also offered us some more pieces of advice. The moment we each paid fifty dollars, he talked to someone over the phone regarding the types of jobs available for us. He assured the person at the other end that he would send us right away. Then, turning towards us, he said, “Well, my friends! Wonder whose face you saw first on waking up this morn! For, you are lucky indeed! I am going to send you to a reputed ‘Mailing’ factory in the city. The work won’t be too difficult, you know. Your main work would be processing the mails. Apart from that, there will be several other usual chores that one has to do in a factory. If you do your work properly, there will be a bright future awaiting you! Mark my words, you would then be regarding me as your guardian angel, if not God himself!” Pablo preached. Pablo gave us the address of a factory located near the Queenseal Stainway Metro Rail Station and asked us go meet the manager, whose name was Tony. Then, he wished us both luck and bade goodbye.
Mahendran was brimming with joy due to this. “See, what we have heard about him is one hundred percent true. He is indeed a person with great potential, don’t you think so?” My heart was also brimming with joy. ARUL? I decided to disclose it after the job is mine came, surprising him in the process. Further, I came up with an additional plan: I want to take him with me and introduce him to Pablo. With such dreams and future plans, the two of us proceeded towards the factory and reached it. We went to the reception counter and told the female official there that we had come to meet the manager named Tony. At that time, a middle-aged European man came that way and he said, “I am the Tony. Are you those sent by Pablo?” When we nodded in the affirmative, he took us at once to the dining hall close by. And then, he revealed, “To tell you the truth, I don’t even know who this Pablo is. Really! Of late, learning my name somehow, he has been sending many like you to come here to work for me.” Both of us were obviously shocked to hear this. We didn’t expect this at all. Tony continued, asking us, “Who is this Pablo? An employment agent?” We nodded and he asked, “Have you given him any money?” For this too we had to nod miserably. Tony seemed to take pity on us and said, “In this matter, I can suggest you just one thing. Go to the police station here and file a complaint against Tony. Otherwise, he would go on, cheating many more like you. And, I am prepared to come and give evidence, if you call me to do that.”
While he was speaking, I looked over at Mahendran’s face. He stood there, acutely embarrassed to look at me. When we came out, both of us didn’t say anything for a while. I remembered Tony’s advice. But, how to do that? We ourselves are so-called illegal immigrants, hunting for job. How can we go and tell the Police that we had given money to work illegally? Oh, how many out there are on the prowl acting individually or in groups, to swindle people like us, exploiting our pitiable state of affairs to their advantage?
At that point, I was reminded of what Mahendran had said about Pablo – that he was such a talented agent and that he would send those who went to him seeking jobs, straightaway to some suitable work- spot… that was his specialty… He was like a guardian angel, if not God himself, who would always be there to help those in crisis… and I couldn’t help but smile a little…
”Why do you laugh?” asked Mahendran
”I just thought of what you had said about him. You said that he was such a talented person endowed with the special skill for sending you straightaway to some nice job or other, didn’t you? I recollected those words of yours and I couldn’t help smiling. Your observation is, of course, true in a way. For he did send us straight to the workplace, didn’t he? And, he has advertised himself truthfully – that he is an extremely talented person who would send those who come to him seeking jobs, straight to the work-spot. And, he has not said that he was talented in securing you a job, right? And, he did send us to the work-spot after all…”
On hearing it the way, Mahendran’s face turned pale and twisted.
That night when I returned to my room Arulrasa asked, “Was there any haul?” It was his way of asking whether my trip was successful or not. He would always use that specific word, haul. But, how to tell him that Pablo is nothing but a snake with a vicious bite.
Chapter 26: MIDWAY…
After that bitter experience with the Spanish employment agent Pablo, Ilango imposed a temporary break onto his job-hunting with the help of any agents. And, he began going around on his own, directly approaching the prospective employers, seeing, firsthand, where all the employment opportunities were. In a place where there are millions of illegal immigrants, searching and finding a job for an individual proved indeed to be a Herculean task; he was about to lose all hope. Yet, he made sure not every go there, not allowing him to lose heart and render him weak. It was during this time that he accidently came across Jayarathnam strolling on one of the Manhattan streets. He hailed from an important Vanni district in Eelam – Vavunia (Jaffna). He was working in an Italian restaurant situated on 46th Street. Seeing that Ilango was struggling to make ends meet, he gave him the following proposal,
“Look here Ilango, if you wish, there is a job, which would take a few hours everyday during the daytime. I can get you that, but, I don’t know whether you would be able to do it.”
As Jayarathnam left the sentence incomplete, Ilango persisted, “Come on Jeyam, please tell. If I can, let me do it.”
In response, Jayarathnam said, “The job is not that difficult. The work is to deliver our different varieties of dishes to the houses and offices that placed their orders with us. For the orders that we receive from eleven o’clock till two o’clock, you should go around and deliver the items. And, this delivery job would sometimes be within the restaurant, and sometimes you need to climb up fifty to sixty floors in skyscrapers, climbing up and down. It is not incredibly good pay. It would be less than minimum wage, so to say. But, those who place their orders would give us solid tips, you know. It will be all yours. Then…”
”What is it, please tell.” Ilango was tired of these cliffhangers.
“They would give you free meals in the afternoon. And, you can eat anything you want from our restaurant. It is good food. And a satisfactory job, till you get another good job. If you do this work for several hours a day, it would prove to be a good experience for you, I believe. Think about it carefully and let me know tomorrow. If you wish to do it, come to our restaurant tomorrow at about ten o’ clock in the morning. And, I will introduce you to our owner.”
Ilango agreed to mull it over. When he was returning to his room, throughout his journey in the underground Metro train, he was pondering over the prospect of taking up the work. In a way, what Jeyarathnam had said made sense. Just three hours of work during the daytime. They would pay him three dollars per hour. If he worked for five days he would be getting forty-five dollars per week. That would be enough to pay the room rent and for a bottle of drinks. Jeyam also mentioned that Ilango could easily make 10 to 20 additional daily dollars in tips. If there would be an average of fifteen dollars, he could get almost 75 dollars a week. Seventy plus forty-five – altogether he could get one hundred-and-twenty five dollars as his weekly income. And, he would be getting afternoon lunches for free. That way, we can consider this job as fetching one hundred and seventy dollars on a weekly basis. Ilango decided that there would be nothing wrong in trying this job and getting a feel for it first. Let it also be another one of the experiences of New York. After this, I should ask Gosh to try to swing for a suitable job for us at his workplace. And, that should be the last such illegal job he would do on American soil. If that too goes wrong, then there is no other alternative but to say goodbye to this land. And, he should somehow go to that land that he had original planned to venture – Canada. In this great grand city called New York, which is the hall-mark of the country called America, which is hailed as the Heaven on Earth… Oh all the jobs he had to do! Had tried playing guitar in a restaurant . Tried selling umbrellas for protection against the downpour. Tried his hand at a roadside business. Tried distributing advertisement pamphlets. Henceforth, let’s try delivering lunch and other food-items during the noon hours. If that too doesn’t prove good, let’s try to get some job in the company where Gosh works. By chance, if something good comes out of the complaint signed and handed over to lawyer Anisman, a solid amount would also come his way… then he could remain here forever. Thus, Ilango’s thoughts went round and round, travelling in all directions, like an overflowing river. He was so deeply immersed in contemplation.
After wandering all over the city the whole day, when at last he returned to his room, it was well past 10 p.m.
But before arriving home, while traveling in the subway, he was lost in thoughts when a voice called out to him and jerked him into the wakeful world.
”If you don’t mind, may I have a few words with you?”
It was the voice of a woman sitting opposite him. Just like the pop singer “Cyndi Lauper” in her famous ‘Time After Time” video, this young woman was sporting multi-coloured clothing and hair to match. Cyndi Lauper was a singer whom he came to know during his stay in the detention camp. He used to listen to her famous song ‘Time After Time’ and watched the video with great awe. He always loved to listen to her emotionally charged voice. At midnight, lying in his bed and listening to the ‘tik-tik-tik of the clock, immersed in the haunting memories of her lover and feeling terribly anguished and restive, the singer would render the song in a wonderful voice, emoting so poignantly. This was a song that created a real lasting stir in the eighties.
If you’re lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time.
If you fall I will catch you Ill be waiting
Time after time.
After my picture fades and darkness has
Turned to gray
Watching through windows you’re wondering
If I’m ok
Secrets stolen from deep inside
The drum beats out of time
While singing these lines she would sing soulfully, with her voice melting with her emotions. And, these lines have always been his most favourite ones. Wondering what this Cyndi Lauper doppelgänger would say to Ilango, he eagerly agreed, “ I have no objection at all. You can say whatever you want.”
“I have been watching you for a long time. What is it that makes you think so deeply, keeping you oblivious of your surroundings?” she suddenly asked.
Ilango responded that this was one of his favourite pastimes, thinking. “I would always let go of myself while thinking of anything, everything.”
Hearing that, she said, opening her eyes wide in surprise, “What, thinking is your pastime? Surprising indeed! I have heard of so many pastimes, but, this is the first time I heard an answer like that!” she said, amused and even a bit astonished.
But for this, what other pastime can be there in the life of one who is steeped in the struggle for survival ? Except dreams and aspirations and future plans – except this array of thoughts and musings while also retrieving one’s past glory and happiness, this becomes a favourite pastime. In the world of his, this was the only pastime he could have, suiting his financial condition and the like…
So Ilango verbalized, “This a pastime that costs you nothing and it has no parallel, I feel.”
“You are right, for sure,” she whole-heartedly agreed.
“I will tell you one thing, hope you won’t mistake me.”
“No, surely I won’t. You are free to speak your mind too, of course!”
“Well, have you heard the song of Cyndi Lauper’s that starts with the line ‘Time After Time’ which she would sing, going down the memory lane and feeling nostalgic?”
She was greatly surprised and pleased to hear this, and asked, “Do you know her? Cindi is my favourite singer! And I love that song! Do you like it too?”
“Of course, it’s one of my favourites. But, the thing I wanted to say_”
“Oh, sorry, you were about to say something but I intervened and stopped you. Tell me, what did you want to say?”
“You look exactly like her! And, your hair-style too has a striking resemblance to that of the singer. You have applied different hues, exactly like her… And also the clothing you wear! Particularly, your big eyes and round face and even your smile remind me of her, you know.”
Upon hearing his observations, she laughed aloud. Then, she said with her eyes full of smiles, “Oh, is that what you were about to say? Oh, thank you very much! My friends too would say the same thing. And I too dress like her and have my hair-style made after her. I feel very happy to hear your comments, that I look like one of my most favorite singers. I am indeed honoured, you know. I feel very proud. Thanks again. Thank you.”
Thus their conversation continued, touching various subjects and issues.
“I feel happy to have met you and this friendly and meaningful conversation between us gives me immense pleasure. I will never forget this night in my life. If you like, I have no objection in spending this night with you. Let us go to some pub or restaurant, what do you say?”
Her open invitation surprised him. At the same time, the way she extended her invitation so genuinely revealed her good heart and nature to him.
Ilango was flattered, but had to explain, “Thanks for your invite. But, now I have to meet a person on an important errand. So, please excuse me. And, I thank you for making my journey an incredibly pleasant one. And I too would remember this night and this pleasant meeting always. Henceforth, every time I hear the voice of Cyndi Lauper, I will invariably think about you.”
And, he mused within: “The rat sees no way out she is asking me to hold aloft the broomstick (மூஞ்சூறு தான் போக வழியைக் காணவில்லை. விளக்குமாறைத் தூக்கச் சொல்கிறாள்). At a time when even a square meal a day proves to be a mirage she is inviting me to a club… I DON’T GET IT’
When it was her stop, her face lost a bit of her glow, ad immediately withdrew a small piece of paper, scribbling down her telephone number. She gave it to him, saying, “If you feel like meeting me again sometime, please call me. I thank this night for giving me this opportunity of meeting you. And, I thank you too for being such good company to me in this journey.” As she exited, she sang the song she said to love, ‘Time After Time.’
You’re lost you can look and you will find me Time after time; If you fall I will catch you I’ll be waiting Time after time’, and then, winking at him, she was gone.
And, his lonely journey continued into the well of night.
CHAPTER 27: I AM BORN ANEW TODAY!
The next day, it will be exactly one year since the day he set foot on American soil. Time goes by too quickly, a realization that never ceases to astonish Ilango. It was similar to the period of some nine years of his boyhood, which sped past like one year, so smoothly and peacefully. How nice those days were when he had absolutely no worry nor responsibility and was like a free bird, being safe and secure under the loving care of his parents! There was always time to stop and stare and relish the beauty and splendour of the millions of stars, which would keep shining throughout the night, scattered all over the sky. The marvelous full moon, the wide-eyed owl, squirrels, snails, the crows that draw straight lines in the sky as they fly, birds of different varieties such as ‘kukkuruppaan’, kondaok-kuruvi, maambazhathik-kuruvi, aatkaatti, oorulaathi, paarot, mainaa, manippuraa – he had lots of time to watch them and revel in their beauty and swiftness. But now… caught in the intense struggle for survival, having to shoulder the burden of all those complexities and the chaos of life, he could find no time at all to stop and stare… Time still went by, dragging him along…In this one year, despite all hurdles and struggles, he was able to read at least a few meaningful books and he could contemplate on various issues. In this one year, had there ever been any fruits that came his way? Except that collection of experiences that he gained on the financial front, had there been any that he gained on the existential front? No significant progress, so to say… but, one thing… these experiences proved very useful indeed. It was those experiences that helped him to face the adversities with a strong mind. They instilled in them the hope that there would be a better tomorrow. They gave him the courage to keep going… Made him more resilient … “No fear – nothing to feel ashamed of… nothing to fear at all… will not go into hiding… will not turn be paralyzed due to fear or despair… let the sea surge and leap forward, menacingly… I won’t be cowed down…I will fear none; nothing, never… the sky is there… the rain, the sun, the air , the fire , the moon, the fish, this body, intelligence, life – everything is there as free but precious gifts bestowed on us.. And his mind has turned stronger and clearer with the help of such experiences and the collecting of wisdom.
He worked in the restaurant run by his Vavunia friend, Jayarathnam, as a helping hand. He served the dishes during noontimes for a while. After that, he worked as a labourer in the factory run by his Bengali friend Gosh. It also lasted for one or two months only. After that, the struggle for existence began in full swing once again. As he had already resolved, it proved unthinkable for him to continue his life there, on the American soil. With no legal document whatsoever, it proved impossible to improve his social and financial status, which were the things needed to achieve a stable life, with feet firmly planted into the soil.
So, the day after tomorrow, it would be exactly one year since the time he had set foot on this soil. On the first day of the second year, he couldn’t remain even for a second in this land. The night after tomorrow, the next phase of his life, should commence. Back to the pavilion, so to say, and starting all over again, from Square No. 1. From the bottom, with hopes, dreams, and aspirations. He must keep feeling energetic and enterprising the journey for his existence should begin. And, the only way to move on…is to proceed towards that soil of his original intent in Aavani( a Tamil month), following the ethnic riots that exploded in Eelam , where half-way his journey was disrupted and halted in this land…. He should proceed towards Canadian grounds, once again, starting it all over again with courage and confidence and hope. With the two hundred dollars in his pocket, he should commence his new journey. Once he resolved to do so, he thought that he should spend his final hours on American land happily with his friends before telling them his future plans, and saying goodbye.
Gosh didn’t support his decision. He wanted Ilango to stay for some more time and keep trying for a stable means of livelihood. Arulrasa planned to do exactly that, and had decided to remain there for a bit longer and try for a permament job, though he didn’t want to say ‘No’ to Ilango’s plans. When they were thus conversing Gosh came forth with another question, “Remember that lawyer you visited, you had filed a suit for the violation of human rights committed in your case, remember? What happened?”
Arulrasa was all too quick to respond, “When we met our lawyer recently, we had asked him about this too.”
“What did he say to that?”
“His reply was highly puzzling. He said that if we were to continue with the suit, our relatives on American soil would be in trouble. So, he said that it would be better to leave it as it was. I just couldn’t understand his contention at all. If so, why did he in the first place instigate us to file a suit?”
Gosh freely discussed his thoughts, “If you ask me, I am not able to believe him in this matter…. I think… “
As Gosh paused a little, Ilango too got into the conversation: “Gosh, I too have some doubt, like you. First, let us hear yours.”
“I think that he must have come to an understanding with the Immigration authorities of the American Government. There must have been some intense pressure exerted on him or even some substantial amount given to him to leave your case as it is, not picking it up Who knows? You are illegal immigrants. Suppose he proceeds with your suit and succeeds, then there would be every possibility of those many others, who are like you, to start seeking redress through legal means. And, we can’t deny that such a situation might cause serious repercussions in the political and economic fronts of America. When you take these facts into consideration I feel that money must have spoken a great deal beneath the table, expediting a natural death for the case itself.”
Arul assured, “As far as I am concerned, I don’t worry about it. He started it himself. And, he himself had closed it.”
Ilango agreed, “I am also of the same view. It was something, which we didn’t initiate. When the time comes, some day in future we would try to get at the truth of this episode. That’s all we can do.”
Gosh still wanted to get his points in and mentioned, “Yet, your lawyer is some brainy chap indeed. His purpose is served. If money is to come his way, then his worry would be over.”
With that they put an end to their dialogue of Anisman the lawyer and turned their attention towards various other issues. Before continuing in conversation, Mrs.Padma Ajith came to their room to collect the weekly rent for their stay there. And, she too joined in their conversation, “What, you all seem to be engaged in some sort of serious conversation?”
Gosh was amused and replied, “Of course you are right. And, it is you who would be incurring a heavy loss in this.”
Hearing his words, Mrs. Ajith was startled, looking a bit puzzled, “What, am I to suffer a heavy loss? What is it you are saying? I am not able to understand the head or tail of it.”
And, Gosh said, “Then what! Searching for and finding such a nice person as your tenant in this soil – oh, how difficult it is, as you know very well, don’t you?”
Only then Mrs. Ajith could realize what their conversation was all about. Turning towards Ilango she asked, “What Ilango? Is he speaking the truth? Are you planning to leave this place and go somewhere else?”
Arulrasa answered first, “Not just this place, but he is planning to leave this soil itself. We were discussing that when you came in.”
Mrs. Ajith focused her conversation on Ilango, “Well, where do you propose to go?”
Addressing her as Mrs.Padma Ajith, Ilango continued with his rationale, “It has been a year since I have set foot on this soil. So far, I have made no progress, none at all really, in getting citizenship or achieving a real stable job. In such a situation, I can’t go on living here. That’s why I have decided to leave for Canada.”
Mrs. Ajith made an attempt for attack, “Okay, that’s fine, but, you are an illegal immigrant. You don’t possess any legal documents with you. When this is the case, how will you enter Canada? Suppose the worst situation, perhaps more serious problems will encounter you there?”
Gosh agreed, “This is what I am also pondering over. There is truth in what Mrs.Padma Ajith is saying, and I feel we need to take it into account. Ilango, have you thought of it in this angle?”
Ilango came to his own defense, “What you say is of course true, in one sense. But, to my knowledge, Canada is a country that has a highly flexible approach in matters of refugees and related issues. I know of many people from here who have successfully made a life over there. And, for many of them, the rights for permanent stay have also been granted, you know. If only I could enter that soil, then everything would be fine. But…”
“But?” Gosh insisted.
“While crossing the borders, suppose my name resembles that of another person on some sort of special list of names that is in the computer system of the immigration officer, and that someone has committed heinous crimes and is in the list as one of the ’most wanted’ and is being searched for by the international police force, such as the Interpol, for instance – I will be doomed then. They would even detain me and put me behind bars forever. But, the probably of me getting into such an unenviable situation is of course not that high…”
Mrs. Padma Ajith let out a sigh, “Ilango, if you reach there without any problems or hurdles and start leading a peaceful and prosperous life,that would be enough for me. If you choose to leave this place, please don’t forget us. Whenever you get time, talk to us and enquire after our welfare, will you?”
Arulrasa agreed and asked, “Ilango, you are first to go and after seeing how you fare I will also come, okay?”
Gosh chirped in, “Ilango, it seems like you have decided to go. My best wishes to you for a bright future. If you are leaving, when do you plan to leave?”
Ilango made no delay and responded that he planned to leave the next night.
Gosh admitted, “Ilango, you are really an unusual personality. Once you have decided something, it means that you would never wait for a day. Is that so?”
Ilango didn’t want to agree with that, because he felt it untrue, “Not like that. That I should not live here for more than a year is something that I had firmly decided in the beginning of my stay. Now, one year has come and gone. This being the case, it would be very difficult for me to continue to remain here.”
As expected, Mr.Ajith decided to come join in the aftermath. Learning that Ilango was going to leave for Canada, he too became a little worried. And he said, “Friends, why don’t we have a small get-together and have ourselves a small farewell party?”
Mrs.Padma Ajith unconditionally agreed, “Today’s meals will be solely my responsibility. I am going to prepare nice hot chicken biriyani, what do you say?”
Oh, how long it had been since they had relished the food prepared by the delicate, bangled hands of Mrs.Padma Ajith.
No one was crazy enough to refuse.
That night was spent in the company of their room-mates and the friendly couple Mr and Mrs, Ajith. The Biriyani prepared by Mrs.Padma Ajith bore testimony to her skills and expertise in cooking. After that, they all gave their best wishes to Ilango and then retired to their rooms for the night. For a while, Ilango and Arulrasa remain awoke. As they didn’t want to disturb those sleeping inside, they thought it would be ideal to sit outside in the yard and spend some time, chatting.
There was joy overflowing in Ilango’s heart. It was the joy born of the knowledge that the prevailing climate of his life would be soon coming to an end. He is going to begin his struggle for survival, all over again. He didn’t worry or feel tired about starting it all over again. He is one who would always face life bravely and enthusiastically. It is always better to start anew than languishing in a life of uncertainty with no progress at all.
Arulrasa, however, was still a little worried about Ilango’s trip to Canada. The fact that he was going alone was the cause of his concern. Yet, he didn’t worry about the decision itself. For he never had the courage that Ilango had in taking risks, making decisions, and sticking to them, whatever the results may be. His Passport lay in the Immigration Office of America. llango had resolved to tell the truth and seek entry into Canada. While entering, if they tell him, “You have already applied for refugee status in America. First, get a reply to that and then come here,” and so deport him, what to do? But, Ilango had thought of that too. And, he had a firm answer to that also. Firstly, for the last one year he had no official document to find an employment in the American soil. With no support of any sort from the government, he finds it impossible to work somewhere in a legally admissible manner and earn his daily bread. Secondly, even after obtaining the employment order and applying for the relevant legal documents through their lawyer, no response was ever received. So far, he had managed to somehow survive, against all odds. But, he couldn’t go on like this and he couldn’t continue to be in a situation which proved to be simply unbearable, to say the least. This was his response. If they send him back, what to do? In that case he should come back and languish as before. No other alternative. But, assuming all such prospects, he couldn’t and shouldn’t remain idle – without trying at all.
Arulrasa praised his friend, “Ilango,! I don’t have the courage that you possess. After reaching there, please inform me of all the prevailing conditions there. Only after learning things from you I will be able to arrive at a decision.”
Ilango would be always willing to help his friend, “I will enquire about everything and collect all the details and let you know . After that you can come peacefully. No hurry.”
Hearing these words, Arulrasa responded saying, “Everything is for our good only. If only we had received that Social Insurance Card, we could have stayed back for what it is worth. Let’s see, whether I am able to get it some time soon. If only it comes to my hands, I would remain here till the end, till I get some response for our submission for refugee-status.”
They continued with various topics before heading off to bed. Arulrasa began to sleep soon after. But, sleep eluded Ilango, as usual. He tried going to sleep, but he couldn’t. He went to the dining hall and leafed through the pages of Bharathiar’s poem-collection. Then, he leafed through the pages of his diary for a while. As he expected, the fiery poems of Bharathi and his diary rejuvenated his sagging spirits. . ‘மண்ணில் தெரியுது வானம் அதுநம் கைவசப்பட லாகோதோ? /எண்ணி யெண்ணிப்பல நாளு முயன்றிங்கிறுதியிற் சோர்வோமோ?’.((the sky is seen here on earth, won’t it come into our hands?/Thinking incessantly and striving ceaselessly, oh should we despair in the end?)
Opening his diary he began to pour down the surging feelings and emotions of his heart on that night.
3. From Ilango’s diary…
Oh, how fast the one long year has gone- as if in a flash! My experiences on this soil have made me realize so many truths about life. It is due to these experiences of mine that I have been able to see the other side, the darker, realer side of this so-called paradise on Earth. On this soil, which acts as the great calling of individual freedom and liberty, there are thousands of individuals languishing in the detention camps! Caught in the vicious grip of poverty, oh how many more thousands have been suffering incessantly… On one side, many opportunities exist for living well. But, alas, on the other side, a huge mass of people are denied of their basic rights to live and lead a life of dignity and so they rot and perish… no one hesitates to live in making the illegal immigrants toil hard, sweat and stress… Those who hesitate so and are unwilling to grant such recognition can as well send them all out of their country.. why not they do it..?
But, that is not possible? For, if they do so, with no manual labourers and daily wagers to work for hours together, toil hard for a meager income the restaurants, pubs and factories would have to remain closed, not being able to fill up the too wide a gap.
This soil roots the detention camps, paralyzing those refugees who come here unable to bear suppressions and oppressions unleashed in their motherland. Thus turning them into illegal immigrants. But aren’t most of these sons of the soil the descendents of Europeans who had wiped out the original sons of the soil,, invading the land in an unfair and improper manner so as to swindle the soil of its enormous wealth and natural resources? Seeing it in this way, what right do these neo-Americans have to turn people like us, who come here in large numbers due to various political and economic reasons, into illegal immigrants and humiliate us to no end? For their own interests of national safety, they can play various games all over the world, politically, using the force of their army… but then, why should they hesitate to accept those people affected by their political and other games in the international arena and who come here seeking asylum?
Don’t mistake my words, however. There are many good aspects to this land. Most importantly, there is significant Scientific and technological advancements and the people here work really hard, having a clear vision for the future. On one side, the whole world is burning, thanks to the National Defense Policy and the Developmental Policy of the American government. The natural resources are being swindled and the balance of all kinds are constantly sabotaged. On the other side, thanks to the people of this soil, there are long-term visions and missions. The activities and initiatives of the government invite widespread condemnation from all quarters. At the same time, real good initiatives are undertaken all the time for safeguarding Environment and for making the third world prosper and progress. America. It is endowed with a bright, hope-instilling and highly skilled side. At the same time it has a dark side too. Filled with despair, selfishness and pessimism. It has the positive side with all those scientific and technological advancement and hard work, progressive trends in Arts and Literature, significant growth in Economy , there also exists a darker, negative side with the merciless wars that it keeps waging against under-developed countries (killing innocent babies, hapless women, senior citizens, patients, the vulnerable people) it devours day in and day out, its numerous sick-minded anti-social elements that keep roaming around freely. The various forums that are steeped in racial fundamentalism, its detention camps where refugees are detained… all these run rampant…
This is how Ilango had poured down his heart in his diary that night. As he went on writing, his heart would heal itself, becoming clearer … and also more at peace. This renewed vigour and joy in him, causing him to want to write more.
‘Why should people, who are living in a small blue-hued planet called Earth get entangled in all kinds of divisions and partitions and so lead a life of enmity and misery? What hinders them from turning wise and mature? What hinders them from a life of peace and harmony based on the ideology – Yaadhum Oorae; Yaavarum Kelir , Everything is our place and everyone is our kin. Why is this world so full of discriminations and disparities? This is a planet that travels at a great speed through the universe. Its speed proves beyond comprehension. In this vast universe, its petty, narrow-minded dealings remain hidden and incomprehensible. Yet, people who are at various levels of intelligences, fight with each other. With wars and disparities, this beautiful planet is turning from bad to worse with each moment. Oh, how many lives are being targeted, hit and wounded and driven along the violent current of the river of blood…oh, how many techniques and strategies are there to annihilate and wipe away fellow human beings… Wars and all kinds of destructions have become mere visuals on small and big screens today… Who would realize the bloody rivers that lie frozen behind those destructions and annihilations and the feelings of unbearable anguish and sorrow? If only they could realize that, feel that pain, then can anyone feel inclined towards causing such senseless killings? As the landmine goes off and when the tender limbs of a child are torn apart and scattered all around, just imagine how intense the pain would be to the parents watching it happene. Even otherwise, can we become immune to the pain and horror of it all, regarding it as an unknown child of some unknown people? Oh, thousands of wars – all due to man-made religious, racial and ethnic divisions and disparities… how many more would be there- no one knows…what a terrible bloodshed we have so far witnessed… still witnessing… oh, what a wonderful place this small planet is! What all wonders it has in store for us… and, where is the need to sabotage and destroy it, without realizing its wonderful state? Why are we not able to live along the poignant line ‘உங்களுக்குத் தொழிலிங்கே அன்பு செய்தல் கண்டீர்!’ meaning ‘your job here is to love, you know!”
Thus, he went on penning till sleep overpowered him. At one stage the embrace of Nithradevi turned tighter, weighing heavy on him and hence he lost himself in her!
The next day was his last on American soil. llango kept on wandering all over Manhattan. He went to all the streets and places where he had been going around for the past one year and took a good last look at all those spots. He went and met Haribabu, his wife Indira, and Henry and bid them farewell. That night, he left for the bus station, accompanied by Arulrasa Gosh, Mr and Mrs. Ajith and all the other friends he had met, all wishing to see him off. Ilango didn’t expect this at all. But, what was more surprising was the fact that Haribabu and Indira had also come to the bus station to bid him farewell. Everyone wished him a bright and prosperous future. The exact moment of his departure arrived. Leaving all the sad, but understanding, faces behind, Ilango got into the bus. He chose to sit in a corner seat. At that hour of midnight, the bus began its onward journey towards the city of Toronto.
In the night sky, the sweet little winking, starry ladies were grinning at the commencement of his new journey. “Oh, you beautiful ladies called stars! Are you grinning at me? Making fun of me, perhaps? Go ahead… have a good laugh. Please do laugh to your heart’s content. I will not lose heart because of all this, because of all such mockery and sarcasm. But, I get a thoroughly different meaning in all such smiles and all the laughter you bring. The long-distance travel to faraway lands, of all those light rays that you send, piercing through the vast empty spaces that lie in a trance with no sound nor stir, astonish me. Piercing through the empty spaces, how bravely they commence their journey from various periods of time. Compared to their journeys, with no fear nor apprehension regarding all sorts of loneliness, all kinds of distances, can there be any meaning at all to my travel? I wonder…
The bus ride started at midnight, and reached Canada at dawn. The morning star had already graced the skies. “Oh, in the twilight zones of dawn, you lie there in deep meditation at the horizon! In your dim ray of light that comes through the thick blanket of snow, you would remain there, as a weak ray of light, helpless and vulnerable like the hapless people of our Mother Land. Those who pen poetry would go ga-ga over it, calling it the symbol of a bright new day. But, I am able to realize your acute loneliness and gloom in that short span of time. When I see the gloom and sorrow in your glance, I am reminded of the sorrow and anguish widespread in the ever damp eyes of our land, our people who are undergoing untold sufferings, being in the dark, dense forest, having no one to help them and nowhere to go… Oh you, the starry lass who foretells the arrival of dawn – please show us the way… please lead us from darkness to light!
Ilango has commenced his new journey with hope and courage. Oh, You, Mother Nature! Give me the heart that never turns greedy… Oh, mother! Mother Nature! Kneeling before you, falling at your feet, all I ask is this: Oh, this alone… please take off me the tendency to feel resigned regarding my sufferings as destiny but, help me overcome this so-called fate with a strong and fearless mind! Oh, give me the strength and increase it multifold!
Please nurture my life to the smooth, systematic order just as the way the planets and stars carry on! Oh, beloved Mother! Oh, Mother Nature! All that I ask you, kneeling before you and falling at your feet is this and this alone.
By the time Ilango had reached the border of Canada, he had obtained the wisdom and maturity to accept whatever came his way. As long as the widespread sky and earth are there, all the species here are caught in an intense and incessant struggle for survival, fighting ceaselessly against the environment in which they have to remain… It is in this very struggle for survival that the continuation of each and every species remains deep-rooted. The experiences that came his way during his stay in America have strengthened his resilience and resolve to face any situation or adapt to any kind of adverse climate. He can move on with undaunted hope and courage. With that, he steps into his new life. A hope-filled life welcomes him with warm embrace.
Everywhere around the globe, due to wars, oppressions and suppressions, a huge number of people are turned into hapless refugees and are forced to leave their homeland and the near and dear ones. This world is forever engaged in an intense struggle for survival. With unrealized dreams and aspirations about their Mother Land, these people continue their journey, scattered everywehere. The horrible currents, the raging wars that take them away from their beloved, precious Mother Land and prevent them from coming anywhere near her ever again… Oh, the misery of it all… In the new abode, each and every moment, the struggle for survival continues as a raging fire… Not there, nor here… the life that hangs suspended with hope as its only connecting link…
Life that goes round and round, in great haste and at a terrible pace inside an air-bubble! Caught in the hands of those who never realize this transient and vulnerable state of affairs, this bubble is prone to burst at any moment… wonder when… how soon… not realizing the temporal and vulnerable state of life, those belonging to the species called Humans keep reveling and rejoicing from within the bubble… seems like they are intent on bursting it.
Yet, his journey starts afresh with hope and vigour!
This is a hope-filled journey that proclaims, “All that is bad will be wiped off, never again surface!’(‘தீமையெலாம் அழிந்துபோம்! திரும்பி வாரா!)’. And, armed with this hope, this is a journey that never falls into the terrible abyss of worry and despair! This is a journey that thrives on the positive though that ‘I am born anew today’. I live on, nourished with this thought, eating well and toiling hard, never losing heart, seeking happiness and finding it, being fun-loving and playful, thus proceeding ahead, aided by love and hope! The bus is speeding towards the frontier, piercing through the darkness. Yes, this is a journey that continues with the hope that there would surely be a bright dawn after this gloom!