Watching the documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields
with its all too familiar tale of war and innocent civilians
caught in the crossfire of power struggles.
Then hearing a young woman screaming for her Amma
strikes a connection deep within.
Something about that anguished voice
calling for her mother with the same word I use
– Amma – Mother.
She is no longer an other in some distant land far removed from my privileged reality.
That could have been me.
When I was a baby too young to even realise
I was saved by a neighbour
declaring “There are no Tamils here”.
While across the city for one long week
Tamil homes and businesses were burnt.
People were pulled from buses and set alight.
And others disappeared down dark roads
never to be seen again.
My older brother asked our Amma
“Why are the police standing and watching?”
What do you tell an eight year old about the terror
of State sponsored pogroms?
What do you do when the leaders of your country
conspire to kill you?
If you are lucky, like we were, you get out of there.
Try to build a life far away from the horror.
Lock the stories of the reasons that you fled
Tell your children sanitised versions like
“The discriminatory system would
have denied you a tertiary education”.
So that your little girl never understands
how close she came to dying.
Until she is an adult searching for her place.
Is it in her adopted home
where she is never just accepted
as being true blue Aussie?
Or in that island birthplace,
whose tongues she doesn’t speak,
and where her mother doesn’t want to her to go
for fear of what might happen.
A fear that only becomes understandable
once some of the true stories have been heard.
Even then it never quite sunk in,
Until that moment of hearing
the anguished cry of Amma.
Resonating from the TV, telling me
that it could have been me
screaming for a mother buried beneath
the carnage of a missile blast.