RS
RS was born in Wallington, London in April 1989.
He was raised in a tight-knit Christian family in the London Borough of Sutton, one of the southernmost boroughs of London. His father’s father spent most of his adult life outside of Sri Lanka, setting up temporary homes in Italy and Ghana while working for the UN. His mother’s father owned a rubber estate in
Sri Lanka before moving the family to London out of fears of discrimination and persecution in the years before the 1983 riots. His parents met by chance in
Sri Lanka before spending time in Glasgow and then settling in London.
Due to his father’s cosmopolitan upbringing, English was the preferred language of communication in their home: ‘None of the children can speak Tamil so none of my generation can speak Tamil…’ RS first introduced himself to us at the Tamil Community Centre in Hounslow. His visit was sparked by a growing interest in Tamil history and politics. ‘I was quite apprehensive about going actually because it was in a strange way going into the unknown. It's like kind of as I said, the only kind of experience of Tamil culture I'd had before was through this friend I’d got to know at school. So I was kind of, I didn't know what to expect firstly, and just like scared because I didn't know, like if you go anywhere new it's scary. But I was also interested to see what people’s reactions to me would be because I was very sure I would be like in my quite Western, obvious Western accent, like very middle-class accent, kind of dress and kind of wondering what to expect there.’ The rest of his reflections take us through his routine of daily life, the importance of Christianity and family, his prowess in classical music, his experiences with racism at university in the north of England and the growing influence of the Sri Lankan conflict on his experience
and identity.

RS, 23, talks about his experiences growing up in an
English-speaking, Christian household.

In his interview, he also talks about his grandparents’ memories of
troubled Sri Lanka…

‘Well my grandparents, they’ve told me for a few years about their stories
and
 accounts but I was more interested later on so I asked them a lot more.
And
 so like some of my extended family had to flee a house because the
Sinhalese
 mob, which was sponsored by the Government, burnt down their
houses and
 that street, and a mob came to the house that my family would
normally stay
 in…So our family were very much involved in this.
And so my grandparents have
 stories of the riots and friends and stuff…
Thinking about it, it was really these atrocities that really kind of made
me really think about my identity.’

…his experiences performing classical music …

‘I wanted to do music, I really did and I was very good. I could’ve done music
but
 I didn’t. I decided it wasn’t a career for me, not because of ability but
more the
 opportunities available, kind of the fact that it’s very hard to make
a name for
 yourself and I would only be interested in performing and you
have to be both
 very good but also have lots of contacts – and like a dream,
the dream I seriously
 considered was becoming a musician. And that’s not a
very Asian dream, like I’m
 very aware and I was very aware when I was
growing up that, like, I would take
 part regularly in music competitions and
obviously be the only Sri Lankan Tamil
 there for every concert I took part in.
So you’d see the concert list and really that
 was one of the things that really
kind of, although at that time I still wasn’t really
 seeing myself as Tamil,
I was just let’s say fully aware that there would never be
 anyone else that
wasn’t white there. So that was quite interesting.’

…and his changing sense of identity…

‘…Before I would overwhelmingly say I was British and nothing else.
Until very
 recently I was British and I would say I am originally from
Sri Lanka but that’s
 all, whereas now I would say I’m British Sri Lankan
now or I’m British Tamil.
 I don’t really say, associate myself with Sri Lanka,
I associate myself with Tamils.
 So I would say I’m from Sri Lanka but what
I really mean and how I view
 myself is a British Tamil kind of thing.
Although I’m sure I still feel a bit
 uncomfortable saying British Tamil
because I still feel that I don’t know
 that much about my culture…’