Mrs F, born in 1947, is the fourth in a family of ten children raised in Valvettithurai, Jaffna District, a town perched on the northernmost tip of Sri Lanka. According to her mother, a devout Hindu, she took her first step inside the temple walls at the age of four. She recalls how the daily rhythm of childhood – tending the house and helping her mother raise her younger siblings – quickened pace during the early days of the Federal Party’s satyagraha movement of the 1960s, as Tamil people of all ages, including school children, were encouraged to participate: ‘Then, we were all patriotic. We had the will to sit down and struggle.’ With time and marriage, and the growth of armed militant groups around Valvettithurai, her participation in politics dwindled, but her love for Carnatic music and violin remained constant. War in the North swept in like a tide, claiming her brother and her house, and receded again, leaving Mrs F and her family to rebuild their homes and their lives. Again conflict returned in the late 80s, when fighting between the Tamil Tigers and the Indian Peace Keeping Force surged, this time taking the life of her brother-in-law and scattering many of her family members around the globe. Her youngest son came to the UK at the age of 15, alone. ‘Thanks to God he studied here and became a software engineer.’ She, however, remained behind with her husband and eldest son, only to witness the worst period of fighting during the final stages of the war in 2009. She recalls moving, at the age of 62, from town to town, from makeshift bunker to bunker, as the Sri Lankan Army advanced on Mullivaikaal. With her and her husband’s health deteriorating, she finally managed to escape to Colombo, then to India and finally to London. Her eldest son, his wife and other family members were unable to do the same, losing their lives amidst the bombardment. She now lives in London, where ‘things are OK.’ ‘I want to take up a little job to help my son,’ she says, ‘I’m thinking about working as a violin teacher somewhere to earn some pocket money.’


Mrs F, 66, reflects on life before and during the conflict in Jaffna, the importance of music and faith in her family and her strength in withstanding the tests of conflict.

In her interview, she also talks about her childhood in Jaffna in the 1940s and ‘50s…

‘Back then in 1947, it was a peaceful time; we lived happily. I was the fourth
child born to my parents. We used to live all together, my mother’s siblings
and her relatives. Everyone was supportive of each other. We grew up happily…
At that time, we didn’t really know much. We were ten children at home.
Our elders had to make sure we were doing our work and then we had to look
after our younger siblings and help our mother. Back then, we weren’t referring
to our father as ‘Appa’, but as ‘Aiyya’. We completed the tasks we were told
to do and stayed at home, raising cows, cleaning large walls, time passed with
helping our parents.’

…her experiences of identity and the ‘Other’ in Jaffna and London…

‘My father was Tamil. You only saw Muslims when you went to Jaffna Town.
At that time in 1947 and 1957, you would only find our people in
Vadamarachchi. Merely in Jaffna Town would you encounter Muslims.
Back then it used to be such a curiosity. Here, in London now, we see
all kinds of people.’

…the role of young people in the protest movements of the 1960s…

‘Whilst we were studying they started the satyagraha movement in the 1960s
at schools. We were sitting in Jaffna at the Mutavelli [open grass field] during
one of the satyagrahas. It was organised through our school. The Thamil Arasu
Kachchi [Federal Party] made a call for school students to participate and we
all went there in our white uniforms and sat down there at the Mutavelli…
Then, we were all patriotic. We had the will to sit down and struggle. Later,
large protests were happening but I never really went there. There was a
sense of fear then, and I retreated more and more.’

…and her impressions of life in London…

‘Things are OK here. My son is looking after me, my children and me. I want to
take up a little job to help my son but I can’t find anything. I’m thinking about
working as a violin teacher somewhere to earn some pocket money. Things are
getting more expensive. My son is looking after me but I don’t want to always be
a burden to him so I’m looking for something.’