Trouble and Desire
“It’s a love story. This story is very wonderful story because this girl, she’s always dreaming about the boy.”
This interview took place on
It’s a cold day in winter when I meet Ranga and Victor. I’d met Victor previously when I dropped in to the Darebin Intercultural Centre where he was taking English classes. It was a Saturday and our conversation was brief. I explained my project but hadn’t expected him to turn up on Monday, not least with a friend. Today, Victor’s seated in the upstairs breakout area wearing the same large, black leather jacket. When he sees me he stands, shakes my hand and introduces Ranga. A thin man hugging a bright yellow backpack that looks brand new, Ranga speaks to me excitedly in Sinhalese.
We can’t have a conversation at any of the usual meeting rooms because the Intercultural Centre’s been double booked and we’ve been told to go somewhere else. All the asylum seekers, around ten men and a couple of women, pick up all the cooking gear and accompany Suriyan, Katarina and I to the Preston City Hall a couple of doors down. The hall’s large, with high ceilings and polished wooden floor. While Katarina gathers the remaining asylum seekers to help her cook lunch on the industrial size council stoves, I talk to Victor and Ranga. Our voices reverberate as we start off talking about hobbies.
Can you tell me a little about yourself, Ranga? Do you have any hobbies, what do you like to do?
Is it okay if I speak Sinhala? [He says this in Sinhala]
This is a good opportunity for you to practice English…if you like.
So always I like sports. Cricket, soccer, rugby, swimming. Now is the time for the France bicycle.
Tour De France?
Yeah. But, my favourite sport is volleyball. When I school, I get the national. Until national.
You got into the national team?
Yeah…no, not national team. School national [national schools championship]. 1995, 1996, 1997, I get the gold medal. So I get select for the air force. After that I get membership for the air force. After that, continue I am play volleyball. Until camp [volleyball camp, not detention], I will get competition in there also. I have certificate, medal, everything. So then I try to bring the Melbourne club. Until now I have not get chance. Lot of time I try to do sports and watching movie.
“It’s a love story. This story is very wonderful story because this girl, she’s always dreaming about the boy.”
What’s your favourite movie?
First time I am watching the actor, Tamil – [his name’s] Vijay. I like the movie Vaseegara
What’s the story?
It’s a love story. This story is very wonderful story because this girl, she’s always dreaming about the boy. Sometimes she dreams [about him], sleep time, but she didn’t see his face.
She hasn’t seen the boys face?
No. Only back side she has seen. So, dreaming time she’s try to find, ‘who’s this man always I dream.’ He is living nearby. Finally, one day she get the face. Then she love. Yes, this story more than ten years before…so until now I like this movie. More than twenty-five, thirty times I have, this movie. Continue, I like.
Why do you like it so much? Is there something in the movie that you relate to?
You don’t know next time what happen to our life. I mean, if you are maybe nineteen, twenty, you are dreaming about when twenty-five or twenty-six you get married, but you don’t know who’s your wife? You know? After five years you don’t know. So we have some dreams.
In Sri Lankan society marriages are arranged and there is a lot of uncertainty in a process that’s driven by tradition and economy as much as attraction. It’s this uncertainty Ranga’s trying to express – the same uncertainty faced by the protagonists of Vaseegara.
Are you married, Ranga?
How did you meet your wife?
Because she is my classmate. And same village, same school, because I’m going to mixed school, girls and boys. This is my first love.
Did you talk to her or give her letters?
Yeah. [laughs]. Lot of love letters, cards. Sometimes my friends helped. Sometimes I am forced.
When I start my affair, with my lover, maybe more than three-month only, I inform my mother. Because sometime my mother get angry. Actually my wife only six-year only living in the Jaffna area.
Where was she before that?
Then she came to my town. Then she is same like Sinhalese family. Speak Sinhalese, Tamil. But they speak Sinhalese properly.
Before married I don’t like to speak Tamil, don’t like to listen Tamil.
I don’t know why. I don’t like to listen. Sometime, my mother also can speak Tamil. They watching movie Tamil. But sometime I get the remote – I will turn off the TV. ‘Why you watching Tamil? Why?’ I say. Because, not angry, I don’t like this language.
So, automatically I get affair with Tamil girl. See what happen my life? [laughs] So I have to study Tamil. But I didn’t study, because my wife knows Sinhalese so I always talk Sinhalese. Now also I talk her, only Sinhalese.
But my elder daughter is writing, speaking, everything is perfectly Tamil is good. She is ten years old.
When I young, I know Hindi, I know some English, I know Malay language, I know Arabic––’
How did you learn all of that? Did you travel?
Yes. I was in Saudi Arabia. Working there in the shrimp farm. Arabian shrimp company – world number two farm. Six years ago. So, lot of people, friends – Phillipines, Malaysian, South Africans, Panama, Ecuador, Columbian, Italian – lot of people. Indian all state – Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andra, anything.
Did you go there after you were married?
After married I go.
And she came with you?
No. I’m single [I went alone].
“When I get married, after that somebody told me: ‘Why you married Tamil girl?’ ”
Then what happened?
I came [back to] Sri Lanka. So, I lived in the North, Tamil area. When I get married, after that somebody told me: ‘Why you married Tamil girl?’
Like this the problem come. But this problem, I didn’t take very big. But after that last time our government and LTTE get the very big fight – the last final fight – that time also Sinhala people get angry with Tamil, Tamil people get angry with Sinhalese. Now it’s finish – fighting is finish. LTTE is surrender. The leader is dead. But, after that, now is government.
I didn’t complain. But government is not even think about the third-class family. We are third class family. I don’t have any property. Until now, I don’t have any one-inches land in my Sri Lanka. I am nothing. Me and my wife and my two daughters – nothing. So I am fisherman, I am doing job with another businessman. We are going in shares – if you have ten-thousand rupees, from selling the fish, they are giving two thousand for me. Seven thousand five hundred for him. That time my dream is to come. I have not experience the education qualification. I have study year twelve only. I have lot of problem with money.
I didn’t tell Sri Lanka is bad. I can’t tell. But more than, I know lot of story about France, German, Italy, Canada, London, but my lot of friends, relations there is living in the Italy, but I don’t have idea to go for Italy like this.
Why did you choose Australia?
When I young, I hear lot about Australia – here good study, here good freedom. Democracy. I heard. So, that time I buy books, sometimes I read in the library. Lot of story about Australia. Lot of books, not English. They say Australia have good harmony. They are harmony with everybody.
Did you think that’s still true?
Until now I believe this. Until now when I stay the detention camp, lot of officer is Australian, Indian, Pakistani – but they are also help for us. They give the cloth, accommodation, food, everything for us – Internet facilities, phone call facilities, for us, especially for SERCO officer. So, it’s proof. I love Australia.
“Little, a bit like my life. I also marry one Philippine girl. In [Early 2000s] I meet the girl and I marry.”
Victor? What about you? Do you like movies?
I…long time the movie, old movie, Pudhiya Paravai.
Before it’s marry one girl. He’s very rich that guy. But after that, the girl very drink. Go the club and dance and like that. She’s the heart patient also, the girl. One day she’s very angry and the girl die. After that he is going to bring it in the train. He’s put and come back, the man. He’s going to again Singapore like that. Girl also follow for the man. After that he’s loved for the girl also again. Long time he’s love like that. One day want to marry like that…
…very nice movie, that one.
It’s difficult to follow Victor but since I encouraged practicing English I let him continue. He goes on and on and I regretfully give up trying to make sense of it.
A synopsis of Pudhiya Paravai goes like this: A man returns by sea from Singapore after an unhappy married life. Fellow passengers on the ship are a young woman and her uncle who the man invites to his palatial mansion. The man falls in love with the young woman. She discovers that he gets agitated whenever he sees an oncoming train and he begins to tell her about his dead wife…
Um, okay. Do you think you’ll watch this movie again?
Yeah! Last year also I watching that movie.
Where did you watch it?
You can get it on DVD or something?
Why do you like it so much?
Very nice story, the love story, no?
Yes, but is it something close to your heart? Is it a bit like you life?
Little, a bit like my life. I also marry one Philippine girl. In [early 2000s] I meet the girl and I marry. After that she came to Sri Lanka.
In Sri Lanka because I have a problem no, because I always taken to police station.
They take me for the police station something; ask so many questions also. After that I give them some money.
Yeah. Three times. Don’t have the money also. Sometimes we give the gold. Last time we don’t have the money also. Very difficulty we pay. Then allow to go back.
Can you tell me why they’re asking you questions?
I ask but they say, ‘no, we are suspicion for you.’ That’s only they tell. One time I go with my wife, that time also they bring me. And the wife also afraid that one.
After that she say, ‘I don’t like to stay.’ Because government also say, ‘You cannot work here also,’ the girl, and she’s don’t like to not work. [Living costs] too much money, no? Then she said, ‘I want to go,’ like that. And I cannot stop also. And we are talking, ‘You want to go, you go,’ I say.
So she went away? Back to Phillipines? And you stayed in Sri Lanka?
Yeah. Lucky, we don’t have baby. After that I stay. I not marry.
Then they come in a van. They want to take me like that. Maybe fifteen people [inside the van], I think. One man come and hold my hand, push me to come and get in the van. I say, ‘no,’ I push. Lucky, that time come one bus also. They see the light, push me, then I run away.
That time my house also, came some people and broken. But I not in my house. I go the someplace. They came and checking all the things. But we go tell the police station but they never take about that one.
Why do you think they did that to you?
I don’t know. The last time also I went to the Negombo, they take me to police and keep me one day in the station. Because they only want the money. We give some money, they allow to go.
They say to write here. Sign. And all the form is Sinhala. They say put the sign but we don’t know what are they writing. Always give the money. That is how I go. We can’t prove this one. How can we prove? We can only say, with our mouths. Many people have like this.
We break for lunch. Katarina and a group of Iranian and Sri Lankan asylum seekers have made pasta with two types of bolognaise – beef and vegetarian. We serve ourselves, gather around a couple of tables in the hallway and eat.
I explain what I heard to Suriyan and he tells me that Victor had a stroke and other health issues arising from all the tension he faced in Sri Lanka.
After the cleaning’s completed and everyone’s packing up to leave Victor and Ranga approach me. Ranga talks about feeling like an outcast in Sri Lanka and about being asked for proof of persecution, written documentation that was requested on arrival in Australia. ‘Where’s the proof for the pressure I faced? Where’s the document for pressure?’ He’s especially keen on this project, expresses happiness and promises to help. He feels like his story could make a difference, that it would bring the issues he faces out of the shadows. Victor echoes this sentiment.
Running out of places to go
“I don’t have a country. Burma don’t take me as their people. Bangladesh is not taking me as their people. I don’t have anywhere I can say, ‘I’m from this country.’”
“How do we die in here? Do we crash the boat? How do we die?”