Living as a migrant for the first time in Zürich, Tanuja Thurairajah found herself thinking about the narratives that people were exposed to in their daily life.
“When I came here I met other Tamils, but somehow I felt that they reached out to a different narrative and I reached out to a different narrative…”
Overwhelmingly so, as around this time the war ended in Sri Lanka.
“War has created a distance between the two communities. How do you understand each other’s narratives when you only keep hearing your own narrative?”
(Excerpts from The Making of Project Belonging with Tanuja Thurairajah)
Tanuja and Vijayan her husband felt that sharing personal stories of pain, conflict but also of other experiences as a migrant in Switzerland was somehow the only way in which people could bridge this divide. This was their motivation.
The Storytellers: What is their sense of belonging? This is the question that haunts the oral histories named Project Belonging. It was not easy to record stories and a lot of hard work, patience and relationship-building was needed.
“Many in the Tamil community over here are very reluctant to share their stories… they are conservative in that way… this was the challenge”
The Making Of Project Belonging VID
Listen to an insightful interview with Tanuja Thurairajah set to a montage of beautiful images of the diverse storytellers.
Why is Project Belonging a great example of how to record and tell someone else’s life story or oral history?
We all love powerful photography and this is one of the features that sets Project Belonging apart as the creators are talented in both photography and in theatre. Yet I believe that just being a good photographer or a poet does not fully equip you to take off and record sensitive stories and publish it if you would wish to make a social impact with your stories on the communities involved and be a professional oral historian.
First, Tanuja and Vijayan are professionally skilled to handle the sensitive content of the interview. They worked with communities affected by war in Trincomalee and other areas, in peace institutions in Colombo.
the freedom to tell his or her story at a pace and in the way (s)he chooses to tell it. For in that telling, in that nuanced remembering and narrating, lies more than in the story (s)he is telling.
Further, it is especially wonderful to find a partnership between a young husband and wife in such a project. It is also a transforming experience when they are from the same community as the storytellers and therefore community is created in the telling, the listening and in the inward transformation created in connecting with another’s pain, human loss and also joy, humour and perplexity.
I discovered Tanuja over here, not in Colombo, and was delighted that she shared my love for oral history and is doing a balancing act as mama with two kids as I do. I think just having someone from Colombo in southern Europe gave me comfort that there was someone who knew where I came from but also was interested in the human story. This is ironic cos I am interested in other people’s stories but am unconsciously seeking to be understood for my own I guess meanwhile. Being a migrant makes you more sensitive to the narrative in a way, be it your own, or anothers’.Meet Rajan Karunakaran, the Good Citizen featured on iSrilankan.
Tanuja Thurairajah is an independent writer/diaspora activist whose deep interest in social and humanitarian activism remains the base of her creative and professional pursuits. She is working on projects related to the Sri Lankan Diaspora in Switzerland and her interests are writing political/ analytical essays, documentary films and photography. She is currently studying for a Masters in Peace & Conflict Transformation at the WPA/ University of Basel and has been living in Zurich with her family since 2007.
P. Vijayashanthan is a theatre activist with experience in traditional Sri Lankan Tamil dance forms such as ‘Koothu’ and specialses in non-spoken and experimental theatre. He is currently freelancing as an Actor/Artistic Director in Zurich and recently directed Girish Karnad’s ‘Naga-mandala’ in German. Vijayan’s interests include photography.