7. Decolonial Praxis


firstborn tamil girl on u.s. soil,
my thalaiyeluththu predicts displacement: geographic, linguistic, affective.
it says: this girl will be pey pidichittu. she will stop breathing at birth
until a nurse whacks her back to life. she will grow up speaking english.
learn to denounce her heritage in exchange
for scraps of white settler colonial favor. she will be a scholar. colonial subjects who are displaced by external colonialism, as well as racialized and minoritized by internal colonialism, still occupy and settle stolen indigenous land. (tuck & yang, 2012, p. 7) she will incubate a sickness
that will make her as stoic and forgetful as karna,
as socially invisible as ahalya.
she will receive and mediate stories and aesthetic experiences within a nuclear family
largely cut off from relatives in batticaloa and the rest of the tamil diaspora.
nearly all of her doctors and teachers, gatekeepers and invigilators, will be white.
she will assimilate. first to succeed, later, to survive.

amma says i brought something back when i revived, or
became something else.
appa recounts a time he scolded me while driving, and the face i made at him in the rearview was like
a demon's, maybe a brahmarakshasa's, like ravana.
i used to stack 10 lego minifigure heads on a minifigure knight
to role-play the lankan king. peradeniya university, appa's alma mater,
was the site of a paramilitary massacre. six decapitated heads
ringing the campus pond (athas, 1989).

s. maunaguru's ravanesan, a classic in eelam tamil theater, restages the ramayana through ravana's eyes, in the tamil koothu tradition. in it, ravana is a tamil king, a tragic hero, too proud to attend to the anguished counsel of his queen consort mandodari, who decries war and its repercussions, especially for women, who are left behind to grieve the pointless dead. maunaguru was born in a batticaloa village largely untouched by western influence, so indigenous cultural knowledges and practices are reflected in his work.

what better way to learn that learning is marked by violence?

language is another instrument of violence. my pediatrician, smug in her monolingual, monocultural habitus,
admonishes amma,
"she'll never learn english if you speak your language with her."
language is central to appearing culturally compatible, and therefore quasi-assimilable
with whiteness.
despite, or because of, life under sinhala buddhist nationalism in sri lanka —
where language identifies ethnicity, religion, and presumed politics,
where passing determines survival —
my parents speak tamil to each other, but teach me to respond in english.
and so
the oppressors have yet to catch me with a tamil tongue.

the u.s. has a culture of mocking multilingualism, but
we tamils are one of the oldest extant ethnolinguistic groups in the archaeological record,
our oldest sites being india and sri lanka's northern and eastern regions —
eelam is the native tamil word for our island; ilankai is the tamil word for sri lanka. tamil eelam.
tamil script is not case-specific, so

rather than using caste nomenclature orthographic diversion
in the practice of capital and small letters
rather than being equitable and capitalizing them all
i [might] capitalize only the ones which ask to be capitalized. (cole, 2002, p. 449)

tamil writing always innately represented uyirmey:
consonants are body, vowels soul,
so every written word presents the two as one.
the text is always bodymind.

our ancient texts were scripted on palm leaves, so many lost
in 1981 when sri lankan security forces and sinhalese mobs set fire to the jaffna public library.
at the time, it was one of the biggest libraries in asia. over 97,000
culturally significant, historically valuable, irreplaceable manuscripts
burned that day.
in high school, the book fahrenheit 451 is required reading,
but i am the only student with a real biblioclasm
lighting the rooms of my memory.
oral transmission through memorization and recitation is not strange to me
as it is to my classmates. neither is the concept
of self-immolation.

these rules of engagement are not unlike the practices of colonization.
ceylon being the colonial name for eelam, which persists in tea typology.

the island that tamils call eelam was partially colonized by the portuguese and then the dutch in the 16th century, and then
the english set out to colonize the entire island in 1815, establishing english as the language of the government
of british ceylon
and the medium of instruction in 1833, along with a centralization of power
and systems of capitalist enterprise, though subsistence farming and fishing
persisted rurally.
postcolonial sri lankan governance emphasizes sri lankan as a culturally unifying identity: the project of a sinhala-buddhist nation-state whose cartography does not coincide with sri lanka's ethnic-cultural-religious maps, whose boundaries are drawn to erase other natives. indigeneity is coopted and politicized. those deemed nonindigenous, even falsely, must hide, flee, or pass. after ceylon gained its independence in 1948 and renamed itself sri lanka,
sinhalese-buddhist nationalism led to the 1956 sinhala only act, replacing english with
sinhala as sri lanka's official language,
disavowing tamil language and culture as part of the new national identity.
s.w.r.d. bandaranaike, the prime minister responsible for the act, was also responsible
for failing to control, and even inciting, the 1958 anti-tamil riots.
i've heard about
how vehicles were stopped the occupants hailed in sinhala and if
you didn't understand
you were dragged out of your car and hacked.

enakku vilanguthu. this i understand.

sri lanka is pluralist,
with a sinhalese majority and minority communities of tamils, muslims,
malays, burghers, veddas. these divisions, too, are messy, cross-pollinated
by multi-ethnic traditional knowledges, mythologies, religious practices, and
post-independence, indigeneity determines power:
that is, sovereignty belongs to those who are most native.

between western epistemic dominance and ethnic conflict,
the transmission of oral histories and indigenous knowledges and knowledge-making
practices was disrupted.

there's scholarly and religious contention over how native sinhalese and tamil people are to sri lanka: if they migrated from india before the 2nd or 3rd century bce, or 7 ce, or if they lived on the island all along, along with the aboriginal veddas, whose language and culture have been endangered by colonization and war.

cole (2002) says a framework "is a journey/ing with" (p. 453). here,
i trace how the complexities of my identity and my academic and medical experiences
are shaped by "imported colonialist paraphernalia" (p. 450) —
english language and grammar western epistemologies ocularcentrism linearity
and how using methodologies that ignore the ontology of tamil pain
would serve colonial violence.

decolonial thought

as an epistemic endeavor, decoloniality emerged
from the work of scholars from south and latin america
referencing a period of colonial conquest from the 15th century on.
as a political project, it originates in indigenous resistance to the colonial matrix of power,
which predates the "decolonial turn" of theory
and its recent popularization as an academic buzzword.
indigenous knowledge in batticaloa spans farming, fishing, ayurveda and siddha medicine, singing, handloom weaving, cane working, goldsmithing, nature-friendly techniques for extending the shelf-life of foods like paneer, and vedda knowledges (ramanan, 2015, pp. 2-5). ayurveda and siddha physicians could identify a species of snake by administering herbal concoctions and evaluating a snake-bitten patient's sense of taste. ancient batticaloa was famous for its sorcery, thought to consist of defensive and curative magic. batticaloa tamil is a "pure" tamil with links to ancient tamil literature. religious festivals retain something of this with koothu, folkdance, kaavadi (piercing the skin with spikes), and fire-walking. paatta, my maternal grandfather, did kaavadi; my maternal great-grandmother fire-walked. these practices have become rare or extremely localized. decolonial movements express the desire for land rematriation, for reparations
to indigenous communities harmed by settler colonial violence,
and for decolonizing knowledges, languages, categories of thought, belief systems,
and subjectivity
disrupted by imperial conquest. colonization has permanently disrupted
indigenous/precolonial ways of knowing (lugones, 2010).
sri lanka is postcolonial, but all that means
is that the colonizers physically withdrew, having
irrevocably changed the cultures they touched: conferring legitimacy
on western medicine, western scientific inquiry, the hegemony of vision
and empirical exactitude delegitimizing
storytelling, intentional ambiguity, traditional medicine, the nobility
of sound and touch.

modernity and coloniality are inseparable, modernity being imbricated in
european colonial domination (quijano, 2007). "modernity/coloniality," as quijano calls it, functions to negate distort deny
alternate subjectivities, knowledges, and phenomenological understandings.
lugones (2010) describes coloniality/modernity as the operation of Eurocentric ontological organization,
a consolidation of power through atomic, homogeneous categories
that fractured precolonial social patterns and perceptions of race, gender relations, sexual politics,
for lugones and mignolo (2005, 2011), decoloniality spurs us towards a new geopolitics of knowledge,
one that is historically and geographically specific, that resists how the

"west was, and still is, the only geo-historical location that is both part of the classification of the world, and the only perspective that has the privilege of possessing dominant categories of thoughts from which and where the rest of the world can be described, classified, understood, and improved" (mignolo, 2005, p. 36).

i adopted my parents' tamil habits: pacing and memorizing my textbooks by whispering a section aloud multiple times consecutively, fixing it in my memory before moving on to the next. memorization precedes the ability to interrogate and build on a text. in my ph.d. program, slowed by fibromyalgia and medication, i found my classes moved too quickly — and my mind too slowly — for me to memorize-to-comprehend derrida or gramsci before speaking up in class. modernity/coloniality establishes itself, and thus eurocentrism, as the blueprint of
civilization; everything else, like eelam,
is developing, which disparages precolonial epistemological and ontological
to gender sexuality disability medicine scholarship.
decoloniality seeks to open "the doors
to another thinking," "doors that lead
to other types of truths whose basis is not being but the coloniality of being,
the colonial wound" (mignolo, 2011, p. 48).

for me, this other thinking is how tamil knowledge manifests in rote learning,
nested stories, parables, meditation practices, community engagement,
care work; how writing and illness are described in cultural idiom that is bodyminded and
as linked to nature as local knowledges
in agricultural batticaloa.

intellectual colonization remains intact as long as it reproduces the cultures of scholarship
endeared to the colonial matrix of power.
how important it is that we revise our ideas of mastery
and the languages we use to describe it (singh, 2018).

neither a turn nor a field, decolonial thought materializes
whenever/wherever modernity/coloniality appears,
interrogating its tight coupling, seeking to make sense of it
and to resist. decolonization is not a metaphor. when metaphor invades decolonization, it kills the very possibility of decolonization; it recenters whiteness, it resettles theory, it extends innocence to the settler, it entertains a settler future. decolonize (a verb) and decolonization (a noun) cannot easily be grafted onto pre-existing discourses/frameworks, even if they are critical, even if they are anti-racist, even if they are justice frameworks. the easy absorption, adoption, and transposing of decolonization is yet another form of settler appropriation. when we write about decolonization, we are not offering it as a metaphor; it is not an approximation of other experiences of oppression. decolonization is not a swappable term for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools. decolonization doesn't have a synonym. (tuck & yang, 2012, p. 3) i think of our protests — rallies by families of the disappeared,
tamil diaspora marches with support from indigenous allies (jeyapal, 2016, p. 60).
for me, the goals are two currents in a single river:
land returned to eelam tamils in sri lanka
displaced by wartime violence or government seizure of their ancestral homes,
and similar sovereignty for indigenous peoples in the u.s.,
whose lands i and my nuclear family occupy; and
dismantling the modern/colonial lenses that have compressed
precolonially capacious, fluid categories of queerness, gender, disability, kinship,
medical practice, the human sensorium,
temporality, chronicity, death, renewal.

"epistemological decolonization is needed to clear the way for new intercultural
communication" (quijano, 2007, p. 177), the kind that does not submit to the terms
of global imperial politics and economy but
ascribes to another thinking and
the possibility of another world. pluri-versal (not uni-versal), it challenges the notion
that the local histories and epistemologies of european colonizers
are absolutes to which the colonized must bend. it permits an escape
from the trap of postmodernity/postcoloniality
whose interpretations and critiques remain susceptible to "the tendency
to accept thinking that is constructed by european history and that experience
is de-localized" (mignolo, 2011, p. 52). in learning to relinquish mastery
we find ourselves trained in logics of domination (singh, 2018, p. 172).
my complicity is not lost on me. in college we teach anzaldúa, rodriguez, hooks,
the bhagavad gita,
as objects of study, not ways of knowing
worthy of emulation. and yet
a careless anticolonial rejection of this framing risks reinscribing mastery
by centering new masterful subjects still critically tied
to coloniality (singh, 2018, pp. 1-3).

you can't distance yourself from mastery in writing a dissertation.
mastering the discipline — as mastery is understood by one's committee members —
is the whole point.
it feels risky to say that in form and content, this dissertation aims to reintroduce

languages, memories, economies, social organizations, and at least double subjectivities . . . the indelible footprint of what existed that has been converted into the colonial wound; in the degradation of humanity, in the inferiority of the pagans, the primitives, the under-developed, the non-democratic (mignolo, 2011, p. 63)

in the context of western biomedical capture, the violence of cure,
and the eurocentric knowledge economy that u.s. doctoral programs largely usher us into.

sri lankan standard time: n., a humorous phrase gesturing at the propensity of sri lankans to be perpetually running late in white euro-western society, whereas this is taken for granted in diasporic communities or the motherland, as there is value to slowness and lingering over texts and farewells. (see also: indian standard time; tamil standard time.)

the tamilian "other thinking" i offer is, as tamils often are, perambulatory.
i tell stories within stories within stories; rely — even in empirical scholarship —
on intentional ambiguity and aesthetics of experience; infuse my understandings
of pain and stoicism
with the pulse of intergenerational trauma; use
vedic philosophy to de- and re-code my academic and clinical struggles.
these make the hinges of a door to an other thinking.

a history

batticaloa is the portuguese name for mattakkalappu (மட்டக்களப்பு), the name of both the region and the regional administrative capital on the eastern coast of sri lanka. it belongs to the ethnic cartography of tamil eelam, the northern and eastern parts of the island, claimed as tamil homeland by the liberation tigers of tamil eelam (ltte) in their war for self-determination. mattakkalappu means "muddy swamp," as it's a region of lagoons and smaller islands.

my parents came to the u.s. from batticaloa, sri lanka, for appa's doctoral degree. they planned to return home,
but were prevented by black july and the start of the armed conflict between the ltte
and government of sri lanka. i never lived in batticaloa. i was a visitor, twice,
for a few months at a time, both times during the war, during ceasefires
that ceased. i reeked of americanization. at a museum in polonnaruwa
my inability to speak sinhala or tamil provoked a soldier
into casually pointing his gun at me. that's it. nothing more
was needed.
in the u.s., i speak the standard english of the white middle-class,
as expected of the assimilated asian-american minority.

diasporic identities are produced by colonialism, mediated by
immigrants' origin, corresponding dialect, social position, destination country and
city, motivation for migrating. "tamil diaspora" includes
indian tamils eelam tamils expats refugees students
workers people with greencards
or citizenship in their host country and people who are undocumented.
it includes speakers of indian tamil and the more archaic jaffna tamil
and the more literary batticaloa tamil and the sinhalized negombo tamil.
the eelam tamil diaspora has a significant population in canada — particularly
the greater toronto area — as well as the u.k., india, germany, france,
switzerland, australia, and the u.s.
in the u.s., the largest sri lankan diasporic communities are in los angeles and
the new york metropolitan area, primarily manhattan, queens, long island, and staten island
(home to the mostly sinhalese "little sri lanka"), as well as new jersey.
appa came to america in 1979 — amma in 1980 — and like all academics had to choose the college towns that chose him: the ph.d. at stony brook; the visiting assistant professor position at the university of virginia; the tenure-track position at southeastern louisiana university, which he left due to racism; and the tenure-track position at missouri state university, where he finally acquired tenure. i was too young to remember when we lived on long island, where we were most connected
to people like us. i remember virginia, louisiana, missouri,
my college years in new hampshire, before i settled in manhattan.
when i was growing up, tamil diaspora meant appa, amma, anji, and i
in predominantly white college towns. two of appa's brothers
live in the states; the third, and amma's family,
live in batticaloa.

at work, appa befriended south asian academics, rarely tamil
or sri lankan. without access to community and kovil (hindu temple), transmission of culture and religion
hinged on books like the ramayana, the mahabharata, and tales and parables of sri
our saamiyarai (home shrine) with sculptures and pictures of pillaiyar, nataraja shiva, vishnu;
a few VHS tapes, like guru-sishyan (1988), johnny (1980), and raja kaiya vacha (1990);
audio cassettes of old tamil songs;
and my parents' embodiment and sense perception,
their narration of their experiences and traditional knowledges,
varied in detail and emphasis in each telling.
"anjali anjali" from anjali (1990). composed by ilaiyaraaja, performed by sathya, karthik raja, yuvan shankar raja, bhavatharini, venkat prabhu, premji amaran, parthi bhaskar, hari bhaskar, vaishnavi.
(incidentally, one of the first tamil songs i learned
was "anjali anjali,"
from the 1990 film anjali, because it was my thangachchi's full name.
the film follows a family and community
as they come to accept a neuroqueer girl who is likely autistic.)
in some ways, anji and i grew up like other eelam tamil kids: ducking amma's adi,
learning not to place books on the floor, wearing the occasional pottu (the colored dot applied over the third eye chakra) or vibhuti (sacred ash),
genuflecting before the saamiyarai, eating curry, koththu roti,
appam, idli and pol sambol, idiyappam, and kiribath, celebrating
pongal, getting scolded for being chaniyan (saturn),
whose influence in indian astrology is troublesome, growing up
with intentional ambiguity, growing up
with war stories.
how eurocentric colonialism primed the sinhala-buddhist majority
for ethnonationalist action: sinhalese settler-colonialism, ongoing land encroachment,
the destruction of tamil historical documents, cultural monuments, memorials. in writing about disability, i acknowledge my minoritized social position as
a queer eelam tamil american, so
i must acknowledge that — in some form — i'm describing how coloniality/modernity
has repudiated and subordinated eelam tamil epistemologies
around how i perceive and express my pain —
around the legitimacy of my pain to begin with.

"images help stabilize and anchor collective memory's transient and fluctuating nature in art, cinema, television, and photography, aiding recall to the extent that images often become an event's primary markers" (zelizer, 2000, p. 6). but the u.s. media largely ignored sri lanka's ethnic conflict until its endgame in 2009. without visual evidence around which the narrativization of collective memory could revolve, the generation of postmemory in my sister and i occurred almost solely through my parents' transmissions. hirsch (2012) defines postmemory as "not an identity position but a generational structure of transmission embedded in multiple forms of mediation" (p. 35). every ambiguous story i am told is a nonverbal, precognitive act of familial memory transfer, transposing me into the traumatic past. white van abductions. narrowly avoided landmines. ever-shifting numbers of soldiers and corpses. everyone in power a liar. pain so ordinary, it's better to just deal.

hall (1990) says that diasporas generally strive to preserve their culture as they
experienced it in their native country
while adapting it to suit the needs of their new home. he says:

the diaspora experience as i intend it here is defined, not by essence or purity, but by the recognition of a necessary heterogeneity and diversity; by a conception of 'identity' which lives with and through, not despite, difference; by hybridity. diaspora identities are those which are constantly producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and difference. (p. 235)

within concrete communities in the eelam tamil diaspora,
within the eelam tamil diasporic imaginary,
the nuclear family surfaces as a discrete unit with its own idiosyncrasies,
singular experiences and traumas, modes of transmission, and teller and receiver roles
in a specifically familial generation of postmemory (hirsch, 2012, pp. 34-35).
different families, of course, tell different stories about the war
and tell them differently. i wouldn't really know for myself.
the vagaries of academic employment ensured our separation
from tamil diaspora communities as appa chased tenure.
memory is "shaped by social and cultural context
and collective memories are formed, made coherent and narrativized
through group commemorative practices and institutions
such as the media and museums" (seoighe, 2021, p. 173), but
we were our own memory community, a far-flung star
at the edges of the tamil galaxy.
cronin-furman (2018) on the state-sanctioned policing of memory by (sinhalese) victors who overwhelmingly defeated their (tamil) opponents:

in the immediate aftermath of atrocities, questions about memory are questions about relationships between the state and its subjects. it is the state that allows some to commemorate publicly and forces others to light candles alone at home. and it's the state that designates some bodies as vessels for memory and leaves others in unmarked graves. in this context, forgetting is not 'letting go of the past'; it's a process of erasure. it is the state that decides what may be remembered and what must be forgotten. (paras. 31-32).

storying on the part of my parents, and composite narrative on mine, is the only available antidote, but sometimes i listen to my sister skillfully rattle off the names, dates, casualty numbers, social and legal terms around the tamil genocide, and nevermind that it's her profession, it makes me compare my cognitive dysfunction to spain's pacto del olvido (pact of forgetting), fms/me like a francoist tyrant imposing enforced forgetfulness on the body in a misguided attempt to give it peace.

because we were alone
because i so easily, wholly assimilated into american society
through language school clinics pop culture
the need to communicate ancestral memory and family lore
outweighed the imbalance between the capacities of adults and children,
the danger of affective contagion,
the potentially fatal possibility that the writer in the family — me —
might one day tell all.

collective memory spans the universal/general and familial/specific mediating the narrative of the postgeneration (hirsch, 2012). appa and amma
transmitted their stories to us with incautious urgency, animatedly,
mixing english and tamil, immediacy enhanced
by use of the second-person and a resonant familial/cultural aesthetics of experience (hirsch 2012; desjarlais, 1992).
zelizer (2000) notes,
"everyone participates in the production of memory, though not equally" (p. 4).
i participated first as a listener, pressing for details, asking
to hear stories over and over to fix them in my mind, and then —
to my parents' chagrin, as a writer —
with a penchant for interweaving their stories with my own,
using my experiences to make sense of theirs, or theirs to illuminate mine.
crafting an approximation of memory with the psychic, affective force
of the original telling (hirsch, 2012, p. 31):

second-generation fiction, art, memoir, and testimony are shaped by the attempt to represent the long-term effects of living in close proximity to the pain, depression, and dissociation of persons who have witnessed and survived massive historical trauma. they are shaped by the child's confusion and responsibility, by a desire to repair, and by the consciousness that her own existence may well be a form of compensation for unspeakable loss. loss of family, home, of a sense of belonging and safety in the world "bleed" from one generation to the next. (p. 34)

so it is with my understandings of pain, disability, temporality, and epistemic certainty.
at 11 i wrote my first book, a failed fantasy novel whose characters
were refugees from ethnic conflict, confronting territorial dispossession.
women were raped. monuments effaced.
at 15 i write a sci-fi novel, since published,
the protagonist a cyborg whose body is a canvas for my own queerness
and cultural hybridity, but also
pain: the inorganic suggests congenital analgesia but the organic means
he feels his wounds. stoically, he powers through, until his death,
like a black tiger, by self-detonation.
i am so adept at writing violence that all my teachers remark on it.
(the sexist joke goes: "if you were a boy, we'd be worried!"
until 9/11, no one outright accuses me of having terrorist sympathies.)
death by fire, suicide bombing, and disappearance are my go-to conceits.
in retrospect, i see how every story i tell — including this one — is a subconscious act of
historical and cultural preservation,
the preservation of a familial generational identity with few photographs
to authenticate its radical breaks and ruptures (hirsch, 2012).
a continual reshaping of how my postmemory was shaped
by how i heard and interpreted the stories appa and amma would tell.

intentional ambiguity

a google search for "head waggle" yields western media headlines and white tourist blog posts about demystifying the head bobble, cracking the mystifying "nod code", why do indians nod their heads? and the fascinating sri lankan head waggle. when you are steeped in a culture of certainty, ambivalence and multivalence defy comprehension.

there is a south asian proverb: "the gods hate what is obvious; the gods love what is obscure" (trawick, 1990, p. 37).
trawick notes that western observers report
that south asians offer multiple interpretations of daily events,
apply and reapply varying behavioral standards contextually,
avoid absolutes even in answering simple questions, accept contradictions without
attempting to reconcile them (p. 40).
she says:

intentional ambiguity, of the indian variety, is more than just anomaly or unclassifiable otherness, more than something outside the structure that has somehow to be dealt with, more than just an ad hoc way of getting from one category to another, and more than the kind of once-a-year chaos that is needed to keep some orders well-defined. intentional ambiguity is not interstitial ambiguity, marginal, liminal ambiguity characteristic of what is dismaying or strange to people, but ambiguity is at the heart of things, openly embraced where it is found, emphasized where it is hard to perceive, and created where it could not otherwise exist. (p. 42)

as meaning accrues, the importance lies less in signifier/signified
than in the relationship across many signifieds, and
the objective is not necessarily consensus or consistency.
appuhamilage (2017) describes indian personhood as dividual in
nature, fluid and open, and
profoundly embodied, made up of "substance-codes" — like blood, food, knowledge — that
circulate and transmit between and within persons.
unlike the colonial, "rational" western autonomous self,
tamil personhood is recognized, like the body, as a thing in constant flux, defined by dynamic intersubjective
relations with people places and things (p. 6).
euro-western epistemologies are deeply rooted in monosemy, whereas tamil ways of
knowing and giving form to knowledge
are polysemous, multiply signifying, full of discrepancies, hidden metaphors, wordplay,
indirection, layers
upon layers of warring or semantically contiguous meaning (trawick, 1990, p. 42, 50).

it's not lost on me that my clinical presentation is ambiguous
that viththiyaasam was the only tamil word i had for disability growing up
or that i have come to write so whitely and ably that
readers who skip over the byline mistake me for a nondisabled heterosexual cis white man.
if both the biomedical quest for cure and doctoral dissertation belong to consistency, consensus, and mastery,
writing obliquely and metaphorically about an incurable condition i don't want to fully cure
makes visible precolonial forms of knowledge, where a singular utterance
conceals a multiplicity of meanings and motivations, contradictions and self-negations.
so many modern euro-western epistemologies adore and require agonism and proof,
favor precision over indefinite conclusions, straight lines over crooked paths,
directness and swiftness,
singularities over multitudes, empiricism over stories.
decolonial thought is a framework that is neither frame nor work (cole, 2002, p. 458).
it is here to explain to the proof-seekers in the agon
how truths are presented in the form of stories, even when,
especially when, they are ambiguous or concealed,
that the truly enlightened are the ones down for decoding.
decolonial thought lets me lay
the lost identities of colonized people
over western criteria for sickness and intellectual prowess,
countering hegemonic knowledge systems, making room
for the knowledges of marginalized people.

ancestral memory, ontology, epistemology informed my understandings of self, pain,
positionality in the clinic and academy. in the clinical setting,
intergenerational trauma makes everything psychosomatic. to some,
this writing makes my whole project suspect. but
it's truer to my subject and heritage than traditional forms of scholarship.
dr. hunt. dr. anderson. mitch. dr. tamas. panchali. the professor emeritus at a conference who mocks ph.d. students who rely on stories as lazy and lacking intellect. the physician who says the pain is psychosomatic, and have i tried yoga? incidentally, yoga is a practice as colonized as education and western medicine, full of white women in meticulous athleisure outfits, more workout than religious/spiritual meditation, sanskrit mantras, and pranayama. all the great sages know what scholars and physicians so often forget, that true knowledge
is knowing that what you know is partial
is knowing you will never know enough.


the more i try to write as euro-western epistemologies insist, the more i realize:
eylaathu. i can't.

i can't write this without a delinking
from imperial knowledge and disciplinary management
that makes space for and textually enacts a tamil orientation to
pain, embodiment, land and nature,
ways of knowing, survival's
protocols —
without an attempt to preserve and protect what i know
from the impacts of colonialism and genocide. counterstories code-meshing cybertextal mechanisms code-meshing
my committee might be open to these forms
but resistance to them, and condescension towards their authors, thrives
on listservs, social media, the faces of peers and colleagues.

and american physicians parse me through the orientalizing modern/colonial imaginary of
"asia" "south asia" "asian american"
incapable of understanding that my reflexive and particular enactments of pain
come from perceiving it through eelam tamil and diasporic lenses
leading to unnecessary, traumatizing imaging tests,
medical gaslighting, dismissal.

dhee ft. arivu (2020). "enjoy enjaami," a song about tea plantation laborers, equality, land dispossession, alienation.

i can't examine my experience as a fibromyalgic eelam tamil american woman
without accounting for my colonial inheritances and subjugated knowledges.
second-generation immigrant other minoritized in the u.s.,
i am not exempt from participating in
colonialism —
living and working on appropriated land, where indigenous populations are segregated or regularly subject to violence (jeyapal, 2016, p. 59).
thiyagarajah (2015) writes,

there is privilege in being here, in not really knowing motherland. indeed, perhaps that is the saddest part. being displaced grants us some semblance of safety, while permanently rupturing us from our roots. still, we continue working and sewing [sic] new seeds where possible. (p. 35)

for tamils, one's ancestral homeland is considered a substance in the blood
most compatible with your being (Daniel, 1984, p. 9), but
i — and many in the tamil diaspora — can't or don't want to
return to sri lanka, even as we advocate for justice and self-determination
for tamils back home.

the central question of research is always who and what
does my research serve?

but this dissertation does not cannot express the needs or wants
of tamils in sri lanka, or of diasporic tamils in canada, the u.k., australia, or elsewhere.
in sri lanka, tamils in tamil eelam live with oppression,
from the legacy of euro-western colonialism to sinhalese military occupation, camps for internally displaced people,
i write this never having worried about where i would run
if the sky was full of threat.
eelam tamils in the north and east, and those forcibly displaced
by sinhalese incursion, and those
who bore witness and fled, and those
disabled by war
live with conditions i don't, however much
chronic painervation and precarity affect me.

my counterstories and tactics,
and the epistemologies and ontologies of pain i emphasize in the telling,
may be taken up by anyone with chronic pain, traditional knowledges,
sensory heritages, postmemory
that inform interpretations of pain but result in medical gaslighting.
that said,
i write with my people in mind — chronically ill eelam tamil americans and
tamil refugees and expats — and more broadly
other south and southeast asians
who are regularly denied their epistemologies
who are told the secret of success is model minority assimilation
who face implicit bias in healthcare
and lifelong racial discrimination that can contribute to lifelong pain (aroke et al., 2019).

colorism in south asia stems from colonialism. many of our ancient venerated avatars and heroes — like krishna, rama, ravana, as well as beautiful women like draupadi — had dark complexions. colonization and postcolonial media have ingrained fairness as the feminine ideal of beauty. i was the darker daughter, so amma pushed lightening creams at me "to make me fair." i hated it, hated that i reflexively understood it as both cosmetic practice and survival tactic. that is, the fairer a woman is, the more marriageable she is in sri lanka, and the more likely she is to retain her model minority status in white, white-biased america.

producing knowledge exclusively in writing,
producing knowledge in error-free, correctly formatted academic prose,
producing knowledge that privileges sight over hearing and touch —
the two ends of the spectrum of the tamil sensorium (daniel, 1984) —
bears the hallmarks of ableism and modernity/coloniality.
i think of cole's (2002) explanation of his praxis:

the means of transportation I have chosen for this article
as well as my doctoral dissertation
first peoples' knowings as legitimate discourse in education: coming home to the village
besides language is a canoe
constructed not from the forest nations but from words
and the gesturings of those words and the spaces around those words. . . .

cicely fell and kannan arunasalam (2014). "the singing fish of batticaloa," bbc radio 4.

the idea of chapter is anathema to who I am as an indigenous person
it implies western order and format as "the" legitimate shapers of discourse
the universe being ordered into rationally constructed geometries. . . .

the idea of paragraph is meaningless to my sense
of oral contiguousness with the land with community with acting in the world
it is a denunciation of the geography of my relationship with place

the practice of academically certified punctuation distances me
from my sense of space time and natural speech patterns including translated ones
separating me from my connection with the earth and its natural rhythms
the a priori presumption being that the written word is of paramount worth. . . .

inasmuch as it can be,

this is an intervention. a message from that space in the margin that is a site of creativity and power, that inclusive space where we recover ourselves, where we move in solidarity to erase the category colonized/colonizer. Marginality as site of resistance. enter that space. let us meet there. enter that space. we greet you as liberators. (hooks, 1989, p. 23)

the ideas of beginningmiddleend genesis exodus revelation testa corpus coda
are ways of linearly encoding a western vision of the world
ways of encrypting experience so that little by little we are all molded
into believing unthinkingly that there are beginnings middles ends
believing that experience can be diagrammed graphed morphed thus" (pp. 448-49)

look for the masterful subjects you expect
and you'll find yourself with handfuls of draupadi's saree
unraveling it endlessly in the search for something it could never truly be.

we in the margins have epistemic rights. wherever we're assessed.
whatever we're supposed to master.

(– 130. The Pandit Who Couldn't Swim)