Three story-tellers set out to speak of distances: one on an “almost”, a re-lay, a re- search, another of the physical travels, and the last of the responsibility towards an identity. The three share Tamil as a language and a cultural heritage. They try to situate Tamil in their lives and, in turns, themselves in the historically speaking world. This is the performance MY NAME IS TAMIZH: THREE LIVES by Kirutharshan Nicholas, Kavita Srinivasan, Sankar Venkateswaran, and Leow Puay Tin.
A modern community of near 80 million, Tamil early history is marked with extensive marine trade that has reached as far as Indonesia to the East and Afghanistan to the West. During the British colonization in the 1800s, the community has dispersed to Africa, Europe and Northern America. Since the independence of now-Sri Lanka in 1948, major political and ethnic conflicts have severely affected the already marginalized group. The burning of Jaffna Library 1981 has resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of books and manuscripts. It is one of the most mourned events by Tamil speakers, and the departure of this performance.
Modern Tamil is regarded as the longest surviving classical language. What does it mean in the mind-scape of the world right now?
Recent findings in neuroconnectivity suggest that human projects different characters in speaking different languages, and memories are strongest formed in the language it was originally created with. (1) In MY NAME IS TAMIZH: THREE LIVES, the many introduced languages concur with the dance between the story lines, evoking the sense of archaic characters whose memories seep out into the present, pulling the performers into the wars they don’t physically encounter but all the more endure. Watching them, one can’t help wondering how is it so that by knowing more than one language one ends up losing eloquence? Are we as limited as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s remark: “To grasp the meaning of the world of today we use a language created to express the world of yesterday. The life of the past seems to us nearer our true natures, but only for the reason that it is nearer our language”? (2)
What kind of future can we look to if we decide to fight off the confine of spoken language? Or, really, what vocabulary do we need to navigate our present?
1 “The Power of Language: How the Codes We Use to Think, Speak, and Live Transform Our Minds”, Viorica Marian
2 “Terre des Hommes”, Antoine Saint-Exupery
Tra Nguyen is former Acting Director of Sàn Art, the longest-running independent art space in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam). Since 2018, Tra Nguyen initiated ‘The Run – A Theater Project’, seeking to build infrastructure for experimental theater-making. Her theater works and workshops engage various elements of theater, performance, and visual art to explore the possibilities of performances. She will be a Visiting Faculty for an introductory class on Theater and Performance at Fulbright University in Autumn 2023.