Tamils in the Mosaic of Canada

by Mani Velupillai

Most of the Tamils ensconced in Canada hail from Sri Lanka. The first wave of their arrival in Canada followed the outbreak of Tamil-Sinhala riots in 1983. The riots which led to the current civil war in Sri Lanka drove over 200,000 Tamils to Canada. They have made Canada their home, a home away from home!

Tamils' language, culture, Hindu religion and performing arts fall within their contribution to multicultural Canada. They have adapted themselves to multiculturalism and taken adavantage of it in such away as to promote it with their language, religion, and culture. Specifically their contributions include Tamil folk-dance, classical dance (Bharatha Natyam), stage-plays, movies and pop-music.

The Tamil language is as old as Sanskrit (which is supposed to be the oldest of all languages). According to Father M.Winslow who compiled the first Tamil-English Dictionary (1862) Tamil, in its poetic form, is more polished and exact than Greek, and more copious than Latin. In its fulness and power it more resembles English and German than any other language.

The English language has borrowed from Tamil a number of words including betel, cash, catamaran, cheroot, coir, curry, mulligatawny, pariah, sandal, and teak. English media use catamaran, curry and pariah frequently. They are fascinated with pariah which means "drummer" in Tamil. It is a pity that this word is bandied about by English critics at every opportunity.

Most Tamils are Hindus. Hinduism is supposed to be the oldest of all religions, and Hindu scriptures, The Vedas, the oldest of all books. The Tamil language and Hindu religion constitute their most conspicuous contribution to the mosaic of Canada. Tamil book-stores and Hindu temples in Toronto bear out the impact of TamilsŐ language and religion in Canada.

Sir Ivor Jennings, the last British governor of Sri Lanka, described teaching and learning to be the two industries of Sri Lankan Tamils. They have always aspired, and been inspired by, a high level of education chiefly because they inhabit the least fertile part of Sri Lanka (its northern and eastern provinces). Conscious of TamilsŐ presence in the computer-field, Microsoft has issued a Tamil version of Windows 2000.

Shyam Selvadurai, a recent immigrant of Sri Lankan Tamil origin, has enriched Canadian English fiction with his novels Funny Boy and Cinnamon Gardens. True to its multicultural tradition Canada has recognized him to be one of its own men of letters. Cinnamon Garden deals with life in Sri Lanka before political power changed hands from the British to the Sinhalese. Each chapter begins with a couplet from The Tirukkural, a Tamil classic of 1,330 couplets which has been translated into over 30 languages including English. Funny Boy refers to the period after the Sinhalese became masters of Sri Lanka in 1948. Both these novels reflect the social, economic, and political dimensions of the Tamil-Sinhala conflict. In each case the author, a gay, presents a couple of gay characters who have no counterparts in Tamil or Sri Lankan fiction.


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