It used to be known as Ceylon and the name was changed to Sri Lanka in 1972
That’s how strongly Ian, winner of the 2021 Mandela Washington Fellowship Leadership Impact Award and co-founder of Tai Tanzania, believes in the power of exchange programs. Ian also believes in democracy and fighting corruption, but it was his visit to the U.S. for the Mandela Washington Fellowship program that gave him a deeper understanding of the global issues we all face and more.
Description: Poet, Foreign Service Officer, and U.S. Speaker Program Exchange Alumni Indran Amirthanayagam was born in Ceylon, a country that — in name anyway — no longer exists. In this episode of Voices of Exchange, Indran recalls how this feeling of loss for Sri Lanka’s former way of life inspired many of his writings and led him to call himself the “border-crosser.” To Indran, it’s all about shedding old skin and learning new things – or, giving and gaining, while pushing linguistic and cultural boundaries.
I was born in a country that no longer exists. And so it’s funny to belong to a place that, and aware of life that’s gone or somehow changed actually, you know? Um, and so I, I write out of that sense of loss also. A loss of the way of life of a certain nostalgia, I mean, everyone, I think has nostalgia for what’s gone before. I mean, some people have had very difficult childhoods and, and, and traumas and, but, but still, uh, generally there’s a sense of nostalgia for the past or for the, for home or for where, uh, one comes from. And, and I think that bridging the gap, you know, I mean, I’m an American now. uh, uh, an immigrant and I celebrate that and I’ve become, uh, not only an American, but an American diplomat, a bearer of the people, American culture, carrying it abroad and, and sharing it with the foreign cultures and foreign peo- nations.
It was part of your, uh, imagination, it was part of your, your memories, it was part of your inspiration for your writing and it needed to be resolved and solved
And, and I think that’s a great responsibility and a wonderful task. So I’ve, I think of poetry, in, uh, in the way that I think of diplomacy as a bridge builder between cultures, between countries that no longer exist and countries that have greeted the poet or the, the poem, you know. Um, so, uh, my poetry when somebody once [inaudible ] his name was, a great poet and translator. He called my first book, a welcome addition to the poetry of migration. And so that’s always stayed with me that phrase, the poetry of migration. What does that mean? What is the poetry that’s born in the crossing over the crossing over boundaries? I, I’ve always been a border crosser, you know. (laughs) I mean, I don’t mean only geographic borders, but linguistic borders as well. I mean, I’ve crossed over from writing poetry in English to writing in Spanish and French in Creole and in Portuguese. I’ve. I guess I don’t see any limit to the imagination or to the poetic act and I, in that sense a poem is, is a bit rebellious. You know, it doesn’t want to exist under one set of laws. It wants to create a kind of lawless and yet, uh, a free world. You know, the, the notion of freedom is, is an obsession of mine. I mean, how. To what extent can one be free in one’s expression? Uh, you cannot control the mind you, I’ve always thought about that because I’ve, I’ve experienced enoughe from places where, uh, control is an obsession. You know? There is, uh, there places where civil war has been, unfortunately, sadly, the, the bread and butter of existence, having the many years of the Sri Lankan civil war, for example, was just whether you lived on the island or lived away.