From Ghostbusters to Altruism
This is how I remember it, because I was very young. I was seven; it was just before we came to Australia, the year before.
We had gone to England to take Indika, my sister, off at her boarding school. Back home in Zambia we had just gotten a VCR and it was a big thing back then so we went to this little cheap video store and I picked out Goofy and the storeowner said, pointing to Ghostbusters ‘this is a new film ’ and I was like ‘whatever Goofy!’ But my Dad said ‘I think this would be a good film’ so my Dad bought both.
When we came back to Zambia I watched Ghostbusters with my Dad for the first time, and I didn’t get the nuances and the jokes but it was such a cool film. My Dad and I watched it together and it was my first memory of watching a film with him, like an English film. We had watched bits of ‘Enter the Dragon’ and other things like that but Ghostbusters was the first real, proper, long film that we had bought -not hired out- bought together and watched. And it was so good and he really enjoyed it and I remember watching it with him years later [over and over again.].
I mean for years, even when I was fifteen, sixteen. That was nice. And I remember saying ‘ this is the same tape we bought in England’, yeah it always took me back to that time.
My Dad loved the cinema; he would see a movie every week. And being such a Bruce Lee fan at a time when Bruce was really putting out a lot of films and producing a lot of stuff was really great. My Dad saw all the Bruce Lee films but he kept on hiring out ‘Enter the Dragon’ over and over again. He never actually bought the tape until years later. He had this badly recorded [from the TV] version of ‘Fist of Fury’. Years later when we came to Melbourne and stuff we hired out stuff like Total Recall, which was M15+, and I was only ten. He appreciated good cinema and he liked that sort of stuff. We were lucky like that.
As a kid, he said, he used to go the cinema [in Sri Lanka] every week. That is what he would do, save up the money that his mum gave him and see films. And for me, seeing those martial arts films [as a child] I just thought all kids saw that stuff! I remember when I was maybe seven my best friend at the time Harusha and I were watching a film called ‘An American Ninja’ and there’s a sex scene in it, and he was like ‘umm we’d better turn it off’ and I was like ‘Nah! Let’s just watch it. My Dad wont care.’ And he wouldn’t have, he didn’t. It was just a film.
Talking to my partner Shweta, her parents didn’t let her watch much TV at all. A lot of kids’ parents don’t let them watch a lot of TV at all, especially in Sri Lankan or immigrant families.
My Dad is why I love films, and have an appreciation of films. My sister always used to watch horror films with my Dad, which is why she loves horror films so much as a genre to this day. And I still love Bruce Lee.
Thinking back on the kind of man my father was, I think that he was a ‘good’ Sri Lankan in the sense that he seemed to follow what my Mum did and what the community did, but in his personality I think he was very different (to the typical Sri Lankan man.) I think he was quite a modern, well-read man in the modern times living in a Sri Lankan shell. He portrayed himself as very traditional, and that he was interested in (traditional) Buddhist things, but inside I knew that he cared about modern affairs not just what was happening in Sri Lanka.
Later on, close to his death (my father passed away in 2004) he always said to me, ‘it’s not just about the religion; forget about the doctrine. It is about how you conduct yourself. And you’ve done a good job in how you conduct yourself.’
I remember when we lived in Zambia, other people in the Sri Lankan community would say, about the Zambians, ‘oh they are just Africans’. But my Dad really respected Zambian people: for what they stood for, for what they had had to go through.
Later on when my Dad was still working in Zambia to support our family, I know for a fact that people would say ‘oh you STILL have to work in Zambia?’ But for him it was a positive experience, he loved the people there. He loved the country, he loved the culture, and he knew it inside out. And that is what made him a good Sri Lankan, being altruistic and being true to himself and others.
I got into trouble in school; I got into a lot of fights because kids were being racist towards me. So one time I got into a fight, and my Mum and Dad had a massive argument because he was saying that racism was more unacceptable than fighting. He never approved of me getting into the fight but he understood why I got into the fight, so instead of scolding me he asked if I was alright. He scolded the school (!) because they hadn‘t attended to the needs of a child who was being tormented and bullied racially and he didn’t think the way they were handling it was acceptable. It was different for my mum who did scold me and was angry that she had raised this kid who’s a fighter. That was the only way she knew how to react to it, which I know now is fine, but my dad made sure I knew that what I did wasn’t wrong because I was standing up for what I believed in and that there was no reason to feel bad. Because what they did was wrong.
Because of my dad I am so much more culturally aware, I read the news a lot. I never used to read the news, but because he was, I felt I should as well. I feel more aware of what is going on in the world. But in a sense that can be also a negative thing, because I feel so connected to the misery and it makes me angry. I also feel that I am becoming jaded and my Dad was jaded towards the end of his life, about what things were happening around the world. Jaded that racism still goes on.
I think the way he dealt with the Sri Lankan culture was to question the things he didn’t quite or disagreed with. He may not have questioned it in front of other people, but he did question it with me. And that’s where I get that questioning mentality. It meant questioning a lot of things with my mum, which unfortunately lead to many arguments; but in the end even she realized that my Dad had struggled a lot in his life. He was different.
It’s very hard to be different, and I think he changed more and more when he was in Zambia [without us], because being alone, he both became closer to us, his kids and also more introverted with his feelings. .
And I think it is a real mistake in life to introvert your feelings. I know my dad loved me but it’s not something that we said day in day out. He said it at the end and it kind of made up for the 24 years of not saying it, because I knew he meant it.
For my Dad, [when he felt overcome with cynicism of the world] he would come to Australia to see us. Being happily distracted by family was a good way to combat that world-weariness.
My dad spent the best part of his life alone, working his arse off to send us to good schools and providing for my mum. That is his legacy: Look after your family. That ‘s it. Look after your family. That is a huge inspiration to me on how to lead my life. Ah yeah, my dad y’know he was a magic man.