This paradox of mixed identity is reinforced because I have always gone by two names, one European and one ethnic. To make integration easier, my parents introduced me by my European name at nursery school and I continue to use it professionally; but Renuka is what I was known as at home and that is who I really am.
Where nationality is concerned, debates about birth country, home culture and parents' origin are familiar to me. What I had not recognised before the interview though was the impact of the first environment I was exposed to - Sri Lanka - where I lived and spoke Tamil until I left when I was three years old and where the countryside is covered in palm trees and paddy fields. Soon after the interview I realised the effect that surroundings have on my psyche, and certain feelings I’ve had in England for as long as I can remember started to make sense. By that I mean memories and nostalgia stir in me every Summer and my inner being comes to life. I know we all feel happier when the sun shines and it’s warm outside but this is different. It’s almost as if that side of me which is attached to Sri Lanka hibernates during cold, winter months and wakes up in the Summer when the climate is similar to the one I first knew. This all sounds very fanciful but it’s the closest I can come to understanding my feelings.
(As an aside, some years ago I decided to start learning Tamil again and hoped it would come flooding back because I’d been speaking it in the early part of my life. Funnily enough, it did return but as a three-year-old would remember it, presumably because that’s how my brain has stored the language. The first phrases that came back to me were, “For goodness’ sake, child. Now, what are you doing?” and what has got to be the most stupid question ever, "Do you want a smack?")
One listener of Indian origin who phoned in during the radio interview said she didn’t have time to indulge in nostalgia and you have to choose one nationality. I disagree with this. Her husband is English and she has a daughter whose autism is better cared for here than in India so her priorities are different to mine. She had also tried living in India for a year then returned to England. I suspect it would be hard for me to live in Sri Lanka for a year because of the lack of amenities and level of corruption there; but these alone would not deter me from being who I am, regardless of the fact that those who live in Sri Lanka regard me as a foreigner and tourist, which is another story altogether.
So when the question of identity arises - are you Asian or British or British-Asian - I don’t claim to have the answers, and they’re different for different people, anyway. All I know is that England is my home and always will be, but my heart and soul lie on a teardrop island, far away in the Indian Ocean.