Sri Lankan-born author Logathasan Tharmathurai on finding his way home
Logathasan “Das” Tharmathurai is a man who finds his way. Das nearly failed his grade 12 English literature class and had never thought of becoming a writer. But he decided he had to become one if he wanted to share his story.
In July 2019, over three decades after leaving Sri Lanka, Das published The Sadness of Geography: My life as a Tamil Exile, a memoir which describes his struggles during the long and brutal Sri Lankan Civil war and his way out of it. He makes himself fully vulnerable to the reader and shares the story of his powerful journey in a deeply transparent way, pointing out that “hatred is a hard enemy to defeat”.
Das grew up in Sangkaththaanai, a small village in the Jaffna District in the northern part of Sri Lanka. In 1985, at the age of 18, he fled the war-torn country, leaving his family behind to seek a better life. Germany was his first stop. From there, he was smuggled through the borders to France where he was reunited with his older brother. He then tried to leave for Canada using a fake passport and ended up in prison. Fortunately, his brother was able to bail him out and England was his next stop. He got lucky the second time around in 1986 and made it to Canada with another fake passport.
Throughout his journey, Das did all he could to survive. “As my journey unfolded throughout Europe, I found myself in refugee camps, smuggled across international borders, living with drug dealers, imprisoned, traveling and living under an assumed name, and more,” says Das.
What gave him the strength to keep going? “I always reminded myself of the end goal: to rebuild the life that I had before; to see my mother and siblings again. I regained my strength when I thought about my mother.”
He received a work permit in a couple of weeks after he landed in Canada and began to work immediately as a dishwasher in a restaurant while saving money so he could ensure his family’s passage to Canada. Simultaneously, he enrolled in a high school in Toronto. After graduating from high school, he went to college and studied computer science. An English language author today, Das confesses to opting for the IT field since he spoke very little English back then. “Language was a big barrier and I thought that computer science was easier because it was mostly math and logic.” Das found a job in the IT field and eventually built a career that he always wanted.
Das sponsored his mother, three sisters and younger brother from Sri Lanka when he was still a student. His brother from France joined them a few years after. He is a strong believer that Canada should continue to support refugees and immigrants as in the past. “People are being displaced by no fault of their own and become refugees due to persecution (whether it is on account of race, political or religious beliefs), conflict, abuse and violence. Immigrants come here to improve their lives, either to find work or seek better education or reunite with their family. In the end, everyone contributes in many different ways to build this country.”
Even though he had made it to Canada and managed to build a life for himself and his family, it wasn’t easy. “I suffered privately with all the terrible things that I encountered when I was a boy. I was chased by military helicopter, left stranded in a conflicted area, cheated by my own kind, and lived in refugee camps, as well as in prison. The nightmares continued over the years and I would share bits and pieces of my stories with my family and friends.” Twenty years ago, Das wrote the first short draft of his story to share with his children and grandchildren. “At that time my children were very young and they didn’t really read it.”
Then a couple of years ago, Das had time off from work and made a conscious decision to write a longer version of his story to share with the world. “When I began writing it, I started feeling relieved and I felt free and open-minded. I figured this was working well for me because I didn’t feel ashamed or any anger towards what happened in my past. Because as we write on a piece of paper, we take it out of our system. All the bad memories are put on a piece of paper and we don’t have to carry it around.” He channeled the expertise he had gathered writing business requirements and technical documents as an IT professional into his new role as a writer.
“The book became part of me. I was no longer a prisoner of those memories! It was definitely therapeutic and because of it, I can now openly talk about it.”
Das is now looking forward to retirement so that he can continue to write. “Writing has become my passion. Through writing, I can express my thoughts and feelings.” “I like the opportunity to tell my story and provide visibility to the Tamil community. I am proud to be a Tamil Canadian,” he says.
Das considers Canada his true home. He says, “Every time I went to other countries, looking for a new home, I ended up in holding cells, refugee camps or in prison. In Canada, they really welcomed me as a human being. That moment at the airport when the officer said welcome to Canada, I said to myself this is going to be my home – a new home! I stopped searching ever since!” Das is grateful for the opportunities that Canada has given him: “I was able to complete my education, build a career and raise my family. I am so grateful to this country for the warm welcome I received. Thank you, Canada!”
Das attributes his philosophy in life to an Italian-American champion race-car driver Mario Andretti’s philosophy: “Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s the determination and commitment to unrelenting pursuit of your goal — a commitment to excellence — that will enable you to attain the success you seek.”