About Me

I was born on a small island in the Indian Ocean- Ceylon then. The air I breathed as a young girl, the earth I trod upon, the family that nurtured me and the education that improved my mind belong to Sri Lanka, but the American experience since immigrating to the United States in 1970, introduced me to a way of life, attitudes and style that are overwhelming but inspirational; a multiplication of opportunities for accomplishment. Memories on My Mind is a chronological compilation of real life experiences I recall: sometimes about a small pleasure I got from a good book or a movie or a large pleasure from passing a milestone like getting the doctorate from the University of Cambridge, or an excruciatingly painful recollection of my father’s death in 1987 or my mother’s, five years later, in 1992.
I was a “war” child born into a contentious world when the Second World War was raging- a war fought on land, sea and air. Way up in the sky I saw a new phenomenon: slow moving fighter planes that looked like the paper planes gigged up to entertain my grandson. I recall running out of the house with unnerving speed when the drone of those planes announced their belligerent presence

  "Seek shelter,” shouted Sethu, our general factotum. They’ll drop a bomb on your head!”
   I skittered to a safe place behind his spacious back and continued to watch. The political and social changes in the seven
decades   are numerous and   historically notable. The British conquered my country in 1802 and it became part of the vast
British Empire that straddled the world with its economic might.   In the school I attended, Good Shepherd Convent, English was
the medium of instruction; we sang, Britannia Rules the Waves; we thought the "Sun would     never set on the British Empire.
Members of the British royal family were our exemplars and like the British we were royal watchers.
  Of the many political changes in my lifetime none is more monumental than the break up of the British Colonial Empire. With a
degree of arbitrariness, I name   1948 as the turning point in my country’s destiny. On February 4, 1948 Ceylon won
independence from British rule. I watched with delirious joy a gigantic   fireworks display. The celebrations brought all patriotic
  people together, Singhalese, Tamils, Moslem and Burgher. At the moment of greatest splendor when the rockets were soaring
  into the night sky and flowering into the tear shape of my beloved country, we consecrated our thoughts to national unity.

With Independence came the recollection of our ancient glory and the revival of our culture. We looked with nostalgia into our past and within the ancient epic, The Ramayana, found it- a name, Lanka. Ceylon became Sri Lanka, the avatar of renewal and resurrection. Two major events are invoked and summoned from the recesses of the subconscious; they relate to language and religion, the more memorable is the Buddha Jayanthi, the anniversary of two thousand five hundred years of Buddhism. Its celebration gives me so many lovely memories. We awaited it for a long time and celebrated with all the pomp and glory our new independent status and Buddhism allowed. We legislated the Official Languages’ Act giving recognition to the indigenous languages of Sri Lanka, Singhalese and Tamil.

aaaaaa  In 1954, I entered the University of Ceylon in Peradeniya, a huge intellectual undertaking for me. Four years later I graduated
  with a Honors degree in Economics, specializing in Money and Banking, which opened up a professional career in banking. The
  Peradeniya University in Sri Lanka enabled young women like myself to get to the forefront of the professional world. Looking
  back it even seems that in those four years of a University education the confidence I gained to access areas of power and
  control was as important as the knowledge in Economics I acquired. The same may be said of the two careers in banking:
  commercial banking and central banking. Here too, I was thrust into the forefront of management and control. Insofar as my
   professional life was concerned, I was on a roll. One of the first two women commercial bank officers is how I came to be
  known. Two years later, I joined the Central Bank of Ceylon, whereas the other woman officer stayed on to later become the
first woman CEO of the Bank of Ceylon! I also participated in the election of the first woman Prime Minister in the world. In my
  lifetime, the women of Sri Lanka have gone further in their professional careers than I, even in my wildest dream, saw.
  Tensions between the communal groups, Singhalese and Tamils, erupted in my lifetime. The peace that Sri Lanka enjoyed for

the first four decades of my life ended in 1970 when it had to struggle with a communal conflict and my astonished eyes saw the terrifying and grisly acts perpetrated by man upon man. Some time prior to the period at which the communal conflict broke out, under the stewardship of Bandaranayaka as Prime Minister, a Sinhala Only Policy was legislated, which was a terrible blemish on my country's conscience and a hurdle in the way of its progress. My family immigrated to the United States. From a safe distance of nearly twelve thousand miles we read about rape and pillage, murder and assassinations; careers threatened and lives lost on both sides in that communal conflict. A year ago I saw its finale in the gun battle between government forces and the Tamil Tigers.
In my lifetime I saw the dawn of a new millennium and how extraordinary an experience is that? The world will end on January 1, 2000 forecasted the doom and gloom asasasasoothsayers. People were inventing frightful scenarios of the world exploding into a dust cloud. But it did not.
In the United States, my husband and I hoped hard work would pay off and worked indefatigably to achieve the American dream. We had families to support; we wanted the security that money would give. We were compelled into areas where mainstream Americans did not want to go in those days. Immigrants from Europe arrived in the USA to transform their lives and make them brighter. So did people like me arrive from China and India, well educated and industrious, with the capacity to spend endless time in our jobs, especially in front of computer screens, to transform our lives and share in the American dream, but I became lesser than I was when I left Sri Lanka.

Memories on My Mind shows how fragile and vulnerable my life was and how hard I have had to struggle. Perhaps it might be enlightening to those who think in terms of “them” and “us” to know my experience with matters of belonging here and there.
Back in the early eighties when I was teaching business finance to the youth of the San Joaquin Valley in California, I met a student who looked like a cousin in Sri Lanka. One day in the late afternoon, we were walking back to the parking lot together. I got the chance to satisfy my curiosity.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“From the United States,” he said.
I figured that he, like my own children, belonged to the first generation of American immigrants. Reasoning thus, I persisted,
“Where are your parents from?”sdsds
He did not answer me right away, and so I looked at him to press a response.
“From the United States,” he said with rising inflection in voice. I detected in that tone an unrestrained force, like the assertion of a desperate right that he had to reveal, perhaps to tell me that it was none of my business.
I should have known better and not pursued, but I was intrigued. I thought he belonged to the Sikh community that came from the Punjab to work on the farms. I had to make the Indian connection because it was there, somewhere. So I persisted,
“I mean your grandparents; did they come from the Punjab?”
Silence. I thought the paroxysm of discomfort and displeasure he displayed by his indignant silence was disproportionate to the circumstances in my line of questioning until I heard what he had to tell me, which he did in a passionate speech.
“Dr. Jey,” he said, “I know you mean well. Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t resent your questions. My ancestors have walked on this continent for thousands of years. How would you feel if you were I? I resent it when whites ask me where I come from. In my conversation with them I am afraid to speak out my thoughts. Often their response is,
“If you don’t like it here, why don’t you go back to your own country?” ,
I should not have pursued such an inappropriate line of questioning in our multiracial society. I apologized.
“Never again will I ask people where they come from. You resemble a cousin back home. Those from the Indian subcontinent sometimes resemble each other, you know.”
“Don’t we all?” he rebuked.
In spite of the many obstacles I encountered in the USA, my work ethic conspired with fortuitous circumstances to make my life somewhat full and successful. It is 2010, and it is the twilight of my life. If, the genie in the bottle would give me just one more wish: I wish to be transported back to Sri Lanka, my homeland, for the culmination of a journey that began seven decades ago.