Name of the book: Perhaps Tomorrow – The Memoir of a Sri Lankan Housemaid in the Middle East
Name of Author: Pooranam Elayathamby with Richard Anderson
Publisher: First published by Wheatmark,USA 2014; IN India in paperback by Speaking Tiger 2017
Genre: Non-fiction/ Memoir
Price: Rs 299
Imagine carrying a thirty-kilo sack of rice on your back, even before puberty struck, and carrying it door-to-door to sell it. Add to it the scorching summer and a barefooted you; and adding further salt to the wound, your former classmates are off to school to do what you have always loved to do—study—while you slog knowing that there is no other option if you want your family of a widowed mother and five sisters to survive.
This was just a part of Sandy’s (born Pooranam Elayathamby) routine in her early years in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. Poverty was a perpetual visitor or rather like a family member—always tagging along with them. Married at sixteen, she had three children before she turned twenty-two and was widowed by age thirty.
Perhaps Tomorrow is her story and the story of many others who had no other option but to leave the surroundings they grew up in, their families – often consisting of kids who haven’t had enough of their mom’s presence in their lives – all in the hope that perhaps tomorrow, there would be a better roof upon their heads to protect them from the vagaries of nature and fellow human beings; there would be enough of clean water to drink and food to give them the energy to survive another day. The book provides a firsthand experience of surviving amidst a twenty-year-long civil war replete with day-to-day examples of how much the war had claimed and left people in the lurch. Constant security checks on the way to Colombo, the deserted airport area, a sudden swoop by police doubting her to be from the LTTE and her narrow escape from doom were only some of the problems faced on a regular basis.
The Tamils feared the Army, and the Sinhalese soldiers in turn feared them, suspecting that all were either LTTE regulars or supporters of their cause. Tamils were summarily arrested, taken from their homes, questioned and most often, removed to areas where they were beaten, tortured and incarcerated. Most villagers tried to remain neutral but found it difficult to do so. LTTE trucks occasionally made hurried runs to places near Kommathurai to seek out new recruits among the younger men and women. This was an added woe to Sandy who worked hard in the Middle East in people’s homes, did part-time work – all in a bid to earn a little more so that they, as a family, would have a better life, perhaps tomorrow.
The memoir also takes the reader along to experience Sandy’s life in the Middle East, who was at the mercy of those who hired her as a housemaid. It also sheds light on the work laws and the precarious living conditions of workers abroad. They risked – and continue to risk—being bullied, humiliated and often starved and beaten. There was only hope, a will to survive and a dream to give a better life to her family that guided her and made her trudge through every adversity she faced.
However, there were kind masters as well, with whom she shared her life story and who helped her find a footing in a place that she entered not out of will but out of sheer incapability to dream of something else. The kind ones were the real oases in the desert of her life. Her struggle over several decades to save her family, her home and herself from poverty, discrimination, violence and the horrors of a long civil war didn’t go in vain. Her story of courage, personal risk, faith and unwavering commitment towards ensuring a better life for her children saw a better day when she met Dick or Richard Anderson (the co-author), whom she later married.
As a reader, what I found surprising was the mechanical descriptions of Sandy’s war-inflicted neighbourhood, her first husband’s death and funeral and a perpetual lack of emotion in the storytelling style. This could be the book’s failure or its ultimate charm for it was devoid of any frills and undertook a direct approach to show how things were, through Sandy’s eyes. Was it a reflection of how Sandy’s life had shaped into a constant struggle to provide for her family with no time for emotions?
The book remains an essential read for anyone who wants to know firsthand about surviving a storm and emerging victorious. It also provides very minute information about Visa issues and immigration rules, divesting the reader of interest from the storyline at times.