By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
in La Chapelle, France
Jaffna meat shop in La Chapelle
It was a Saturday afternoon.
I went to La Chapelle by train. I saw Tamil names for the shops, as soon as I came out from the La Chapelle station.The streets of La Chapelle were full of traffic, the shops were bustling.The people of La Chapelle spoke Jaffna Tamil, which made me feel at home.
I could smell the fragrance of jasmine in the air.The Tamil women were wearing garlands, which were made out of jasmine flowers on the hair. They wore ‘Pottu” on their foreheads. Most of them wondered first, whether to speak in Tamil or not.When I started o speak to them in Tamil, they continued the conversation in Tamil. Some thought that, I was a new immigrant to La Chapelle. They were more hospitable, when the found out that, I was just a visitor from Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan Tamils, who are currently living here, left their motherland in 1980s due to the political situation at that time.There are sixty thousand Sri Lankan Tamils living in France. La Chapelle is known as “Little Jaffna”. It is packed with Tamil shops, which sell groceries, sarees, jewelleries, books and sea food. And, there are restaurants, which serve typical Jaffna and Sri Lankan cuisine. Everything is available here from Jaffna curry powder to Tamil Almanac (Vaakkiya Panchchaangam).
Fresh fish is imported from Sri Lanka during the season, especially prawns and lobsters from Mullaithivu, North East of Sri Lanka. The consumers told me that, they can buy everything here. A young restaurant owner Egambaram Mathivathanan from Punguduthivu in Jaffna told me, while handing over his business card, “You can live here like Jaffna. I have been living here for more than a decade. My customers are mostly Sri Lankan Tamils, but other ethnic communities too visit my restaurant to taste our delicious dishes".
People stayed on the pavements, and checked on each other’s wellbeing. Some had long talks.Those who are living in other parts of France visit La Chapelle during the weekend to purchase groceries and other items.
Although the French Tamils speak fluently in French, they continue to speak in Tamil amongst themselves to feel belonged. The second generation Tamils is willing to come back to their motherland to retire, if the political situation permits.
I left La Chapelle with the feeling of having been to the main market in Jaffna town.