Friday, November 13, 2009

Gifted writer and true son of Jaffna :Aloysius Jeyraj Kanagaratna ..!!!

Aloysius Jeyraj Kanagaratna:

Gifted writer and true son of Jaffna
Wijitha Nakkawita

He belonged to a rare tribe of human beings who unfortunately were the minority among us but his vision and dreams embraced all humanity and all other living beings in the environment. Recently a collection of his writings, The Conscience of Jaffna was published and brought out in Colombo. He was Aloysius Jeyraj Kanagaratna better known as AJ among a wide circle of friends and the literati of the North and South. He was a teacher, journalist and a translator.

He was born in Jaffna on August 1934 and had his primary education at St.

Patrick's College, Jaffna and secondary education at St. Joseph's College, Colombo and higher education at the then University of Ceylon Peradeniya obtaining an English Honours Degree.

He started teaching English in a number of schools after graduation and joined the Jaffna based Standard Review as a sub editor till it was brought to Colombo. He also served the Daily News editorial and the Times of Ceylon editorial. In 1974, when the University of Jaffna was started, he joined it as an English tutor and served in that capacity till his retirement age.

AJ was a selfless man who asked very little for himself and was generous to a fault. When his people were suffering in the throes of the war, he often gave what little he had to others and went without many things for himself. He was not inclined to climb the social ladder though he was gifted much above the average person and he would not sacrifice his principles for any reason whatsoever.

He was a Marxist to the very end and lived in Jaffna even at the height of the terrorist war refusing to leave his people even when he had to suffer hardships.

Regi Siriwardena writing about some of his experiences in Jaffna says: "During the darkest years of the war I suggested to AJ through a friend since he was not only experiencing the privations of the beleaguered Jaffna but was circumscribed in his activity, he should migrate to Colombo, where I was sure fruitful and satisfying work could be found for him. He responded by saying he was a stick-in-the-mud who didn't want to transplant himself. I realized then that, together with the cosmopolitan culture and broad international awareness, AJ was also intellectually deep rooted in the soil of Jaffna, in its life, experience and language and for him to leave in its time of greatest ordeal, may have seemed a kind of betrayal."

Surprisingly AJ who was steeped in the Western culture and was grounded in English, Latin and Western classics, starting his primary education in a convent in Jaffna could not read or write in his mother tongue Tamil and his beginning to learn Tamil came only when he was 22 years and that also when criticisms were being written about Sinhala being made the official language.

He decided to learn Tamil to read the news and views in the Tamil newspapers and used to quip that Sinhala being made official language made him learn his mother tongue. Of course his application to learning a natural gift he had from his childhood made him a competent Tamil writer.

AJ was an indefatigable critic of capitalism and studied and challenged Western economists calling their bluff most of the time. He was also a true environmentalist and firmly believed that the so-called modern methods of agriculture destroyed the environment.

He did not seek limelight and lived a quiet life but his devotion to teach what he knew - a wide variety of subjects from English literature, Marxism, arts and the culture of his own people - and to the very end of his life he remained wedded to Jaffna sharing the joys, troubles and anguish of his people.

Among his books were Matthu (1970) Marxvadikalum Theshiya Inappirechchineiyum (1977) Avasrakalam 79 (1980) Marxiamum Illakiyamum Silanokkulal (1981) Ellamum Samathiyamum Varlatru Mosadium (1981) and Senkavalar Thalaivar Jesunadar (2000) and a series of his Tamil articles are to be published shortly.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

To speak, listen and write is one of the most natural and comfortable things a person could do....!!!


By Melanie Bamunusinghe

Seated at a quiet corner in “The Walawwa,” a hotel just off the Minuwangoda Road, she looked young, petite–and simple, but when she starts speaking, people realise that she is wise beyond her years. For her 27 years she is full of experiences; some not by choice but others due to exact and significant choices she made; her choice to become a poetess and a writer; her choice to become a journalist; her choice to travel out of Pakistan to the far corners of the earth.

Her interest in people is immeasurable. The depth and intensity with which she describes a persons’ character, actions, words, personality, talents and more specifically their emotions, perils, and opinions is vast. This is what she is here for, in Sri Lanka–to discuss her writing, her life and her views on a political dynasty.

“Whispers of the Desert”

She, the niece of the late Benazir Bhutto, arrived in Sri Lanka on an invitation to speak at the Galle Literary Festival, 2010.

Fatima Bhutto is an Afghan born Pakistani writer. Her first collection of poetry, “Whispers of the Desert” marked her rise to popularity as one of Pakistani’s new literary voices and won her critical acclaim. Her second book, “8:50 a.m. 8 October 2005” looks at a turning point in modern Pakistani history when a devastating earthquake swept through Islamabad to the valleys of Azad Kashmir. Fatima Bhutto is a regular columnist for “The Daily Beast,” “The New Statesman” and other publications.

The granddaughter of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and niece of former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, she has famously said, “I don't believe in birth-right politics. I don't think, nor have I ever thought, that my name qualifies me for anything”. In “Songs of Blood and Sword,” to be released next year, Fatima gives an account of her famous family and the events that have befallen it, including the murder of her own father–she believed–by people within the family. When asked of Benazir Bhutto, on a personal note she paused before saying, “You have to wait for the next book to come out,” referring to “Songs of Blood and Sword.”

Coming from an elite family, she is surprisingly modest and humble. Her explanations for some of the profound topics were the results of “out of the box” thinking, such as her ideas of politics. “Politics is about how people live: it’s the people’s imagination. Actually it’s one’s imagination of what a country should be or what society should be,” she said contemplatively. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, her Grandfather, in her point of view had that imagination, but not Benazir Bhutto. “For her, politics was about her, her dynasty. She was very ‘personality driven,’ which was not unique since we see that all across the world,” she said with an expression on her face that was quite hard to read. She agreed that her poetry is about herself and how she views things. “I’m specifically interested in those who are under the radar, the stories of those who don’t make it to the news. They are all around us, we just have to reach out to them,” Fatima said with a wry smile.

Writing is about memories

Speaking of “under the radar,” Fatima said that she hopes to find out what Sri Lankans read and which writers speak for and to the people of Sri Lanka–especially the local writers who don’t make the New York Times or become best sellers but who have reached out to the hearts of Sri Lankans. “I think it’s an interesting time to be here. With the end of the war, I want to see how Sri Lankans are dealing with the post war situation, how people are reacting, their mentality, both sides of the story, of the Sinhalese and of the Tamils,” she said.

Sri Lankans are moving on with their lives and many local writers are writing about the war or the war itself, thus Fatima’s definition of writing is timely and also appropriate. “Writing is about memories, a struggle to preserve things that happened to people. The ones that are overlooked by the fast flow of news, where words are controlled,” she said with determination and a tint of regret. According to her, many stories are misplaced, languages are lost, injustices collected, bravery wrongly highlighted. Thus writing gives an opportunity to correct them,” was another of her views. There was concern in her eyes when she said that writing is an art born from people’s difficulties in their community, politics and family. She is proud of South Asian women explaining brave traditions common among South Asian countries, specifically the emerging voice of the women. She had both the air of confidence and a whimsical smile only a South Asian woman could have, when she said, “I think many Non-South Asians are surprised how brave our women are in speaking to the public through writing and poetry. We see many female writers in South Asia who write about pressing and conflicting matters. They are strong and creative,” Fatima explained with a smile.

Warmth of Sri Lankans

She told me that this was one of the reasons for her to start writing and pursuing it. “I would write to cope with emotions I didn’t understand such as fear. On the other hand, poetry was the easiest way to express confusing emotions,” she said. She sadly explained that growing up in a frightening city, writing about what surrounded her, and how she felt about it, was her means of expressing herself. Expressing how overwhelmed she was by the warmth and friendliness of the Sri Lankans she said, “If you go to a Western country, let’s say America, you are just a number in the crowd.” She admired that here like in other South Asian countries, travelling is made memorable because of the warmth of the people. “When we head back home we take friendships, cultures and lifestyles with us,” she smiled. “Among South Asian countries there are similarities, as in cultural and traditional backgrounds and coming to Sri Lanka will give me an opportunity to talk about Pakistan, what is common in all of us, and share some ideas to bridge the gap between Sri Lanka and Pakistan,” she explained.

Fatima is a warm, sensitive person, full of life and inspiration for others. She perks up with happiness when she talks of people she had met and places she has been. Her hand movements vividly express her thoughts and her eye brows knot together in a worried expression when discussing some grave situations. It was easy to understand that she loves to read write and travel, that she is genuinely interested in reaching out to the people, or to be a voice to them or listen to their voices. In that light Fatima concluded that opportunities like the Galle Literary Festival will help foster communication as neighbouring countries; express what we have in common; what is important to our countries and engage in discussions regarding what is happening here as well as in Pakistan.

“Why?” she asked herself. “It’s because violence is too easy, it’s limiting people. But writing, speaking or listening is not restricted by the government. To speak, listen and write is one of the most natural and comfortable things a person could do.”

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

She had made an independent literary life for herself & she wishes to support other such women writers with talent to sharpen their skills with pen..!

Enokaa Sathyangani

Creativity comes alive
Enokaa Sathyangani Keerthinanda arms women writers to fly high:


She had made an independent literary life for herself and she wishes to support other such women writers with talent to sharpen their skills with the pen. In this light she decided to spearhead Panhindaka Sanhinda, a workshop for amateur women writers and journalists, a platform to address a variety of subjects to enhance the quality and writing techniques of the participants as well as sharing their experience. According to globally acclaimed film director and script writer Enokaa Sathyangani Keerthinanda Panhindaka Sanhida fills a much needed void in a society where women's talents falls rarely under the spotlight. This is probably the first time that such a group of women will be gathered to demand their rightful position in the field of writing.

The workshop is funded by the Norwegian Embassy in Sri Lanka and comprises a number of classes which will help them to grade their potentials and bring out the best of their talent to nurture the realm of writing in the island.The one-day workshop will take place at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute on November 8 from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene will deliver the keynote address.

A series of lectures and discussions will be conducted by renowned personae in the field like Dr. Liyanage Amarakeerthi (Modern novel writing), Vasantha Obeysekara (Film script writing), Namel Weeramuni (Stage drama script writing), Vijitha Fernando (Translation literature), Theliwatte Joseph(Tamil Literature), Buddadasa Galappaththi (Modern poetry writing) and Saman Wickramarachchi (Short story writing).Around 50 female journalists and 150 amateur writers will take part in the workshop. The journalists will take part to share ideas, encourage and boost the morale of the other party whohope to venture into the literary arena.

"We advertised through the Sinhala, Tamil and English newspapers and received around a 1,500 applications. Out of these 150 were chosen.

A majority of the participants are studying at universities and a few have even published their own creations. Each of the participants will receive a certificate of participation at the end of the day," Keerthinanda expressed on her pioneering project. With years of experience of struggling to make it to the top, Enokaa says it is tedious to breakthrough the male dominant spheres to make a mark in the industry.

"I faced lots of obstacles in my career but determination kept me going. Countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and the Maldives have cultural and social limitations which prevent women from spearheading some projects. However within this scope they have established means of the female artiste to shine.

India has a leading film industry and Pakistan and Bangladesh have established organizations for female writers," she said.

The award winning writer's maiden movie Sulang Kirilli (Wind Bird) clinched the highest number of awards won by a local movie in the history of Sri Lankan cinema in 2003; 24 national awards at the Sarasaviya, OCIC (UNDA) and Presidential Film Festivals and a string of 10 international film awards including the award for best cinematographer at the New York Independent FilmFestival. She was also the first Sri Lankan female script writer to win an award for her work.

A product of Sujatha Vidyalaya and Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo, Keerthinanda had shown signs of her talent for art from her schooldays when she had been in the forefront in clinching the prizes forcreative and art related competitions.

Since her father, Tudor Keerthinanda and brother, Panduka, pursued careers in law, she too turned to the subject before realizing that her talent and destiny laywith the arts.She started her dabble with creativity by taking over the position of television commercial director at Telecine (Pvt) Ltd. the largest television production company in South Asia in 1992 and the pioneering TV production company in Sri Lanka. Later she turned to directing teledramas, tele films and documentaries. Her first teledrama was Nidi Nethi Rayaka Sihinaya (A Dream in a Sleepless Night) and she directed some creations which ranked the highest audienceratings.

She won the best director award at the Sumathi Tele awards 1997 for Urumaladdo and the Sumathi Tele Award in 1997 for the best single episode teledrama and the OCIC Film and Television Award Ceremony 1996 for Nonagathayaka Nimaawa. Speaking on the techniques behind her forte, script writing, Enokaa said other than focusing on the stream of the plot and dialogues one needs to understand topics like camera angles, editing patterns and structural arrangements.

She noted that technical knowledge is very important for a script writer."Unfortunately most script writers do not possess this feature. That is why their scripts tend to go shallow.

In addition she is a member of the Colombo Independent Cinema Forum and though work is at a stand still now, she expresses hope that the team will organize some activities to rejuvenate the forum.She says she owns credit to Dr. D.B. Nihalsinghe and D.B. Suranimala for brining her to television commercial directing, Teleview Chairman Sunil Ratnayake for giving her the opportunity to direct her first teledrama and Dr. Tissa Abeysekara for guiding her to films. "We have a longstanding plan after the workshop.

We hope to carry on the mission of recognizing and polishing the writing skills of women through conducting workshops, setting aside a particular day for each subject.

Some of the most experienced individuals on the subjects will take part and impart their knowledge and tips,"she noted.Each year five participants who display the most promising talent will get the opportunity to see their work in print. Having written all her scripts for her creations Keerthinanda will take to directing a script penned by another writer for the first time in her upcoming creation. She will be directing Mashenkage Lokaya, a teledrama based on seasoned writer Sumithra Rahubadde'sscript.

The project is expected to take shape in around six months. After a seven year lapse she is working on her second movie script, yet another art movie. Yet she says that though many producers have invited her to join them in directing a partly commercial movie of artistic value, she was not keen on the idea."Movie-making is a means of self expression. We do not target a specific audience when we indulge on a creation.

It is true that the movie should at least earn enough profit to cover the cost but for me doing justice to the creation comes first," she added, hinting that if ever a producer who understands her mission comes forward to lend a hand, she will not think twice in launching the project.She is grateful to all those who had lent a hand in her career including her husband Saman Wickramaratne, and daughter, Shanki, whom she brands as her 'source of inspiration'.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


First ever English novel on Vanni by a writer of Vanni
[TamilNet, Wednesday, 18 March 2009, 00:53 GMT]

Veteran writer Balamanoharan has come out with another first of its kind piece of writing of him recently. His Bleeding Hearts is a first ever novel based on the settings of Vanni, written in English. More than three decades ago, when Balamanoharan wrote Nilakki’li, it was widely appreciated for the ‘scent of earth’ it was emanating and was acclaimed as the first Tamil novel coming from Vanni. Three decades of his maturity and the impact of changes that have taken place during this time in his beloved homeland are obviously perceivable in his latest work.

Nilakki'li, his earlier novel was more on the romantic side, refreshingly bringing out the human-environment intimacy. Even though this is very much present in Bleeding Hearts too, as the very basics of narration, unlike Nilakki'li the theme of Bleeding Hearts is rather more abstract, symbolic and universal, but at the same time with an uncanny ease explains the driving force behind what is happening in Vanni today and what is likely to happen tomorrow.

The honesty of Balamanoharan as a creative writer is that in Bleeding Heart he stops at 1977. He migrated to Europe in the 1980s.

1977 marked significant changes in the political and social life of the people of the island of Sri Lanka, brought in changes in the ethnic relationship and above all marked the end of Vanni's land-based agricultural resurgence and resultant prosperity cum awakening which were the very basis for the genesis and recognition of Balamanoharan's earlier novels.

Despite his dipped in personality as a man of Vanni, Balamanoharan didn't venture in his latest novel on the futile exercise of projecting himself imaginarily into a time span in which he was not physically present in Vanni to witness the happenings.

But he can’t stop at mere 1977. Nostalgia is useless unless it is relevant to the present.

This is where the writer shows remarkable skill and ingenuity.

He narrates the story within a time frame of his mastery and stops there. But the theme was universalized to go beyond it. The symbols and the abstract messages he has brought in tell the story of the decades that followed and will follow.

The novel Balamanoharan wrote is the very discourse of his own personality. He left Vanni quarter a century ago, but his mind is still haunting around Vanni. His novel stops at 1977 but its spirit dwells in the years that follow.

Bleeding Heart centers around an old man, Vinasiyar and his grandson Sena, in the hamlet of Aa'ndaanku’lam, near the Kumuzhamunai village of Mullaiththeevu district of Vanni. The time setting is pre-pogrom 1977, the story beginning in January and ending in August.

Vinasiyar the personification of the older generation of Vanni is relentlessly obsessed with the task of capturing and taming a wild buffalo that threatens his habitat and flock. Sena, a grade 10 student of Mu'l'liyava'lai Vidyananda College is an admirer of his grandfather and is a novice to his arts. He is in love with the Sinhala girl Nanda, daughter of the head-labourer of a Survey Party camping in Aa'ndaan ku'lam.

Ethnic relations were becoming tense. Along with the 1977 change of government came the ethnic pogrom against Tamils. Mutual suspicion and the role of army brought in repercussions even in the remote parts of Vanni. Tamil youth was turning to militancy.

Nanda has to go with a heavy heart. Vinasiyar succeeds in capturing the buffalo, but dies. Sena takes up grandfather's gun, determined to continue his legacy.

Balamanoharan’s models of characters and images in the novel are comparable to those found in two streams of the island’s literature. One is the Tamil folk literature of Vanni, such as Vealappa'nikkan Oppaari and the other are works like Leonard Woolf's Village in the Jungle and R L Spittel’s Vanished Trails.

But, Balamanoharan differs in the treatment of his theme.

Vealappa’nikkan's wife boldly faces the challenge posed to her husband’s prestige and succeeds in taming the tusker by her sheer will power, but succumbs to the pressure of mental exertion. Vealappa’nikkan only wails.

Balamanoharan's Vinasiyar also ultimately captures the wild buffalo that threatens his habitat and dies of exertion, but a grandson comes to continue his legacy.

Leonard Woolf who started his career in the northern province of Ceylon chose to base his acclaimed novel on the southern province where he worked later. Spittel covered the Vedda territory of the East. Another deserving part of the island, the Vanni, did never get such a literary treatment. It took nearly a century for a Balamanoharan to come to fulfill that task.

Naturally one may find many characters, images and settings of Balamanoharan’s novel sharing similarities with those of Woolf's and Spittel's. But the colonial writings were from an Age of Romanticism and Universalism.

In contrast, Balamanoharan has a specific social task, meant for Eezham Tamils in general and the people of Vanni in particular and he has aptly handled the theme accordingly.

His novel basically revolves around Vinasiyar and the bull that threatens his habitat and habitat is the issue.

"Even if I am about to die, see to it that I die on my own land. My last breath should become a part of Aa'ndaanku'lam air and my ashes should only be mingled in the rivers there", says his Vinaasiyar.

“Aren’t you ashamed to flee like this? Don’t you have any guns? If you show them that you are afraid of them, it will only hasten your end! You must not budge an inch from your villages, even if your life is at stake”, roars Vinasiyar.

The novel ends with an act of Sena: "He put Nanda’s bangles in his shirt pocket and bent down to retrieve the gun that was still in Vinasiyar’s hands…Standing erect, the exact replica of his grandfather Vinasiyar, Sena was ready to face the world as a man, fully conscious of the responsibilities that had come to rest on his shoulders."

Why 'Bleeding Hearts' the title of his novel? Through the mouth of the schoolteacher KP, Balamanoharan tells a story of a leader whose bleeding heart shone like a torch, showing the way to the salvation of his people.

Contact details:
Publishers: Mithra Publications, Chennai.

TamilNet URL: email:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


V. V. Ganeshananthan, Love Marriage. New York: Random House, 2008 Page reference is to this edition.

(Review published in: ‘Confluence: South Asian Perspectives’, London, January 2009.)

“Love” marriage implies a contrast with what was the norm in South Asian society, namely, marriage “arranged” by parents, relations or, in their absence, friends. The narrator, Yalini, aged twenty-one, born (1983) and living with her parents in the USA, is the daughter of Murali, a medical doctor, and Vani, a teacher, both Sri Lankan Tamil. They met in the US, and fell in love - a development described with affection and humour. Their Tamil friends helped arrange the marriage ceremony, according to Hindu religious rites. When Vani’s brother, Kumaran, a senior member of the Tamil Tigers (greatly respected by some; feared and rejected by others), heard that his sister was going to marry a stranger, he threatened both Murali in far away America and his family in Sri Lanka. Now, years later, stricken with terminal cancer, Kumaran and daughter Janani (his wife, also a Tiger, had died in combat) are permitted to enter Canada as refugees. Murali, Vani and Yalini shift to Toronto, which has a large Tamil population, and nurse Kumaran during his last few days. Yalini now strongly encounters the past life of her wider family, and Ariyalai, once their home town. This makes her ‘excavate’ the past, launches her on a voyage of exploration, discovery and understanding. (The author subtly distances herself from the narrator. For example, Yalini, rather full of herself, is not exempt from banal pronouncements.) Since Yalini’s relations are Tamil, inevitably Tamil history and culture permeate the novel.

The name of the capital of the Tamil North of Sri Lanka is “Jaffna” in English, but Yaalpaanam in Tamil. (The Yaal is a stringed, musical instrument such as the lyre.) Vani and Murali name their only child Yalini, recalling the “music” of a much-loved home from which they are now, through ethnic violence, excluded. The major part of the novel is divided into sections and numbered from one to ten, but the numerals are given in transliterated Tamil: ondu, rendu, muundu. Each section is prefaced by lines from the central Tamil cultural text, The Thirukkural of Thiruvalluvar. The Thirukkural (Thiru means sacred) consists of 1330 couplets, on a wide range of subjects, divided into 133 chapters, each of 10 couplets: the sections in Love Story also number ten.

In Sri Lanka, tens of thousands have been killed, and many have ‘disappeared’ – have been made to disappear. There’s gross violation of human rights, and torture is frequent. But Sri Lanka is a small island, non-Western, without oil (p. 164), and so the world is unconcerned about the plight of its people.

It would be extremely naïve to think, “If I leave politics alone, it will, in turn, leave me in peace.” Because of heavy artillery and aerial bombardment, it is civilians in the Tamil areas who suffer most cruelly. Yalini’s parents remain in America due to political history, more precisely, to ‘racism’. (As I have written elsewhere, though ‘race’ has no scientific basis, ‘racism’ flourishes in some countries.) The novel refers to the ‘racial’ quota for university entrance introduced by the government. (For the term, “government”, see note at the end.) Tamil students had to compete with each other for the limited places allocated to them. Murali, intelligent and industrious, failed in his first attempt to gain university admission (p. 80). Finally, having completed the medical examinations, he faced a proficiency test in the Sinhala language. Protest wells up within him; he hands in a blank sheet of paper, and decides to leave the Island. Years later, as a father, he teaches Yalini to “treasure libraries”, remembering that the Jaffna Public Library was burnt down (1981) by “men in uniform laughing, with torches and gasoline and guns”, watched by government cabinet ministers (p. 23).

Some peoples and nations have a day that marks a calamity so great and deeply wounding; so far-reaching in consequence, changing lives and affecting generations to come, that it is forever marked and ‘celebrated’. It remains indelible in the collective conscious. For Sri Lankan Tamils, it is the pogrom of 1983, known to them as “Black July”. In Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Saleem is born at the moment India gained independence from Britain only to experience appalling ethnic violence and the partition of the country. Yalini was born in 1983 but joy was overclouded by news from home: “as I entered this new world, my parents’ old one was being destroyed […] Tamil people died, betrayed by their own country, which did nothing to save them (pp. 17-8). The Sinhalese security forces (“security” is an ironic term in this context) encouraged the rampaging mob, provided transport and petrol so that they could, after looting, burn both property and people. It is not the number killed but the horrific nature of the acts committed on hapless children and men; the shameful on women. Many Tamils, fearing a repetition, fled to the nearest country, India (p. 126). From there, some managed to get to the West, with Canada in particular opening its doors. “Black July” swelled the ranks of the Tigers: Aunt Kalyani asserts that Tamils, in their nature, are not a violent people but now the Tamil Tigers will fight to the end (p. 154). Yalini carries the name of a town and region laid waste by war, where bombs fall even on the burial sites of massacred civilians (p. 65). A cruel government “that gets away with everything because it is a government, has wronged Tamils in Sri Lanka […] The government burned my library and attacked my village and took over my house, the house my father built for Love” (Murali, pp. 53-4).

This version of events is contested, and there are other, counter, narratives with each “teller” absolutely certain about his or her version. This is how war is started, justified and continued (p. 119). Conflict is fuelled by the memory (history) one acquires or is given (p. 16). Yalini and parents are deeply hurt by Sinhalese attitude and action, but they reject violence, and distance themselves from the Tigers. (The novel’s epigraph is from Henry Reed’s ‘Naming of Parts’, an anti-war poem which contrasts the mechanical brutality of war with the delicate, beautiful, ‘livingness’ of nature.) The Tigers “fight against a government that shelled, starved, and tortured its own citizens” but they also killed Tamils who disagreed with them (p. 19). A thoughtful novel, Love Story takes up (but doesn’t provide facile answers) to perennial questions such as whether the means justify the ends. For example, the government purchases armaments openly in the competitive market; the Tigers must buy clandestinely, at higher prices, bring in material with difficulty, and (given naval surveillance by Sri Lanka and India) at great risk. Despite this context, is it acceptable to deal in drugs in Canada in order to raise funds for weapons, medical supplies and food? The Tigers are intolerant of dissent and deviation. A highly respected (Tamil) headmaster is murdered because he was arranging a cricket match between the Sinhalese army and his Tamil pupils (p. 131). Much in this fictional work is based on fact: Mr Anandarajah, Principal of St John’s College, Jaffna, was shot dead because he attempted to organize such a cricket match. The chasm of hurt and anger is so deep that when two individuals transcend it – Tamil Lakshman marrying Sinhalese Lalitha – both are branded as “traitors”.

“Love” (title) is of different kinds: the love and longing for a lost home which first-generation exiles live with; the love between Murali and Vani; Yalini’s love for her parents; Vani’s love for her brother, Kumaran; Murali’s love for his wife that makes him not only put aside the dire violence Kumaran had once threatened but to sign papers with Canadian immigration officials on his behalf, move to Canada, rent a house and, with great care and consideration, tend his dying brother-in-law. Love for her father and for the cause which he served all his life, and for which her mother died, makes Janani (Kumaran’s daughter) accompany her father into a foreign country, and enter into an ‘arranged’ marriage with a man who, although he worked for ‘the cause’, was a total stranger to her.

Love, sometimes, means loss: if there wasn’t love, neither would there be the feelings of loss and sadness. Murali has a heart condition, a “murmur” that is also figurative, linked to loss of home, to love and memory. It’s a frequent murmur, heard only by him. As is explained in Milan Kundera’s novel, Ignorance, the Greek word nostos means “return” and algos “suffering”: “nostalgia” is the pain caused by an unappeased yearning to return - be it to a person, place or time. When news of Black July breaks and dominates the television screen, Murali is in the company of American medical colleagues. Their faces are sympathetic but they don’t, they cannot, understand. Sitting in company, Murali feels utterly isolated. Sri Lanka had been the land he loved, “first and best” (p. 18). He and his wife had felt they belonged over there, but all was changed by Black July: “he knew he had left Sri Lanka totally and absolutely. He would not retire there, or grow old there, or die there” (pp. 19-20). It is said that hope dies last, but Black July kills at once for Tamils living abroad the hope of an eventual return home; of ending where one had begun. Two years later (1985), taking infant Yalini, Murali and Vani visit the Island knowing it is for the last time. How does one say goodbye to a country, to a place? (p. 229). Now with relations scattered in various parts of the globe (forming the Tamil diaspora: etymologically, “diaspora” means “scatter”), the older generation tries to pass on former ties to their children, but the latter grow up without that constant and close contact which had characterized life in Jaffna. When Vani meets her brother in Canada, Yalini sees her mother weep as she had never done before: they are tears of joy and relief but also tears for a lost country, a town, and within it, a home; tears for relations killed or far away; tears for the past, and an entire way of life.

Wole Soyinka, in his poem, ‘Massacre, October ‘66’ on the slaughter of Igbo civilians, says he has but “briefly” (temporarily) fled those “whirlwinds”. Yalini is both glad and guilty that she has been saved life in that beautiful little island disfigured by hatred and violence, corruption and poverty.

I was born lucky. I grew up safe and warm. No government sent soldiers to move into my village. I did not worry about my house burning or my [family photographs] being lost. I did not worry about dying. I did not fear having too little to eat. I never […] slept in a temple for refuge” (p. 259).

There is a sense of loss in that she cannot directly experience the traditional life her parents knew, and can enter that now-vanished world only imaginatively. But there is also the acceptance that she can, and must, live her own life. Scientists by studying small particles are enabled to understand much larger phenomena: through her portrait of one family, Ganeshananthan provides insight into the wider, human, aspect of the Sri Lankan tragedy; into exile, loss and alienation, and the destruction, dislocation and suffering that conflict causes in the world.

Note on the term ‘government’.

The legitimacy conferred by the term ‘government’ is contested by the Tigers who argue that the government, in the first place, is of, by and for Sinhalese Buddhists; secondly, for Sinhalese Christians. The word ‘government’ should, therefore, be qualified each time and expressed as ‘the Sinhalese government’.

On the other hand, the claim by the Tigers to be the real and sole representatives of the Tamils has been contested, not least by Tamil individuals and groups: see p. 142.

Charles Sarvan.............................

A thought I add after this review was published. Those Tamils born outside the Island or those who were taken abroad as children or in their early teens, may not experience “nostalgia” - and one is glad for them.

As for those who left as adults, it is possible that, within this group, those who had lived in and experienced – for however short a period – the quieter and / or more beautiful parts of the Island, experience a greater sense of absence and loss than individuals who, for example, knew only Colombo.