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.
Publishers: Mithra Publications, Chennai.
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