“Life is a battle, which one has to fight even when in the jaws of defeat and one can’t be selfish to give it up, as it is for those whom we love and care for.”
Not many of us are aware of the struggles of a survivor of Ebola, nor do we know of the stigma attached to patients who have suffered and survived the disease. Being a psychologist by profession and a mental health specialist who acted in response to the disease, Pramudith Rupasinghe was able to penetrate the inner thoughts of both the Ebola patients and survivors. He listened to their stories and difficulties and one which attracted him was the story of Thumba. Meeting Thumba inspired Rupasinghe to dive into this semi-fictional novel, where he describes the struggles the protagonist went through, while at the same time adding a literary, fictitious factor to it. Rupasinghe hides Thumba’s true identity in the book by using a different name in order to protect his privacy.
Set in West Africa, the book follows Thumba’s journey as he matures into an adolescent whilst living with a tribe and then being displaced in the city. He finds religion and becomes a nurse, treating Ebola patients and subsequently contracting the disease and surviving it. The book reveals that African tribes living in the forests in the late 1900s were exposed to the optimum conditions for the Ebola disease and many had died after showing symptoms very similar to the disease, however this has not been documented. The book further explores the hierarchical system in place in such tribes and their way of life. Furthermore, it shows the transformation of Thumba’s tribal mindset. The book also highlights the spread of Ebola. The reader bears witness to the struggle of treating an Ebola patient to the suffering of one, after which we are shown the irony of survival as they too must suffer with the ostracism that comes from being an Ebola survivor.
Rupasinghe visited 29 countries within the African continent, which has helped him gain experience and valuable knowledge on the forests and culture of various areas. “As a psychologist who was also working in the peace corporations department with the UN, I had to study medical anthropology,
specifically in the African context. It was imperative for me to know about the social fabric of where I was working, to help with my work. So I always observed and studied the social and cultural aspect of the place I was in. As a result of this, being in Liberia for five years and mingling and conversing with different types of people, especially in the context of crisis resolution, I learned about the different customs of more than 60 tribes. I also read a lot, because to write you also need to read.” He further said that he had travelled by vehicle through many forests in Africa, which is how he was able to gather more information for his books.
Rupasinghe said the book would go a global tour, across 20 countries “It is to raise awareness on the fight against the stigma against Ebola survivors and their family members. It has been translated into many languages, including Sinhala and Tamil. By writing this book, there is pressure not only to do justice to the protagonist and his life but also towards those who have undergone the same experience. The main objective of this book is to be used as a tool for humanitarian advocacy, a tool to fight the battle against stigma as it is the most difficult thing to fight and overcome. This book is about self discovery, it’s about recovery and resilience, we all have battles to fight in life and that is what I have portrayed here.”
Both the Sinhalese translation and the low-cost reprint of the book “Behind the Eclipse” will be available in Sri Lanka at all book retailers from May 18 onward.