- It’s a romance full of real human feelings like jealousy, lust, hatred and even innocence. Still it is not a tragedy
- Let’s settle for romance with a true human flavour. One would be complicating the matters with any other choice
- The story is told entirely from the angle of the boy. It appears confessional, but he shows no signs of regrets
Author- Surath de Mel Sarasavi Publishers, 2019 Price Rs. 650
Reviewed by Chanuka Wattegama
One would prefer sidestepping the intricate task of positioning this a typical oeuvre in literature genre map we are accustomed to. Sadly, one has no choice. It should be placed somewhere.
prima facie, the 392 page Sinhala novel looks a romance. Could have been semi erotic if author has attempted a bit detailed illustration of its plentiful sex scenes – but he hasn’t and it’s still not there. It also alienates itself from psychology, drama and satire – though all such ingredients exist in substantial quantities. Thus we settle for romance, though it is odd.
Why odd? Isn’t it a simple romance? A boy meets a girl. Both heterosexual. Very, if that matters. A boy flirts with a girl. A boy has sex with a girl countless times till he learns by heart furniture arrangements in all rooms of all hotels from Moratuwa to Mt. Lavinia (to be once caught by his mother). Then both the boy and girl flirt with many others and have sex with them passionately. Finally the girl, probably fed up, leaves the boy for another while the former studies in Russia. The newly-wed couple subsequently get a divorce. The boy marries another girl he meets in a night club. She too later leaves him. In the middle of these things they cry, complain, fight, drink and get stoned from time to time. All these happen in a time span of eighteen years. If that does not make a romance, what does? Sujeewa Prasanna-Arachchi could have penned it and Saman Edirimuni could have made it a good script for a 1,000 episode tele-drama.
No. Certainly not. That is exactly what makes this novel different from what contemporary Sri Lankan society calls a romance. It’s not a romance filled with mutual love, kindness and respect. It’s a romance full of real human feelings like jealousy, lust, hatred and even innocence. Still it is not a tragedy. Let’s leave it at that. It’s not worth dissecting the work further searching for its genre. Let’s settle for romance with a true human flavour. One would be complicating the matters with any other choice.
Most, Lankan romances so far had one distinct feature. They all were more Victorian than oeuvres d’epoch Victoria. Readers of different generations from those of Piyadasa Sirisena’s‘Jayatissa saha Rosalyn’ to Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s‘Malagiya Ettho’ and from Karunasena Jayalath’s‘Golu Hadawatha’ to Upul Shantha Sannasgala’s ‘Vassana Sihine’ might be forgiven for assuming Testosterone and Estrogen deficiencies of their favourite characters. Fortunately Geeth, protagonist (‘Thaa’) of de Mel’s novel seems to have a free flow of male hormones. Perhaps a bit more. A heterosexual male, Kinsey would have placed at one extreme of his scale. The girl Divya (‘Thee’) shows a slight inclination towards a same sex friend, whom, not surprisingly, later seduced by Geeth, but that per se does not make her bi. With this daunting couple, de Mel breaks the Victorian framework of Lankan romance. It’s not just the characters he denudes, but also the entire false value system attributed to Asian romances.
The story is told entirely from the angle of the boy. It appears confessional, but he shows no signs of regrets. Apart from crispy dialogues (and few letters in case of the girl) we have no clue what and how other characters, especially the parents, think or react. The author is far from being sympathetic towards the protagonist. He is not your courteous next door neighbour who aims for three distinctions at A/Ls. He is not even a modern day Romeo, too chivalrous and charming. He resembles more to typical pre-historic male – coarse and aggressive - ever ready to rape his lover. Or for that matter, he is the typical outstandingly heterosexual South Asian twenty first century young man, who would offer a smart phone for his ‘geni’ directing her to a hotel room for violent sex. Then she – the girl Divya – she too is the typical South Asian 21st century young women who would unquestionably agree to such a deal.
Yes, the time stamp. That matters. One would not jump to make it too modern. Interestingly, only clue that gives its age of the story is the mobile use of characters. The devices exist but they are used only for voice. No WhatsApp. No Facebook. Not even texting. So one can conveniently push the inception of the romance 15-20 years back to past. Millennial. Very. A more modern story would still be more complicated and less Victorian.
Why should one read this? Well, firstly for its poetic language. It is so suave. One feels riding a luxury bus in Southern Expressway. Certainly not a tuk tuk in a village road. It’s the language that smoothens out more dramatic and obnoxious events in the story. It’s the language that still makes the novel a romance, not a Saman Wickramarachchi. Highly recommend those who look for a change. Too bad if you still remain a Victorian. You will never know what you miss.