Sri Lanka stakes a claim for some of the best books written by Asian authors, but sadly these authors have to take the books to readers in a country like ours. Books can take you on a journey, to a past which is often contested by historians and nationalists. From the times of Vijaya landing in Sri Lanka to the Indian Peace Keeping Force marching onto our soil there are happenings recorded in books that must be preserved for the sake of the generations to come.
We have conflicting records of the civil war and the JVP insurgency. We also have the youth who survived these hard times and are looking to the future. The best selling self-help books on mainstream subjects will take up the space in our libraries, but those little spaces which demand as to where some of our loved ones have vanished to demands answers. This void is slowly being filled by courageous writers and their books have had a profound impact on readers.
Sri Lanka has been viewed by the world as an island in conflict. The struggle for independence, the two insurgencies involving the JVP, the Ealam War and the quite shocking Central Bank Bond Scam are all topics for best sellers and have nudged local authors to think deep and put pen to paper.
Right now we have a ‘Book Fair’ going on and the crowds thronging the BMICH might not give us a true indication of where they are heading as proud Sri Lankans with rich histories.
This is a time where we need to dig deep and find our roots. This applies to members of all communities; whether you are Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and even the Burghers. From Ravana, to Prabhakaran and personalities like MHM Ashraff and also EFC Ludowyk each community has had its heroes, but do we have enough literature out there to quench the thirst of readers who are in search of such information? Leave alone Prabhakaran the name Uthuwan Kande Saradiel is portrayed as a villain in some books and as a folk hero in other publications.
Ludowyk penned the famous book ‘The Story of Ceylon’ in which he touches on how a society is polarized due to nationalism.
But what put Sri Lanka on the world map for all the wrong reasons was the ethnic conflict which further divided this nation and accounted for thousands of lives. One of the books which best helps understand the struggle from a Tamil perspective is ‘The Broken Palmyrah’ which was penned by four academics.
However such literary efforts haven’t been without unwanted drama and savagery. One of the authors of the book, Rajini Thiranagama was gunned down by the LTTE because she questioned the tiger rebels’ role in her writing.
The war concluded in 2009, but to date we see several authors, some with hidden agendas, trying to keep the topic of war in the news and much talked about on political platforms.
But away from the conflict ‘zone’ we see commendable efforts from established writers who are giving back to the profession or pastime that made them known in the book business. For the record our own Michael Ondaatje with the money he received for winning the ‘Booker Prize’-the award-winning book was titled ‘The English Patient’- set up ‘The Gratiaen Prize’. This award gives Sri Lankan writers something to work for from a positive sense when the environment around still has burning ashes and from within which there are ‘ghostly beings’ producing shrieking sounds and calling out to unsuspecting authors to continue writing about a goddamn war.
Back at the book fair most subject books are sold to educate our present generations and pack them off to overseas nations as qualified professionals. But we must find the time to read about our roots and the struggles of members of our communities to establish our clans. Books have a role in connecting us with the past and all such efforts must be cherished and lauded.