Through the 77 riots, the exodus and the IPKF misadventure, he chose to remain in Sri Lanka, although he could have easily landed a job in a foreign country. Ayathurai Santhan was a writer long before he took up engineering as a profession. Santhan’s novel Rails Run Parallel, published just a month ago by Paw Print Publishing, Colombo, was recently shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award 2014.
Although the backdrop for the novel Rails Run Parallel is the 1977 riots, it deals with the eternal human nature and relationships.
Love and hatred, understanding and misunderstandings, selfishness and altruism, past and present run parallel in human life. These are reflected in this novel, as well.
Among the other shortlisted works are the novella Rao’s Guide to Lime Pickling in manuscript form by Sandali Ash, novel Celibacy Factor by Quintus G Fernando and Vihanga Perera’s collection of poetry Love and Protest. The winner will be announced on June 12, at the main prize event to be held at Park Street Mews, Colombo.
On our own personal Gratiaen watch, The Nation caught up with Santhan, on his latest Gratiaen shortlisted book, Rails Run Parallel.
Q: In Rails Run Parallel you deviate from your preferred genre, prose, to novel form. Was this transition difficult?
No. Genre is a word which should not disturb the writer too much, I think. He just has to write. The work shapes itself and the critics and readers are left with the task of working out its definitions.
Q: Do you think it’s unfair to shortlist manuscripts, because readers are sometimes forced to wait for up to a year for them to get published?
No. Leave alone the readers, what about the writers? Unless they get a publisher, they won’t be able to submit their work. Getting shortlisted will enhance their chance of finding a publisher.
Q: Being an engineer by profession what prompted you to start writing?
Nothing incompatible in this; both are creative tasks. Actually, the writer was the first to emerge in my life. My reading prompted me to write, at the beginning.
Q: You chose to remain in Sri Lanka through the 77 riots, the exodus and the IPKF misadventure, although you could have easily secured a job abroad. What kept you in Sri Lanka?
I was badly affected by the 77 riots. In the years that followed, I decided to return to Jaffna and to stay where I have felt I always belonged. Fairly soon war broke out and the plight of the innocent people reinforced my determination to stay with them. Not only did I managed to survive those long terrible years, but was also able to contribute whatever I could to my fellow people at a time of hardship. Come to think of it at times I wonder if it’s my strength or weakness which made me stay in the first place.
Q: How did these experiences help you in your writing?
It was of immense help. I experienced firsthand all that I read in the works based on World Wars and the Russian revolution and the like. These experiences have made me realize that human nature and emotions are universal, irrespective of times and places and other divisions.
Q: You originally wrote in Tamil, what prompted you to make the switch?
I wanted to expose the feelings, hardships and life of the people affected, to the non-Tamil reading public.
Q: Why is there a dearth of English writing by Tamils?
There are many reasons. There seems a comparative decline even in Tamil writing in Sri Lanka nowadays. The habit of reading is fast disappearing and there are a lot of other distractions.
Q: You were influenced by the Nobel Prize winning Russian writer turned anti-soviet, Solzhenitzyn, your comment?
I like Solzhenitzyn mainly for his prose poems; but there are many others, too. My favorite authors among Russians are Chekhov for his short stories and Sholokhov for his novels.
Q: Stories such as The Whirlwind have been criticized for downplaying the highly-politicized situation prevailing at the time, your comment.
I was not at all concerned about the political climate prevailing at the time, I only wanted to write about what I knew, what my people underwent at that time, and I am not worried about what arm chair intellectuals, who have never set foot in the North during the war, have to say from their safe havens to show their colors.