Listening to Samanth Subramanium and Romesh Gunasekera talk to Ashok Ferrey at the Jaipur Literary Festival is much like having to live in an echo chamber. Three people are making small talk about writing on a country that is described by the pert and loquacious moderator as a very violent place, where ‘a pox or a toxin runs beneath the skin of people that makes them want to fight each other’. Ugh.
Romesh Gunasekera for instance says that yes, he does talk to people when he visits this country, though not necessarily with the idea of getting a story the way Subramanium wants for his non fiction. What he does, he says is to get stories which he then proceeds to put into various fictional situations
He might have added, sotto voce of course, that much of this violence is in the imagination of writers such as himself and the other two there who would have nothing to write about if they didn’t allow their imaginations to run wild, about situations that didn’t quite exist.
What I mean by this is, yes, there was violence in Sri Lankan society, but it is an exploited narrative that is trumped up by writers and social scientists.
For instance, there is no violence in this country in the present time, and if anybody had not noticed there had not been any since 2009. That does not mean that any of these people including Gunasekera cannot stop prattling on about the ever present ‘threat’ of violence below the veneer of Sri Lankan society.
It is a pox that is visible when layers and layers of Dove nourished skin is peeled apart, says the self described journalist from Chennai, neglecting to mention that this ‘pox’ is visible mostly for those who want to imagine it in their minds’ eye, as else, they would not have any books to write…
Gunasekera in his own inimitable, shall we say almost asinine way, tries to make what is mostly small talk in a jocular manner, speculating that it might be ex President Rajapaksa who would get into his taxi driver Vasantha’s jalopy the next time, as he does not ‘have a limousine any more.’
That would be a fate worse than death, to be in the same taxi with any whiff of Gunasekera in it, through his imaginary subject or otherwise, and I wager that Rajapaksa has not sinned all that much to deserve that.
This writer began this column some weeks ago with a description of how it was exactly to experience reading a piece of malicious untruth-telling bile, passing off as a work of fiction.
At the Jaipur Literary Festival, Gunasekera passes on more information about how exactly he comes up with such work that is so shallow that it can only sell by maligning one community and a country’s army, because that is the only way to grab attention in Britain, where he hails from.
Says he that the worst thing for a writer is to think long and hard.Evidently he does not do so at all, to which the only proper retort would be that it shows. He says that procrastination is ‘the result of thinking long and hard before writing’, which is another way of saying that if you want to write boiler plate fiction there is no point in trying to finesse things, because it is better to be as cynical as possible to grab the attention of people.
The other guy at Jaipur, the Indian, says that he felt as if it difficult to get stories out of people in Jaffna etc, as people were afraid to talk.
He was not exactly trying to ferret out stuff about how to boil eggs, Jaffna style, was he? Here is a man who goes to former war ravaged territory to get material for a book he wants presumably to contain the inside story about what happened in Sri Lanka between the Tamil Tiger terrorists and the Sri Lankan army.
Then he complains that it was not easy to get people to ‘talk? Is it easy to poke your nose into history’s garbage and not get offended by the smell of it all?
But this is the all too familiar syndrome and yes, once more, there is a panel about writing in Sri Lanka which is comprised of non Sri Lankans. Subramanium’s work is non fiction at that, and he cannot be economical with the truth.
This writer read a review of his work, This Divided Island, in the British Guardian, and it was hilarious to read comments there by people who were offended by the fact that in the British policy of divide and rule, the Tamils were favored, which is what led to many of the fissures that developed later in the Sri Lankan body politic.
The reviewer of the book says that if the British favored the Tamils it was probably because of the fact that there was some attribute that was positive about the Tamil people.
They may have been more servile, if the review writer really wanted an honest answer, but nobody wants honesty these days as the narrative is all about maintaining political correctness — and being coy operating within the defined parameters.
Romesh Gunasekera for instance says that yes, he does talk to people when he visits this country, though not necessarily with the idea of getting a story the way Subramanium wants for his non fiction.
What he does, he says is to get stories which he then proceeds to put into various fictional situations. An example, he says, is getting a story from a Tiger operative and making it the story of a Sri Lankan army officer!
This reminds me of the fellows in Europe who pass off Tiger bus bomb photographs as the work of the Sri Lankan army! The Kebitthigollewa claymore mining of a school bus for instance was passed off by those working for the Tamil diaspora pro Tiger elements as the work of Sri Lankan army brutes.
By Gunasekera’s own admission he is one of these vile diaspora types, and though all of his doctoring passes off under the rubric of fiction, he is essentially just such a cheap diaspora type of operative in a sophisticated disguise. His dishonesty was documented once before in this column, and writing more about it makes me sick in the stomach, so let me stop here with the hope that in Jaipur they might have better things to do than to listen to mediocre people prattling on about things in a way that reinforces the ersatz orthodoxy about exhaustive subjects such as Sri Lanka.