Expanded version of the presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
At the session on ‘Buried Alive: Stories that never saw the Light of Day’
At the Brahmaputra Literary Festival, January 30th 2017
I thought I would talk at this session about my own work, having dealt with general principles, as well as discussing Sri Lankan writing in general, during the two previous sessions at which I participated, on the Word and its Public Space, and on Conflict Literature.
This topic is particularly timely, for I have just had republished in Sri Lanka my first novel, which has appeared previously only in India and in Italy. The printer way back in 1985 panicked, and returned the proofs of the first few chapters, but fortunately then the distinguished bibliophile Ian Goonetilleke arranged for Navrang, an innovative Indian publisher, to bring out the book. But sales in Sri Lanka were limited, the book being kept under the counter it seemed, given the stranglehold the then government had over information. So it is only now, courtesy of Godage & Bros, that the novel is freely available in the country in which it is set.
For the book dealt with the riots of 1983, putting the blame foursquare on the then government. This was not a story that the extremists on either side wanted told. Sinhalese nationalists had tales of excessive Tamil demands and did not want highlighting of the numerous abuses Sinhalese governments had engaged in. Conversely, their mirror images, the Tamil extremists, wanted a narrative in which all Sinhalese were tarnished, and my exposition of the actions of just some in government did not fit well with their claim that living with the Sinhalese was impossible.
My story was set in the decision making drawing rooms of Colombo, and highlighted the factions in the then UNP government as well as the domination of family connections. I now realize that the book may explain the animosity Ranil Wickremesinghe has displayed towards me, as when he tried to stop English medium in 2002, preventing Karunasena Kodituwakku from continuing me as an Adviser to the Ministry. At the time I thought that his opposition to that initiative was based, as Tara de Mel put it, on jealousy that she and Chandrika had started it, but I now feel that my own role was also a red rag to him. Continue reading