Sri Lanka

Kindly contributed by Romesh Gunesekera whose stories, set in his native Sri Lanka, are steeped in the spirit of place. In his early collection Monkfish Moon a diverse set of characters ask the question, "what's happened?" as Gunesekera forces them (and us) to deal with the reality of a nation embroiled in Tamil-Sinhala strife. His slim novel Reef tells the haunting story of modern Sri Lanka through the eyes of a servant and his oblivious master. His most recent story collection Noontide Toll is narrated by a minibus driver and centered around his passengers in post-war Sri Lanka. Gunesekera's perceptive stories paint a fine portrait of the scars of war and illuminate what Sri Lanka's future might hold.

 

One of my favourite drives in Sri Lanka is the old coast road going south from Colombo to Galle. The road has been superseded by new expressways that cut through the countryside rather than follow the contours of the coast, but it is a road I try to go on whenever I can. It is also a road that comes into my books time and again. Here is a passage from my first novel Reef, followed by another excursion on that same road with Vasantha, the van driver who is the narrator of my most recent book of fiction Noontide Toll. "We drove for hours; whistling over a ribbon of tarmac measuring the perpetual embrace of the shore and the sea, bounded by a fretwork of undulating coconut trees, pure unadorned forms framing the seascape into a kaleidoscope of bluish jewels. Above us a tracery of green and yellow leaves arrowed to a vanishing-point we could never reach. At times the road curved as though it were the edge of a wave itself rushing in and then retreating into the ocean. We skittered over these moving surfaces at a speed I had never experienced before. Through the back window I watched the road pour out from under us and settle into a silvery picture of serene timelessness." -- from Reef  

"I went down the Galle road, heading south. Not to go somewhere I had never been before, but to do exactly the opposite. To go somewhere I had been many times before. To revive a memory not just of the scenery, but the thrill of being there in my own vehicle. To regain the road for myself somehow and bind the past to the present and make it truly my own. I went down the coast like we used to do when I was chauffeur to madam and I’d drive her party to Hikkaduwa with boxes of egg sandwiches in the dickey, stopping to buy biscuits from the old Monis bakery, filling the car with the smell of warm sugar and coconut while the sea played peek-a-boo between the trees and catamarans and I felt I belonged to a lucky world of free meals and white shirts and iced coffee, where the conversation I could overhear was of a prosperous world somehow within my reach — yes, we had real dreams those days ..." -- from Noontide Toll