August 09, 2020
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Culture Shock

Presents only a slice of the Lankan Tamil reality, but it is an authentic voice. Matter-of-fact, unsentimental, evocative but sparse.

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Culture Shock
By Shobasakthi (tr. By Sivanarayanan)
Random House Pages. 163; Rs. 195
It is a tribute to human ingenuity that even amidst continuous cruelty, torture and degradation, the inquiring, creative spirit cannot be extinguished. Shobasakthi, a former LTTE guerrilla and now a refugee in Paris, exemplifies this in his disturbing novel, which captures both the daily horrors of the Sri Lankan Tamil community in their homeland and the wretchedness of the lowest rung of the asylum-seeking Tamil diaspora.

Written in a matter-of-fact, unsentimental style, this fictionalised true story of a separatist is evocative but sparse. It presents only a slice of the Lankan Tamil reality, but it is an authentic voice. The characters and the dialogue are utterly real—coarse but robust, with neither varnish nor exaggeration. Irony weaves through the narrative, more powerful for its understatement. Before the ethnic conflict escalated in the 1970s, the Jaffna Tamils were the repositories of culture and learning, but now their "honey-tongued" language has neither nation, nor it seems, speakers. Crude characters speak a gutter-dialect of vulgar abuse. Peaceniks commit heinous crime. Brutality is endemic, relentless, pervasive—national, local, criminal, communal, even familial.

Though a good chronicler and a deep but unpretentious thinker, the author has left many questions unanswered, many situations unexplored. Unlocking personal suffering is an excruciating process; it can be chipped at but slowly. Gorilla is a first, tentative foray. We will surely hear more from this creative dandelion. All the better for it.

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