A young man who turns his desire to join the army into a long stint as a volunteer ambulance driver. A teacher living in an old slum who is the only one brave—or foolish—enough to confront the gangs. A refugee who becomes a community organizer. A woman in a traditional village looking at the new development quickly encroaching on their land. A bored engineer who finds his calling as a crime reporter.

During the Cultural Revolution, many young Chinese in the cities were encouraged—if not ordered—to move to the countryside. Millions of young Chinese in high school and university moved to rural China ostensibly to “receive re-education from the poorest lower and middle peasants to understand what China really is” (to quote Mao Zedong, at the time). Many students remained in the countryside until the end of the Cultural Revolution almost a decade later.

The scene is Turkey in the mid-to-late 70s. A young male college student hops onto a bus. He sits next to a cute female student from his class, but before they can strike up a conversation, they see a right-wing passenger, walk up to another passenger and hit him on the head with a hammer. The young woman screams. The two students get off the bus, only for the female student to call the male student a “disgusting fascist” and leave in anger.

Dismissal, in fact, is the default response to khayal (the preeminent genre of North Indian classical music), well before we get to know what khayal is, and vaguely term its strangeness “classical music”. Those who later become acquainted with its extraordinary melodiousness forget that on the initial encounter it had sounded unmelodious.

Return to Sri Lanka: Travels is a Paradoxical Island, the latest book by Razeen Sally, describes the country with the following words:


There are shelf-loads of recent books about bigger and better-known countries, not least on Sri Lanka’s giant northern neighbour. But little Sri Lanka hardly pops up on the world’s radar screen. When it does, it presents a fractional, distorted view – bombs going off one day, ethnic riots another day, alleged war crimes. On more peaceful days, it yields tourist images of ‘Paradise’.