It is tempting to see Anuk Arudpragasam’s new novel A Passage North, set in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, as having political intent. It undoubtedly does: it is set around the dutiful visit of Krishan, a Tamil living in Colombo, to Sri Lanka’s war-scarred Northern Province for the funeral of Rani, his grandmother’s erstwhile care-taker, herself damaged by the war that took her two sons.
Borders are “important”: they define, in legal terms, who we are, our identity, and our rights. Except borders are rarely imposed with any thought to the people actually living there. And once a border is imposed, it can radically change the lives of those who live alongside it, dividing communities forever more.
While in the mid 1990s, with China rapidly embracing capitalism, a Maoist insurgency may have seemed an incongruous throwback to the numerous proxy conflicts that had raged throughout the Cold War. Yet in Nepal, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) had never been more relevant.
Living along a border can be literally living on the edge, for borders are places of uncertainty where death, humiliation and misery can be all too common. As Suchitra Vijayan points out in her book Midnight’s Borders, this is where entire communities can become stigmatized as foreigners, illegals, smugglers and traitors.
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’.
In Graphic Migrations: Precarity and Gender in India and the Diaspora, Kavita Daiya provides a literary and cultural archive of refugee stories and experiences to respond to the question “What is created?” after decolonization and the 1947 Partition of India.
On the first page of Return to Sri Lanka, Razeen Sally endearingly describes himself as a wonk, ie a technocrat. A political economist and policy advisor on international trade, his writing normally appears in academic journals; this is his first attempt to write something more personal. He was born and grew up in Sri Lanka, but as an adult he lost touch with the country. This book is a personal rediscovery and an exhaustive look at the history and culture of the island.