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Small is Beautiful


Swarna Rajagopalan

SRI LANKA: A LAND IN SEARCH OF ITSELF
By Mohan K. Tikku
National Book Trust, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 158, Rs. 50.00

CONFLICT IN SRI LANKA: THE ROAD AHEAD
Edited by V.R. Raghavan
Centre for Security Analysis, Chennai, 2009, pp. 156, Rs. 990.00

SPATIALISING POLITICS: CULTURE AND GEORGRAPHY IN POSTCOLONIAL SRI LANKA
Edited by Cathrine Brun and Tariq Jazeel
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 260, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXXIII NUMBER 8-9 August/September 2009

For a small island Sri Lanka inspires a great deal of scholarly writing. The best of this writing actually is by Sri Lankan scholars who seem to exemplify a clichéd view that crisis and creativity are somehow related. Only one of the three books featured in this review may be described as scholarly, but all of them are clearly meant to inform thinking about Sri Lanka, forming some semblance of a common thread.   Mohan Tikku, who was the Hindustan Times correspondent in Colombo during the IPKF years is the author of Sri Lanka: A Land in Search of Itself as part of the National Book Trust’s Afro-Asian Countries Series. This book priced at Rs. 50 is affordable and Tikku’s style is accessible. He actually writes about people and topics that sometimes get left out of general books on Sri Lanka, such as the Veddas and their leader, Tissahamy, and the gendered consequences of war. There are details like an account of Ananda K. Commaraswamy’s life that would not normally fit into a history or politics book but are interesting and important. Similarly, Tikku mentions that J.R. Jayawardene attended a Congress session, something that other Indian readers will notice as an unusual detail. The writer quotes songs and poems from various Sri Lankan languages. These pleasant surprises and the idea of a series of general knowledge books that are affordably priced predispose me to recommend this book.   While this is a great series idea at an unbeatable price, surely the National Book Trust would want to assure quality as well? Typographical errors abound and the editing is shoddy. The problem persists through the book. The author discusses history, politics and economics in detail. His narrative refers to specific events and people at specific moments but there is no mention of sources. Perhaps footnotes are considered inimical to readability, but given that this is an educational series, where is the reader to go for more information? When the Amar Chitra Katha comic book series manages to include information on the inside front cover about sources, there is no reason why this book could not use notes and a reading list. The question that stays with one throughout the reading is: who is meant to read this? There are times when it reads like a journalistic memoir, and at other times when it seems like a children’s book ...


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