New Login   

Tales from the Lankan Shores

B. Mangalam

By Shyam Selvadurai
Penguin, Delhi, 2005, pp. 211, Rs. 250.00

By Pradeep Jegannathan
South Press, 2005, pp. 125, price not stated.


Swimming In The Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai is an engaging tale of teens wrestling with their sexual identity. At the outset, there is nothing much specifically Sri Lankan about the novel except its lush setting teeming with tea estates, sea shores and tropical roses. The novel unfolds a disturbed childhood of fourteen-year-old Amrith who is raised by his dead mother’s friends and grows up in material comfort in the midst of fond affection, comraderie with the couple’s daughters and a liberal school that nurtures his theatrical talent. The novel’s loud announcement at the beginning of the novel, almost as an epigraph, seems misleading: “Srilanka 1980”. The reader’s preparedness to grapple with the political turmoil of the eighties in Sri Lanka is utterly derailed. Instead what awaits the reader is a young boy’s ennui during a school vacation, the thrill of excitement over planning a birthday party for the girls, the witty debunking of the younger girl’s secret ambition to become a nun and a mystery of a stormy past of the boy that is revealed in stages (which ultimately is a wash-out, perhaps to bring home the title’s significance!)     Selvadurai writes without affectation although he puts in a lot of effort in putting together a coming-of-age story: a staged mystery peopled with ranting and raging characters with motiveless malignity, sub-plots, rhearsals for Othello the resonance of which spills over to middle class bedrooms, Dickensian uncles, aunts and old dowagers who are charming though eccentric but are enormously rich and generous, non-resident, Canada-based Sri Lankans who are laughed at, joked about but also pitied for being neither Lankans nor Canadians, a bunch of school boys, brazen, jealous and fun-loving.     The novel stands out as a healthy dose of nostalgia. Selvadurai manages fairly well to avoid the inevitable pitfalls of nostalgic writing but for the odd temptation to romanticize Viresh. Born in Sri Lanka, the writer moved to Canada at the age of nineteen. This largely explains the dominant craving for the past in the novel — the landscape, the people, the country, the inaccessible childhood, the not so innocent adolescence, the awakening of sexuality, one’s first love — all these are coloured by a benign self-indulgence. This novel is Selvadurai’s bid to make peace with one’s past, recognize its cherished relations and moments and build up an inner strength to accept and rise ...

Table of Contents >>
Please or to Read Entire Article

Free Access Online 12 Back Issues
with 1 year's subscription
Archive (1976-2011)
under construction.