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Grassroots Realities Fictionalized


G.J.V. Prasad

SAM'S STORY
By Elmo Jayawardena
Viking/Penguin, New Delhi, pp. 173, Rs. 299.00

DO YOU SUPPOSE IT'S THE EAST WIND: STORIES FROM PAKISTAN
Edited by Muhammad Umar Memon , Translated by Faruq Hasan
Penguin, 2009, pp. 296, Rs. 299.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 2 February 2010

Winner of the Gratiaen Award in 2001, Sam’s Story is by some-one hailed as an ‘Everyday Hero’, someone who works to alleviate poverty. Elmo Jayawardena is the founder-president of a humanitarian organization, and is also a writer with an impressive record of two award winning novels out of three. This is a novel about the civil-war-torn Sri Lanka, and its terrible impact on the lives and minds of people. Taking as its protagonist a ‘simple’ boy who cannot understand events clearly (who waters the plants even when it rains and can’t understand why he is being told not to when his instructions were clearly to water the plants every day), a Sinhala boy from a poverty stricken background, Jayawardena show us how hate permeates the island, infesting even ‘innocent’ minds. The choice of protagonist allows Jayawardena to sidestep all other, and perhaps more significant, details about the ethnic conflict and make it a story of venal (though not present in the book) politicians, benign Sinhala elites, suffering Sinhala poor, and misled Tamilian terrorists who needlessly take and lose lives. He doesn’t need to ask why the conflict arose in the first place or whether there is anything beyond a personal peace, a separate peace, that is possible—having shown how conflicted and unstable such a personal peace is in the depiction of the protagonist’s brother Madiya who deserts from the army because it is a mindless war being fought by soldiers on both sides who have no say in the matter. The protagonist, Sam, is part of a large family managed by a single mother in a remote village which is not even connected properly by road. There are only two occupations there—rubber tapping or digging for sand in the river. The civil war and the resultant recruitment of soldiers brings them hope of employment and money. Sam is of course not easily employable, and conventional education has not managed to touch him, and is finally farmed out to work in a house of a foreigner and then sent off to River House to work for a rich Christian family, which is where we find him in the beginning of the novel. His best friend now is a dog, Brutus, and he also likes the son of the family when he comes back home with his sister from the foreign shores where they go to school. ...


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