Unforgettable journey through terror ravaged Sri Lanka
The 'Purge', a novel written by Mahadevan Thampi, takes us to the emerald island rocked by a violent civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. One could gallop through the book in a couple of hours; the plot and the characters are so real and riveting that the reader is sucked into the whirlpool of physical and emotional violence almost at once and then there is no way out till the end.
'Purge’ is the English Translation of Thampi's Malayalam novel 'Alakalillatha Kadal', originally published in 2008. The novel has been translated into English by P Muraleedharan.
The novel is simple and elegant; at the same time, it is complex and philosophical at another level. Thampi shows us the depths human beings can descend to, the nihilistic ways they can adapt to not only when their survival is at stake, but money, position and power beckon. Some of the events in the world are so real that they look surreal, especially at the factory of the Tigers where suicide bombers are 'manufactured'. Well, the civil war in Sri Lanka ended years ago, but there are several wars, both overt and covert, happening in other parts of the world and I am sure, this novel would find echoes at all such places.
The novel is written in the form of diary entries made by a Malayalee journalist who accompanies Cicil Glancer, daughter of a media baron and a woman TV journalist from Norway, on a special mission to report on the Sri Lankan civil war. Cicil's dad had already made arrangements through his contacts to smuggle them to Sri Lanka via the sea route. Just before they set off from the Indian shore, they are joined by an old woman called Sathyamma, a refugee from the island. She had lost her children in the civil war and fled to Tamil Nadu.
Sathyamma wants to return to her home and find her three daughters who were taken captive by the Tigers when she was escaping to India with her son and three daughters in a boat. Having left with no money to pay for the ferry, she pleads with the journalists to help her reach the island. They agree to take her along with them after hearing her story. And the real story begins here.
As the storyline progresses, we can see that Sathyamma gradually takes the centre stage. For the journalists, who came to report on the plight of the refugees and victims, she presented a nice opportunity for a heart-rending item. The character of Sathyamma, without whom the story would have been hollow, remains more or less silent partner in their journey. Her silence in the story hides an ocean of pain she carries within and the reader becomes acutely aware of it as the story moves on. Thampi has succeeded in etching her character in blood on the readers' minds.
There is one thing that disappointed me; the journey of the two journalists who came to report the plight of civil war victims was narrowed down to Sathyamma’s mission to find her children. One would expect a much larger canvass and characters in a novel that deals with such a complex humanitarian crisis. Maybe, the author wanted to mirror the entire civil war and its victims through the life of Sathyamma and a few other characters.
The lives of Thampi’s characters transform with startling quickness, and a kind of coiled violence is omnipresent as though it is ready to jump at the reader. Most remarkable thing about his writing is its generosity. It doesn't sit on judgment even when they make bad decisions; the characters are rounded and recognizable.
What is the impact of a war and its terrible violence on low-income communities and women? The book unravels the trauma and agony of common people poignantly. The lost lives, missing children, raped women, boy soldiers, brainwashed suicide bombers, people caught between the brutalities of the army and the LTTE...unspeakable horrors rise before us and shake our conscience. Thampi writes about tragedies that aren’t usually chronicled –the people who just die and die as wheels of war and communalism roll on.
The reign of terror of Tigers ended in the island nation long ago, but the memories and scars it left behind would never disappear. Vasudevan Thampi's 'Purge' relives those painful times as though all that happened before our very eyes.