“Vannathikkulam” (Butterfly Lake) -Preface

D.B.S.JEYARAJ

Vannatikulam
The British veterinarian James Herriot through his writings based on professional experiences gained in farm – studded rural England has acquired a noteworthy position for himself in the field of contemporary English letters.

My friend Nadesan, born, bred and educated in the Island of Sri Lanka is now working as a veterinarian in Australia.. Like Herriot he too has been writing about his experiences as a vet.

Having published some of these articles earlier as an anthology “Vaalum Suvadugal” (footprints of life) Nadesan now enters a new dimension via this venture.

This book is a short novel and could be classified as a novella. It is a narrative written in an auto – biographical mode.

The author himself acknowledges in his preface that this book is set in the period of 1980 to 1983 as a backdrop.

Nadesan was born in Jaffna and had his higher education in Kandy. Both cities are linked by the Jaffna – Kandy highway that goes through the Medawachiya area. The veterinarian author was working in Medawachiya during this period. He has utilised this background with the freedom of the creative writer in this presentation.

Medawachiya, Padaviya and Vavuniya are in the border regions of Tamil majority Northern and Sinhala majority North – Central Provinces. These places serve as backdrop to the novel.

The underlying theme is about love blossoming between a Tamil male and Sinhala female. This love grows gradually to the stage where both enter wedlock through a registered marriage.

The Sri Lankan ethnic crisis exploded into terrible violence in July 1983. This book set in the immediate period preceding that conflagration relates vividly the evolutionary growth of hatred and enmity that led to it. The narrative style though simple is lucid and detailed.

In contrast to the confrontational politics causing schisms and chasms between the two communities Sooriyan and Chitra draw closer to each other in an affectionate bond. Likewise most Tamil and Sinhala characters in the tale lead and yearn to lead friendly, peaceful lives.

Whatever the direction taken by political forces dominating the contemporary political scene the ordinary people irrespective of ethnicity have decent humanitarian qualities. Not only does Nadesan realise this but also conveys that viewpoint effectively in the novel.

Sadly powerless and helpless human beings cannot prevent or control the violently destructive hatred unleashed by the demonic forces of oppression. Only escape through running away is possible. The hero and heroine in this novella do exactly that at the end. They flee from Sri Lanka.

The Tamil poet Kannadasan said once that whatever the victor says is akin to the scriptures. Tamil politics today is projected as an aggressively heroic phenomenon by the dominant forces. Most Tamil media reflect that viewpoint faithfully. A dark age similar to that of the “Kalappirar” era in Tamil history prevails. In such an environment only Literature remains an avenue to record contemporary events correctly and effectively.

Innocent mortals are crushed and charred by the ferocious horror of present political trends. Yet they strive valiantly to preserve basic values and the inherent goodness of humanity in the face of overwhelming adversity. Nowadays we are able to spotlight this only through a literary vehicle.

This is an important and very, very necessary task. Nadesan achieves this to a great extent through this little volume.

There is ample opportunity in this narrative for Andean to have moulded propagandistic characters. Yet to his credit he has refrained from doing that. Instead of hectoring or lecturing the author displays commendable restraint in what is a very realistic narrative. There is a remarkable economy of words too.

The book has attributes capable of nurturing a gentle harmonious understanding between the divided Sinhala and Tamil people. Two examples could be cited briefly.

The book’s title is “Vannathikkulam” (Butterfly Lake) It is the ancient Tamil name for the Sinhala village Padaviya. This beautiful
village is a pioneering example of the deliberately designed state aided colonisation strategy that altered demography in the North.

Padaviya is etched in collective Tamil memory as a symbol of Sinhala majoritarian racism. By setting the novel with Padaviya as the backdrop and making protagonists out of some villagers the author succeeds in portraying them as ordinary people instead of as aggressors. This perspective will certainly help reduce feelings of hatred.

The second relates to the pathetic situation where ethnic politics is depicted as an obstacle to marriage. Hearts merging through normal human impulses and wishing to forget prevailing political ecology are prevented from doing so because of the situation in the country.

No valid reason is proffered. What is stated is that in the event of the “ethnic problem” worsening a Tamil married to a Sinhalese cannot seek refuge in the Tamil areas while a Sinhalese married to a Tamil cannot do so in Sinhala areas. What a tragic situation?

Finally Sooriyan and Chitra are unable to live in the land of their birth and go abroad. This illustrates the acuteness of the problem from a humanitarian point of view.

Emphasising this however should not let anyone think that Nadesan has written a political novel or imposed politics unnecessarily.

It is fundamentally a love story evoking nostalgic memories and compiling humane experiences.

Critics reviewing this book with conventional and pedantic analytic tools may discover many imperfections in Nadesans novel. Questions may be raised as to whether it conforms to the basic principles of a literary novel. Ulterior motives could be suspected in its thematic content.

If one transcends those perspectives and views this novel one can clearly discern its authenticity.

The Tamil poetic maestro Bharathiyar spoke of the “hearts inner glow shining in outward words”. Nadesans genuine experiences and thoughts are manifestly visible in his writing. This is the strength and success of the novel.

There is a sense of firm truth and gebuine authenticity in this writing that goes beyond principles of post – modernism. The bright aura that shines forth from this authentic glow envelops and entices the reader.

The simplicity of vocabulary and smoothly flowing style of writing makes this narrative eminently readable.

The book is set in the “Mullai” and “Marutham” types of the five kinds of region described in the “Anbinainthinai” concept of classical Tamil literature. If your emotions flutter like the wings of a butterfly at least for a short while when reading this book the author would then have realised his objective. (ENDS)

DBS JEYARAJ

Feb 9th 2005

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About noelnadesan

Commentator and analyst of current affairs.
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