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Popular Literature Unit 3 LGBT Fiction
Popular Literature Unit 3 LGBT Fiction Notes cover all the exercise questions in UGC Syllabus. The Popular Literature Unit 3 LGBT Fiction provided here ensures a smooth and easy understanding of all the concepts. Understand the concepts behind every Unit and score well in the board exams.
Shyamt Selvadurai, Funny Boy
Critical Summary of Funny Boy
SHYAM SELVADURAI was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 1965 and is of a Tamil and Sinhala mixed background. He is a Christian openly gay, which is a problematic issue for a Sri Lankan resident. At the age of nineteen, he moved to Canada with his family after the 1983 ethnic riots. He studied creative writing and theatre and has a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from York University. He currently lives in Toronto. Funny Boy his first novel was published to acclaim in 1994 and won the W.H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award and in the U.S.
The Lambda Literary Award and was named a Notable Book by the American Library Association. His second novel Cinnamon Gardens has been published in Canada, the U.K, and the U.S and translated into 6 languages- Italian, French, German, Danish, Spanish and Hebrew. It was shortlisted for Canada’s Trillium Award, as well as the Aloa Literary Award in Denmark and the Premio Internazionale Riccardo Bacchelli in Italy. Shyam Selvadurai is the editor of an anthology, Story-wallah! A Celebration of South Asian Fiction, published in Canada and the U.S. His young-adult novel, Swimming in the Monsoon Sea, was short-listed for the Governor General’s Award but won the Lambda Literary Award in the Children’s and Youth Literature category in 2006.
Pigs can’t fly: The family keeps one Sunday a month for a spend-the-day when the adults are privileged to free themselves “from their progeny” throughout the day. Arjuna, his brother Varuna, and his sister Sonali are driven to their grandparents’ for the spend-the-day of that month. The ancient setting of the house with its long and dark corridor, its ancestral photographs on the walls, and its high ceiling inculcate fear in the hero Arjuna. Ammachchi and Appachchi (Grandma and Grandpa) enthroned in their large, reclining chairs represent an alien generation, aggravating the fear in Arjuna and Ammachchi’s kisses reach his face with physical pain. Both the adults and the children benefit from the spend-the-day arrangement. The children take leave of the parents “without even a pretence -of sorrow” to be free from “parental control,” “ever watchful eyes,” and “tale-bearing tongues of the house servants.” Yet they are in the care of Ammachchi and the housemaid Janaki. Ammachchi is like earth-goddess in fairytales and any disturbance of her peace would invite a catastrophic earthquake.
The children have their own strategies of preventing conflict — “territoriality and leadership.” Under territoriality the premises are divided into two as the boys’ area and the girls’ area. In the boys’ area there are two leaders, Meena and Varuna alias Diggy. In the girls’ area there is one leader, and that is Arjuna. The boys always played cricket but the girls played more creative games like “cooking-cooking,” “Thumbelina,” “Cinderella,” or “bride-bride.” Arjuna is popular among all the girls and his leadership is rewarded with the role of bride in “bride-bride.” The girls loved the game and Arjuna in his saree is considered “an icon, a graceful, benevolent, perfect being upon whom the adoring eyes of the world rested.”
The popular bride-bride game ends in a disheartening manner. Auntie Kanthy comes back from abroad with her husband Uncle Cyril and their daughter Thanuja. The children call Thanuja “Her Fatness” because of her obesity. No sooner have they settled down in Colombo, Thanuja joins the girls in their games. Thanuja accepts the role of the bridegroom in the game “bride-bride” on two consecutive spend-the-days and on the third spend-the-day everything changes. All adults gather there and stay for lunch as it is Ammachchi’s birthday. As his mother is supposed to wear a sari, Arjuna’s family usually gets late to leave home. Arjuna enjoys watching his mother dressing herself.
Here it is clear that he is led by his libidinal feelings. Auntie Kanthy seems to be a cynical woman. Carried away by Thanuja’s lies, she questions Arjuna, the leader of the girls’ games, as to why her daughter is not taken for games. The boy escapes from her, as grandmother gets hold of him to kiss. Auntie Kanthy seems to capitalise on the sympathy the others hold for her for having a tough time when she was abroad. Meanwhile Thanuja attempts to attract the other girls’ favour with her exotic foreign dolls. However, she fails to prevent the others from their involvement in the bride-bride. All girls laugh at Thanuja dressed as the bride groom. Thanuja in her groom role violates the rules and conditions of the game by assuming a dictatorial mood. When the others try to quieten her she demands the role of the bride. She challenges Arjuna’s enactment of the bride role being a boy. Failing to win over the other girls, she calls Arjuna names “Pansy”, “faggot”, and “sissy”. The other girls call her in a chorus, “Go away you fatty boom boom.” She breaks away from them and runs to her mother leaving her clothes.
Auntie Kanthy comes to the porch, threatens the girls for calling her daughter fatty, gets hold of Arjuna in a tight grip, and pulls him along the corridor into the drawing room where all the adults have gathered. All the adults laugh at him calling him funny. Embarrassed by the disgrace, Arjuna’s parents remain upset. When the parents are at home, the father blames the mother for allowing Arjuna in her room while she gets dressed. Usually, Arjuna with his keen eyes feasts on the mother’s figure in her underskirt and blouse. He enjoys the perfume smell of her jewellery. The technique she uses in wearing her saree fascinates him. “You should have been a film star,” he remarks while admiring her beauty. But after he gets caught in a saree, his mother does not allow him in her room while dressing herself. Since he hears the word “funny” being uttered by a number of adults, he has been wondering what it means. The mother keeps aloof him. He feels it.
The mother, on the next spend-the-day, orders Varuna that Arjuna should be included in his cricket team. When the two boys protest against this, the mother declares, “If the child turns out wrong, it’s the mother they always blame, not the father.” The mother does not show any sympathy for their pleading. Arjuna imagines how Thanuja will take his place, and plans to escape from cricket and manoeuvre the game of bride-bride. He stealthily takes the saree with him in his sister’s bag. While in the car, when Varuna asks the mother why Arjuna cannot play with the girls, she replies, “The sky is high; and pigs can’t fly.” When the mother leaves the children at the grandparents’, Varuna tries to take Arjuna into his cricket team. But the others reject him. Everybody calls him, -Girlie Boy.” Atjuna wants to use it to his own advantage. In deciding the batting order, the players have to select one out of a column of hyphens drawn against a column of numbers that are covered at the moment of selection and that represent the positions that players would occupy by luck. Arjuna acquires the number one position in the batting order, but he is not given it. He protests against Murugesu taking over his position. The boys try to negotiate with him but he persists in his protest. Then he is chased out for his stubbornness.
Ultimately, he goes to join the girls. There Thanuja has already taken control. She shouts at him, “Go away!.. Boys are not allowed here…” Finally, he offers.to play “the groom” in the bride-bride and manages to join them. But he cannot join them in the cooking. Being creative, he uses his office-employed groom position to have fun and one by one the girls leave the cooking and start operating at his commands as the officer. Unable to tolerate this, again Thanuja wants him out. Then he threatens her not to give the saree to bride-bride. Thanuja, who has already picked it up from Sonali’s bag, challenges that he does not have it. She allows him to search for it but laughs at his failure.
Finally, she runs away with the saree and he tries to grab it from her by pulling her by the hair. The saree gets torn and the children retaliate by tearing her blouse. Even the dominant Janaki feels helpless at the sight of her howling. Ammachchi comes to the scene with the sternest look on her face. She seems not considerate about his explanations but wants to punish him. So he shouts at the old woman, “I hate you old fatty.” He runs away and ends up on the beach. He finds no refuge there but goes back to the grandparents’, expecting a severe thrashing. He glances at the torn saree again, and ponders on his deprivation of entering the girls’ world. He feels that he does not belong either to the boys or to the girls. Arjuna’s life changes drastically after this.
Auntie Radha is the youngest sister of Atjuna’s father. Auntie Radha and Rajan meet in America and get impressed by each other. Later on Rajan informs his parents and gets them to make a proposal for Auntie Radha. The old Mr Nagendra, Rajan’s father, is a contemporary of the grandfather and everybody in the family is happy about it. The young man is known as an engineer working for an American company, neither an alcoholic nor a womaniser, hailing from a family of healthy people. Arjuna is thrilled by the idea of attending a real church wedding in the family with a real bride. He visualises the saree, the confetti, the cakes, the pale haram, and the jasmine garlands that would go for the wedding. Influenced by romance and marriage in Sinhala films and Janaki’s love comics, he tries to figure out how Auntie Radha looks and imagines her to be like the famous film star Auntie Malani Fonseka, plump with rounded hips, fair complexioned, kohl rimmed eyes, wearing her straight hair into an elaborate coiffure on top of her head, in a Manipuri saree with a gold border. Arjuna eavesdrops when the adults are talking about Auntie Radha.
He is now not allowed to move with the other children since he has fought with Thanuja, and is to do some work in the house ordered by Ammachchi. Now and then he receives a knock on his head for his silly mistakes. Janaki who has taken pity on him allows him to be in her room and read through her Sinhala love comics. He finds a book on two lovers — Manilal and Sakuntala and imagines the story of Rajan Nagendra and Auntie Radha. Day by day, his enthusiasm about the on-coming wedding in the family keeps growing. He waits for Auntie Radha to come from America. Only a week after her arrival at home, Arjuna gets an opportunity to visit her. He notices Auntie Radha playing the piano at home, but disagrees about it within himself, expecting her to have an exciting romantic relationship with Rajan, shopping, going out with him, cooking and cleaning the house for him. Arjuna’s imagination of Auntie Radha is different from the real. She is pitch dark brown and does not look like a film star of Malini Fonseka’s calibre. Her hair is frizzy; she is thin; she does not wear a saree, but a top, strange trousers, and odd shoes. She appears totally different from his imagination.
As usual Ammachchi gives Arjuna his day’s assignment. This time he has to dust all the brass ornaments in the drawing room. Arjuna is conscious of Auntie Radha’s mistakes in playing the piano, but does not laugh at her as she is friendly towards him. She kisses him and starts playing a romantic tune. While dusting the brass items, he feels cheated by Auntie Radha. What he expected in her is not there. When Ammachchi shouts at Arjuna with a punitive correctionalism, Auntie Radha openly criticises her, “You treat him like a servant boy.” Later she speaks to him politely and enquires about his not playing with the others. She differs from the other adults in the Chelvanayagam family as she does not have their cynicism. She invites him into her room and allows him to play there. He starts examining the cosmetics on her dressing table. Auntie Radha decorates his face by rouging the cheeks, putting a pottu on his forehead, colouring his eye-brows etc. etc.
She enjoys doing it and shares the pleasure of it with Janaki, but the latter warns her against it. She doesn’t mind it though, and allows him to play with her knickknack the whole afternoon. He develops a boldness to talk to Auntie Radha about her on-coming wedding. Auntie Radha is amused by his knowledge about Rajan Nagendra. He makes suggestions for the wedding such as wearing a long veil, deploying ten bridesmaids to hold it, and having seven page boys and seven flower girls to accompany her. He offers to be a page boy but does not want Thanuja to be a flower girl. He even suggests costumes for the entire bridal party. Because of her indulgence, Arjuna considers Auntie Radha to be his most favourite aunt. In the meantime Thanuja comes in her costume for bride-bride and tries to run Arjuna down, expecting to find envy in his eyes. But Arjuna returns a glance of contempt and shows off his fingers so that she could eye his nails coloured with cutes. When she sees the coloured nails, her face becomes clouded with jealousy.
Auntie Radha gets a role in the theatrical production of “The King and I.” As the director Auntie Doris, a family friend, is looking for child actors to play the children of the King of Siam, the mother offers Arjuna a chance. Arjuna likes theatre because of make-up. He asks the mother whether the King marries the English Governess at the end of the story, and the mother says, “No”.
Arjuna imagines that every meeting between a man and a woman ends in marriage. The rehearsals take place at St Theresa’s convent, and Auntie Radha and Arjuna go there together. Auntie Doris, the director of the play, calls on them. She remarks Arjuna with such tender features should be a girl. Auntie Radha joins a group of people including Anil who are discussing some songs. Auntie Radha wins over everybody with her rhetoric over a joke connected with her and Anil as a rose and a bee respectively. “I would rather wither and drop off my stem than be pollinated by a bee like you.” She cheers up everybody including her opponent Anil who has already developed an interest in her. The other girls’ comments on it annoy Auntie Radha. After the rehearsal, Auntie Radha and Arjuna happen to enjoy a lift home by Anil in his car. They get down at the road top by Anil in his car. Ammachchi is surprised by their quick return home. Auntie Radha shares a secret with Arjuna, telling that they got a quick bus home. Ammachchi is too mature to fool. In no time she catches Auntie Radha with the truth through a banana seller at the road top, she finds out all about Anil Jayasinghe and expresses her concern over his being a Sinhalese.
Arjuna wonders why it causes so much consternation in the family as they live, study, work, and associate with the Sinhalese people. He later gets to know that someone in the family had been killed by a Sinhalese. Auntie Radha seems to be very broadminded about the subject and argues that history is no reason to hate all the Sinhalese people. She is against racism. Arjuna learns from the father about the Sinhala-Tamil rift for the first time, while getting the word “racist” clarified by him. The father elaborates on the riots caused between the Sinhalese and the Tamils on making Sinhala the national language of Sri Lanka in 1959. Arjuna learns about the Tamil Tigers in Jaffna after this description. Ammachchi, an uneducated middle-class Tamil, sympathises with the Tamil Tigers, but the father, an educated middle-class Tamil, disapproves of their activities. He brings up the children in exposure to Sinhala. The children are educated in a Sinhlala-medium school to make them adaptable to the national requirement. The Sinhala-Tamil rift in the school became more and more significant in the light of his knowledge obtained from the father.
Ammachchi is a real schemer. She visits the Jayasinghe’s and stops Anil giving lifts to Auntie Radha. Having known this, Auntie Radha becomes upset, and, that afternoon, her plan is to meet Anil and apologise to him for what happened. She visits him with Arjuna and meets him along with his father. His father considers the remarks made by her mother an insult, and declares that his wish for his son Anil is a Sinhalese wife. His father loses his temper but the tension subsides when his mother comes in. Anil remains polite to her throughout the meeting. He reveals his knowledge of her engagement to Rajan, but she expresses her uncertainty about it.
Arjuna’s learning process speeds up in exposure to these conflicts. He considers Anil with his boyish features too young to be a lover. At the next rehearsal Auntie Radha tries her best to avoid Anil, but, under various circumstances, they happen to meet. However, Auntie Radha declines all his offers. The other boys tease Anil for being specially concerned about Auntie Radha. They laugh at Anil congratulating them. Auntie Radha is overtly angry, but could not help laughing. Anil speaks to.Auntie Radha out of curiosity, But Auntie Radha responds curtly. Finally, Anil manages to foot the bill at the Green Cabin. He proposes marriage to Auntie Radha and says that he can get his father’s consent if she likes it.
When they arrive home that evening, Auntie Mala has already come there. She and her husband had seen Auntie Radha and Anil at the Green Cabin, and have come to discuss the matter with Auntie Radha. A medical doctor, Auntie Mala wants everybody to calm down. However, there is great dispute at the dining table.
Ammachchi slaps Auntie Radha on the face. Auntie Kanthy casts cynical remarks about her. Auntie Radha leaves the dining room in tears, while Ammachchi tells about sending her to Jaffna. When Auntie Mala comments on the slapping, Ammachchi tries to assert that she is right as a mother. Auntie Mala talks to Auntie Radha privately in her room. Arjuna manages to walk out on the pretext of going to urinate, and eavesdrops on the conversation between Auntie Mala and Auntie Radha. Auntie Radha divulges that she loves Anil. She even says that, like the other Sinhala-Tamil couples, they can live in harmony. Auntie Mala talks about the determination of the Tamil Tigers, but Auntie Radha abhors separatism the Tamil Tigers work with. Auntie Mala cannot deny Auntie Radha’ position.
Ammachchi’s plan to keep Auntie Radha away from Anil receives a set-back. Auntie Doris stands in her way. Finally, they come to a compromise. Appachchi drives her to the convent and Auntie Doris lets her off for a few weeks so that Amachchi could send her to Jaffna. At the next rehearsal, Anil is not there as it is for the King of Siam’s Wives and Children. Auntie Doris tells Auntie Radha about the demerits of mixed marriages, taking her own marriage as an example. She explains how she was ostracised by her father, which left her at a great disadvantage. She missed the funerals of both her parents, and when she found free access to her sister, it was too late as they had git used to her absence. Since her husband Paaskaran died, she has been alone. Auntie Doris tells all that as a warning in keeping with the compromise she has made for Ammachchi.
Arjuna thinks about Auntie Radha’s situation and calculates how her destiny will be, if she marries Anil. Already Arjuna believes that Aunty Radha is his only friend and is very concerned about the person she should many. Auntie Radha meets Anil outside the rehearsals despite the turmoil in the family. Arjuna remains Auntie Radha’s most faithful ally and, together with him she meets Anil at the zoo. Auntie Radha becomes very close to Arjuna for protecting her secrets. In the meantime Auntie Radha discloses her secret to Janaki and confides to her that she would marry Anil soon after her return from Jaffna_ After Auntie Radha leaves for Jaffna, Arjuna goes for the rehearsals all alone. Each time he bumps onto Anil, he finds his company very comfortable compared to that of the adults he meets at home.
Troubles break out in Jaffna. Some Tamils set the market on fire. A wave of violence arises throughout the region. Auntie Radha is due to return to Colombo the following day by the Night Mail. That day Arjuna goes for the rehearsals and, after the session has been over, waits for his mother. As his mother does not come, Anil drives him home. The sight of a fleet of cars parked in front of the grandparents’ house and a group of people gathered inside causes fear in Arjuna. They are worried as the Night Mail coming from Jaffna had been attacked by the Snhalese people in Anuradhapura in retaliation to what the Tamils had done in Jaffna. Anil lets Arjuna out of his car and joins his family. Despite the others’ indifference, Arjuna’s mother behaves politely towards Anil. He learns from her that Auntie Radha is safe and checks whether he could see her on her arrival in Colombo. Arjuna’s mother is sympathetic with him but Auntie Kanthy is adamant that he should not be sympathised with at all, “Don’t start that poor man nonsense.”
Arjuna is confused about communal violence which had started two days before. While everybody is taking lunch, Auntie Radha comes home with Mr Rasaiah, the face swollen and the head bandaged, blood-stained and covered with a scarf Though Ammachchi tries to south her, Auntie Radha protests against it, clinging on to Mr Rasaiah’s arm. In her room, Auntie Mala examines Auntie Radha’s wound and states that she does not need stitches. Arjuna silently commiserates with Auntie Radha. Mr Rasaiah’s account of violence on the train sounds unreal to Arjuna, but he is compelled to believe and wonders how cruel people can be. Concerned about Auntie Radha, Anil comes to visit her, but Auntie Kanthy and Ammachchi virtually chase him. Auntie Radha comes to live for some time at Arjuna’s with Ammachchi and Appachchi. The rehearsals begin. Anil meets Auntie Radha. She turns different after the communal attack on her. Radha disappears from the rehearsals and is sitting in a classroom, crying. Anil comes to see her. Arjuna is sent away. After they have discussed the situation, they agree not to meet any more.
Radha resigns from the play. A few days later Rajan Nagendran comes from America, and Radha is presented to him by her parents. Arjuna observes that, though Radha is not happy, she resembles the Radha he used to imagine at heart. The Nagendrans and the Chelvanayagams meet. A pastor is invited to bless the rings they would exchange with each other. Listening to Janaki pound something with the mall and pestle, he imagines the possibilities created by marriage for the individuals concerned. The “mall and pestle” action suggests the kind of pounding implied in sex. Arjuna finds a lacuna in the situation. He goes to his bride-bride venue and watches the deteriorated altar. He himself does not know what is missing on the occasion of the engagement. So the reader is meant to imagine that what he has seen in the archetypal lovers in films has not taken place between Auntie Radha and Rajan.
Say No Evil; Hear No Evil :
A sudden change occurs in the lifestyle of the Chelvanayakam. Arjuna’s parents start associating closely with Uncle Sena and Auntie Chithra. The entire family frequent the Oberoi Supper Club. They start buying fancy foods such as blueberry jam, kippers, and canned apricot at Cornell’s Supermarket, where they start doing the shopping. The two families once go in their cars to the down south of Sri Lanka and stop at a hotel which is still under construction. Only there Arjuna gets to know that the father had quitted his banking job and entered the hotel industry with Uncle Sena. The Paradise Beach Resort looks elegant. The gatekeeper and the manager Mr Samarakoon are very respectful to the family. The stretch of a beach seen from the hotel appears to be the most beautiful one Arjuna has ever seen in his life. He gets thrilled by the information that the hotel is partly his family’s.
The father is about to go to Europe to take a holiday as well as to promote the hotel. He advises the kids to order five items to be brought from Europe. Arjuna has been fascinated by the contents in Auntie Nellie’s collection of “Little Women.” Auntie Nelya gives him what she has of them as she is not married and does not have a family of her own. The father remarks that “Little Women ” was for girls, but Arjuna wants the sequels to “Little Women” to be brought from Europe.
After the father’s departure the mother continues the lifestyle they had started together. She starts associating with the elite of Colombo, including the Ministers and the former Prime Minister Mrs Bandaranayake ripped of her civic rights. Then, as if to contradict her optimism, Uncle Daryl enters her life. Arjuna takes him for a European white man but gets astonished with his perfect Sinhala. He was a member of the next door family of Auntie Nelya. So Auntie Nelya recognises him as one of the oldest and dearest friends the family had. Daryl who has now returned from Australia after 15 years is a Burgher. When the mother meets Uncle Daryl she gets so excited that Arjuna notices that there should have been a romantic relationship between the two of them.
Uncle Daryl visits the mother the following day too. But that day Arjuna is in bed down with fever. He finds Uncle Daryl to be a friendly person, as he brings him some sequels to “Little Women” from an old bookshop.
Daryl has come to Sri Lanka to investigate what is happening in terms of state terrorism. From the conversation, Arjuna learns that the mother is against Teamil Tigers and considers them terrorists but Uncle Daryl holds a different view. A European woman journalist had told him about the Prevention of Terrorism Act in Sri Lanka which has led to state terrorism. Arjuna learns that Daryl is a sympathiser of the Tamil Tigers. Auntie Nelya and the mother talk about Uncle Daryl. The mother brushes off Auntie Nellie’s apprehension about Uncle Daryl’s visits. The mother says that there is nothing strange about it. A free economy with the freedom of the press is the mother’s wish.
Arjuna recovers in the meantime. Daryl comes one day and gives him the copies of Little Women, Little Men, and Joy Boys. Arjuna is thrilled to have them. He notices that the mother going out in her smartest clothes and feels that something is going on between the mother and Uncle Daryl. Auntie Nelya is often angry with the mother for this; Sonali becomes quiet as if to hide something; and Varuna loses his temper. Finally, Varuna and Sonali both behave rudely towards Uncle Daryl.
After some time the mother takes Arjuna to the country on a short holiday. Uncle Daryl meets them both at the bungalow they reside. First Arjuna feels worried about it but becomes cheerful, remembering his generosity. They get close to each other and Arjuna finds Uncle Daryl more impressive than the father in his figure and deportment.
Uncle Daryl visits them everyday in this bungalow in the hills. As Arjuna is no problem, the mother feels more and more loving and kind towards Uncle Daryl. The final day in the hills, mother and Uncle Daryl have an argument over his plans to go to Jaffna. Mother tries to dissuade him from going as it is too dangerous, but Uncle Daryl is adamant that he should. Arjuna feels like an unwitting accomplice in the Mother-Uncle Daryl affair. While they live alone in the hills away from the family, he fears if a divorce transpires between the mother and the father.
Uncle Daryl leaves for Jaffna. Arjuna and mother come home to Colombo. They are received by the rest of the family at the ort Railway station. Back home they get back to their normal work.
When the school starts after a few months, Ajuria finds it difficult to cope with the “rigid timetables. cantankerous teachers, and irritating boy.” On his final day at school, mother comes to collect him with Uncle Daryl. They seem to have been in a fight.
Mother drives Uncle Daryl home. He tries to touch her but she objects, as he is going to Jaffna again the following day. When they arrive home Aunt Nelya is to ask Arjuna about what happened but he escapes from her. After Uncle Daryl’s departure for Jaffna, mother starts again going with Aunt Chithra out to parties, fashion shows, and dances but not with her early enthusiasm.
On the radio it is announced that Jaffna has been in heavy troubles. A policeman has been killed and a group of policemen have rampaged through a village. The TULF office and an MP’s house have been burnt down. When mother comes home Arjuna tells her all that and asks about Uncle Daryl. Mother is really upset. The following day on their way back from school Arjuna and mother go to Uncle Daryl’s place. They fmd a mess in his room. The news of the day sounds very bad. The Jaffna Library has been burnt down with 95,000 books. When they have come home they speak with Aunt Nelya about Uncle Daryl. But Aunt Nelya’s advice is not to get the police involved in the search. However, the mother goes to the police station and makes a complaint. Then a senior police officer speaks to her and takes the matter to the officer inside. After some time mother is summoned to the ASP’s room. He takes down mother’s complaint and arranges a team of police constables to go to the place where Uncle Daryl lives. The police officers search the house. The servant boy tries to run away but he is caught by a policeman. Despite the mother’s declaration that the boy is innocent, he is taken into police custody and is taken to the police station.
The ASP very tactfully elicits from mother all the necessary information about Uncle Daryl. He has gone to Jaffna on behalf of a newspaper to investigate police torture of Jaffna Tamils. The ASP tells mother that the police generally do not torture people though some individual policemen take the law into their hand.
That evening father calls from Europe. Mother speaks with him as if nothing unusual has happened. The following day on a call from the ASP mother and Aijuna go to the police station again. The ASP tells mother about his acquaintance with father as a result of playing badminton together. He introduces the boy as a thief and tells that he has robbed some valuables from the room. He later cheekily says, “My regards to your husband. I’m sure he’ll be fascinated by all that’s happened in his absence.” The implication is horrible. The police investigation has probed into mother’s secret relationship with Uncle Daryl.
That evening mother receives a telephone call to the effect that Uncle Daryl’s body has been found. Mother and Aunt Nelya are summoned by the police to the shore to identify Uncle Daryl’s body found by some fishermen. On their return home, mother speaks about the hypocrisy of the police; “Of course, they have witnesses who saw him go swimming.”
She musters up her courage to protest against Uncle Daryl’s killing. Aunt Nelya tells that it would be futile after he has died. Mother, while suffering from a headache, regrets her failure to stop him from going to Jaffna. She really wants to do something against state terrorism that has raised its ugly head but does not know what to do. She laments. Arjuna compares the situation with that in which Beth dies in Little Women.
Mother goes with Arjuna to see QC Appadurei regarding Uncle Daryl’s death or murder. The old man revives some ancient memories about mother and Uncle Daryl. Grandfather sends mother to Kerala with. QC Appadurai for a three-month holiday to change her. She relates to the QC everything about Daryl save her private meetings and asks for his advice as a civil rights lawyer. The QC’s advice is, “Let it rest, child.” He justifies his position with the fact that any pursuance of it would invite troubles not only to her personally but to the entire family. Mother leaves the QC. He reveals that all their telephone conversations can be tapped by the police. His advice is related to the three wise monkeys who maintained the stand, “See no evil; hear no evil; and speak no evil.”
On their way home they go to Uncle Daryl’s home and find an old woman in lieu of the boy. The boy Somaratne has gone back to his village. Mother obtains the information and returns home. She realises what the QC said. A click is heard when mother phones Aunt Mala. Arjuna phones a friend and again the click is heard. So they realise that they cannot escape. They are spied.
That evening mother tells she is going to Somaratne the following morning. Arjuna offers to join her. Despite it is Varuna’s birthday, mother has already decided on it. After a long drive they arrive at Somaratne’s. The boy’s mother and a few other women start shouting at the mother. They refuse to show them Somaratne. Finally, after receiving many insults, they return to the car. They learn from the shouting that Somaratne’s brother had been killed during the 1971 insurrection and this time Somaratne has come with a paralysed arm. When they started returning the villagers hurled stones at them. They ran towards the car. A stone hits Arjuna and he is badly hurt in the back.
In the car Arjuna shouts at mother for taking such a risk as they have been nearly killed in that village. They drive back to Colombo. When they arrive home it is late. Aunt Nelya gives mother a visiting card from a man from Daryl’s paper “Sunday Morning Star.” She warns her not to get involved in this matter as it is too dangerous. The following day the man from the press comes to see mother. He enquires from her about her relationship with Uncle Daryl and about her ideas about his death. She gives very curt responses and the man goes away. She cannot help behaving indifferently towards a colleague of her lover Daryl Brohier.
Arjuna is relieved that mother is cautious. He imagines how they would return to their old life after their father has returned home. Father phones mother from England to organise a party to celebrate his return home and his birthday together. The due day the house is visited by about 75 people. Mother looks happy though she has been tired and sad inside. The old lamps in the garden make the people and the surroundings seem insubstantial.
Small Choices: Arjuna’s father receives a letter from his old friend Buddy Parameswaran’s wife. The letter is accompanied by a piece of yellowed paper in which Arjuna’s father had agreed to protect his family under any circumstance by signing in blood. The letter is a request for a job for his son Jagan who is already working as an accountant for a pro-LTTE campaign called Gandhian Movement. Ascertained to himself that if he were a Tiger he would be straight away out, Arjuna’s father makes up his mind to see Jagan. One evening Jagan visits. Arjuna’s father remains stunned to see him as he looks just like his father Buddy Parameswaran. He readily offers to help Jagan. When Jagan uses the apostrophe “Sir” to call Atjuna’s father, the latter tells him to replace it by “Uncle.” When Arjima’s mother enquiries from him about Gandhian Movement, Jagan replies that there is no policy-wise connection between the Gandhian and the Tigers. His
father discourages his mother’s inquiries as he has already decided that Jagan could work for him.
Arjuna remains infatuated by Jagan’s hefty personality. He observes the latter’s arms, neck, and thighs. Arjuna connects his observations with his puberty. As a teenager he has already undergone some physical changes including his voice. He wants to be a physically attractive and graceful man.
Arjuna’s father invites Jagan to stay for dinner. In the meantime he apologises for his inability to have attended the funeral of Jagan’s father. Later he tells Arjuna’s mother that he is planning to give Jagan the store room to stay. Arjuna’s mother agrees to this suggestion. Arjuna is very happy that Jagan has come to live with them. The following day Arjuna visits Jagan in his own room in the house that his mother and Aunty Nelya had taken a lot of trouble to clean and arrange. The room is cosy. Soon Jagan and Arjuna’s father become inseparable. They go to work together. By listening to conversations between them Arjuna learns that his father has had a similar childhood as his. Once he learns that he has had a romantic relationship with an English girl working in his university in England. He did not marry her. After coming back to Sri Lanka he came to his senses. The low class is the low class either in England or in Sri Lanka.
Arjuna’s father talks with Jagan about Arjuna’s dency to play with dollies and read books. He expresses his pleasure over the growing relationship between Arjuna and Jagan as he believes that it would lead to a healthy development of the boy. Jagan sounds sympathetic with the idea and tells that there is nothing wrong with Arjuna. Arjuna feels grateful to Jagan for defending him.
The Government of Sri Lanka is about to hold a referendum to extend its term by another six years without an election. The ballot paper designed for this has two signs — the lamp for proposition and the pot for opposition. The voter who does not want an election crosses the square next to the lamp and the one who wants and election, the square next to the pot. Greedy for power, the Government promotes the lamp by putting up posters everywhere. A man is found putting up a poster on the parapet wall of the Chelvanayakam. The entire household including Jagan come out to see him doing it. Arjuna’s father tells the man that it is illegal to put up posters on private walls. The man does not regard his protest. Jagan intervenes in the situation on behalf of the Chelvanayakam. He assaults the man and tears the poster. The man threatens, “It is government property.” Everybody is panicked by the man’s threatening. Arjuna’s father regrets that Jagan has had an unnecessary fight with the man, but his mother justifies what Jagan did.
As Jagan is an efficient person, he gets promoted to a supervisory rank. Arjuna’s father and Uncle Sena agree
that if Jagan does the supervision, they can concentrate on the next hotel project in Trincomalee. The entire family visits their hotel three hours to the south from Colombo. There are many tourists on the beach. Jagan notices the tourists exploiting the poor children on the beach around the hotel and makes a remark about it. Jagan’s father explains that the tourists come to Sri Lanka not only for the beaches but also for fun with other natural resources. The implication is sex.
The following day afternoon there is a dispute between Jagan and the hotel manager. Jagan wants to correct a worker and the hotel manager suggests to him that he conveys the matter to the manager and the manager will take action. Jagan considers this funny and complains it to Arjuna’s father, but Atjuna’s father justifies the manager’s position about it. He explains further to Jagan that the hotel is a Sinhala-Tamil joint business and these things happen in a diplomatic way, as the Tamils are vulnerable in a Sinhlala-dominant area. He draws an example, that, during the racial troubles, the hotel was protected because of its Sinhala partnership. Banduratne Mudalali the biggest hotelier in the area is a racist and killed many Tamil families and burned them. So Jagan is advised to follow the set procedure and make a good living by working in collaboration with the others. The bottom line is that to be diplomatic is important as otherwise there may be many sensitive issues.
Jagan tells Arjuna about Sinhala violence upon Tamils. The Tamils are tortured to death by the Sinhala and police. One friend of his was tortured and he left for Canada. Jagan has had a brief stint with the Tigers. But he has now left them. The Tamils live second-class citizens in Sri Lanka under threats from the Sinhalese. Jagan finds Arjuna identical with his friend who left for Canada. He tells about the Tiger camps in India and his friend in the Gandhian Movement.
Back in Colombo Arjuna joins Jagan in jogging in the evenings. His brother Varuna is jealous about this but Jagan is internally happy. Varuna is also a bit arrogant towards Jagan. Jagan accosts a Tamil minister at the Sports Ministry grounds. He has been a schoolmate of Jagan’s but does not want to have any rapport with him. His expensive car has been parked outside the grounds. After this meeting Jagan does not want to go to the police grounds in the future.
One day the police call in search of Jagan. The entire
family is in turmoil because of this. When Jagan has come home he is told about it. Arjuna’s father inquires from Jagan whether he has had any connection with the Tigers and Jagan replies that he used to have but not any more. Then he suggests that Jagan goes to the police well-dressed and speaks to a senior police officer in favour of Jagan. Arjuna’s father accompanies Jagan to the police station, and Jagan is kept at the police station for questioning under the Prvention of Terrorism
Act. Arjuna’s father comes home alone. This depresses everybody at home including Arjuna.
Arjuna’s father reveals that Jagan has been searched because he has been found talking to two Tamil men at the Sports Ministry grounds. They are Tigers and they have planed to kill a Tamil minister who has been considered a traitor by the LTTE. It is on a tip given by the minister that Jagan has been taken into custody.
The charges are false but it is a Tamil minister who made the complaint. Arjuna’s father comes home the following day. In the papers it appears that Jagan Parameswaran, alleged to have assassinated a minister, has been found with a hotelier. The entire story with personal names appears in the papers. Following this, Arjuna’s family receives many filthy calls from unknown people.
The hotel is in a mess as Uncle Sena and the staff gets many filthy calls. There is a note on Arjuna’s father’s desk accusing him of being a Tiger. The family suspect that it must be the work of a staff member. That evening Jagan comes home on being released by the police. Jagan remains reticent about his interrogation. Arjuna’s father suggests that Jagan take a holiday for some time, despite Jagan’s denial. His idea is to keep Jagan out of the scene for some time as the newspaper releases have created a mess in the hotel. All Tamil and Muslim members of the hotel staff express their disbelief about Jagan’s allegations but the manager Mr Samarakoon and the receptionist Mr. Wickremasinghe keep silent. However, Jagan goes to work the following day but feels very uncomfortable.
Jagan experiences insubordination from a peon who makes a mistake in delivering a parcel. All people take the peon’s side including Arjuna’s father. When Arjuna’s mother comments on the injustice caused to Jagan, his father reveals the danger of taking Jagan’s side. There is a notion that speaking Tamil in public is dangerous and Tamil helping a Tamil in whatever matter is dangerous however reasonable it is. Arjuna’s mother seems to have started considering that the Tigers and their separate state have some meaning in a situation where the Tamils are suppressed by the Sinhalese. His father considers she is mad to think so.
A week later, inspection time comes around. Mr. Samarakoon is assigned to supervise Jagan. This time Aunty Chitra, Uncle Sena, Arjuna’s father, and his mother, all are going, as their presence will help Jagan. Everybody is vigilant about the treatment Jagan receives from the others. It is decisive for Jagan. The front staff warmly greet Jagan. Inside the hotel it is all comfortable. In the afternoon, Arjuna, his mother, his brother, his sister, Aunty Chitra, and Jagan go out to visit a rock on the beach. They walk along. Some people are found laughing and singing in an open van. They calm down when the group gets close to them, but while they are returning they shout, “Ado Tiger.” Jagan gets excited. A little later a bottle falls at him. Following this, the entire group ran to the hotel. At the hotel Mr. Samarakoon explains that they are the sons of Banduratne Mudalali.
Arjuna’s father and Uncle Sena get the security tightened for that night. After the gathering has dispersed, Arjuna’s father and his mother talk about going to Canada. His father is adamant that he is not going there and expresses his displeasure over the treatment the coloured people receive in America and other countries in the hands of the white people there.
That night after dinner there is unrest in the hotel. Someone has written across a window in Sinhala, “Death to all Tamil pariahs.” This worries everybody in the hotel. Foreign guests in the hotel are very excited and all remain gathered around Jegan. Uncle Sena tries his best to calm them down but the guests are very anxious. They keep on questioning what the words mean. Leaving the situation to Mr. Samarakoon and Ms. De Silva, Arjuna’s father and Uncle Sena leave the hotel with their families. They find Jegan’s suitcase open and his clothes all torn.
This seems to have been done by a member of the hotel staff. The writing across the window and the messing of Jegan’s room have a connection. Uncle Sena claims that calling the police has no use as that will harass the innocent and leave the culprits free. In a while Ms De Silva complains that all the guests are checking out as they have received an interpretation of the writing across the window as that the hotel will be bombed that night. Uncle Sena and Aunty Chitra try to salvage the situation. The head housekeeper expresses fear to remove the writing across the window. Then Arjuna’s mother does it with Arjuna and Sonali. Arjuna’s mother cleans Jegan’s window and tells him to be active. But Jegan’s does not know what to do.
The following day Arjuna’s father keeps drinking while the rest of the family join Chitra for a swim. They walk to the beach and Uncle Sena and Arjuna’s father discuss how to remove Jegan. They plan to send him to the Middle East. Jegan is upset about the whole thing. Arjuna is worried about his father’s failure to keep his promise to Jegan’s father. Arjuna notices Jegan putting the luggage on to the roof rack of the car. He learns that Jegan does not want to go to the Middle East. It is presumably that he wants to join the LTTE instead. Arjuna starts hating Jegan.
The following day the family finds Jegan has left the house. When Arjuna arrives home with his brother and sister after school, his mother is found removing the furniture that had lied in Jegan’s room back into their early place.
The referendum takes place after Jegan has left. The ruling party MPs get the ballot boxes stuffed with papers marked in favour of their wish. The average voter is intimidated and is not allowed to cast his/her vote. Finally, the results are announced on TV and accordingly, the ruling party is supposed to stay in power for another six years without an election.
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