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Popular Literature Unit 3 LGBT Fiction
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The Best School of All: Arjuna’s father decides to transfer him from St Gabriel to Victoria Academy which is attended by Varuna. St Gabriel is run by Catholic priests whereas Victoria Academy by a principal appointed by the Ministry of Education. The punishments imposed on the boys at Victoria Academy are more severe than those at St Gabriel. But the management of Victoria is interfered with by politics.
Abeysinghe, the principal, is in a battle with Lokubandara, the vice principal, whose brother is a Minister. Therefore Abeysinghe may have to step down from his post and give way to Lokubandara. Abeysinghe is a strict disciplinarian who believes in corporal punishment. He punishes the boys severely even for minor offences.
Arjuna cannot object to his father’s decision and is supposed to start at Victoria from January the following year. Father’s sole idea is to change Arjuna from being “funny” or “girlish.” He trusts that Victoria will mould him as a man. Arjuna already finds the boys at Victoria with their “loud confidence” threatening. So he is anticipating a challenging school life in Victoria the following year.
After the Christmas holidays, Arjuna has to go to the new school. He is very unhappy about it. However, he goes to Victoria with his brother. His brother shows Arjuna the principal Black Tie. He looks old fashioned in his fully white kit and black tie and the sola topee. Then they come to the class that Arjuna is supposed to join 9C. One boy Salgado tries to direct Arjuna and Varuna both to the Tamil Class 9F but Varuna tells him that Arjuna is due to join 9C. Again Salgado tries to send Arjuna to the Tamil class and Zoysa comes to his rescue, saying, “Salgado, you are the guy who wants Tamils to learn Sinhala.” They somehow calm down when the teacher comes in.
Arjuna takes an interest in Zoysa and looks at him too often. During Mathematics he uses Zoysa’s protractor and sends him a note of thanks for it. But Zoysa with his long hair does not regard it important. Arjuna is in a dilemma about whether to send a note like that was right or wrong. Arjuna’s observation of him gives more clues to Zoysa’s character.
During PE Zoysa goes out on the pretext of using the toilet and comes back after the interval. His immaculately white ironed clothes have been crumpled when he returns. Once Arjuna goes to the toilet he finds Salgado and a few others harassing Chelliah. Later he gets to know that Cheliah is the leader of the Tamil section and Salgado and he are sworn enemies. He says that Lokubandara backs Salgado’s racism. Lokubandara is considered “a snake in the grass.”
The next day the PE period is taken by a prefect. After a short while one Mr Sundaralingam takes the class. He gets the class to read some lines from ‘The Best School of All’ by Sir Henry Newbolt. The perfect predicts that he is going to rope Arjuna into a theatrical production. Later that morning Arjuna gets summons from Black Tie through Angel of Death. The perfect nicknamed him so because he always brings bad news.
When he goes to Black Tie’s office he finds Mr Sundaralingam seated next to him. Arjuna is given two poems — ‘The Best School of All’ and ‘Vitae Lampada’ — and is asked to learn them and come prepared to give a perfect recital of them the following day. In fact his plan is to get him to recite them at the next prize giving. After the school is over that day, Zoysa catches Arjuna and asks him about the meeting with Black Tie. He describes what happened and Zoysa is surprised by the distinction.
Varuna meets them together, and after Zoysa has gone Varuna warns him against associating with Zoysa and reveals his sexual connections with the head prefect Arjuna charges Varuna in return for inventing a story to insult someone whom he likes. He does not believe Varuna at all.
Although Arjuna does not like the poems he manages to commit them to his memory. He finds both poems misinterpreting reality. The following day Arjuna goes to the principal’s office. He gets Zoysa to check his recitation, trying to recite them from memory. He fails due to being frightened by Black Tie. So he receives a terrible caning. The principal behaves like a brute in the whole scenario. With a cane in his presence, he wants the child to recite two poems. So under harassment he fails to give a proper rendition of the poems. Then, finally, he gets severely punished. His interpretation is that if does not do it at the moment the student will ruin his future.
After the school has been over, Arjuna comes to his classroom with Zoysa and collects his books to go home. His anger over the humiliation and pain was so much that he tares the sheets with the poems into pieces. Zoysa tries to stop him but it proves useless. Then he tells that the sheets are needed for the following day’s meeting with Black Tie. They decide to go to the British Council and get the two poems photocopied. Arjuna and Zoysa become good friends on this matter. They leave each other physically but Arjuna is highly preoccupied with Zoysa the whole night. The dream he has of Zoysa ends with a wetness on his saron.
The following day Arjuna goes ready to recite the poems but in the sight of the cane he forgets everything. He receives a severe caning from Black Tie for this. This time a severe type of caning is served on Zoysa too. Arjuna sees Mr Sundaralingam over this. When he relates everything to Mr Sundaralingam the latter explains that he has to put up with this as Black Tie belongs to a different generation of people. An orphan raised by the former principal Mr Lawson now behaves like that because of various shortcomings he has had as an orphan during his education. “Our principal is a strict man but he is not cruel.” Sundaralingam says to Arjuna.
Through Mr Sundaralingam’s intervention both Arjuna and Zoysa get released by the principal. In acknowledgement of this comfort, Zoysa kisses Arjuna in his mouth and it has a shocking effect on Arjuna. They plan to meet at Zoysa’s place at five-thirty that afternoon. Zoysa recreates that experience in his mind and wants to have it in real (in all its detail and sensation) again. They meet in the evening at Zoya’s but nothing happens.
When Arjuna comes home in the evening and reveals to his family that he went to visit a friend in the Cinnamon Gardens, they become happy and encourage him to invite his friend to lunch. Varuna warns Arjuna against this connection but in vain.
On Saturday that week Arjuna invites Zoysa to his place. They join Sonali and her friends in a game of hide and seek. Arjuna and Zoysa hide in the garage and there they have their first homosexual intercourse. After the act Arjuna has a repulsive feeling. They have been rather too long in the garage. When they join the rest of the family, the others are curious as to what they had been doing for so long. Arjuna comes to realise that Varuna is right when he recalls the experience. Even Arjuna’s father does not approve of Zoysa. Arjuna feels therefore that he has betrayed his family by getting involved with Zoysa. Thus his weekend ends in disillusionment with him.
That night he dreams of Zoysa again. He refers to the head prefect. This time the sexual act appears to him in concrete. He becomes conscious that he likes the act with Zoysa but he has the repulsive feeling about the wet salivary sperms dripping along his legs.
The following day when Arjuna is at school he notices Zoysa to be a different person. His emotions have become more conspicuous than before. He does not vanish from the class during the interval. Salgado also notices this. That day the vice principal comes to the class and snatches him by the ear for not reporting to his office. Arjuna feels sorry for Zoysa. He is concerned about Zoysa’s welfare. Arjuna regrets the way in which he treated Zoysa after realising that Zoysa neither debased nor degraded him but offered his love to him in the garage.
He feels grateful to Zoysa for being kind to him during his detention on the balcony and wants to befriend him again. Then when Zoysa returns to the classroom after school he speaks to him trying to repair his friendship. But the response from Zoysa does not sound very conducive.
After he comes home Arjuna waits for a call from Zoysa but finally decides to go and meet him on his own. He arrives at Zoysa’s and finds him in a miserable state. He talks to him for reconciliation. Zoysa implies that he has already forgiven Arjuna. Finally, he declares his real worry. He cannot stand constant punishment but that is what he is faced with at school.
Arjuna starts wondering about the power structure in society. The principal and father, being adults, are the ones who create rules for the others to follow as they are endowed with authority, and he and Zoysa have to follow them. Whether they are right or wrong or fair or unfair, Arjuna could not stand the pattern in which order and discipline are maintained in society. He starts wondering whether people like him or Zoysa will ever have a chance of being powerful.
The following day Zoysa comes to school with a new idea. His mother is in England and is planning to join her with his father’s blessings. Arjuna does not have any idea about it at all, and therefore he is a bit sad. After the second period Arjuna goes to the principal’s office and recites the poems very fluently. The principal is satisfied and wants Arjuna to retain them in memory as they represent some values which are already in the process of disappearance.
Arjuna is supposed to recite the poems at the prize giving as the principal has decided to write his speech based on these poems. But Arjuna wants to fail Black Tie as that would release Zoysa from his daily punishment, and because any shortcomings at the prize giving would lead to Black Tie’s defeat at his battle with Lokubandara.
For the prize giving all parents including Arjuna’s come to the school. They have already taken their seats in the auditorium. The ceremony starts with the playing of the national anthem. Soon after the national anthem, Arjuna’s recitation takes place. Arjuna receives all necessary moral support from the teachers including Mr Sundaralingam. The principal and his wife are seated in the front row along with the Minister. So Arjuna deliberately confuses his recital of the poems. He does so, in order to work out the expulsion of the principal.
After the recitation, except for Mr Sundaralingam, the teachers recoil from Arjuna, as if he is carrying a contagious disease. Mr Sundaralingam consoles him, “Never mind, Chelvanayagam, you did your best.” The principal starts his speech soon after Arjuna’s recitation. First he charges Arjuna as an example of the deterioration the nation is heading for. People start laughing their heads off, but thanks to the microphone he continues his speech. With enormous difficulty he ends his speech, and invites the Minister to address the gathering. When the prize giving starts Arjuna goes out of the auditorium and meets Zoysa. Alone with Zoysa in a classroom, he divulges that he deliberately messed up the recitation mainly for the sake of Zoysa. “I did it for you… I could not bear to see you suffer any more…” After some homosexual fun, they leave the classroom and enter the auditorium to attend the school anthem. Arjuna finds him getting away from his mother and holding Zoysa as part and parcel of his life. He meets Zoysa again and again and learns how their bodies respond to each other in homosexual embrace.
1. “I thought of what my father had said about turning out “funny.” The word “funny” as I understood it meant either humorous or strange, as in the expression, “that’s funny.” Neither of these fitted the sense in which my father had used the word, for there had been a hint of disgust in his tone.” Arjie, Chapter 1
Ans: The innocence of Arjie’s childhood is observed in these lines. He doesn’t know what his father actually means by “funny.” The tone of disgust signifies his father’s and in fact the entire society’s aversion towards homo-sexuality—which is not nonnative. After the incident with Kanthi Aunty, he is both surprised and dejected by the sudden change of attitude in his parents. He doesn’t know what precisely has happened, but after listening to his parents, he knows things will never be the same again.
2. “I would be caught between the boys’ and the girls’ worlds, not belonging or wanted in ei-ther.” Arjie, Chapter 1
Ans: After Arjie quarrels with Tanuja and Ammachi, he runs away to the nearby beach. There he ponders about his predicament after what had happened at his grandparents’ house. The torn sari lying nearby symbolises the end of his life in the company of girls. He can no longer play bride-bride with them after what he had done. The future spend-the-days will be boring and lonely as he will probably be forced to play with the boys. His heart will be in the girls’ world and his body will be in the boys’ world—not belonging or wanted in either.
3. “I was in a Sinhala class at school and my friends were Sinhalese. My parents’ best friends were, too. Even our servant was Sinhalese, and, in fact, we spoke with her only in Sinhalese. So what did it matter whether Anil was Sinhalese or not ?” Arjie, Chapter 2
Ans: In the following lines, Arjie expresses his con-fusion about the conflicting attitudes of his elders. His parents are progressive on the grounds of ethnicity and they adapt to the scenario of modern Sri Lanka. They send their children to a Sinhala school and teach them Sinhalese. Since Tamils are a minority, they must know the culture and language of the Sinhalese people if they want to live successfully.
Ammachi, on the other hand, is orthodox and extremist in her way of thinking. She despises the Sinhala community. Her father was killed in riots of the 1950s by the Sinhalese, which makes her hate them even more. She even supports LTTE, a Tamil militant group. Her rejection of Radha Aunty’s friendship with Anil, because he is a Sinhala, is shocking to Arjie.
4. “These days one must be like the three wise monkeys. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Q.C. Appadurai, Chapter 3
Ans: Appadurai, who is a former civil rights lawyer, understands that the entire system of Sri Lanka is cor-rupted. He advises Arjie’s mother to stop investigating Daryl Uncle’s mysterious death. The politicians, military and even the police are involved in the persecution of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Apparudai says that if one wants to be safe, one should keep away from harm’s way. One should act like the three wise monkeys; refusing to see. hear or speak about the evils that are happening in Sri Lanka. He tells Amma to give up the investigation as it could prove costly to her and her family.
5. “The world the characters lived in, where good was rewarded and evil punished, seemed sud-denly false to me.” Arjie, Chapter 3
Ans: Along the path of maturity, Arjie faces several such moments of realisation. His little bubble of a fairytale world bursts after he realises Daryl Uncle will never get justice. The evil will not get punished because it is stronger than the good. The same realisation occurs when he gets to know that Radha Aunty and Anil will not many, even when they were in love with each other. All these events that Arjie experiences make him more mature and help him to understand the real world.
6. “These days, every Tamilian is a Tiger until proven otherwise.” Arjie’s father, Ch.4
Ans: Jehan is brought into police custody for being a suspected terrorist. The entire family is disturbed and afraid of this event. They know Jehan is innocent, but because of the prevailing anti-Tamil atmosphere in Sri Lanka, they are forced to take precautionary measures. Life will get tough for them if someone gets to know what has happened (and life gets tough for them). The Tamils are subjected to constant threat and pressure by the Sinhalese government, the military and the police. Even a slight suspicion or turbulence could get them killed.
7. “Once you come to The Queen Victoria Academy you are a man. Either you take it like a man or the other boys will look down on you.” Diggy, Ch.5
Ans: The following lines are said by Diggy to Arjie to make him aware of the environment of his new school. The description of the school makes Arjie both fearful and disgusted towards it. These lines also underpin Arjie’s father’s original intention for changing his school. His father is worried about Arjie’s peculiarities and thinks he might turn out to be “wrong.” So he shifts Arjie’s schooling to The Queen Victoria Academy, which he believes will mould Arjie into a man. It sheds light on the mentality of the society which continuously tries to correct Adie’s homosexuality.
8. “For the remainder of the night, I tossed and turned restlessly in my bed, torn between my desire for Shehan and disgust at that desire.” Arjie, Chapter 5
Ans: Arjie’s conflict stems from his sexual attraction towards Shehan and his crushing sense of betrayal. Until this point, he had only indulged in fantasies related to sex, but after having his first sexual encounter, he is disgusted by it. He feels he has broken the trust of his family. He thinks about the warnings of Diggy against a friendship with Shehan, and about his father’s disap-proving look towards Shehan. However, he still dreams of Shehan at night which makes him horrified about the desire within him.
9. Discuss the background of Funny Boy?
Ans: Funny Boy is the first novel published by openly gay Sri Lankan writer Shyam Selvadurai. Of mixed Tamil and Shillala heritage, Selvadurai joined his family in their decision to immigrate to Canada in 1983 in the wake of rioting stimulated partly by the racial divide, essentially pitting his own multiculturalism against a full-blooded ancestry. Selvadurai’s decision to live openly as a homosexual also places him at odds against the conventional views of Sri Lankan society.
This outsider status doubtlessly informed his first novel and perhaps was also partly responsible for the extent to which the stories which comprise the book resonated among those who saw fit to honour Funny Boy with the W.H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award. In addition to that honour, Funny Boy was also recognized south of the border with the Lambda Literary Award and by the American Library Association’s choice to name it one of their Notable Books of the year.
Funny Boy is suggestively informed by the autobiographical similarities of the life of its author; its narrative takes the form of six self-contained yet linked stories about a boy growing up in a wealthy Tamil family coming to terms with his own sexuality as well as the political turmoil surrounding him as he matures from a prepubescent 7 year old into a teenager. These coming-of-age stories lead inexorably toward what was also a defining historical moment in the life of the author: those 1983 explosions of simmering tensions between Sinhala and Tamil ethnic cultures into full-blown violent rioting which came to be known as Black July. Black July has come to be marked as the commencement of the Sri Lankan Civil War, which Shyam Selvadurai managed to escape along with his family.
While Funny Boy covers issues directly related to the known facts of the life of its author, including homo-sexuality and Black July, Shyam Selvadurai has consis-tently rejected attempts to situate his novel firmly within the realm of thinly veiled autobiography-as-fiction, in-sisting that the specific factual incidents of his life are markedly different from those of his novel’s protagonist.
10. Summary of Funny Boy.
Ans: Funny boy is a story about a seven year old boy Aijun (Arjie) who goes on to experience not only the ups and downs that accompany the discovery of one’s sexuality but also the harsh reality of the real world. Told by the point of view of Arjie, Funny Boy is not just about the taboo topic of homosexuality in a close-minded society, it is also a story that tells how political and regional conflicts affect people’s lives. Though Arjie’s homosexuality and how he understands it and deals with it are some of the important themes in the story, the political conflict between the Tamils and Sinhalese people in Sri Lanka where Arjie resides with his family also play a very important role in shaping the story. It tells the readers about the sufferings of people from both sides since Arjie is from a mixed Tamil/Sinhalese family and since the narrator is Arjie himself, we get a personal view of these conflicts affecting innocent people caught in the crossfire.
Divided into six chapters, the first few parts capture Arjie’s childhood and recall the various episodes that introduce the whole family and the protagonist Arjie himself. The later chapters start to focus on the political tension brewing up in the nation and Arjie’s discovery of his own sexuality.
The first story, “Pigs Can’t Fly,” takes place during the “spend the days.” The grandchildren of the family are playing a favourite game of theirs called “bride-bride” where Arjie is always the bride and the girls love it because he plays the part so well and sees nothing wrong with it. However, the peace is soon disrupted when Arjie and all his female cousins are playing, but Tanuja, nicknamed Her Fatness, refuses to let Arjie be the bride. The rest of the girls take Arjie’s side and shoo away Tanuja which leads to Tanuja’s mother, Aunty Kanthy to come to see what was the matter. She sees Arjie dressed up in a saree and cruelly drags him to the living room where everyone is gathered. Seeing Arjie, a boy, dressed up in saree and playing a game meant for girls, his parents are embarrassed. An uncle calls Arjie “a funny one.” His mother explains that he cannot play with the girls anymore because “the sky is so high and pigs can’t fly, that’s why.”
In “Radha Aunty,” Radha Aunty has returned from America. Though she is not all what Arjie had imagined her to be, she and Arjie quickly become close, and are involved in a performance of The King and I. Rajan
Nagendra, an acquaintance of Radha Aunty proposes to Radha, but she is reluctant to accept. She becomes friends with Anil Jayasinghe, a Sinhalese who is also involved in the play. The family tells Radha to end her friendship with Anil, and Radha leaves for Jaffna to forget about Anil. On the train back home, she and several other Tamils are attacked by Sinhalese violent crowds, and soon after, Radha is engaged to Rajan. These events lead Arjie’s father to explain to Arjie about the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict and Arjie comes to realize how serious the matter is.
In “See No Evil, Hear No Evil,” Uncle Daryl returns to Sri Lanka from Australia. Arjie’s father is in Europe on a business trip at this time. Daryl aims to investigate assertions of government torture. Arjie slowly becomes aware that there is something going on between his mother and Uncle Daryl. Arjie gets sick, and Amma takes him to the country where Uncle Daryl visits them. Daryl also goes to Jaffna, where there are violent events taking place. Arjie’s mother requests Daryl not to interfere but Dayl continues on his way and goes missing after. Daryl’s body is found on the beach. They are told that he drowned, but Arjie and his mother suspect that he was murdered first. Arjie’s mother tries to dig deeper about the death of Uncle Daryl, but the lawyer states that there is nothing she can do. He references the three wise monkeys and suggests that she behaves similarly.
Arjie’s father’s friend Jegan begins to work with him at his hotel in the chapter “Small Choices.” Jegan was known to associate with the Tamil Tigers, but claims that he broke all connections long ago. Jegan also befriends Arjie, who starts to notice his homosexuality for the first time. The political tensions in the country continue to build, and Jegan is accused of plotting to assassinate a Tamil politician. His room at the hotel is vandalised, and Arjie’s father fires Jegan, who may go back to his violent past after all though it is not told with certainty.
In the next-to-last chapter, “The Best School of All,” Arjie’s father becomes suspicious about Arjie’s sexuality and mannerism and decides that Arjie will be transferred to Victoria Academy. He says the school will school Arjie into becoming a man. There Arjie meets Shehan and also the school principal. Arjie is warned by his own brother about Shehan’s sexuality claiming that Shehan is gay and to stay away from him. But Arjie and Shehan continue to spend more time together, and Arjie becomes more and more attracted to his friend. The school principal asks Arjie to recite several poems at an upcoming school event. “Black Tie ” says that these poems are important because they will plead with the government not to reorganise the school. Arjie is nervous, and fails to recall all the lines of the poem.
The principal punishes Arjie for not being able to recite poems perfectly and also beats Shehan for not helping Arjie memorise his lines. However, Arjie realises that this punishment was meted put to a certain crowd of students, those like Shehan and Arjie, the not so “manly” ones. One day, Shehan kisses Arjie, who begins to understand and acknowledge his own sexuality. Soon after they have their first sexual encounter, in Arjie’s parents’ garage. Later, Arjie is deeply ashamed and disgusted by himself, and believes he has failed his family and betrayed their trust. Still later, Arjie purposefully messes up his poem recital again after Shehan breaks down because of Black Tie’s frequent beatings.
In the final story in Selvadurai’s Funny Boy, “Riot Journal: An Epilogue,” the tensions between the two sides, the Tamils and the Sinhalese, in Sri Lanka have arrived to a head. Rioters ravage the area, burning down the Tamil houses and businesses throughout the town of Colombo. The family runs for safety, and hides in a neighbour’s house. They go into hiding after an angry mob comes to burn down their home. Soon after that, their hotel is burned down, and Ammachi and Apache, Arjie’s grandparents, are killed. This is finally the mo-ment when the family decides to leave the country. Arjie and Shehan make love for one last time, before he is forced to say goodbye, never to see his friend and lover again. Then Arjie and his family leave their country, their homeland Sri Lanka and move to Canada.
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