srilankaIn May 1991, long before he wrote The Divided Island, Samanth Subramanian and his mother were travelling to Madras when their train suddenly came to a halt. His mother leaned out of a window and was told that Rajiv Gandhi had been assassinated. Gandhi had sent peacekeeping troops to Sri Lanka thereby angering the terrorist organisation, the Tamil Tigers. The suicide bomber who had just killed him was a Tamil woman.

Growing up in Tamil Nadu, Subramanian had always been aware of Sri Lanka “joined like a tugboat” to the huge ocean liner that was mainland India. And so in 2004 he began a series of visits to the island to see for himself what the country was really like. He arrived with few preconceptions, one being that Sri Lanka was shaped like a teardrop. It was not long, however, before this perception changed and the teardrop became a “hand grenade”.

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Report by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

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On Thursday, 16 Oct 2014, H.E. Ambassador Feilim McLaughlin of Ireland hosted a literary soiree at his residence. It was organized to commemorate the centenary of World War I.  The event consisted of an exhibition on the Irish poet W.B. Yeats and a panel discussion on “Conflict and Literature”. The panelists were three Indian authors/journalists—Paro Anand, Samanth Subramanian and Amandeep Sandhu and the discussion was moderated by Ambassador McLaughlin. Ambassador of Ireland Feilim McLaughlin said the event was intended to explore the role of the writer in portraying or interpreting conflict, drawing parallels between the experience in Ireland and South Asia. The evening was curated by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose.

The government’s tolerance of Buddhist extremism and the clergy’s power in Sri Lanka is feeding an unsavoury majoritarianism, and that never bodes well for any country, says Samanth Subramanian, the author of This Divided Island, in this interview with Zafar Anjum.

Author Photo - 2Samanth Subramanian is an Indian journalist and writer. He has an undergraduate degree in journalism from Pennsylvania State University and a Master’s in international relations from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. He has written, among other publications, for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Mint, Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the Far Eastern Economic Review, The New Republic, The Huffington Post, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, The National and The Hindu. His first book of narrative non-fiction, Following Fish: Travels around the Indian Coast, won the 2010 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize and was shortlisted for the 2013 Andre Simon Prize. His new book, This Divided Island, traces the aftermath of the war in Sri Lanka and how it is shaping the Sri Lankan society.

In your first book (Following Fish: Travels around the Indian Coast), you followed fish. In your second book, the Tigers. What prompted you to pick up this serious subject? Anything else besides the journalistic impulse (as you mentioned in an interview with The Hindu)?

The journalistic impulse was, I have to admit, the strongest motivating factor – but even that journalistic impulse is really just plain, simple curiosity. I was curious about the changes that a three-decade war can wreak upon the psyche of an individual or a country, and about the texture of life during such a long war. It helped immensely, of course, that I’m Tamil, and that I’ve been following the war with varying degrees of interest for nearly two decades now; I speak Tamil, and Sri Lanka is right next door. I’d have been similarly curious about a war in faraway Somalia, say, but it would have been far more difficult for me to write a book from there.

Samanth Subramanian’s latest book builds a portrait of people affected by the Sri Lankan civil war: The Hindu

srilankaA war brings out many memories and stories. There are tales of horror and carnage, of young children being forcibily recruited or new houses being razed to the ground. There are also tales of dark humour. A man is tired of losing his bicycle every time there is an evacuation, decides to slather his cycle with grease and leave it in a well. He is pleased and surprised to discover it right there when he returns many years later. Such tales make the crux of Samanth Subramanian’s This Divided Island, chronicling the stories of ordinary people impacted by the conflict that afflicted Sri Lanka for almost 23 years.

More travelogue than political polemic, the author’s second book is a haunting revisiting of the Sri Lankan civil war, says Shehan Karunatilaka in The Mint

srilankaConsidering the amount of ink spilled in its name, the Sri Lankan post-war story deserves a subgenre of its own. From that moment in May 2009, when the bloodied head of Tiger boss Velupillai Prabhakaran was hung on the masthead of every newspaper in the land, words have accumulated to describe the island’s post-war experience. It is a shame that none of those words has been “peace”.

Divergent reports of how the north was won have consumed miles of column inches, galaxies of pixels and several works of fiction and reportage. The official story as seen in C.A. Chandraprema’s Gota’s War denies that the government shelled its people, executed its enemies in cold blood, denies that it continues to abduct and torture, and to sponsor the suppression of minorities.