What Sri Lankan does not know the tart, succulent sweetness of pineapple; or the buttery nut flavour of steaming chick peas, bought fresh off the pavement, tossed in mysterious seasonings that you cannot seem to replicate at home?

Vendors appear, as if out of thin air, at every street corner where Sri Lankans gather in any respectable number. Indeed, “annasi” and “kadala gotu” are as familiar to us as blaring horns, resplendent sunsets or salty sea breezes. So what better name for a literary festival that aims to showcase homegrown writing than…“Annasi and Kadala Gotu”?

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.