Ashore is not greener either | Daily News


Ashore is not greener either

Akkaraihal Pachchai Illai is the name of a book in Tamil by a Lankan writer named Arul Subramaniam who hails from Thiru Koana Malai (Trincomalee). The title of the novel is a maxim well known to everybody. It means Foreign Borders are not green anymore.

It is a gripping fiction written in the 1970s.

But it’s not a mere thriller as it tries to convey a relevant message, though not in implicit terms: the youth, particularly those who venture to be seamen in foreign cargo vessels, return ultimately home disillusioned. But more than that, this novel introduces to the Tamil reader for the first time, the kind of life the crew in such vessels lead and also the brutality with which they are treated by the hierarchy (foreigners) of the ships.

Realistically and at certain times even in a naturalistic manner the day to day activities in a sailing vessel is fictionally described. An almost microscopic survey of the inside of the vessel is brought before the reader.

Apart from this naturalistic description, the novel tries to present a realistic picture of the harbor workers in our eastern port of Thiru Koana Mlai (Trincomalee), described as the seat of one of the finest natural harbours of the world. We have heard and seen the lives of the Port workers in Colombo but the Trinco Port workers had almost been an almost exclusive Tamil working class (a generation of post generation of the British Naval employees) and as such their social context is a little dissimilar to their counterparts in Colombo and perhaps Gaala (Galle).

The polemics in which some of the workers (a few Sinhalas and a lot more Tamilians) engage themselves, in fact, to bring out these little differences. Another point that emerges from the novel is the solidarity despite differences in attitudes and behaviours of the workers in the Port. This aspect is brought out well in placing the characters in a realistic framework with contradictions and paradoxical situations.

At the same time the novelist has not been able to tighten these episodes to give the novel an artistic finish. Artistically the novel fails to give a satisfying experience, but considering its milieu, the sensitive redder might not quarrel much.

As we observed earlier this novel is a thriller –suspense, shock and melodrama, but as a story in itself it is a very interesting novel.

The plot line is this: Four Lankans- three Tamilians and one Sinhala work encounter their experiences in Greek cargo vessel plying between Sri Lanka and the West Asia (Middle East). Their experience had been so terrifying that they place a time-bomb in the vessel so that the cargo ship could be blasted after it reaches the Trinco harbour.

The boys from Trinco and Galle had informed their relatives beforehand of their plans so that the locked-up four Lankans in the boat could be released before the bomb blasts.

It is a rescue operation, chilling like a description in an English novel. But the implied international scandal of destroying a foreign cargo ship and worse still the harbor raises a moral question. This provides the dramatic element in the novel.

The whole story takes place within fifteen hours and the location is the ship itself and the harbor.

In a way this is also a regional novel from Thiru Koana Malai. Arul Subramaniam who hails from Trinco always has settings in his place of birth. The cultural context of this multi-lingual city therefore finds its place appropriately in this novel too. In his first novel he described a Sinhala-Tamil love relationship with the liberalization of the attitudes of the Tamilians in the Trinco district. We must remember that this novel was written in the 1970s.

Arul Subramaniam’s style of writing is elastic and original as to literally evoke images which are uncommon in local Tamil fiction. 

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