It is always dangerous to forget: Romesh Gunesekera

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By Sukant Deepak
New Delhi, Nov 3 (IANSlife) Before he starts talking, overpowering voices and sounds crisscross from all around at the public place. They cease the moment he starts whispering answers.

There is a striking composure about Booker shortlisted Sri Lankan author Romesh Gunesekera, who’s latest novel “The Suncatcher” was released in the national capital on Saturday. But despite the demeanour, the urgency in his books, be it “Reef”, “The Prisoner of Paradise” or “Noontide Toll”, is hard to miss.

“Maybe that happens because with imaginative writing, one is trying to get something right before it is impossible to do so. Life, however long it may seem, is short. I started writing very early, but got published much later. And novels take a long time for me to write, so in a way, yes, that urgency is there,” Gunesekera said.

For someone who moved at the age of 12 from Sri Lanka to different countries before finally settling in England, much before the ethnic conflict set in, it didn’t mean that the disturbances didn’t touch him, for his works have always explored the idea of violence.

“It’s not to do necessarily with one place. It’s the violence of human life. For example, my second novel, ‘The Sandglass’ is about two families and their history of 100 years. One sees different circles of violence within those families — there is brutality in the society, there is corporate violence, which we are much familiar with in contemporary times.

“Not to mention, the violence within families — within generations of families, nuclear ones, and inside the person. Where does it come from, and why does it emerge? That is something I like to explore,” he said.

For Gunesekera, writing is a way to better understand the world and it gives him a certain respite and peace.

Gunesekera feels that for a writer, memory is everything and he/she is forever negotiating with the same.

“In the sense, you are writing out of memory, you are writing for it, no matter what — you are dealing with it. It’s one of the reasons that we have invented this form of communication, so that we can link up between different bundles of memories. Memories are what give us our identity. We know that because the moment we begin to lose that, we start losing our place in the world,” he said.

Talk to him about the expectations he has from his latest novel “The Suncatcher” and the writer asserts that for him, “success” is measured when the reader makes a book his/her own.

“To me the best thing that can happen is when a reader builds a life-long relationship with the book. In a novel, you meet people with whom you have an incredible intimate relationship, almost more intimate than any other relationship you can have,” the author said.

Mention his novel “Noontide Toll”, set immediately after the end of the decades long ethnic war in Sri Lanka, and the writer says that the biggest question remains — is it better to remember or to forget? The former, so that past mistakes are not repeated or forgotten, or the latter so that you let the wounds of the past heal.

“There isn’t a straight answer to that, but that’s a question you need to keep asking. And it will change each moment. However, I strongly feel that it is very dangerous to forget. And sadly, memories can be extremely short. It becomes particularly poignant in a situation where there have been such horrific events like a war, but it’s true even in other circumstances.

“Therefore, in most of the world, there is this tension — what do we remember? And of course, it’s also a power game — what you want to remember, how you want to remember and the narrative of that past. Even in our own personal lives, we do the same thing –when you are writing, you have to confront it all the time,” he said.

Writing another novel, working on a play and some short stories, for Gunesekera, who has been living in London for decades now, home is in the book he is writing.

“Because that’s where your mind is. That is where you are negotiating reality all the time,” he said.

(Sukant Deepak can be contacted at sukant.deepak@gmail.com)

Source: IANS

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