Skillful take on myth and tragedy

Book facts: Poseidon’s Wrath by Lucky de Chickera. Reviewed by Katherine Abeykone

A story is told about a village in Narigama, Hikkaduwa when the tsunami crashed into its shores and brought devastation and destruction to the fishing community in and around the area.

A poor fisher family living in this traditionally fisher cum tourist resort in the south of Sri Lanka takes a beating like numerous families did, on Boxing Day in Dec 2004. The daughter and mother are out shopping in the southern city of Galle when the tsunami strikes; the mother perishes and the daughter, Devika, is struck down and rendered unconscious, then suffers loss of memory and ends up in hospital.

This is only the beginning of her travails, as scheming flesh traders connive with local counterparts to spirit her away, with other girl children, to the flesh pots of South East Asia, to feed the demands of the growing number of perverts in that region.

Her brother Lal, and two friends, Kamal and Mihiri, with the help of Kamal’s uncle, a retired GA of yesteryear, and his DIG friend from university days, trace the girl to the hospital, and then when she is abducted from there, track her down through intriguing southern trails of Mirissa and Matara where her deportation by sea is planned. The confrontation reaches climax on New Year’s Eve on the shores of the Matara seas when the Special Forces under the command of the DIG indulge in a shootout with the foreign abductees who are on a yacht.

Devika’s father, a fisherman, regularly comes home drunk from his fishing trips causing problems to the household especially to his wife Menike. When the destructive wave hits, his eyes are opened to the misery and unhappiness he has brought about on his family. In his blind fury he visits the ravaged beaches of Narigama in the dead of night, and curses Poseidon, challenging the sea god, to release his wife and to take him on, in a tryst with death. This ultimately results in his demise.

The first part of the tale tells of the massive destruction brought about by the killer waves. The author’s descriptive powers are eminently displayed when the returning children and Kamal’s uncle see the utter chaos on the Galle Road after the tsunami had struck.

“There were holes as big as craters on the seaside, where there were boutiques and shops, now there was empty space, buildings had caved in, there were all sorts of twisted and damaged furniture strewn around, tree trunks lay across the road, perimeter walls were completely destroyed, and there was an awful smell of stagnant water and rotting vegetation, and then, they saw the inert dead bodies;

grotesquely still, and twisted in death, tourists, locals, naked, half clothed, some of them holding on to each other, glazed eyes, faces reflecting fear, mouths open, hands raised as if trying to deflect a striking force; children, men, women, old and young, all lay motionless, dead.”

Then Lucky goes on to relate the disastrous train tragedy at Peraliya, in his own imaginative style, and brings out the pain and agony of those who survived, whilst conveying to the reader at the same time, the trauma and tragedy of this horrendous accident. It is so vividly described that one feels the direct involvement of the author.

Lucky very skillfully relates the part played by Poseidon, the mythical God of the sea who has powers over volcanoes, earthquakes, horses and tsunamis. The prologue tells of the sea god’s destructive power in the ancient world of mythology, and the fear, the people of Greece whose mythical god he was, looked upon him with. He then brings the reader upto present day happenings of erupting volcanoes, melting ice caps and rising tides, in his epilogue, tying this up with the destruction of the environment by modern man, who the author says, will finally have to face the wrath of the god of the sea.. Poseidon, for his willful damage of nature and Poseidon’s domain… a prophecy?

The story brings out the poignant flowering of first love between a young boy and a girl who cannot understand the feeling but enjoy the relationship without damaging its wonder and beauty. It tells of the strong bonding between two long standing friends of the old school type, one a retired Sinhala GA, and the other a Tamil DIG of police who work hand in hand to overcome a web of deceit and abduction.

The question Lucky asks here is why this cannot be done in today’s Sri Lanka between professionals of the two ethnicities, without yielding to petty, divisive thinking, and disruptive politics as is happening.
Lucky also spotlights the rampant bribery and corruption that prevails in our society, and lays the blame squarely on the laps of our politicians, whom he holds responsible for the lawlessness of the country. Even the public servant who is honest and persevering and wants to do a job of work becomes demotivated and frustrated when he sees his colleagues and those around him resorting to unethical lifestyles, and flourishing in the process. OIC Siriwardena, a clean cop who was handpicked to fight the drug and sex trade is ultimately won over by the international Mafia.

Like the humour that Shakespeare brings into his plays, releasing the tension and tenacity he builds up in the audience, Lucky also introduces the reader to some of the lighter sides of his story and brings a smile on a number of instances, when in the midst of high drama.

The author uses clear cut and laid back prose and the reader should have no difficulty in understanding and enjoying this intriguing and emotional description of a once in a lifetime natural calamity that befell our country. Like what Capt Elmo Jayawardena, the well known Sri Lankan English writer and winner of the Gratiaen award said “… the author has moved up in the Sri Lankan Literary World from inessential spectator to privileged actor, and I cheer him on”. So do I.

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