The concluding volume of Dr. Ananda W.P. Guruge’s Sri Lankan Trilogy on Freedom of Peace with the title Peace at Last in Paradise was launched in April 2010.
Thanks to the initiative of Sirisumana Godage, the entire trilogy comprising Free At Last In Paradise, Serendipity Of Andrew George and Peace At Last In Paradise is now available in a Sri Lankan edition. It is my wish and recommendation that they be rendered into Sinhala and Tamil. The insights into Sri Lankan history, culture, politics and society, as expressed so lucidly and skilfully by Dr. Guruge, should be brought to the attention of the whole nation.
As several reviewers had already noted, these three excellent works of fiction serve the dual purpose of entertainment and education. Professor Leslie Grey of the University of Colorado in USA assessed the first volume Free At Last In Paradise as “a masterpiece by any standard.”
Years of study with the reading of many books on different subjects would be needed for one to learn so much of every aspect of Sri Lanka. But to do it with sustained interest with so much fun is possible only - through these three volumes. One is no doubt impressed by not only Dr.Guruge’s in-depth knowledge and understanding of our Motherland but also by his ingenuity as a story-teller. No reader will fail to laugh with him and also cry while eagerly following the destiny of a host of remarkable human beings - historical and imaginary. As a whole, it is a detailed study of the history of Sri Lanka from the Matale Rebellion of 1848 to the victory over terrorism on May 19, 2009 with a peep into the future up to 2041.
The volume under review, namely Peace At Last In Paradise is the most topical. Its publisher, Mr. Godage has submitted it to the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation.
The story of the unfortunate armed conflict from 1983 to 2009 unfolds in a manner that should be known by all who wish not only to know why and how the problem arose but also its bitter lessons to prevent its recurrence.
The main character of the story is Udaya de Lanerolle, a fourth generation scion of the Vikramasinha de Lanerolle family of the first volume: Free At Last in Paradise. Udaya comes to USA to work on a book on the career and times of his grandfather Timothy with the assistance of the hero of the second volume, his uncle Andrew George. Thus is established the continuity of the story over four generations. Udaya happens to be at hand to save a young lady and her nephew on the fateful day of 9-11 when under a dastardly terrorist attack the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York toppled.
Thus enter Rani and Tangam into the scene. It is through their lives that Dr. Guruge tells us the sad plight of two sisters of a well-placed Jaffna family who had become multiple victims of the unfortunate separatist movement with its ancillary activities of disinformation, drug trafficking, human smuggling and the like. Much of the information that Dr. Guruge was privy to during his diplomatic service is presented vividly by portraying how the unintended consequences of various words and deeds of the parties to the conflict affected the lives of an innocent family, Rani’s sister and Tangam’s mother, Pavanee, is a victim of the 9-11 tragedy.
The relationship that develops between Rani and Tangam with the Andrew George couple and Udaya is a moving story of how disaster generates such lofty sentiments of compassion, amity, understanding and integration. An interesting character to whom is attributed a series of provocative poems on separatism is Tangam’s father, Indran, who is languishing in a French jail and seeking refuge in Italy and had yet to see his son who was born while he was involved in a drug-trafficking charge. No aspect of the dastardly deeds of the separatist movement goes unmentioned. Each is depicted in a convincing manner to bring out its impact on people individually and collectively. This to me is the most important contribution of Dr. Guruge.
Udaya fleeing from England after the failure of his issueless marriage finds in Rani and Tangam much-desired romantic and paternal affection. Rani stalls by posing the need to know of the fate of her college-time lover who disappeared mysteriously a day after graduation from Chennai. Udaya takes upon himself the dual mission - of finding Selvan and Indran as vital to his own future. This search keeps the reader in suspense to the very end of the novel. It is again a picturesque representation of how race, ethnicity, creed and language are all superseded by sincere affection. This emotionally charged love story reveals human nature at its best.
The second book of this volume, entitled the Life and Times of Timothy de Lanerolle is verily a book within a book. Dr. Guruge uses it to examine the century-old process of political evolution in Sri Lanka in which communal issues between the Sinhala and Tamil communities played a prominent role. Looking at such issues from the eyes of an agitator for national freedom, Dr. Guruge highlights words and deeds of national leaders of both communities and does it fairly and objectively. No writer in recent times, as far as I know, had presented such an integrated view of the forces which fashioned the relations between the two major communities of the country up to the point when in Vaddukottai the Tamil political leaders resolved on May 1976 to take arms and created Prabhakaran’s Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) to become the most ruthless terrorist movement, without a parallel in the world. This part of the volume is highly recommended to all who wish to understand the origin of the conflict and grasp the real reasons for disunity and deterioration of goodwill. There are lessons to be learned by the nation as a whole.
As the story develops, Dr. Guruge quite ingeniously works himself into a character writing on himself in the third person. He assumes the role of mentor to Udaya who by this time had undertaken to lead an Institution for National Peace and Harmony in Sri Lanka in memory of the hero of the first volume - Mudaliyar Tikiri Banda Vikramasinha, who as a monk twice had gone by the name Venerable Hanquranketa Vimalagnane.
Most of the discussions between Udaya and Dr. Guruge take place in Paris where the latter had lived nearly 16 years serving as a staff member of UNESCO and Ambassador to both UNESCO and France. Here they meet some active members of the separatist movement from whom first-hand information is obtained on their objective and modus operandi. The author has a hearty laugh in exposing the naiveté of the NGO “professionals” with whom he had much to do in both Paris and Washington DC. Through many meetings with both real and imaginary persons, Udaya gains insights to design and operate the Institute of Peace and Harmony, which he had undertaken to lead. The discovery of Tangam’s father Indran Tangavelu, in Paris and his conversion to that of a campaigner for peace is an optimistic expression of hope in the innermost goodness of humanity.
The last of the four books of this volume sees a reunited and happy family - Udaya married to Rani, Tangam adopted by them as their son and Indran accompanying them to Sri Lanka to become Udaya’s assistant in the Institute of Peace and Harmony. They seek a productive role in troubled Sri Lanka. Here, again, the reader is informed of the forces at work - national and international. The frustration experienced by all who hoped for an amicable peace and an end to futile violence is forcefully depicted. Exposed in the process are the hidden agendas and manipulations of the foreign NGOs as well as certain governments and the Tamil Diaspora in Western countries.
One may disagree with Dr. Guruge and interpret the same events differently. But it is important to note how the steps taken at this crucial phase of the conflict did nothing but hasten the adoption of an eventual military solution. He depicts the Ceasefire Agreement more as a catastrophe in view of the numerous violations especially by the LTTE whose provocative actions of defiance left the government no alternative. Attempts on the lives of the Defence Secretary and the Army Commander, the stoppage of water supply to a civil population and the operations of suicide bombers are shown as a conscious effort on the part of the LTTE leader to invite a confrontation. Dr. Guruge, watching the developments from Los Angeles in California as a Trustee of Udaya’s Institute of Peace and Harmony, offers us his own responses to what was taking place in Sri Lanka.
Here, again, the reader has the benefit of his informed reactions. Particularly interesting is how he had reacted to the manner in which the government had to handle the vast population of Internally Displaced Persons. The end of the conflict is described in a chapter most appropriately entitled “Peace attained and Harmony Awaited.” Dr. Guruge sees the victory as only an end of a chapter. He sincerely hopes that the long-drawn task of regaining harmony had just begun.
Thus he leads us to the epilogue which looks into the future. What would have happened between now and 2041. The octogenarian Udaya and his devoted wife Rani presiding over an extended family of truly national integration await the triumph of their life-time dedication to Tangam. Dr. Guruge’s novel - or indeed the whole trilogy- thus ends in a manner which would surprise many readers.
As I said earlier, this volume as well as the other two of the trilogy is fun to read and takes us through many emotions that would affect us deeply. But in the process, we are informed of many facets of our culture and country which only an experienced scholar, teacher, administrator, international educational and cultural advisor and diplomat, with a facile pen could present in such depth and detail.
Its concluding volume Peace at Last in Paradise should be read by every Sri Lankan to know and understand the richness as well as challenges of the nation’s diversity of race, religion, language and culture. Every public servant would find the three volumes an essential reference library to guide them in facing the challenges of their responsibilities. It is my wish that every parent introduces their children to the insights which Dr. Guruge has presented for our future generations to know how our national aspirations and achievements evolved.
Dr. Ananda W.P.Guruge, a boy of rural Agaliya Akuretiya on Gin Ganga, brought up in the hills of Kandy and totally “made in Sri Lanka", as he himself says, had ascended to be a highly reputed scholar in the world and has never forgotten the duty he owes his Motherland.
Energetically pursuing a multi-pronged career as scholar and writer even as he celebrates his 82nd birthday, he justifies the accolades he had received from his colleagues and superiors as a bundle of energy, a self-starter, a dynamic of incessant activity and a wizard with words. One waits eagerly his next book, which I understand is a pictography on C.W.W.Kannangara, the Father of Free Education, which is to be called “A Pearl Of Great Price”.
The reviewer is Governor of Sabaragammuwa, former Speaker of the Parliament and Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs, Justice and National Integration.