“………. The Vastness of the agony of earth…..” (The “Light of Asia” – Sir Edwin Arnold) Long before Sonali Deraniyagala’s “WAVE” reached me, I had been keen to read it for it promised to be one of great human interest. The newspaper reviews I had read along with some adverse comments that had come my way [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Thank you Sonali for your priceless gift to us


“………. The Vastness of the agony of earth…..” (The “Light of Asia” – Sir Edwin Arnold)

Long before Sonali Deraniyagala’s “WAVE” reached me, I had been keen to read it for it promised to be one of great human interest. The newspaper reviews I had read along with some adverse comments that had come my way increased my curiosity, yet it was with an open mind that I began to read.

To me, it is in common Sri Lankan parlance, an ‘un-put downable’ book. Michael Ondaatje calls it “powerful and haunting”. It needs no further enhancement. Reading through I marvelled at the enormous courage of the writer in giving us this first hand account of a searing personal experience.

She must have undergone intense emotional torment when regurgitating all those mind shattering memories to put them down on paper. She writes in simple straightforward language which is more effective than any contrived style– revealing an inborn talent for writing. 

This is the ONLY authentic account available to us by a direct victim of the Tsunami disaster. We all watched with horror the terrible scenes relayed on TV and cringed at the graphic accounts in newspaper reports. Some, like me, were even involved personally in assisting at refugee camps. Yet, they were in comparative terms, impersonal experiences. Here we are confronted by the real drama presented sans distracting frills. The disturbing pictures contained within the pages reach out to grab and punch the reader almost senseless.

The writer is devastatingly honest. She hides nothing ; neither her feelings nor her actions. She makes no attempt to justify any of it or offer apology, for she herself is unable to understand how she felt or reacted. How can any of us? Our instinctive reactions in any unexpected situation are beyond our control. To expect rational thought or behaviour under such circumstances is absurd. 

She has been criticised and condemned for not having knocked on her parents’ bedroom door as she ran out. Let us consider the facts. It is obvious from her step by step description leading up to the event that this was not a ‘panic’ situation. They were being driven away by an inexplicable enigma that baffled everyone.

Up to that time “tsunami” was not something anyone had experienced let alone heard of so how was one expected to react under such unusual circumstances? The human mind automatically blocks out rational thought at such times to be overtaken by the basic primordial instinct for survival. 

For her it was the primary maternal urge to protect her young that rose above all other considerations. That is the fundamental instinct lodged within all mothers irrespective of the evolutionary level we occupy in the animal kingdom.

Can she be blamed for that? How can any of us, who have not been in such a situation be so presumptuous as to be judgemental about her actions?

Furthermore, it is an incident she could have deliberately omitted from putting down on record. There is no one alive today who was witness to it or could contradict her had she chosen to paint herself in the psychadelic colours of a heroine in a fraudulent version. Yet she writes about it with candour, not only because that too was part of the overall experience but also because she is still puzzled and needs an explanation. I salute her for that honesty.

The harrowing account of her experience in the water, the unbridled thoughts that bombarded her mind and her inexplicable reactions on and after her rescue, stripped me of all preconceived notions clogging my mind these many years. Here was a fresh awareness of the vagaries of life flung savagely at my conscience and I was appalled and flattened by the immensity of grief she has been subjected to.

I was dragged along her road of misery.. through the mire of initial incomprehension, the enforced acceptance of a brutal personal loss of colossal magnitude: past her degeneration into alcoholic addiction to the teetering upon the ledge of mental instability.

Her starkly naked descriptions of that period of her life yanked open a door for me I hardly knew existed. And fell through into a Hell on earth. It was an ego-destructing revelation that unsettled me. How can one find relief under such tremendous pressure? At no time does she pretend to have been overly pious in her spiritual beliefs. None of us are, whatever faith we profess to follow. Can a clump of grass survive beneath the onslaught of molten lava issuing from a volcanic explosion? To criticisze her for not seeking solace in religion is, I believe quite frankly supercilious sanctimonious humbuggery.

Yet she survived, in spite of drifting anchorless, not only emotionally but also in place and time. She did not belong anywhere, had no grip on the present or thought for the future. So she grasped at the only life-belt available.. she regressed to the past. Only by going back to a beautiful phase of her life in a vanished world was she able to repair her battered sanity and steady herself. It was the only crutch she had to help her hobble along on the only road that was now available to her. She had no other choice. In this she had the understanding and loving support of her in-laws, close friends and relatives. She was no longer a displaced entity. 

This is no contemptible or cowardly escape from reality, for it is not the first such instance I have come across.
An intimate friend, undergoing severe emotional and physical battering considered suicide. But she had a young family needing her love and protection whom she could not abandon at whatever cost to herself. Then she found a way out… entering a world of fantasy on her pillow at night and regressing to a happy childhood during the day.

To make the past last her forever, she began to record it, thereby awakening a slumbering talent that had lain untapped until then. This, while pulling her back from the brink of insanity also gifted her ultimate freedom, success in life and finally, peace of mind.

The same balm has soothed Sonali’s ravaged mind resulting in her producing her first book which reveals her real calling… that of a writer. I sincerely hope that she will develop this latent skill further and continue to write on whatever topic she chooses. By doing that she will be able to stabilise her fluctuating emotions and at the same time pay the greatest tribute she can to her beloved family.

It would be appropriate at this point to highlight two extraordinary incidents that held my interest. In the first, her father-in-law during one of the family’s subsequent visits to the scene of the tragedy reads out aloud a prayer for his departed son. Almost immediately after, he finds the corner of a piece of laminated paper sticking up out of the rubble. It turns out to be a page of the last report Sonali’s husband Steve had been working on during that holiday.

The other is that of Steve’s sister, who while at a social gathering in distant London on the evening of the 26th of December, begins to weep without any known cause. The next morning the news of the tsunami disaster hits the world.. and then she understands. 

“WAVE” exposed me to vistas of awareness I had been blind to in more than seven and a half decades of, what we erroneously call, ‘living’.. recalling to mind yet another line from “The Light of Asia”….

“The veil is rent which blinded me..” 

Thank you Sonali for your priceless gift to us. You are one of the few among the tsunami affected, who know with finality what happened to your family. That should pave the path for you to the realisation and acceptance of the Truth. How many are around us still searching and hoping desperately for news of their missing ones? None of us should ever forget that.

Share This Post

comments powered by Disqus

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.