Ruhiru Pooja brought out in print in April this year is the latest novel by well-known author Nihal.P. Jayatunga. The 449-page paperback tells a moving story based on the country’s 30-year armed conflict, one of the darkest chapters in the annals of Sri Lanka. The book gives a graphic description of the real-life episodes of [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

The war years through the pathos and kindred spirits of main characters


Ruhiru Pooja brought out in print in April this year is the latest novel by well-known author Nihal.P. Jayatunga.
The 449-page paperback tells a moving story based on the country’s 30-year armed conflict, one of the darkest chapters in the annals of Sri Lanka. The book gives a graphic description of the real-life episodes of the long conflict, the historical background to it in the narrative amply explaining the root cause of its origin and how the sparks of ethnic discontent and discord gradually grew into an inferno that engulfed the entire nation.

Book facts
Ruhiru Pooja ( Blood Sacrifices) by Nihal P. Jayatunga. A Surasa publication. Reviewed by
A.S. Fernando

Ruhiru Pooja unfolds before the reader the horrific brutality of the war and the concomitant human misery and suffering. The story of the novel is a narration in flashback by the two main characters mostly of their first hand experiences as victims of the armed conflict. It is quite obvious that the two main characters in the story Prof. Devaki Devanayagam and Col. Siridasa Samarasinghe are a real- life duo whose fates were deeply and inextricably interwoven with the war and therefore their narrative is as authentic as a historical record though they are presented under fictitious names for quite understandable reasons.

The prologue of the Ruhiru Pooja drama is set in the Wollongong university campus in New South Wales, Australia. The drama’s denouement too is played out in this campus itself. Practically all the Sri Lankan characters in the book like the two main characters are victims of the armed conflict who have found asylum in the Land of Kangaroos. And by a strange quirk of fate they find themselves meeting one another at the campus.

The plot is mainly woven around Col. Siridasa and Prof. Devaki, both sharing painful memories of the 30- year war back at home and having to flee their motherland for fear of ruthless persecution and even a horrific death.
Siridasa and Devaki first come to know each other as school children in the prime of their youth. However, the cruel hand of war keeps them apart. Nevertheless, an inexplicable bond formed deep in their subconscious keeps each’s memory of the other ever green.

Col. Siridasa born in the South pursues his primary and secondary education in Jaffna from where he enters the Peradeniya University. He gives up his university career on the verge of completing his degree course against the advice of his teachers to enlist in the Sri Lanka army as a Second Lieutenant.

As a commando and an intelligence officer, he becomes the mastermind of a series of successful operations against the LTTE. Eventually he becomes a prime target of the LTTE. Siridasa enlisted in the army to make his contribution towards ridding the country of the scourge of terrorism even at the cost of his own life. Although, he remains steadfast to this commitment, a time comes when the enormity of human misery resulting from military action deeply moves him.

Siridasa has occasion to witness the gruesome scenes of death and destruction laid bare by military operations he himself had masterminded and some of these scenes shock him to the core of his soul. Convinced of the futility of the destruction of human life and valuable property that represent the blood and sweat of the innocent people and overcome by a deep feeling of remorse for his involvement in the war, Siridasa decides to resign his commission. Of course, there were other factors that contributed towards his growing disgust at the war.

In the course of his long military career, Col. Siridasa incurs the envy and hatred of some peers and superiors in the army who resort to chicanery and machinations to undermine not only his chances of promotion to higher ranks but, also his standing and popularity among the rank and file.

Meanwhile, skulduggery on the part of certain top brass who resort to highly corrupt and treacherous acts to amass wealth at the price of human life and human misery cause a profound feeling of disgust in Siridasa. Prof. Devaki is a former don of the Jaffna University, now a senior professor at the Wollongong University. Struck by a series of personal tragedies and suspected as a traitor and an enemy both by the LTTE and the security authorities, Devaki flees the motherland to find asylum in Australia.

Devaki had to suffer her first major tragedy when her husband, a doctor joined the LTTE and was killed in action. The second tragedy struck her when her two sons following in the footsteps of the father joined the terrorist outfit and were killed in an army bombardment on a training camp for Tiger recruits. It is a twist of irony that the bombardment that killed her two sons was planned and executed by Col. Siridasa to whom she was romantically attracted as a teenage girl.

The romantic tie between Col. Siridasa and Prof. Devaki runs like a golden thread right through fabric of this story from beginning to the very end. Although the thematic action of the story in its entirety takes place in Sri Lanka – mainly in the war- ravaged North, it unfolds with Prof. Devaki and Col. Siridasa in Wollongong with a few other characters scattered in cities like Sydney and Melbourne adding their share. What is more interesting is the inter-relationship between all these characters dovetailing into the plot of the story.

It is obvious that all dramatic events and incidents in the story are historical facts or realities of the 30-year armed conflict although the real- life characters involved in them are presented under fictitious names. While unfolding the gruesome picture of the death and destruction and untold human misery caused by the war, the book serves an indictment on political leaders directly and indirectly responsible for creating the conditions that gave rise to ethnic discord and disharmony in the country. The author has not spared either the extremists from both sides of the divide.

Ruhiru Pooja carries a powerful message to the people in the country in general and the political leaders in particular. “…Terrorism has not died though Prabhakaran is no more. It will die only in a social environment where humanity reigns supreme.” (Page 195 – translation by writer)

The novel conveys another powerful message to the nationalists on both sides of the great divide. Incidentally it is a quote from great Indian poet and great thinker Rabindranath Tagore.

“Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter. My refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.” (Page 341)

It would be an injustice to the author if I fail to make a mention of his descriptive skills that make this novel a gripping narrative and its reading an exhilarating experience. Nihal puts to good use both the Sinhala folk idiom and his own innovative idiom and phraseology to hammer force into the dialogues and the narrative. His versatility in the use of the language is such that he describes in his novel the beauty and the grandeur of the sunset on the Southern sea, the snow—covered foot hills, the shady boulevards, gorgeous parks and lanes of the Wollongong university campus as well as the gruesome scenes of death and destruction in the North of Sri Lanka with equal ease.

The author’s greatest success lies in his language skill in sending the reader into a communion with the main characters in the story to share their pathos in a kindred spirit. I hope that if Ruhiru Pooja were translated into Tamil, it would make a great contribution towards the cause of national reconciliation in this country.

Advertising Rates

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