Monday, July 22, 2013

“Like rain soaking a parched land…." -The Hungry Ghosts-Shyam Selvadurai

“Like rain soaking a parched land…." 

Selvadurai has come again … like a rain, falls on the parched land we are struggling and pretending to be living. In his fourth book ‘The Hungry Ghosts’, he carefully paints the bitterness of the land strained with the blood of humans belonged to all the minorities; ethnic, cast, religious, as well as sexual, on the fabric of the reader’s mind. 

In his own way of developing characters and incidents in such a realistic, balanced manner, Selvadurai presents the story enriched with a rich language, rather poetic this time. 

The main character, Shivan Rasaiyah, a Tamil Sinhalese mixed young man who is a gay in his early thirties recalls memories of his early Sri Lankan life as well as the time spent in Canada as a migrant. Shivan’s life that goes through the poverty in his early childhood , his possessive grandmother’s influence on him, the 1983 riots which changed his family’s life forever and most all his sexual orientation opens a door for us to see things out of the box, feel the neighbor’s pain and to accept many realities that we, as a society were denying for ages.

Selvadurai, in his naturally gifted way, discusses the life of a gay man, the discovery of his  sexual orientation, the means he uses to find romance and the deep love he finds and experiences in his frequent search. Selvadurai never lets us think that we share an experience of something different or not natural. The journey of Shiavan’s love is as natural as any person’s journey in the world. It’s full of romance, envy, agony, fear of losing, demanding, longing as well as hope and betrayal. Yet it becomes too painful and unbearable with the growing tense in Sri Lanka in the light of the given context, Mili the smart school mate with the high class cinnamon gardens background being a human rights worker and Shiavn being a half Tamil. Facing all these obstacles, in his deep and true love affair with Mili Jayasinghe , Shivan, as any other true lover in the world is ready to give up everything he has, including all the social bonds he’s tied up with. And finally, with an untimely braveness, he risks both of their lives to that need of being together . 

“What about us Shivan?” he (Mili) continued into my silence, doping his voice to a murmur. “You know the rules here. We can’t set up house like people do in Canada. Always and eternally we will be two bachelors living with our mother and grandmother. I accept the
situation because I have no choice. But are you willing to?”

“You think I haven’t considered that?” I demanded in fierce whisper. “ Don’t patronize me. Yes, I am willing to make that compromise.”

“But Shivan” Mili said in a low voice, holding out his hands in appeal, “to always lve your grandmother? To rarely sleep with me?”

“Here I am, doing this so we can be together, and this is how you treat me? With all these silly objections?”

My voice was trembling with anger, but he must have thought I was close to tears, because he touched my hand, saying “Shh, shh.” After a glance around he drew me back against his chest. “I’m sorry. I’m a terrible bugger.” He kissed the back of my neck, then released me. “I…I love you, Shivan, I know I do, and I have never said to anyone else.”

“I love you too,” I replied, my voice husky from having to hold back my emotions and speak softly. “I have been with so many men and never felt this. I want it, Mili, I want it no matter what.”


The need of them to be together was always confronted with the cultural and political barriers gravely sharpened by Shivan’s grandmother’s complicated attachment to him which lead her to be wild enough to end up with destroying their lives. 

With Mili’s unexpected murder Shivan’s life changes forever, including his relationship with grandmother and his own family. He’s not in peace with himself anymore. Each and every step he takes and every second he spends with Michael who is now his intimate lover and lives together with him are haunted by his memories. Selvadurai, with his given talents, prudently analyses the effects of these past events over the lives of different individuals related to Shivan. 

“Later that night, when we were alone on our air mattress, I dreaded that Michael would probe further, but instead he grasped my chin, searched my face, and then let me go. He turned on his side, legs drawn to stomach, hands under one cheek, looking out at the night. I closed my eyes, vertiginous.” –Page 333

The story not only discusses about the life of Shivan but the dreadful political situation in Sri Lanka and its impact on the Tamils and the entire society. The way Tamils and poor Sinhalese were robbed by the wealthy business class in Colombo, the emerging trend of their thugs turning to politicians and the situation forced the Tamils to flee from their own land are described here with such a sincere tone. Instead of looking at the migrants as blessed , Selvadurai, in his analytical way, invites us to see the complications and hardships they went through, their inability to figure out and place themselves in a foreign land, their sufferings caused by being cut off from the roots of their beloved and the unbearable distress that most of the migrants were experiencing. 

Yet given much prominence to the victims of 83 riots, when it comes to the 30 years civil in Sri Lanka and the victims in the North Selvadurai does not emphasize much on their fate. Only the Human Rights worker Sriyani speaks out for the rights of the Tamils to stand for themselves. Except that, throughout the book, the Tamils' struggle against the injustice happened to them is seen from the eyes of Burshua class in Cinnamon Gardens; as an unwanted storm that disturbed their peaceful classy lives. 

The book is basically woven by one thread of philosophy; that one cannot escape from his or her past events no mater they are right or wrong at the time those incident took place. Ones greed for his or her own satisfaction can lead them to be blind that they take their loved ones lives as granted and at its cost, that one day they lose the most precious ones in their lives.

“And I, like that naked perethi, will find release only by offering it to another, by putting another before myself.” -Page 370

The story tells us that the suffering is born out of the anger and bitterness we have for each other and finally the only way to cross this burning river is nothing else, but forgiving. 

And yes, as we think of our loved ones who walked along all those narrow paths with us, those who remained in those long nights beside us, we say, “you are like rain soaking a parched land.” 


  1. Read it and like it. Though I think He tells the same story again and again. This story felt more like a sequel to "Funny Boy". Anyhow it was well written and more people should read it.

    PS: You might need to add a spoiler warning.

  2. I enjoyed his book Funny Boy, and read some positive reviews of this new book. will find it and read. Thanks.

  3. පොත රාක්කේ. ළඟදීම කියවිය යුතුයි. ස්තුතියි කල්පනා.