I can write the saddest poem of all tonight. Write, for instance: "The night is full of stars, and the stars, blue, shiver in the distance." The night wind whirls in the sky and sings. I can write the saddest poem of all tonight. I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too. On nights like this, I held her in my arms. I kissed her so many times under the infinite sky. She loved me, sometimes I loved her. How could I not have loved her large, still eyes? I can write the saddest poem of all tonight. To think I don't have her. To feel that I've lost her. To hear the immense night, more immense without her. And the poem falls to the soul as dew to grass. What does it matter that my love couldn't keep her. The night is full of stars and she is not with me. That's all. Far away, someone sings. Far away. My soul is lost without her. As if to bring her near, my eyes search for her. My heart searches for her and she is not with me. The same night that whitens the same trees. We, we who were, we are the same no longer. I no longer love her, true, but how much I loved her. My voice searched the wind to touch her ear. Someone else's. She will be someone else's. As she once belonged to my kisses. Her voice, her light body. Her infinite eyes. I no longer love her, true, but perhaps I love her. Love is so short and oblivion so long. Because on nights like this I held her in my arms, my soul is lost without her. Although this may be the last pain she causes me, and this may be the last poem I write for her.
I first read Shyam Selvadurai in the early 2000's -reading 'Funny Boy' instead of completing an assignment in a favourite spot in a musty
university library. Even back then, I was captivated by the writing style and
the open honest way the feelings and emotions of an adolescent boy growing up
in Sri Lanka was described in that book.
Many years later, after a long wait in the holds queue of my
local library in Melbourne, I had the chance to read 'The Hungry Ghosts'. This is Shyam's
fourth novel, published in 2013. The fact that I read the 374 pages of the book
in two days is a testimony to Shyam's great writing. It is amazing how in 'Hungry Ghosts' Shyam weaves
together a rich tapestry blending in threads from Sri Lankan politics, racial unrest
and homophobic attitudes in Sri Lanka, mental dislocation after migration and
the many different versions of love. In this book he takes us on a journey
through row houses in Pettah, mansions in Cinnamon Gardens and across lanes,
byways and bridges of Vancouver and Toronto. He propels us into the past- to
the girlhood of the matriarch grandmother, and in an instant brings us back to
the present, winding the story around Shivan- the narrator's life and the lives
closest to his. In 'The Hungry Ghosts' Shyam immerses the reader in emotions in
such a way that we are often left breathless and fighting for life. The pain of
loss, betrayal and desperation is described in such a way that the reader loses
touch with reality, and lands in the midst of the turbulence of the described
scene from time to time.
"I would remember something I wanted to tell him, then
realize I could not do that anymore. Whenever I slipped up like this, I felt no
pain or grief, just an emptiness that both surrounded me and was inside me, as
if I were encased in a casket of thick silence; as if I were silence
"When she was done, she would stand by the table, watching
us as we took our places. Her food, because it had been prepared in such anger,
was often unpalatable, but if we didn't finish everything she served, or avoided
a dish, she would rail at us for being ungrateful, the words tripping out so
fast she stammered." p.129
For me, the best part of 'The Hungry Ghosts' was the way it was
peppered with 'Sri Lankanisms'. From describing the mood of a situation by the
subtle differences in the usage of Sinhala language to the outright, ultimate
Sinhalese insult, the novel is dotted with unique wisps of Sri Lanka
"When Rosalind was done my mother asked "Does that one
come around anymore?" she used the derogatory 'araya' to refer to him and
Rosalind knew exactly who she meant"
"Come, Puthey" my grandmother said, referring to me by
the affectionate extension of putha, son.p. 4
Shyam has used bits of Buddhist and Sinhala folk stories to
embellish his narrative, and has thus given another dimension- another
perspective to the story. These are like lace that adorns a loved garment. Not
totally necessary, but adds a touch of charm. The stories about the thieving
hawk who in the end lets go of the piece of meat that caused it injury and
suffering, King Nandaka whose path disappeared behind him as he headed towards
a haunt of perethayas, and the naked perethi who is surrounded by food but has
no mouth to feed, though starving- all have an underlying connection to the narrative.
Through these, Shyam has simply said a lot without saying much.
I remember how in Sinhalese there are two words for rice:
"haal" for the hardened grain, which becomes "buth" when it
is boiled. In speaking of our inability to reverse actions, our inability to
change karma's ripening, we say that haal, once it has started to become buth,
cannot revert to being haal. p.131
'The Hungry Ghosts' was shortlisted for both Toronto Book Awards
and the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction and Long listed for the
DSC South Asia Literature Prize.
All in all, for me Hungry Ghosts is a superb read, mainly
because it flows easily and naturally. How serendipitous it is to read a novel
that touches the heart, so far away from one's roots, written by someone also
living far from his roots- all the way across the world! Congratulations Shyam,
many more of these please.
April come she will
When streams are ripe
And swelled with rain
May she will stay
Resting in my arms again
June she'll change her tune
In restless walks
She'll prowl the night
July she will fly
And give no warning
To her flight
August die she must
The autumn winds blow
Chilly and cold
September I remember
A love once new
Has now grown old
When you come to me, unbidden,
To long-ago rooms,
Where memories lie.
Offering me, as to a child, an attic,
Gatherings of days too few.
Baubles of stolen kisses.
Trinkets of borrowed loves.
Trunks of secret words,
I give you this one thought to keep - I am with you still - I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond glints on snow, I am the sunlight on ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn rain. When you awaken in the morning's hush, I am the sweet uplifting rush, of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night. Do not think of me as gone - I am with you still in each new dawn.
තනිකමින් පිරි රැය ගෙවෙද්දී මඟ බොහෝ දුර බව දැනෙද්දී සිතෙනු ඇත ප්රේමයේ හිමිකම පිණැති, සවි ඇති අයට හිමි බව එහෙත් අමතක නොකළ මැන ඔබ සිසිරයේ රුදු හිම කැටිති යට වැතිර නිදනා බිජුවටක් මය හිරුගෙ සෙනෙහෙන් ජීවිතය ගෙන පිපෙන සෙව්වන්දිය වසත් කල ! ---------------------------------------
Some say love, it is a river
That drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger,
An endless aching need.
I say love, it is a flower,
And you its only seed.
It's the heart afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance.
It's the dream afraid of waking
That never takes the chance.
It's the one who won't be taken,
Who cannot seem to give,
And the soul afraid of dyin'
That never learns to live.
When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long,
And you think that love is only
For the lucky and the strong,
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snows
Lies the seed that with the sun's love
In the spring becomes the rose