The Seasons of Trouble
WHEN THE Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan Army ‘eliminated’ the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by killing its annan Prabakaran in 2009, most people hoped that the small, war-ravaged island nation in the Indian Ocean would rebuild and grow. Instead, the next five years saw the country’s prospects diminished by a government that sought to consolidate its power and limit the rights of its citizens.
In an honest and gripping account, Bangalore-based journalist-writer Rohini Mohan attempts to recount the Sri Lankan tragedy through the lives of three real characters within two parallel worlds. The result of that effort, The Seasons of Trouble: Life Amid the Ruins of Sri Lanka’s Civil War, is a fantastic work of non-fiction presented in a simple yet absorbing fictional style.
The book begins with the abduction of Sarvanatha Pereira (Sarva in short), a young Tamil, by the Sri Lankan government on suspicions of terrorism. This happens in the closing months of 2008 when the Tamil dream of Eelam, an independent homeland in Sri Lanka’s north and east, is crumbling. Readers are then led through Sarva’s life in jail and exile, and subsequent release and refuge in a foreign country, in a narrative that is slow, but one that maintains an element of suspense throughout (till about half of the book one is left wondering if Sarva had indeed been a kottiya, or terrorist, as accused by the government).
How could a woman sleep soundly when her son was still in prison? Sarva’s mother, middle-aged Indra, is the second lead character of the book, whose story traces the bewildering search for her ‘disappeared’ son. Indra badgers jeering police and officials, most of them from the Sinhala Buddhist majority, until she secures his release, the same way she got Sarva out of the Tiger ranks in Jaffna several years ago. From the eight or nine hours that Indra spends to bring Sarva one meal in prison to the months of impenetrable silence that she has to endure after sending Sarva abroad with human smugglers, the writer provides a nuanced and compassionate portrait of motherhood in times of war.
The third character, Mugil, is the rare story of a female combatant attempting to reintegrate into post-conflict society. Unlike her husband Divyan and brother Prashant, who surrender to the state, Mugil tries to keep her former identity secret, and teach herself how to become a mother and a housewife. Mohan writes: “Mugil knew that at some point she would have to sit her mother down, hold her face, and say slowly and directly to her: we need to run. From what, they all knew. But where? To what?”
Mohan came out with The Seasons of Trouble after over five years of delving into the characters’ lives and innermost thoughts. The brutal, startling, yet beautifully written reportage doesn’t let us down.