Shehan Karunatilaka, a winner of the Commonwealth Book Prize and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature for his book Chinaman: the legend of Pradeep Mathew, talked about the state of literature in Sri Lanka, untold stories in the country’s troubled warzone, and about the process of researching characters for his first novel on Saturday.
The session, moderated by British journalist Owen Bennett Jones, concluded with questions from the audience.
“War has been going on in Sri Lanka for a very long time now.
But I wanted to write a story about the common man. I wanted to tell the world that despite many, many brutal happenings across Sri Lanka, it is still a place of happy-go-lucky people,” who says he watched cricket as part of research for his novel.
“I believe cricket is the most documented subject after pornography… I just kept going,” he said.
Karunatilaka said that he watched cricket for three years.
“There was not much there to be fascinated about after that so I moved on to football,” he said.
“I still get invited on TV shows and sit next to Saurav Ganguly,” he said.
“I like it. I just am not as obsessed with it as the characters in my book are,” he said.
Karunatilaka said, “Metaphorically, state of literature in Sri Lanka is similar to the state of Sri Lankan cricket during 1980s.”
“Literature has boomed post 1992 when the writer of The English Patient Michael Ondaatje began the Gratiaen Prize, encouraging more Sri Lankans to write in English,” he said.
“The language spiced up after that. There is a big self publishing industry in Sri Lanka now,” Karunatilaka said.
To an accusation about having made unkind remarks on women’s cricket, Karunatilaka laughed and said, “It is still better than women’s rugby.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2013.