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Published on: 07/29/15 5:11 PM

Book review: The Seasons of Trouble by Rohini Mohan

The Seasons of Trouble by Rohini Mohan.  HarperCollins Books.

This is really of the lest- we- forget genre. We have had some competent, even accomplished wordsmiths chronicling the conflict and after in Sri lanka, the likes of Nirupama Subramanian (Voices From A War Zone), Samanth Subramanian (This Divided Island), Romesh Gunesekera (most recently Noontide Toll) and now, we have Rohini Mohan`s Seasons of Trouble.

Mohan`s account is a straightforward, urgent one, using the voices of Sarva (Sarvanadan), his mother Indra, and a young former Tiger cadre going by the pseudonym of Mugil, to lay out a cross- section of the grid of conflict- affected people in what was once the isle of Serendip.

One day in Colombo, Sarva gets picked up by the dreaded white van, and he wonders why; just for being a Tamil? At home, Indra waits in mounting anxiety. When it is confirmed that Sarva is in custody, she mounts what can only be termed the mother of all retrieval attempts. Up north, Mugil watches as the war ends, and a new phase of misery starts afresh for the Vanni Tamils.

Of course the reader knows it’s a lose-lose situation but within the matrix, small triumphs are celebrated, acknowledged, appreciated. Sarva`s past catches up with him, and impacts Indra too. Mugil and her family have to make up their minds whether to flee or fight. Safe zone after safe zone has turned into battle zones. They have a stint in the 700- acre Manik Farm camp run by the Lankan army outside Vavuniya, then Mugil returns home and starts afresh, or tries to. Mugil also struggles with the guilt of a turned Tiger, even as life looks up when she finds an abandoned unclaimed large and airy house and then starts a snack shop with another woman.

Indra now, is a real heroine, repeatedly snatching whatever little nuggets of victory she can from the looming and seemingly inevitable maws of defeat. Be it endless prison visits, networking frantically at all levels, holding onto hope when all looks bleak, taking him food every single day just to keep him motivated and hopeful, she does it all, unflaggingly. The reader is very slowly led to Indra`s core, her indomitable strength, and it’s a mind- blowing process.

Inevitably, the overriding emotion in the book is an infinite sadness. As also the indomitable will to live. Mohan tells us that at the peak of Tiger triumph, the Tamils of the Vanni actually dreamt of equalling Singapore`s enviable economic growth, India`s cultural vibrancy, Europe’s standard of living. Finally of course, it all came down to inventing and internalising endless cope strategies. Of being forever on the run, gathering up meagre belongings in a bedsheet and running. Of telling and retelling stories in a bid to gather mental energy to face more strife.

Mohan shines a moving torchlight on little known casualties and occurrences of the conflict: bunker behaviour and how families fought or drew close as they sat out shellings in bunkers, sharing hopes, dreams, bitterness. The raw bonds forged while crouching underground among people thrown together by catastrophe would last a lifetime.

She tells us of the high premium Sri Lankan Tamils placed on education and how galling it was to have life reduced to queues for food and water and medical facilities in the overcrowded camps. She tells us about resettlement arranged without taking in the wishes of those who are being resettled, of what looks to be whimsical relocation.

There is one enduring image of an LTTE cadre putting her kids to sleep, carefully not singing any songs of the revolution. She tells us how the downfall of `Annan,` (Prabhakaran) is watched in anguish by Tigers and Tamils alike. She tells us about the rehab camps where former Tigers went expecting some sort of psychological help as well as employment but of course, found nothing of the sort.

Indra compares the Tamil people to two million people dressed in white shirts being showered by purple berries falling from a shaken tree. The reader cannot but help agree.

And so, Indra labours on and eventually Sarva leaves his troubled land to find a new life in Europe. Mugil`s life takes an unexpectedly dismal turn, Nemesis catching up with her. And Sri Lanka tries hard to act out that dreadful catchphrase, limp back to normalcy.

The Seasons of Trouble is an important addition to Sri Lanka`s conflict stories. Mohan gets into the skin of her trio of protagonists and draws us into their tales, their trials and tribulations, their triumphs.

Related Links:

Book review: Upon a Sleepless Isle by Andrew Fidel Fernando

Book review: Elephant Complex by John Gimlette

Book review: This Divided Island by Samanth Subramanian

Book review: Noon Tide Toll by Romesh Gunasekera


conflictLTTEReviewRohini MohanSeasons of TroubleSri LankaTigerswar

Sheila Kumar • July 29, 2015

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