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Eye


The Fear of Gambling; an Anti-Novel

By Dhanuka Bandara
Vihanga Perera’s The Fear of Gambling, otherwise known as FOG, could be at best described as textual anarchy. This text is significant in its recalcitrant defiance of taxonomy. In that, the text transcends genre and creates for it self a new narrative space of sorts. Vihanga Perera has not claimed that his latest work is a novel. But he has claimed that it is a work of “longer fiction.” However, this claim is subtly undermined by the text itself.

One way of classifying this work, if at all literary classification is of any importance, is to say that it is an anti-novel. Here, we confront a colossal difficulty. If at all the text at issue is not a novel then what is a novel? Terry Eagleton claims that novel is a genre that resists definition (in my opinion any genre resists definition). Let us, therefore, remain within commonsensical bounds (for over the course of years I have realized that commonsense makes most sense). If Anna Karenina is a novel, The Fear of Gambling is not. However, one cannot say without being dogmatic, the fact that FOG defies genre, constitutes a drawback. On the contrary, one can read this as a merit of the work. Owing to its uncontainable textual fluidity, FOG does not limit itself to constraints imposed on writing by genre. It does not profess to have a narrative, an overarching structure or characters. Perhaps, it is fair to say that if at all it has characters, they are, for want of a better term, placard-like. In that, I mean, the characters lack depth and are symptomatic of a postmodernist syndrome of depthlessness, and for that reason unreal. The narrator of the novel, eponymously baptized as VK, an unambiguous reference to the author himself, claims that “In my left pocket I carry five 100 dollar bills, three 20s and fiver; all neatly stolen from Monopoly. What is real about me, then? I ask.” In much the same as the money stolen from Monopoly that the narrator carries, the narrator himself is unreal. He is in the same way depthless. The money from Monopoly is currency without depth, is mere simulacrum that simulates real money. It is for this reason that a reader, who tries to find substance in Perera’s characters, is inevitably disappointed. By their very nature his characters have no substance. In this respect FOG profoundly challenges the reader.

I have mentioned above that the characters in FOG are not real and the fact that they are not real is made deliberately apparent. The text boasts of no realistic affectations. As I have mentioned above Vihanga Perera claims that The Fear of Gambling is a work of longer fiction. However, this claim could be contested. In chapter seventeen the narrator (VK) claims that “Well to be honest- all that I say in this book is not true.” This is what is described in literary parlance as “short-circuiting,” a literary technique which is some times used in postmodernist fiction. Here, the narrator, by disclaiming the verity of the events recorded in the text, renders the fictionality of the work apparent. However, one can, by reading the text against its grain, argue that since the aforementioned claim itself is found in the text which it claims is not true, its (the claim’s) truthfulness itself is, therefore, questionable. From this we can draw the inference that all that that the narrator says in this book, is in fact true. This is, of course, one way of looking at it. We could perhaps more justly say that in FOG one finds an interplay of fact and fiction where these two are constantly pit against each other. By so doing the author intentionally dismantles the distinction between fact and fiction and problematizes the realistic norms of story-telling. Thus FOG is clearly antithetical to the realistic narrative, which was dominant in the 19th century and breaks bread with texts that work along poststructuralist and postmodernist lines.

The absence of an overarching structure renders The Fear of Gambling a text that knows no bounds; nor does it have a concrete narrative that gives the text a trajectory, teleological or otherwise. One could argue that FOG has several narratives but this would be true only if we were to consider “narrative” in a very liberal sense. Therefore, The Fear of Gambling does not narrate a story; but the reader is lured by the promise of a story that defers itself until the point at which the text ends with “It will be over right now.” This book holds a bogus promise of fulfillment that anti-climatically ends without textual coming and what the readers feels at the end is disappointment. Yet, I believe that this disappointment leads the readers (it led me) to some kind of soul-searching as readers of literature and reassess our understanding of story-telling. The reader is confronted with questions such as does a text which calls itself “longer fiction” should necessarily have characters; or a narrative; or an overarching structure? Is The Fear of Gambling, then, the quintessential poststructuralist novel? These are amongst the unavoidable points of contention that the conscientious reader would have to grapple with.

In terms subject-matter, The Fear of Gambling treats matters of grave importance such as the 18th amendment, the “evaporation” of Prageeth Eknaligoda and the integrity of the territory which is dear and near to us, inter-alia and at the same time brings into narrativization the quotidian triviality of life. The text challenges our notions as regards what deserves artistic representation. In a sense, one could describe FOG as a work of kitsch-art. The author’s rendition of his world is kitschified and triviality of the contemporary social experience is laid stress on; to my mind, this is arguably epitomized by the narrator’s urge to watch women. Kitschification of art was first undertaken by Dadaists in the 1920’s to make art a non-elite form of expression and to bring it down from the lofty heights of modernism. In much the same way, The Fear of Gambling deflates Lankan fiction in English and transforms the narrative space into one that accommodates the peripheral social experience of the very many.

Linguistically The Fear of Gambling is experimental. The language randomly and alternately borders on the poetic and the banal and does not fail to waver in between. The author has also incorporated into the text chat language (an FB chat per-se) reminding us that the on-line experience is part and parcel of our contemporary life.
The Fear of Gambling is a disobedient text that challenges literary norms and by extension the readers. It has the potentiality to broaden our literary experience and this alone is reason enough for one to read it.

 

The Last Colonial by Christopher Ondaatje

Glimpses of carefree wilderness

By Lalith Seneviratne
Sir Christopher Ondaatje as the Ceylon born successful athlete, explorer, entrepreneur, publisher, writer and benefactor of the arts and wildlife conservator needs no introduction to the English reading public. This is his latest writing effort and his near autobiography. In his own words, it is the book that has given him the most satisfaction.

Ondaatje takes us on a journey across what was then the ‘Empire on which the Sun never Sets’ through a collection of short stories gained through his exploration, some spellbinding. He lovingly gives glimpses of what he calls the carefree wilderness of his childhood Ceylon. In fact, Ceylon is the common thread that binds his numerous writings including this one.
Ondaatje shows us how his passion for cricket and his developing love for English literature from early years made him survive the agony of being transplanted from his native land to the strange customs of West Country England – inspiration for any teenager. His stories are the stories of how being at the right place at the right time and then above all taking or not taking the opportunity this presents, can make the difference between fulfilment and misery.

In spite of being short stories Ondaatje’s mastery is that they have all the brush marks for you to vividly complete the painting with all its details and vibrant colours. While the tempo may wax and wane from story to story, the excitement to read on continues unabated. For a Sri Lankan especially, it is one of those books you will nostalgically not let go until you hit the end.
Ondaatje’s book can be about many things to many people. It is a book about how one should and can integrate and be a valuable part of any society you choose to live in. It is a book about taking risks and going where your heart takes you. It is about the value, meaning and challenge of understanding cultures by going beyond the veil of ‘extremist’ whitewashing that unfortunately has wrapped many a culture and a nation in the instantaneous information age we live in today. It teaches you how life can be bittersweet but how sweetness can survive in the end.

Ondaatje through his stories vividly teaches you why you should live by your convictions not by your instincts. How through this path you can have both a bread and butter life and a God’s life. Through his passion to pursue the Leopard he enlightens you with little known facts and legends about it. It is the Leopard that pleasantly further binds him to the land of his birth. While the core of each short story continues he sidesteps you into interesting interludes which adds further shades.

The book rouses the inquisitiveness within you to higher and higher heights to get to know the author intimately as you get more and more convinced of the many more anecdotes and conjecture that he must have close to his chest. But you are disappointed because there isn’t enough of him to satisfy your urge. We can only hope that he will reveal himself more with books yet to come.
As you glean some of the little known facts about Ondaatje it makes one proud as a Sri Lankan. He has to be the first truly complete Global Ceylonese. The first Ceylonese by birth and perhaps so far the only one to have taken part in Winter Olympics. Again, the first and the only one to win a gold medal although it was officially for Canada the land of his adoption.

Ondaatje’s success in everything he touches makes him a global role model that we Sri Lankans especially the youth desperately lack. It is true that the ‘Old Colonials’ raced to honour him first but there is still the opportunity for us Sri Lankans to do our long neglected part. His writings intentionally or not, reveal that he is a Sri Lankan at heart. Sri Lanka has shown that it can be a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs but the common thread of envy that shamefully binds us makes us quickly fall flat.
Here is a man who can help us make a turning point. He can be the inspiration to the new generation. But it is up to us – especially those who head our leading educational institutions that mould our young and the brightest. Can we be blessed to use Ondaatje’s wisdom to be the starting point to teach our youth to rid themselves of Kuveni’s curse which is nothing but envy it appears? Ondaatje still has plenty years ahead of him, is full of energy and his mission in life will continue forever. Do we want to gain from his wisdom as much as others have?

 

Portrait

Valeria, Milan
After a visit to the Pinacoteca di Brera, in Milan, I sat down for lunch. Valeria the waitress was lovely and attentive and kept asking me if I want more of this and that, dessert and coffee. In exchange, I asked to take her photograph. My meal it turned out, was free, a gift from the kitchen staff who were all Sri Lankan. Hospitality goes global.

Pradeep Jeganathan

 

My Side of the Cubicle’s Glass

Tall buildings which, some day, will fall
Give me the confidence of where I stand, but still,
When the confectioner of Kandy’s shopping mall
Pretends not to see me, like a cruel pill,
I feel small; I see my reflection on the wall
As they sit, their consumable legs,
Smooth delicate foot rocking the shoe by its strap,
Distanced by the cubicle’s glass. As they stare into a desktop,
The office midriffs and stretch marks stretch,
Lost souls float in search of place. I stand and watch it from my edge.
You’re a woman, some man’s invested desire
And you can be had; though you’re not for hire.
Pink blouse, plain face, faded bag and - higher -
A sober temperament that never catch fire.
God, this stanza has regular end-rhyme… till now.
So, the KCC - Kandy City Center, the local Majestic City
Is the place to be. Cool gangs hang by escalator terminals;
Sit under escalators; whisper by escalator sides;
Watch with blatant young eyes the eyes of gals by escalators.
There are more escalators than things, by escalators, you can do.

Bring in here to KCC your village mentality for a talk
Or press the pussy of your i-pod as you take it on a walk.
O’ Majestic City come to Kandy 20 years all too late,
Empty showrooms in thin glass, transparent as fate, stare at you
As you pass; and with your stare consummates.
I walk through the metal detector and when it
Makes the curious sound; am I to walk on,
Or am I to turn around? What if I am made of metal?
What if all I want is a detonator? The brown suited jack
And the blue osareed girl are lost in a talk that the rest never will know.

Vihanga Perera

 

UN-OCTOGENARIANING

There must be mind-forceps
and heart un-wrinkler
to take out
time’s intricate signature,
line and scar
and other blemishes
one at a time;
an un-suturing
that thereafter hangs
line as encounter,
scar as love-note remnant
and bit by bit
layer after layer
year after year
the lines of wisdom
those of regret
the hurt of the path un-taken
the ungracious dismissal
of decision’s poor givings,
the coarseness of encounter
the tenderness of un-intersecting orbits
or those that were so touch-and-go
they were inevitably petal-made.
Moment-line, event-line, person-line
thought-line and love-line
the sorrow-cut mad criss-crossing,
take it all away,
extract histories, and
trash in an unrecoverable folder;
wash away wrong-doing and pain
guilt and grievance
desire and defeat
cleanse face of makeup
and foreboding,
roll back, roll back
charted pathways and random stroll;
there’s a little girl
at the end of the day,
kite-made and dolled
line-free and smiling.
Did you see her, did you not?