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'Will Peace Return To Sri Lanka?'

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Why this book?
Anybody who is somebody has written a book on Lanka. One more won't do any harm. So, why did I join the chorus? The immediate trigger was the death of Prabhakaran in the final battle in northern Sri Lanka, marking the end of a long armed insurrection for an independent homeland for the Tamils in the island. Here was a man who lived and died for a cause he believed in. And so long as he was alive, he defined the struggle. To his detractors he was a terror, to the Tamils a protector, and to the world a stumbling block to peace. He was either vilified or glorified. Few dispassionately analysed him. I have tried to do that.

Why should a reader pick up this book?
Because I have over 40 years experience in journalism. I have been covering this complex problem for over 25 years and have made several field visits to Sri Lanka. True several eminent academics and historians as well as journalists have written on this complex issue from time to time. That is the catch. All dealt with a particular period in the long struggle of Eelam Tamils. This is the first book which encompasses the 26 years armed struggle from 1983 to 2009. So it is not just one more book. It will be useful to students of ethnic studies and research scholars. It will also appeal to lay readers. After all, I am a journalist and I know how to tell a story.

The narrative is interspersed with anecdotal experiences, each one to drive home a point. Most important, the years of war have not only divided the two communities, the Tamils and Sinhalese, but also so many players like India, so much so it is very difficult to take a neutral position. For example, I was critical of Rajiv Gandhi's military misadventure, but to ordinary Indian soldier fighting a thankless battle, any Tamil journalist from Tamil Nadu would naturally be a supporter of the Tamil Tigers. In the hostile environment, our differences were forgotten and I was always welcomed with a cup of tea by them.

What does book this mean to you?
It is my first book. I put off suggestions made from friends and well-wishers that I should write a book on the basis of my vast experience. I was reluctant because it was not happy task to recount what seemed an unending saga of death, desolation, and despair. I felt I should not make name or fame by exploiting a people's misery. With Prabhakaran's death, I felt the time had come to take a fresh look at a critical phase in south Asian history. What does it mean to me? A wag told me the first book is like your first night. I said, “No wonder I am not excited”. At 60 plus, you don't jump with joy when you see your name in print.

The Prabhakaran Saga: The Rise and Fall of an Eelam Warrior
By S. Murari
Sage Publications
Pages: 392
Price: Rs 425

Did I find it difficult to write this book?
Surprisingly, it was not difficult at all. Because, thanks to a friend, I had clippings of all my reports to my paper Deccan Herald filed over a period of 25 years. Each report spurred a memory. It was a journey down memory lane. Memories good and bad that I had shared from time to with Deccan Herald readers over the years.

The idea for a book took a firm shape in September 2003 when I was taking a stroll on the Pattaya beach with my journalist friend Ravi Prasad one evening after we covered the first round of peace talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers. All around us on the beach were men and women walking hand in hand and here we were two Johnnies immersed in a discussion on India's geo-political interests and Sri Lanka's killing fields! Ravi told me I had bottled up so much info in my bosom, all I had to do was sit before the computer and words would flow. And they did, six years later when I started this book.

Where all did this book take you?
Yes, writing on the issue took me to places. First to all, the refugee camps in Tamil Nadu. To Singapore in 1987 when India did the food drop in Jaffna as a prelude in military intervention. I had a chance to see here was another island nation where three ethnic communities — Chinese, Malay and Tamils — were living in harmony as equal citizens. To Lanka, from July 1987 to January 2010. So much I felt at one stage I felt I knew Sri Lanka like the back of my palm when I had not seen even half of my own country, India. To Brussels where a Jaffna lad told me there was a day train to Paris, to Paris Norde railway station where I ran into Jaffna youths who told about me freezing cold of Norway, to the Tamil Tigers office in Paris who amazed me with their knowledge of everything happening in my own home state Tamil Nadu by reading all the Tamil magazines, a customary tourist's visit to Eiffel Tower, coming out of the underground to see a cinema house showing my favourite movie Irma la Douce, to London and an emotional meeting with LTTE ideologue Balasingham, to Victoria station where I nearly got stuck because I had taken a one-way ticket until an officer helped me out. As Beatles they say in the song 'In My Life', "each place has a memory".

Can you talk about the title of the book? Also, give us an alternative title to the book...
A lot of thought has gone into the title because Prabhakaran's name evokes strong feelings. My stand all along has been "you may hate him, you love him, but you cannot ignore him". So his name has to be there in the title. Next how do you define a man who defined the struggle? Balasingham, his adviser, told Norwegian mediator Eric Solheim in an informal moment that Prabhakaran was like the warlords of the Chinese dynasties. I felt warlord was too strong a word because he did give peace chance in the last phase of his life. So I settled for warrior, though he did not belong to the warrior class but was from a fisher folk community. I felt it was the closest non-judgmental description of a man who fought all his life for Eelam. The only alternative title I can think of is: Prabhakaran is gone, will peace return to Sri Lanka? Come to think of it, it is the best alternative title because "Will peace return to Sri Lanka?" is a million dollar question now.

What is your energy drink?
A chilled beer on a warm evening. But then I don't drink at home and I don't like lugging my lappie all over. I am a great fan of P.G. Wodehouse and O. Henry. Writing is a reflection of your personality. I am a sunny chap, If it shows in my breezy style, even heavy stuff will feel light in readers' hands.

What are you reading now?
All my life I was a book lover and one time I was alternating between Thomas Hardy and P.G. Wodehouse, what a nut I was swinging from one extreme to another. Then with the advent of computers, I started reading more and more material online, except for daily newspapers. After I got this book, I resumed my age old habit.

Tell you, nothing like curling up with your favourite book — even if it is your magnum opus — on an easy chair. Presumptuous, you say. So be it.

What is next?
Waiting for my first cheque to go to the nearest bank. You have to get off the fast lane every now and then and stop by to smell roses.

Compiled by Jinoy Jose P.

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