by Himali N. Liyanage.
I just finished reading Vihanga perera’s ‘Unplugged Quarter’. It’s funny that I got a feeling to write something about it. I mean about the book. Not about the reading. I have a habit not remembering the titles or the authors’ names. But I always remember the stories. Somewhere in my mind they stay, clearly as individual stories or sometimes tangled up with many stories. But Characters and their stories give me something that stays with me forever. It’s funny again: this time the author is the one who stays with me and not the story. There isn’t much of a story in that book or an extra powerful character to be remembered. But in my opinion, This book is so “Vihanga”, the author: funny, fearless Vihanga.
It took only one afternoon for me to finish that book. Not even three tea cups for me to get to the finish. I am pretty sure it didn’t take much time for him to write it either. Let me guess. Most probably within less than eight months he may have completed the thing. But there is no hurry in those 139 pages. What he wants to say goes without dragging. But with no rush either.
‘Unplugged Quarter’ is funny at the same moments where it is supposed to be serious. Vihanga shows his exterme sense of humour without guilt and I am lucky that I receive this unlike some other modest Sinhala women. I grew up with two “average” brothers and I have no problem understanding the culture of average Sri Lankan young men/women.
In ‘Unplugged Quarter, the first chapter starts introducing ‘Vahanya Bertlot’. So I wanted it to be a story about Vahanya. But it isn’t. Then it talks about a bunch of Undergrads who happen to be her students. Then comes the low country distant cousin of Vahanya. But this is not about anybody. But everybody. Like life, ‘Unplugged Quarter’ is real. Nothing pretended there. Nothing that I expected would happen or assumed would happen, as I read on, happens in the story. It flows giving anticipation time to time mixed with humor but everything passes; yet, nothing “big” happens other than regrets and death. That’s why it is “real” like life.
I finished page 102 and went to put kids in the bed. I got back and turned to the page 103. It starts like this: “The next evening Poornaka died”. I checked again. I thought it is a typographical error. I read it again and again. This ‘Poornaka; a character in the story was totally fine when I left to put kids in the bed. I couldn’t believe it. But then again isn’t that the way how death happens? Then I thought now something drastic is going to happen. After the death of the healthy young man, I wanted some sort of a crucial thing to happen in the story. But think! what is more crucial than a death. Just like real life everything falls into some places. After a few more chapters the book ends. But I am still left clueless.
I agree with Vihanga. Those who don’t understand the heartbeat of Sri Lanka would never understand what this book is about. People living “closer” to ground and eyes opened would not have any problems enjoying this piece of literature. If you pretend not to know what a communication center is or who Kasun Kalhara or Upeksha Swarnamali is, you may have difficulties getting in to Vihanga’s shoes. Same way I am not disturbed by Akugatawa Rynosuke, Kan Kikuchi on Mizuguchi Kenji, I am not disturbed by Vihanga’s other used metaphor or his style. We all know what we eat, drink, breathe and listen to every day when we are in Sri Lanka.
I read the book in one breath. Didn’t take me on a journey but dragged me on to earth. I regret I asked Vihanga to read me sometimes. Because by read I meant where someone reads to me while I close my eyes lying back in my IKEA rocking chair. Now I don’t even want to imagine Vihanga or anybody reading ‘Unplugged Quarter’ to me on a relaxed evening. I rather ask Malinda Seneviratne to read his “Morning Inspection”. Well, now I am dreaming as if it’s going to happen. I like ‘unplugged Quarter’. But it won’t let me dream.
I am going to read the other books written by Vihanga Perera. I guess I can have a good laugh without laughing at the story or the life instead I will learn not to pretend, to be me and be real.
You can own a copy of “unplugged Quarter” by writing to Vihanga Perera.