In Thisuri Wanniarachchi’s The Terrorist’s Daughter LTTE member “Pottu Arman” (a consonant away from senior LTTE Intelligence Leader Pottu Amman) rapes a young 23 year old girl resident at a convent in 1990, who begets a child. This child – Thalyanadee – who is later adopted by a would-be Norwegian diplomat arrives in Lanka in 2010 and meets the then Prime Minister Dharmadasa’s son Chithesh. Later, Dharmadasa becomes the President of the country and Thalya and Chithesh become lovers.
Chithesh, we are told, is one of five sons President Dharmadasa has. Indeed, nowhere in the book do we meet these five sons together, though there is a dinner table scene where three sons are present; the “absent” two sons, we learn, have gone to Brazil to watch football. At any given time, we hear mention of only three sons. Chithesh, we are told, looks like the mother (the First Lady) and is rebuked by his other (as implied “manly” brothers) for not having a girlfriend. Chithesh’s name starts with the syllable “chi”.
In a parallel subplot, Shyamantha – a close inner-group friend with a drug problem – kills another inner-group girl friend: Tara. The killing is done in a luxury, residential area and the killer is under the influence of drugs. In a move reminiscent of the “Royal Park murder” – of which the convicted perpetrator was a Shermantha Jayamaha – Shyamantha is convicted and put on death row. The events leading to Shyamantha’s crime, on the whole, strongly resonate the events leading to the killing of Ivon Johnson. In Shyamantha’s case, the President approves the Supreme Court verdict and Shyamantha is executed for his crime.
In another intriguing passage, a retired army general’s daughter, Nurasha (in places also referred to as Nushara), goes through her father’s briefcase and finds incriminating evidence regarding the “Presidential Election of 2010”, which she later hands over to her wannabe-politician boyfriend, to be used during the “2030 election campaign”, as anti-government propaganda. The said army general is implied to have been a lynchpin of the government’s defence mechanism at one point, but of having retired later.
Thisuri’s protagonists are from the apex of Colombo’s “top end” and their routines, beliefs, lifestyles, leisure and aspirations – as well as their frugal understanding and estimate of the country at large – go little beyond the “Kingston House” or “Edward House” they occupy. On a particular night, their night club bill tops a million rupees. They are philistine to the core, but under the impression that they are the hope of the country’s future: a noble and credible estimate. They and their elders appear to be wary of a paper called “GossipLanka”, published by a Lal Gamage. In reality, there is a website by this name: a website given to gossip and leakages. Whereas, there is also a paper called the “Sunday Leader”, notorious and feared by the political class for its “exposes” (specially, in pre-2010, Lasantha Wickranatunge days), co-owned by a Lal Wickramatunge. At present, Asanga Seneviratne – a pro-regimental bigwig – owns over 2/3 of its shares.
The novel ends with Chithesh – President Dharmadasa’s son – marrying Thalya, the biological daughter of LTTE frontliner “Pottu Arman”. The novel’s termination point, with the Math done, is early 2020s: possibly 2021 or 2022. Chithesh and Thalya are seen holding their infant, expectant of a happy and prosperous future. If Thisuri’s Nostradamuseque predictions are to go by, Sri Lanka can expect a “President of three sons (minus the two sons in Brazil)” to hold sway till at least the 2020s; and for a biological reconciliation of opposite camps and opposite ideologies through the Chithesh-Thalya nuptials.
The Terrorist’s Daughter didn’t read as a particularly well written novel, and it reflected a limited worldview and of an elite-minded, class-bound assessment of Lanka’s travails. But, this is not necessarily a drawback as I am ready to acknowledge that Thisuri can only write from her perch in society and through the experience open (to be absorbed) to her. If at all, Thisuri brings together an essentially marketable myriad of ingredients in the guise of the conflict, displacement, cross-ethnic love; though, none of these are necessarily original motifs. She, at one level, takes on her shoulder the burden of representing persons and personalities that can have a complex depth, but fails to fulfill this role. For instance, Thalya’s character could have been marked and mapped for complexity, for she is a person who is repeatedly “displaced” even to the end of the novel. All characters resonate a sense of being functionally used – that is, to make the plot-ends meet – rather than being developed and fermented as characters and personalities that stand by their own.
The marketability of the “terrorist” is exploited, for – in reality – Thalya is not the daughter of a terrorist, in the way she is the “daughter” of a Norwegian diplomat. The Terrorist’s Daughter – the title – gives the wrong impression for one who would buy the book intending to read of an LTTE cadre’s child: one who would have to face the daily realities of being the child of an activist. Thalya’s case being what it is, the title could have equally been The President’s Son’s Girlfriend. I have used the same technique, here, in titling my essay.
Thisuri shouldn’t take the blurbs reproduced in the book too seriously, either. Comments made of Colombo Streets – her earlier State Literary Prize winning book – by mediocre sources such as the Daily News, The Times, The Nation etc are inserted in the inside cover. The Sunday Times (if the quote is accurate) is even cited as claiming that Thisuri won the State Literary Prize over “literary heavyweights” such as Prashani Rambukwella and Ashok Ferrey. For one, neither Prashani nor Ferrey come even close to a heavyweight (other than the weight self-gained and bestowed on them by their friends) or to writing serious literature. Hence, “overpowering” them to win a shady and utterly incompetent literary prize shouldn’t mist you too much. Women at Work (whatever their work may be) claim that Thisuri has “taken the first step to make a change in the world”: perhaps, that is a better attitude to adopt and work on one’s craft and the means by which one engages with the world.
As to how powerfully connected Thisuri is and as to whom is not known to me. But, the insinuations of her novel – to which I have alluded throughout – were refreshing and intriguing. It, in no uncertain terms, reflects either naivety or daring; if not, I should add, of being on a self-assuring tower above politics and of being politically affected.