of the Sri Lankan writers of English are an unfortunate lot,
destined to be born and wither away in the wilderness, despite
the fact that Sri Lanka can boast of begetting a Booker Prize
winner. However, to our solace, the international community has
fortunately recognized the value of such writers as Michael
Ondaatje and Romesh Gunasekara, both of whom have brought honour
and glory to the country, the former having bagged the Booker
Prize for his masterpiece 'English Patient' while the latter's
fiction has been short listed for it. But unfortunately, whether
one accepts it or not, it is a generally acknowledged fact that
such writers are hardly known at home.
Within the span of the past two decades, it is
obvious that there is an influx of writers in English in Sri
Lanka, most of whom seem to have sloughed the stigma attached to
writing in English as ‘a cultural treason'.
Obviously, there is a mushrooming of such
writers in the contemporary literary scenario. However, they do
not seem as fragile as mushrooms. Instead, most of them are
profoundly confident and subtle in their thematic strands as
well as techniques.
If one scrutinizes the profile of Ashok Ferry
alias Suresh Mudannayake, one can observe that the most dominant
feature in his writing is his epigrammatic terseness.
Ashok Ferry was born on Sep. 01, 1957. His
father being in the diplomatic service, at an early age, his
family moved to Somalia, where its wilderness and dark people
provided a wealth of experience for the ever inquisitive young
Ashok's desire to write ripened, when he was in
school in England and at Oxford, studying for his degree in
Mathematics. But quite unfortunately, for the young man whose
heart was set on becoming an actuary, the obsession of learning
literature as a subject was only a dream-like desire, for which
he had to struggle. Recollecting his early days he says, "I had
to fight for it because the school seldom allowed students to
follow cross over subjects."
However, as he could never resist his desire to
write, he jotted down various incidents either that happened to
him or he had observed.
"I keep the story in my head for three or four
months. It's a lazy man's way of writing. I never make a
conscious effort. After writing, I put it away for sometime," he
says about his writing.
England, Africa, Italy and Sri Lanka have
provided background and inspiration for his writing. His first
volume of short stories, the Gratiaen Prize winner in 2002, 'Colpetty
People' and his second volume, 'The Good Little Ceylonese Girl'
published a couple of years later, both deal with man's
entanglement in the web of life; struggle of young men who have
been offered life abroad; the obscurities and incongruities of
people; the cultural clashes faced by the expats etc., ect.
Ashok Ferry has been many things from a barman,
a labourer, a failed builder down to a lecturer of Archaelogy.
Now having returned to his roots, he leads a leisurely life,
mostly dealing in literary work. He is the invisible hand behind
the hugely successful Galle Literary Festival.
However, given the trouble one has to undergo in
getting a book published in Sri Lanka, he was in a way fortunate
to get his book published without much trouble. The very
first publisher, Perera-Hussein Publishing House, welcomed it
with open arms, surprisingly enough, without ever knowing it had
bagged the Gratiaen Award. That, itself bears testimony to the
quality of his writing!
"I was nervous for one week" recalls this failed
builder turned writer of his early experience.
He, in the second volume gently stresses the
behaviour of people in socio-religious contexts. 'Perhaps one
generation later people may begin to realize that we have to
make way for others,’ he says. He has a strong admiration for
our historical heritage like 'unmatched Sigiriya'. Yet, he seems
to have an abiding concern that a conservative society like ours
should give way a bit for other ideologies too.
Ashok will continue to write and the third one of his
literary progeny will most probably be a novel.