Monday, September 24, 2007
Michael Ondaatje. Anil's ghost. Sri Lanka. Forensic Anthropology. Archaeology. Political killings.
These were the first few clues i had about what the book had i store for me.. and i definitely HAD to read the book. It was well worth it. Anil Tissera, a forensic anthropologist is basically from Sri Lanka. Left it when she was 18 and never had any need to return to it.. until now.. to take up a job assigned by the human rights commission in Geneva. A job to investigate numerous disappearances and murders happening under suspicious circumstances. The government has approved her entry into the country with the knowledge of the work she is about to do and is watching her secretly recording every move of hers..
She comes out of the airport unaware of everything she is about to face in the days to come. We see Sri Lanka in its rawest form.. and something in all the cruelty endears us to the place and to the characters we meet in the book -
Sarath - The archaeologist she is assigned to work with. A mysterious person and she is unable to trust him from the beginning. She is unsure whether he is against her and the work she is about to do. In spite of the tension, they develop a bond..a bond that can only come out of surviving gruesome stories and witnessing grossness in its crudest form. He has a life of his own. A wife. A teacher. A brother. A responsibility to society. And he never shows out even one emotion.
Gamini - Someone who is introduced to us as a near psychopath. A doctor who lives in the hospital. Someone with no life apart from saving others lives. A shabby man with a black bloodstained overcoat, bloodshot eyes with the look of death in them..someone mad. And then, suddenly he is reintroduced..and this time, we see him in a completely different light.. a mouse, a shadow, a lover, a husband..One line he says stays with us as a line that defines his private life..
"..one dance at my wedding. A romantic moment. It was a wedding after all and you could embrace each other. I was getting married. She was married already. But I was the one she should have loved.."
Of course, these more to him than just what these lines say. To many he becomes God..a saviour..someone worth naming their child after..
Palipana - Teacher of Sarath. Lover of stones and carvings.. A self proclaimed epigraphist. So invoved in recreating the past, that at one point, he loses distinction between what is actually the past and what he wants the past to be. That is when society called him a mad-man. No one understood him. He withdrew from life and retreated to the woods with a child tormented by a chilling past..his sister's daughter. They provide support for one another. Respected by all in the field of archaeology for his knowledge. And that is what he remains till the end - revered.
Ananda - A prestigious eye carver. A drunkard. A underground miner. Like many around him, he has lost his motive to live. He has lost the love of his life and doesnt know if he will see her ever again. He helps Sarath and Anil in their quest and they help him in ways they would never realize.
Sailor - A nickname given to someone who might help them achieve the truth they are looking for, but not sure they want to know. Through out the book, we get to know more and more about him.. his life being recreated in bits and pieces - until he ceases to be a common "bag-of-bones" as we are frequently used to referring to them. He becomes alive again.. with a name of his own and a story..
Any more than these disconnected sentences will definitely take the joy out of reading this book. IT is amazing how michael ondaatje has brought extremely complex situations together and woven a simple story out of it. The raging political unrest in Sri Lanka is protrayed at its bloodiest and most cruel form. And yet, between all the terror and the bloodshed, we get to see human emotions - friendship, love, passion and separation being the main focus here. It feels like you are caught in two tornadoes at the same time and yet, he manages to bring you safely back to earth by the end of the book - without actually tearing you apart. How he manages to tackle so many issues in one book is amazing. Every character is fully defined. In fact, defined so well that I feel that i know them personally. I feel aas though i can actually recognize Gamini lying on the hospital bed taking his little nap before being woken up to deal with an emergency. I feel that I have known Anil Tissera all her life- from the time she was a mini-celebrity because of her swimming feat through her heart-breaking incidences to her journey back home.
All this accomplished with minimal words. Just 307 pages of large sized lettering. The parsimony of words has totally appealed to me. This could have been narrated in detail covering more than a 1000 pages, conveying the same message and would have been equally successful. What makes it great is the author's ability to be brief and yet tell you everything there is to say..
Anil's Ghost.. a book that has made me want to abandon everything I am doing right now and run to Sri Lanka - time unknown.. to bond with people only in the book.. to cry with them and laugh with them and be a part of everything they go through.. no book has ever touched me the way this has.