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Buried in a shallow grave

Q&A: Shobasakthi

Rrishi Raote  |  New Delhi 

"The war destroyed my village... My parents live in India as refugees. My siblings live in Europe as refugees." So says Shobasakthi, born Anthony Jesuthasan, once a teenage soldier for the LTTE and now in his late 30s an exile and writer resident in France. His novel describes a life similar to his own, that of a teenage soldier "" the eponymous Gorilla, son of Gorilla "" who falls foul of the Tigers and is forced into exile.
Shobasakthi has a Tamil blog titled Satiyakadatasi or "Speaking the truth in the face of power". Both the book and this interview (conducted by RRISHI RAOTE) were translated by Anushiya Sivanarayanan.
What is exile life like?
My needs are very simple... Periodically I work at whatever is available in restaurants or supermarkets.
I have no connection now with the LTTE or any other Tamil militant organisation. As far as they are concerned, I am a major political enemy of theirs or a traitor.
Along with other Leftist friends, I am involved in propaganda work against the war in Sri Lanka and the human rights atrocities of both the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers. Most importantly, we are involved in anti-caste and anti-Hindutva activities within the Sri Lankan and Indian diaspora communities.
Indians living abroad are often more overtly nationalistic. Is this true of Tamil Sri Lankans abroad as well?
Yes. They portray themselves as hardened nationalists. When struggle with sustaining their cultural identity markers, they discover nationalism. But remember, Tamil culture itself is a caste-driven culture. It is also a male-ordered culture. Their nationalism is born out of their love for this reactionary culture.
At the same time, Sri Lankan Tamils in exile are the primary source of funding for the Tigers. Therefore, the Tiger-based organisations use all forms of media outlets to promote intense feelings of Tamil nationalism within the diaspora communities.
How has the movement held the imagination of Tamils for so long?
The violent oppressive measures of the racist Sri Lankan government upon Tamils force the Tamil public to tolerate the Tigers. The Tamil in general believe that the Sri Lankan government's anti-Tamil violence justifies the existence of the Tigers. But if an individual or an organisation attempts to provide an alternative political movement outside of what might be called the two sides of the same coin, the Tigers immediately bury them in a shallow grave, or chase them out of the country.
What prompted you to start writing? When and where do you find the time and space to write?
I was born in a poor village. I went to school only up to the 10th grade and then joined the Movement. In my early years, I had no opportunity to read literature or study political writings. All that I remember was being surrounded by flat statements of political propaganda and militant calls for nationalism.
In my 25th year, after I had reached France, I was attracted by a Trotskyite group called the Revolutionary Communist Organization. I spent four years with this group. It was then that my friends in the party introduced me to literature; I was able to discuss literature and politics with them. It must have been that environment that motivated me to write.
Where do I get the time to write? Well, I go to work only after setting aside time for my reading and writing. If my schedule doesn't work out, then I don't go to work.
What are you writing next?
There is an in-between time period between living in one's own country and living as a refugee in a new land called the migratory period. During that time, our stories are scattered over the streets of Thailand, the mafia-run camps of Russia, the seas of Italy, the rivers of Poland, the snow drifts of western Europe, and the airports and immigration holding cells of Europe. I am writing a novel on this.
Publisher Random House
PAGES xvi + 168
Price Rs 195

First Published: Sun, March 30 2008. 00:00 IST