Sri Lankan novelist Nihal de Silva died before he could finish his last novel, Arathi.

Sri Lankan novelist and avid naturalist Nihal de Silva was killed tragically in a landmine explosion in 2006 in Wilpattu National Park. His first novel The Road from Elephant Pass won the Gratiean Award (instituted by Sri Lanka-born novelist Michael Ondaatje) in 2003. De Silva also won the state literary award “for writing courageously about political parasites and their terminal torture of a nation and its helpless masses”. His last book Arathi, launched at the London Book Fair in April, is dedicated “to the poor in Sri Lanka marginalised and suffering, on whose behalf so many have done…. so little...”

With a powerful and disconcerting first-person narrative, Arathi tells a gripping story of arms dealers, betrayals, murder and terrorism. Jehan Yatawara, a young executive in an advertising agency Target, acquires a second-hand IBM ThinkPad. Jehan runs into a mysterious programme “Thiara” and struggles to find a password to unravel it. When he finds it, Jehan is shocked by the entries made by the previous owner. Saliya Joseph Perera was involved in an arms deal and collected Rs. 20 million to be handed over as bribes to Janaka Wijesiri, Captain in the Army Intelligence. But Saliya and his son Manoj are murdered. At a play school run by his cousin Ruki, Jehan hears of Arathi, who supplies play kits for the children. Arathi was brought up in an orphanage run by Indian nuns; Arathi was the wife of Manoj, Saliya's son. Jehan falls in love with her but she avoids him. She has a big order to be delivered to Sencholai Orphanage near Mullaittivu in LTTE territory. Jehan accompanies her there. But there are attempts to kill Arathi. Captain Wijesiri kidnaps her and takes her to his bungalow on a hill overlooking Rambukkana town. Jehan also gets there with his friend Suren. They find Arathi has been cruelly tortured. While attempting to save Arathi, Suren is killed. Jehan escapes with Arathi. While he arranges a hide out for her, Jehan also asks his cousin to call someone with information of the Captain's arrival at Bambalapitiya railway station, as he is on the LTTE hit list!

The novel stops at that point. The publishers have announced a contest to finish the book. The best entry to finish the novel wins Rs.100,000 or £500. Entries are accepted till December 2010. Entry form and details in the book.

The story graphically portrays the intensity of love of two characters from different social backgrounds. It is also the best reflection of the social realities and complexities of life in Sri Lanka.

E-mail kkunhikrishnan@gmail.com

Arathi; Nihal de Silva, Vijitha Yapa Publications, Rs. 700.

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