Youth in Lanka losing hunger for knowledge, says writer

Santhan Ayyadurai laments fast declining reading habit

The youth in Sri Lanka’s northern province, unlike the previous generation, does not seem to have a thirst for intellectual pursuits, according to Santhan Ayyadurai, a bilingual writer from Sri Lanka and the 2017 recipient of the Premchand Fellowship, the highest honour that the Sahitya Akademi confers on a foreign writer.

Pointing out that people from the Jaffna peninsula were once known for their enterprise and yearning for acquiring scholarship against heavy odds, the 71-year-old writer, who also taught engineering and English at the Advance Technological Institute, Jaffna, and other such institutions for years, says that “today’s younger generation is just not interested in engaging in a productive manner or paying attention to activities that would sharpen the mind. This is what bothers me the most.”

As in many other countries, the Tamil youth in the North too suffer from declining interest in reading. “I can understand this, though it is disturbing. You will have to find ways to overcome this problem and e-books are among the options to bring back the youth to the habit,” says Mr. Ayyadurai, who has 23 books of short fiction and novellas in Tamil and seven books in English, including three novels.

On the present state of Tamil creative writing in his country, the writer says the quality and standards of writing are “very good”. But, he is concerned about the future as the rate of growth is not “as spectacular” as in the past. Again, he cites the declining interest in reading as the primary cause. Another reason is the heavy reliance on remittances from abroad, a factor that makes people complacent.

Mr. Ayyadurai says that when he decided to write in English nearly 30 years ago, his main objective was to highlight to people in southern parts of Sri Lanka and those in India (other than Tamil Nadu) how the civil war had been affecting lives of the Tamils. He was also prompted by the widespread misrepresentation of facts in non-Tamil literature, he says.

Purpose of life

On his experiences of having spent the prime of his life in the North during the war, the writer, who received a number of awards and honours in Sri Lanka for his contributions such as the State Literary Award in 2000 and Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ministry of Education in 2018, says: “I was not a participant in the war but I was in the midst of the war. All these and much more had made me ponder over the purpose of human life. And, they naturally influenced my writing, both in English and Tamil.”

The painful years of the civil war provided him an extremely important lesson. “When I read the works of Mikhail Sholokhov or Ernest Hemingway’s ‘A Farewell to Arms’ and ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ I am able to relate to what these writers have written. Geographical factors and cultural background in Europe and the U.S. may be different from Sri Lanka but human experiences are one and the same. They have a universal relevance,” he says, adding that literature transcends the barriers of language, nation and time.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 7:25:18 PM |

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