An Eye For An Eye: Bandula Chandraratna
India Today August 2001

Just as the Indian ex-pat author very seldom manages to sever the umbilicus that binds the author's imagination to the land of birth, Sri Lanka too has this tenuous hold over its authors-in-exile. In that sense, Bandula Chandraratna is very different. Instead of seeking to explore the everyday or the ecclectic realms of the little island, he chooses to write about a desert kingdom. {Even though unnamed, there are enough references to suggest that this is Saudi Arabia where the author worked].

The book begins promisingly enough: Nimal, a Sri Lankan doctor and David, a colleague set out to watch an execution. Hussein is to be beheaded for committing adultery and Latifa, the co-accused is to be stoned to death. Shades of The Stoning of Soraiya M. Meanwhile Latifa's husband Sayeed becomes deranged with grief and runs away to the desert. The executions are carried out. Sayeed recovers thanks to the efforts of his family and good friend Abdul Mubarak and then Sayeed plots revenge…only to change his mind. Unfortunately, the book doesn't rise beyond this.

The problem is not the style, which is simple and unaffected. Nor is it the plot. The weakness lies in the treatment. And, if I were to apportion blame, it is as much the editor's inability to shepherd the narrative as it is the author's need to communicate several impressions, most of them vagrant. With the result that there are too many loose ends and too many things left unsaid. And no matter how hard a reader might try to fill the gaps with her imagination, the whole process is unsatisfying and quite often frustrating. For instance what is Nimal's role in the plot? Or why is Sayeed so convinced about Latifa's innocence? Or why does the mutawah lead a false crusade against Latifa? Or where and who is Leila [Latifa's daughter]'s father?

The book's blurb talks of Chandraratna's first novel - Mirage that was set in a desert kingdom too and this one seems like a collection of several fragments from the earlier book.

While I was growing up, my mother rather vexed by her children's gargantuan appetites for something new at every mealtime would chop up iddlies, sauté them and serve it up as upma. An eye for an eye resembles that; leftovers garnished to seem like a whole new dish. Which as any child would testify doesn't deceive beyond the first couple of bites. Or in this case, the first few chapters…

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