A new Muslim talent in Lankan English writing – Daily News Artscope Wed Dec 22 - 2004
Refreshingly simple and characteristically Lankan, a sociologist writes realistic and personal anecdotes in the classic form of short stories. She is Ameena Hussein.
Her collection of 15 stories, Zillij, (meaning 'captivating Islamic traditional art of creating intricate mosaic design using hand-cut tiles') is unexpectedly beautiful sketches of Lankan life without any pretensions and that speaks for the sincerity of the writer.
The publishers: Perera Hussein Publishing House, 80 A, Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo 07. I shall briefly describe what each of these stories tries to convey.
An ordinary death
What happens to be an insignificant death at a bomb blast vis-...-vis killings of politicians becomes a very personal loss to a family acquainted with a fruit seller. The writer conveys subtly the individual reactions of a mother and a daughter. The simplicity in writing is a welcome style.
Muslim on the periphery
This is a self-analysis of a male professing Islam and clinically exposes the weaknesses of the community in a larger context of human behaviour and ethical values. The narrator in the story asks: "It must have been left alone to lead his or her life without embracing the whole citizenry of Islam.
It must have been some fierce Karmic debt that I have to pay off in this life to be born into a religion as sociable as Islam while in comparison I have the personality of an eremite...." Cynical and critical of social norms among the Islamic community, this story is a kind of expose, never attempted before in Sri Lankan Writing.
More than rain
In my own limited reading of this story, it is not very impressive or organically structured.
In the first place I am thankful to the writer for writing in English some aspects of Thamilian life in this country. This is a longish story, well written and covers the whole gamut of so many layers of Lankan Thamilians predicament.
Pleas read this story. Her descriptive power is a notable feature in her writing. It's a critical understatement of actualities as focused on a visa officer.
This is a story of an attempt by a white girl trying to adjust to local conditions. The emotional part of her alienation is brought out well. Ameena writes her stories in an interesting manner and the reader is absorbed unaware.
She uses adverbs and adjectives in a creative manner thus showing her ingenuity in expression. The story like her other stories is a very subtle and sardonic commentary on Lankan life as seen correctly by a foreign girl working in a Lankan social organisation. Sometimes the story reads amusing too.
This is a penetrating story at international level. It is also a fine expose of ordinary lifestyle in America. It is described through the experiences of two Lankans. Ameena brings out this effectively. It is a moving story of two unfortunate who are not at home in America.
But having lived in America for two years in much fortunate circumstances and working in two respectable jobs over there, I yearn to go back because of the wretched political climate here and the lethargic attitudes of the average people and the extreme nationalism of the unenlightened lot here.
This nostalgic story with Lankan English as dialogues clearly shows the distinctions in living then and now. Look at this passage:
How things change?, Hortense would ponder in silence.
Even youth have no time and respect for their elders, everything is internet, computer games, mobile phones, DVDs and other new fangled things that we never imagined would exist. I don't like these days, Hortense thought petulantly as she delicately nibbled a marzipan ball. I only like those days.
The story is a little longish as if it could be called a novella. Ameena writes not only of the middle class people and the subterranean and marginalized lot, but also of the Colombo 07 mentally colonized people. The social commentary or implicit criticism is remarkably done. The end of the story is ironic.
The book, Zillij, also contains the following stories: The Pain of Imagination, Comfort Food, Images of a Short lived Love Affair, Beauty's Mother, Now and then: The natural Progression of things, Night Journey, Nandana and Noombi Story all of which need appreciative commentary.
But due to lack of time to finish reading the book and the need to beat the deadline, I am stopping here. It's unusual to review a book in two parts and publish it on different dates. But let's be different and I promise next week I shall present what I feel about the rest of the stories.
The book also carries a note on the stories explaining some background an editor's note, which says: The words unripeable, extopulate, peripherality and thribbled do not exist in a standard dictionary, but have been coined by the author to enhance the poetry and fluidity of the script.
I must admit that I agree with the publisher that Amena Hussein writes of love, death, fantasy, identity crises, changing worlds and freedom creatively using language to shape raw life into evocative fiction.