Panther by Chhimi Tenduf-La
Sri Lanka, a country that we know from our epic Ramayana and a country that we know from our recent history for all the disturbances it is going through. Author Chhimi Tenduf-La in his fictional work Panther takes us through the turmoil of Sri Lanka, through the conflict between Tamils and Sinhalese. His protagonist is a young 15-year-old Tamil boy who has been trained to be a panther and a cricketer.
In a parallel narrative – one of which takes you through the journey of young boy since his childhood in the training camps and the other takes you through the current adolescent days of the same boy. In the first narrative you get an insight into how the trainers work on converting innocent children into pawns for their ideological fights, how they not just train them physically but also create emotional and psychological pressures to make them do exactly what they want them to. Killing anyone is not an issue at all if that fulfils the purpose. Interestingly they also show how a popular sport like cricket is used as a tool to push the agenda and how a boy is chosen on the basis of his skill in sports.
In the adolescent story, you see the same boy dealing with the issues of his age, of learning to interact with the girls, of dealing with peer pressure, of dealing with demon of examinations, of having a love hate relationship with the best friend, of being exploited by the coach. Incidentally in this narrative, the two friends – one Sinhalese and one Tamil get along well despite their differences of class and culture, and despite being competitors in the game of cricket and despite them running after the same girls. This narrative is a typical young boys story.
Storytelling is great. Language is colloquial yet simple. Narrative flows easily and you wait for the convergence point where the two tales will meet. The element of surprise is well maintained and you meet it at the climax of the book. The two tales are nicely inter-woven and together they start peeling the layers of the story one by one and for this all the credit goes to author Chhimi Tenduf-La.
The story has some loose ends like the boy’s father makes a sudden appearance towards the end and there is no explanation of that. He also manages to influence the decision of his son that is based on his years of training in his absence. The final scene between father and son is too simplistic but the rest of the story is reasonably tight. Personality difference of the protagonist boy in two versions is very vast – as a reader you would find it difficult to reconcile the two towards the end. I would have wanted a bit more of cultural immersion like the how Sinhalese and Tamils thought of each other before the conflict or even during the conflict, but then may be a native writer can bring that out much better.
The Sri Lanka conflict works as a microcosm for most conflicts around the world today, and you can see elements of conflicts around you in the story and the futility of the whole conflict too.
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