“Plumeria” –a story of ‘alternatives’ and ‘alterity’.By Dilshan Boange
The piece of short fiction titled “The Plumeria Tree” by Parvathi Solomons Arsanayagam whichappeared in the Montage edition of 5
December 2010 resonated well in its theme with part of the “Cultural Scene” editorial by Indeewara Tilakaratne that week, which opened a discussion on‘post-conflict literature’ being the more appropriate terming for literature that deals with thearmed conflicts that Sri Lanka as a nation has gone through in its Post-colonial era of Independence. The story of “The Plumeria Tree” brings out strong overtones of the impact of conflict on society at large which the reader is made to view through the vantages of the Shanfamily during a night of heightened security in Colombo.
The craft of language
One of the striking features of the text (ofthe short story) is that it was a narrative of captivatingimagery that the reader encounters at the outset, written in a manner that brings a richness in itslanguage form. The detail with which the author paints the picture of the garden of theguesthouse which is the significant setting for the story to unfold, has a style of the 19
centuryrealist approach in narrative form more than the postmodern manner of a very basic descriptionthat keeps it minimal (at times) to leave the reader with space to ‘imagine’ and create a picture of his own in his mind as the story progresses. The sense of dreaminess seeps in along thedescriptions of the garden which captures a poetic element playing on the beauty of imagery.And a notable feature in the language technique of the narrative is that there is a shift from theform of the ‘tense’ as the story progresses to its end. The story is told mainly in the past tense asis the usual choice with majority of fiction writers, but a shift to the simple present and present progressive verb tense occurs notably from the point where the Shans return to the guesthouseafter attending the poetry reading, amidst fears of an insurgency that jeopardizes the well beingof civilians, and sits down to relax over tea.The shift to the simple present and progressive verb tense displays a craft of lyrical writer’s suchas Michael Ondaatje whose works carry a notable trait of this verb tense which is termed ‘lyrictense’ by certain academic classifications. This use of elements that textures a lyrical quality tothe story provides a quality of clam and sedated tonalities that pervade through the text. Thoughthe story thematically brings out foci on the harshness of armed conflicts –from the leftistinsurgencies to the separatist conflict that raged on here for thirty years, one gets the distinctfeeling that it is very much a scenario that does not hold a great immediacy as events or incidentsof great violence. It is very much a glimpse into the past and a reference point with a snapshotdiscursive through a series of images that are very much part of the tonal canvas founded on theserenity of the garden setting.