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Wednesday, 1 December 2010



Summing it in a cuppa

Herman Gunaratne shares ideas on ‘The Suicide Club’:

There are three ways for man to despoil his life. Gambling, gluttony for alcohol and unquenchable avarice for women are the easiest way for man to do away with his life. Still our society has witnesses to prove how millionaires decline themselves to beggars because of their addiction to alcohol, gambling and excessive lust for women.

Herman Gunaratne. Picture by Rukmal Gamage

Condescending from a high position to a lowest position will be similar to committing suicide. That is why the gambling association, headed by Herman Gunaratne’s grandfather, was called ‘The Suicide Club’ its members themselves.

Herman Gunaratne - who is just a planter, according to his own introduction - seems to have his intuition not only on the tea market but also about writing. Having already written three books, it is not at all unreasonable to call him a writer, a term he despises.

“I’m just a storyteller. I don’t like others to introduce me as a writer. A writer is too much different to that of a storyteller.” Herman said launching his fourth book The Suicide Club which includes his genuine experience in his career as a tea planter.

Speaking to Artscope, Herman Gunaratne explained why he wrote such a book.

“All the books on plantation, you know, have been written by British planters during colonial times. Now hardly anyone knows the plantation process and the amount of hard work necessary to maintain the plantation. This is also a story of how we Ceylonese worked with the British.”

Gunaratne recalled his past memories: his grandfather lost over 300 acres of land gambling it away. When asked if he is also a gambler, he smilingly admitted he still gambles with life. Herman remembered how acrimonious he was climbing up the professional ladder for the attainment of a well settled planter.

Suicide Club is a chronological narration of Herman Gunaratna going down his memory lane which traces back to his salad days as a novice to learn the rudiments of plantation. In his narration he has employed the storytelling style which speaks for his claim to be one.

The importance of the book is highlighted since the writer’s device, flashback, which courts with the semblance of sweet memories of his life. The stories date back to his youth exuberant with his impish young energy. His memories drive us into early Ceylonese days during which tea plantation was the royal mainstay of Ceylon economy.

The labour and the resources had been specified for this industry. Now they are the days of past. Thing have been largely transmuted with the upcoming advancement of the service sector. The book conceptualizes the good old days of tea plantations. The hegemony for tea plantation has been granted to up country.

That’s why Herman begins his endeavor of penning the book from his heydays in an estate in the hill country. The narration is adorned with the thread of humour and sarcasm amply to the places where it is most eligible. That enhances the taste the reader expects from a book which is dressed with the style of storytelling narration.

The writing style can compulsorily supposed to be ad hoc but that is the very beauty of the book. That way of writing has greatly contributed to the intimacy and the book is instrumental to develop with the reader.

The book brings the reader into an imagination which is quite clear with the condition that had existed those days. Herman must be mustering the mind’s appetite to taste past memories. In that aspect, Herman’s effort is a success.

Herman began as a creeper for an estate and later emerged as a planter for which he sweated blood by stepping up his tortuous journey to success.

The ability of a creation to reach the hearts of the reader is the rubric of the progress if expected by the writer. The Suicide Club is qualified with this preliminary requirement and would for sure carve a niche in the provision of Sri Lankan English writing.

Herman is now a planter who plants virgin white tea which is the most expensive kind of tea in the world. Writing is his past time activity.


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