History takes a big part in literature. Avid readers of historical fiction, as well as other genres that incorporate history, learn a great deal of history of their people and country through the books they read. They learn who, when, where, what, why, and how an incident occurs in the past. By reading such books, they relate not only to the events of the past but also to the emotions and sentiments of their forebears, as well as understand their pain and struggles, especially under injustices, disparities, and oppressions.
The latest segment of “Author’s Corner” in America Tonight with Kate Delaney features Sree Padma, the author of the book Fractured Bliss (Xlibris; 2016). The book, which combines history with narrative, tells the story of a mixed-race Sri Lankan woman who witnesses the sociopolitical upheaval of her country. Readers get a glimpse of an island nation in the Indian Ocean that was transitioning from colonial rule to independence. Through this book, Sree Padma gives readers a walk-through of Sri Lanka’s history from colonial times to contemporary times, giving emphasis to the subjects of European miscegenation, the colonizers’ racial policy, and the political violence waged by the JanathaVimukthiPeramuna (JVP) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
“My fascination with Sri Lanka, a beautiful island in the Indian Ocean, was the motivation to write Fractured Bliss,” Sree Padma told her host Kate Delaney. “Visiting Sri Lanka since 1994 first as a visitor and later as a director of a study abroad program for American undergraduate students.
“Running the program during the time of civil war in Sri Lanka required me to learn many aspects of the island, including its politics… The more I learn about the island and its people, the more intriguing it has become. It was hard for me to calibrate how these sweet Sri Lankans, who are very helpful by nature, could cause bloody acts of violence. These calibration and contemplation are what I have attempted in this book.”
What the Fractured Bliss is all about
“Fractured Bliss,” the author said, “is about a Sri Lankan woman who is of mixed racial origins, a Eurasian with the name Mary. She grows up as an orphan at the time when the island was transitioning from colonial rule to independence.
“Mary saw her origins, the tensions arising from her choice of law and rite, (and) her changing of religious identities more than once represent a slice of the emerging ethnic complexity on the island. Mary witnesses many tragedies that occur in independent Sri Lanka that take the form of uprisings and brutal suppression, the ethnic riots between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamils, and the rise of a rebel group and their terror tactics. These events coincide with Mary’s unique experiences and struggles.
“Mary shows the interconnectedness of her life with the island’s history, spanning between World War II and the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009. Embracing different religions while rejecting them at different points in her life, Mary also uses incisiveness to dig into the social and political significance of Sri Lankan religious practices, such as Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.”
On European miscegenation
For Sree Padma, the best part of writing Fractured Bliss is collating historical events. “In the process, I ended up with the details of many aspects of Sri Lankan life that I never would have exposed otherwise,” she said.
The author read to Kate Delaney some excerpts from Fractured Bliss that touch on European miscegenation and the colonizers’ racial policy. She reads from the part where Mary is discussing her mother’s ancestry:
She came from a Burgher family. Burghers are Eurasians who trace one line of their roots either to the Portuguese, the Dutch, or the British. Each of these three European groups stayed on for about a century and a half.
Credit goes to Alfonso de Albuquerque whose intention was to populate Asia with Portuguese blood. He pursued his objective with a crusader’s zeal. So by the beginning of the seventeenth century, Portuguese men were free to marry native women in their Asian colonies and not just keep them as concubines. In Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka), the Portuguese drew their wives both from the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority communities.
When the Dutch came to the island, usurping power from the Portuguese, they scoffed with disdain at the mixed breed that the Portuguese had sired. With pride of victory over the Portuguese, they decided not to commit the same mistake by mixing with the inferior natives. Like everything, as time passed, their pride waned too. When the Dutch dwindled in numbers, however, they had to eat their own words.
The arrival of the British as new colonial masters at the end of the eighteenth century put the Dutch Burghers in their place. At least, this was the sentiment of the Portuguese mix, who were happy to treat the Dutch mix as their equals.
So they quickly learned English, the official language of their British colonial rulers. With European blood running in their veins, they were already qualified to better assist the British than the natives… Their attempts were not futile because their thought process was on the same plane as that of the British, who generously allotted the Burghers a status just a step below their own and above the indigenous Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims.
There was more to this. Inspired by the loyalty of Portuguese and Butch Burghers and their reverence for their European ancestry, the British busied themselves by adding their own pool of genes into the native populations.
What could readers get from reading Fractured Bliss? Sree Padma said, “I hope that this book will inform the readers the story, though fascinating and exciting, is not just about a minority woman or an island nation that is far from the American continent, but it can be about anybody in any part of the world.”
Fractured Bliss by Sree Padma is available on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Fractured-Bliss-Sree-Padma/dp/1514469693