Saturday, March 18, 2017
A Book Review by Srianee Dias
A Long Watch.
War, Captivity and Return in Sri Lanka by Commodore Ajith Boyagoda as told to Sunila Galappatti
This book which was published in 2016 is well worth reading. I became aware of it when Sunila Galappatti spoke about it in January at the Galle Literary Festival. It is the story of Ajith Boyagoda, Commanding Officer of the SLNS Sagarawardene, which was one of the Navy’s largest warships at the time. The ship was destroyed by the LTTE in September 1994 and Commodore Boyagoda was held in captivity for eight years, the highest ranking prisoner detained by the LTTE. The book is written in his voice, a first hand riveting narrative of his experience. Aside from his story of survival and the fascinating glimpse into the operations of the LTTE, I was touched by the reflective insight that he shared about his captors. He read Nelson Mandela’s “A Long Walk to Freedom” over and over, to help maintain perspective. He assumed a leadership role among his fellow prisoners and worked hard at keeping up their morale.
His return to life as a free man was not easy. During his absence rumors had been swirling that he was a traitor, collaborating with the LTTE and the Navy seemed to have believed that he had “sold out to the LTTE.” Others treated him as a hero upon his return. In the prologue he writes “I made a decision when I was released from captivity that I wasn’t going to help make things worse. Over my career I had seen divisions between Sinhala and Tamil communities deepen enough. I wanted no further part in creating a cause for war. So when people asked me how the Tigers had treated me, I always said they treated me well. This was also the truth - my experience only fluctuated according to the goodness of each individual guard.”
Michael Ondaatje writes “The best book yet on the war in Sri Lanka. It is subtle and intimate, human and generous.”
Rana Dasgupta writes “ A moving testimonial to the depth and strangeness of human attachment. it recounts the other, greater destruction that war brings to society - the destruction of optimism, tolerance and social fibre.”
The war may be over, but the healing will be slow and painful.
The book is published by Harper Collins.