REVIEW OF ‘THE BANKS OF THE RIVER THILLAI’ BY RAJES BALA                                (The Conrad Press Ltd, UK, 2021)Set in the author’s birth village of Kolavil in the Batticaloa region of east coast Sri Lanka, ‘The Banks of the River Thillai’ is a fascinating novel. It interweaves a village story with external political events in the period between independence in 1948 and the early 1960s. The country was still known as Ceylon during this time.We follow the fortunes of three Tamil girl cousins, Gowri, Saratha and Buvana, born into an inward looking Hindu village society where tradition, caste and clans reign supreme. In this environment the cards are stacked against girls. At puberty they are isolated in their homes, whose yards are decorated by banana trees and their fruit. Astrologers prepare horoscopes to predict their futures. They are expected to marry as soon as possible, with their bridegrooms then leaving their homes to join the brides’ parental households. Further education after puberty is strongly discouraged.How do these traditions work out in the novel? Can girls rebel successfully against this system? What happens if they aspire to become teachers? What are their husbands’ viewpoints? Are their marriages happy or disastrous?These sub-plots unfold against vivid descriptions of key aspects of village life: strong rivalries between castes, clans and families, and enduring worship at temples dedicated to members of the Hindu pantheon, including Kannaki the goddess of chastity and virtue and Naga the seven-headed cobra.However, the village cannot escape from the growing turmoil of national political events. In 1956 S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike became Prime Minister on the language ticket of ‘Sinhala Only’ which would discriminate against Tamil and English speakers. In 1958 there was racial violence. In 1959 S.W.R.D. was assassinated, leading to the election in 1960 of his widow Mrs. Srimavo  Bandaranaike as Prime Minister. The author describes her as ‘the greatest Sinhalese chauvinist in Ceylon’.Violence became prevalent, the author concluding that during the thirteen years after independence ‘there had been more rioting and killing than in the previous one hundred and fifty years of English rule’.Rajes Bala has described with a great eye for detail the challenges of life in a traditional Tamil village against a rapidly deteriorating external political environment. ‘The Banks of the River Thillai’ is strongly recommended.                                     Peter S. Chapman, February 2023

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