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Swimming in a Monsoon Sea

Swimming in the Monsoon Sea is a lush, languid and refreshing novel, like its Sri Lanka setting.

india Updated: Mar 11, 2006 13:27 IST
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Swimming in the Monsoon Sea
by Shyam Selvadurai
Paperback
Penguin Books India
Price: Rs 250.00
Pages: 211
ISBN: 0-14-400154-3

'He sank silently under…he could make out her legs. He swam stealthily towards her. When he was close, he reached for her legs. At his touch, she kicked out…But he was too quick for her.'

It is 1980 and the monsoon season in Sri Lanka. Fourteen-year-old Amrith faces an uneventful summer in the cheerful, well-to-do household in which he is being raised by his vibrant Aunty Bundle and kindly Uncle Lucky. He tries not to think of his life "before," when his loving mother was still alive. Amrith's holiday plans seem unpromising until, like an unexpected shower, his cousin arrives from Canada. Amrith's ordered life becomes storm-tossed as he falls in love with the boy. Shakespeare's Othello, with its powerful theme of disastrous jealousy, is the backdrop to the drama in which Amrith finds himself immersed.

A coming of age book for mature readers, Swimming in the Monsoon Sea explores first love in all its complexity and turmoil.

Here is an excerpt:

Usually, when Amrith went to church, it was on Sunday for late-morning Mass. The church would be flooded with sunlight through the dome above the altar and the side windows. The various murals - Saint Sebastian, his head lifted in rapture to the heavens, his scantily-clad body pierced with a hundred arrows; Mary Magdalene kneeling before Christ, wiping His feet with the veil of her hair; benevolent Saint Anthony - would be clearly visible.

Though Amrith found the Sunday Mass boring, Aunty Bundle's daughters, Selvi and Mala, were present, and so they ended up having a good time. Selvi, who was plump, pretty, and vivacious like her mother, was frequently in scrapes for being a tomboy. Her goal during Mass was to make Amrith and Mala laugh. When Father Anthony would say, 'Let us stand and bow our heads to receive the word of God, Our Heavenly Father,' Selvi would lean over and whisper 'goad', which was the way the priest pronounced 'God'. This would set Amrith off with a snuffle of laughter. Then she would add in a sibilant whisper, 'Amrith, Amrith, Amrith, look at Father Anthony's hair. It's like an Afro, nah.' Amrith's shoulders would shake uncontrollably and, to push him completely over the edge, Selvi would give a soft wolf-whistle and say, 'Hoo-hoo, sexy-sexy Disco-Father.' Amrith would also weep with silent laughter, begging her in a whisper, 'Shut up, men, please shut up.'

Even Mala, who had recently become very religious (and who participated in the Mass with fervour, her hands clasped tightly to her chest), would lose her devout expression and start to giggle, which was the ultimate triumph for Selvi.