Thi ha Tha: A book that enthuses17 to 70 or more | Sunday Observer
Book review:

Thi ha Tha: A book that enthuses17 to 70 or more

19 January, 2020

Author: Surath de Mel
Publishers: Sarasavi Bookshop
Reviewed by: Kalyana Amaranayake

Thi ha Tha is the form that the author, Surath de Mel, has written the title in English in the social media and other forums, so I also use the same.

Ironically, the title in Sinhala itself is a contradiction or rather a unity of the opposites if I’m permitted to use the Hegelian Dialectics.

They are the pet names of the two main characters, Divya and Geeth.

At a first glance the title appears as variants of the second person female and male gender Nouns of the Sinhala language. Nevertheless, Surath in the first chapter of the novel sets the record straight.

The lovers have coined these pet names together while in bed based on the two obscene words for females and males.

On the next page he recounts a small talk with a friend who said, “Ha, now you two are speaking in classical Sinhalese”

Reply, “At times there’s not much difference between classicism and obscenity”

Geeth contemplates, “He couldn’t understand what I implied onomatopoetically”

The whole narrative runs through this phenomenon of two opposites in unity and readers experience not just unity, but, unity in conflict, interpenetration of the opposites, one becoming the other, etc.

On page 373 the contradictory nature of Geeth’s life reaches the peak:

“At these times there is nothingness in things. Mysterious people no one knows turn up as personalities.

Real personalities including me start behaving in a totally different manner to our characteristics.

Sometimes, big lies turn into delicious foods.

Laugh where they must cry.

Conceal where it must become visible.

Memories forgotten”

The mental issues and attitudes of adolescence always conflict with the more realistic adult world. This conflict varies according to circumstances, especially, in family backgrounds or the environment.

The main character Geeth is the embodiment of all the contractions of teenagers in our society. He or his contemporaries do not suffer from problems in education or finding ways of income generation, but they are not satisfied. The attraction towards the opposite sex and sexual desires start to build up at a certain age. It is a common phenomenon in the past, present and would be in the future too. It goes with the biological development that takes place at this age forming hormones such as Testosterone and Estrogen. Here Surath bluntly reveals those desires and activities to the shock of some. As earlier, in novels that discussed adolescent love, sex has been taboo and boys are lovers who never even think of sex with the girlfriend.

Nevertheless, in reality, kids those days too had the same desires. The point is, those days the opportunity for getting on with desires were rare. Young lovers in the 1960s or 1970s, unlike today, had neither tuition classes to cut nor places to go even if they got a chance to fool their parents. They usually went to a film or to a Park. Nonetheless, the desires and attitudes were the same. They too have gone after girls, teasing them and so on. Also, they have sneaked into temple gardens to steal young coconuts.

Surath has answered this issue in an interview with the press:

“The temperament of love does not change from generation to generation. Only the external factors get changed. Human emotions change even slower than Biological evolution.”

When asked about the difference of viewpoints about adolescent love in the 1960s in Golu Hadawatha or Muted Heart and his novel, he answers:

“These two are completely different creations. The difference is not in the time. It is not my duty to analyse and present that difference. There is no sense in I too reviewing the work.”

Jayalath, author of ‘Muted Heart’ created a romantic love story around young schoolchildren in the 1960s and it won over many hearts. The main female character, Dhammi is to marry her cousin as arranged by her parents and she has no qualms about the matter. She starts a relationship with a boy, Sugath. She does not reveal her plan for the future. Her heart is muted. On the other hand Sugath thinks she has fallen in love with him. Finally, Dhammi reveals the truth on the last day of their examination. Heartbroken, Sugath starts drinking.

Why couldn’t Jayalath explain the roots of the desires of Dhammi towards Sugath? Yes he gives some clues! Dhammi wants to keep the relationship with Sugath as an elder brother even after her marriage. She never expresses her love to Sugath! Yet, they are human feelings. It is not an ordinary friendship between them. Jayalath wanted the imaginary serenity of a village girl worshiped, and he dared not open her muted heart and reveal her real desires. As one reviewer wrote:

They were all more Victorian than oeuvres epoch Victoria.

An artist’s role is different from that of a scientist. A scientist analyses and an artist synthesises.

Surath de Mel has synthesised several characters and episodes in such a way enabling those from seventeen to seventy to enjoy reading, and of course the novel would definitely take the seniors back to their teens.

The narration goes fore and aft on the time axis allowing the author to tell a lot winin a brief space. Also, it is not just flashbacks but a tool of presenting the narration succinctly. To grasp the core of the story, therefore, one has to read several times.

For instance, what does the novel say about Geeth’s father. He is the son of an old Samasamajist but not a Party member and active only with Sama Samaja Trade Unions. He is a very composed man and shows his attitude towards love when he discusses Divya with Geeth.

His character is developed in traces while reading about completely different situations.

Geeth reminisces about his childhood deeds, which gives a whole new slant to the cultural level of his father.

Geeth has a car, an old Volkswagen. On pages 289 and 290 the story of the car, Divya’s attitude and father’s sarcasm about it are revealed amidst a serious development of the narration but without the slightest damage to the flow.

There are numerous such instances and to discuss them all I would have to write a 400 page book. Nevertheless, I would like to quote one more instance, because I like that very much. On page 374 Geeth says about Divya’s mother:

She leaped at me like a Bengali Tigress leaving aside her pretentious character of a fat she-deer.

Never before in the narration has one found details about her physical stature.

None of the characters are built up in an orderly manner along time. Significantly, this increases the interest of the person who reads to finish the book in one breath instead of confusing the reader.

When reading sections where erotic sexual acts are described Surath’s ability in handling language reaches the peak. On pages 109 and 232 are two incidents that depict his ability.

The rhythm of the narration is maintained till the last chapter but I feel the tempo of the last few chapters somewhat slower. It is probably because Geeth and Divya are no more the robust youngsters and the tempo has to be reduced.

However, Geeth is not living in a fantasy but he shows others, particularly Divya, otherwise.

He is very much aware of the reality which shows in his behaviour and thinking after every blunder that he makes.

I do not wish to compare Surath with Shakespeare or Jerome K Jerome but cannot help remembering Macbeth Witches when reading page 373 or Montmorency when reading about Ricki.

A writer has the sacred right of selecting characters he wishes to depict and also relevant incidents to expose. Surath has exercised this right to the maximum and is successful in his attempt.

He has fearlessly exposed the hypocrisy, duplicity and other pretentious characteristics of a generation. The harshness of the real situation is always veiled with sharp wittiness and humour.

Thi ha Tha is like a cool breeze to the reader tired of reading half baked post modernist rhetoric and colonial era heroics. It leads the elderly readers to reminiscence about their youthful adventures of the past.