posted October 25, 2001 08:46 AM
THERE IS NO ROMANCE BETWEEN ME AND PRABHAKARAN- ANITA PRATAP
Anita Pratap is no stranger to Sri Lanka. She has
traveled widely in the island from Wanni to,
Hambantota to Jaffna to Kandy. As a journalist
who worked for leading Indian and American
magazines and newspapers including Indian
Express, India Today, Time magazine and as
New Delhi bureau chief of CNN Anita has
interviewed many Sri Lankans from presidents to
ministers to tough cops to terrorist leaders to
ordinary people during the past twenty years.
Anita is here to launch her first book ‘Island of
Blood’ on Wednesday at the Russian Cultural
Center. She met with the Lanka Academic on
arrival and discussed why she wrote the book
and why she decided to name it Island of Blood
and what evil she saw in Udugampola’s eyes and
said that Mahathaya was killed because he
believed that the problems could be solved by
negotiations and dispelled the rumors that there
was a romance between she and Prabhakaran.
What prompted you to write this book, that
too, after such a long gap?
A: Penguin first requested me to write a book in
1987. Since then, various people at various times
have urged me to write a book. I just didn’t have
the time. For the past twenty years, I have had
only two priorities in my life – my son and my
career. I had an extremely hectic and demanding
job, with unpredictable and punishing schedules.
Whatever spare time I had, I wanted to spend it
with my son. Being a single parent, I was
devoted to giving my child the quality time, moral
upbringing, fun and emotional security he
needed. I didn’t want to spend any free time
back on the computer, writing a book. So it
wasn’t until my son turned 18 and went to
college in a different city that I had the time to get
down to writing. But this book couldn’t have
been written in Delhi, where my phone rings
practically non-stop. It was after my marriage to
Arne in November 1999 after which I spent a
few months in Oslo that I, for the first time in my
life, had the perfect setting to sit down and write
a book – I had the time, peace, serenity and
absolutely beautiful surroundings.
Why did you use the title Island of Blood?
A: Sri Lanka’s two worst years were during
1987-89. That was the time when the IPKF was
battling the Tigers in the north and the JVP was
waging its war down south. To me, teardrop
shaped Sri Lanka seemed like a drop of blood in
the Indian Ocean. I have a rather moving
passage in one of my Sri Lanka chapters about
how during those two tragic years, the blood of
the ordinary and extraordinary inhabitants of this
tropical paradise seeped into its red earth. Sri
Lanka became an island of blood. The book’s
title is drawn from this paragraph. This chapter is
perhaps one of the most touching chapters in the
But, don’t you think it is not fair by Sri
Lanka? It will give a bad impression about
the country to the out side world?
A: Not in the least. Anyone who reads the book
will realize that I have written about Sri Lanka
with much love and sadness. I don’t think any
country that I know is as beautiful and yet has
had to cope with so much tragedy as Sri Lanka
Q: Can you elaborate on the technique you
In this book, I take the reader first into my
normal, simple personal life, which is something
everyone can identify with – like the birth of child
or family vacations. Then suddenly, sometimes
violently, juxtapose it to the horrors I have
witnessed in my professional life. Painful and
fearful images that I have encountered in my
professional life suddenly ambush me for no
reason years later when I am doing something
very normal. Like me, I want my reader to be
jolted from our real world and its safe pleasures.
I then take the reader on a very personalized
journey into the heart of war and suffering, into
the psyche of suicide bombers, give them a feel
of what its like ducking bullets in Jaffna,
confronting Hindu fundamentalists in Ayodhya or
evading the Taliban in Kabul, and come face to
face with a cast of remarkable characters - a
dreaded Prabhakaran, a fulminating Ranjan
Wijeratne, a vainglorious Bal Thackeray, a
maniacal cop, furious Taliban commander,
unsung heroes, grieving mothers, distraught
fathers, terrified children. My attempt is to
humanize conflict and thereby to get readers to
empathize with the victims of war and suffering.
The book is written in a conversational tone, it
reads like fiction – except, everything is real.
Terrifying so. I think my book reinforces my
belief that reality is more full of drama, terror,
violence, fun and coincidences than fiction. I
hope after reading the book, readers, who take
their normalcy, for granted, will appreciate and
celebrate the ordinary
How did you get access to Prabhakaran?
A: I have given the background to this in my
book – how and why I singled out Pirabhakaran
for my attention as much as he singled me out for
his attention from among the press corp.
How many times have you interviewed him?
About a dozen times, I would say.
Do you still keep in touch?
A: No, I have had no contact with him for years.
I never keep in touch as such. When news
developments demand an interview with him, I
get in touch with my LTTE contacts and they
pass the request onto him. I met Balasingham in
London this April because I happened to go for
a holiday with my husband. That was my last
contact with the LTTE. By the way, I had lunch
with Balasingham and Adele, and dinner with
Mangala and Gnana Munasinghe. I value the fact
that I have equal access to all the contenders in
this conflict and that I take as the best tribute to
my credibility and objectivity. That's something I
have carefully nurtured over the past two
decades by strictly adhering to the principles of
fair, unbiased professional journalism.
Where is Prabhakaran?
A: How would I know? I am not his social
secretary. I have never known where he is till I
am actually taken by the LTTE to meet him. I
have never met him in the same place twice – I
have met him in Madras, New Delhi Jaffna and
the Wanni jungles but never ever in the same safe
How come you managed to reach
Prabhakaran more than any other journalist
A: I have explained that. I only requested
interviews at critical turning point in the history of
the Sri Lankan tamil conflict – I met him after the
1983 riots, in the early years, when he went on a
hunger strike, after he was airdashed to
Bangalore during the SAARC meet, after the
IPKF arrived, when they left, after the elephant
pass debacle, after Chandrika came to power
etc. Also, I guess I managed to meet
Prabhakaran because I undertook risks to go
into the war zone – because that’s where he has
[This message has been edited by RaviS (edited October 25, 2001).]