This book caters to those who are curious to know a gorgeous tropical island that is full of natural splendor and yet is very complex. This pearl-shaped island located in the Indian Ocean just below the southern tip of India is called Sri Lanka. Through the riveting story of a woman, Sree Padma provides us an incredible account of Sri Lanka’s recent past.
Fascinated by Sri Lanka’s similarities to her own native culture in Andhra Pradesh, India and yet the uniqueness it possesses, Sree Padma has endeavored to pore her years of lived experiences and her knowledge about the island to create an engrossed tale of “Fractured Bliss”. The fictionalized biographical approach she deploys paints a portrait of Sri Lanka’s social and cultural complexities owing to its centuries of European colonization as well as the evolving nature of Sinhala Buddhist and Tamil Hindu relations that have emerged after independence. Her otherwise gripping story also draws attention to the natural beauty of the island with a specific focus on the hilly city of Kandy and its environs.
The narrative follows Rita, a Sri Lankan woman of a mixed Eurasian racial origin, who grew up as an orphan during the island’s decolonization. Her background, her marriage and her eventual change of religious identity represent a slice of the emerging ethnic complexity on the island. Rita witnesses close-up the tragedies that occur in the form of two violent revolts by a Marxist outfit and the government’s brutal suppression of them, the terrible ethnic riots of the Sinhalese against the Tamils and the rise of militant groups and their terror tactics, and the innocent people caught in the middle. While Rita’s tumultuous life experiences reflect the political fate of the nation and its self-inflicted calamities, at some point, her own life intersects with the nation’s tragedies as though she is a reflection of the essential nature of the island itself. This pushes the aims of the book to impressive levels, as it not only integrated issues of colonization, the constitutional flaws of an emerging nation, power-mongering politics, racial and ethnic tensions, emergent religious/political identities and gender discrimination as part of the protagonist’s observations but also through protagonist’s own life, it explores the island’s hybridity that incorporated over centuries a variety of ethnic and cultural components from India, Middle East, Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa.
Sree Padma is a visiting professor at the Divinity School, University of Chicago. She teaches courses on the cultural history of south Asia. She has taught at Harvard University as a lecturer and research associate in women’s studies and history of religions and at Bowdoin College as an assistant professor of history. She has administered the Intercollegiate Sri Lanka Education (ISLE) Program for American undergraduate students from 1998 to 2018. She is the author of Vicissitudes of the Goddess: Reconstructions of the Gramadevata in India’s Religious Traditions. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013) and Costume, Coiffure, and Ornament in the Temple Sculpture of Northern Andhra (Agam Kala Prakasan, 1991). In addition to publishing 31 articles in various journals, she edited and contributed to Lankapura: The Legacy of the Ramayana in Sri Lanka. Special Section in South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 42.4, 726-731, (19 August 2019); Inventing and Reinventing the Goddess: Contemporary Iterations of Hindu Deities on the Move. (Lexington Books, Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2014) and Buddhism in the Krishna River Valley of Andhra (State University of New York Press, 2008).