'Trauma in Litereture'
The Cinnamon Grand's Angsana Meeting Room reverberated to the sounds
of animated discussions last Saturday May 12, as Savithri Rodrigo (Media
Personality) and Shehara de Silva (Business Consultant/Humanitarian
Worker) took on Ashok Ferrey (Writer) and Vivimarie VanderPoorten (Poet)
in an exciting and thought provoking forum aptly titled 'Trauma in
Unlike historical documentation which provides information on facts,
dates and sequence of events, literature enables us to experience
something of the experiences of others - a powerful tool for thought.
Even if we have not been subjected to trauma in its rawest form, it is
not possible to forget and move on when we read about injustice and
cruelty - and the tragedy and sorrow they bring.
It forces us to reject the apathy of impersonal, anonymous,
historical statistics and allows us to understand more fully the human
suffering behind the stories we read.
Samutthana - the King's College London Resource Centre in Colombo,
for Trauma, Displacement and Mental Health - first got involved in a
similar forum at the prestigious Galle Literary Festival in January,
where a discussion on trauma within the international arena, moderated
by Morgan Meis (USA), was led by the eminent Psychologist, Prof. Rachel
Tribe (UK) who is closely affiliated to Samutthana, amidst writers Ellah
Allfrey (Zimbabwe), Aminatta Forna (Sierra Leone), and Neluka Silva (Sri
This time, the focus was on two well-known and well-loved local
writers who concentrated on 'home-grown' issues. They were the popular
choice for, in their writings which transcend ethnic division - Ashok
Ferrey's vivid short stories and Vivimarie's poignant poems - far more
is left unsaid than said.
It is precisely this aspect of 'the unsaid' that offers food for
thought and makes the reader an active participant, filling in the
background details whilst, at the same time, speculating about the
future lying outside the work.
Jill MacDonald, Principal of The Study, kick-started the event by
warmly introducing the four Panellists - and Rev John Purves of St
Andrew's Scots Kirk concluded the evening by delivering a humorous vote
During the course of the evening, the interactive discussions with
animated audience participation took on subjects such as the tsunami,
the war, trauma, displacement, depression, alcoholism, violence, abuse,
family dislocation, abandonment, death, mental retardation, apathy and
gender issues, to name but a few.
In the welter of readings, comments, counter-comments and questions,
a quote from the Tamil poet Kambar, was put forward by a member of the
audience, which struck a chord: "Those who see, don't tell; those who
tell, don't see."
And so the debate continued: Can language ever describe or
communicate a traumatic experience - the experiences of war, torture or
acute emotional distress? We try to write about such things but do the
words truly capture the intensity and significance of trauma?
Can we say, then, that literature is both impotent in the face of
trauma and defined by the challenges it represents? Indeed, does reading
literature about trauma traumatise the reader?
The forum forced us to look at literature as a tool significant in
effect whilst affirming individual identity and value. It urged us to
see and respond to the experiences and feelings within the traumatised
human-being - behind the statistics, figures and percentages we are
continuously being bombarded with.
An 'evening with a difference' was what was promised - and delivered.
The event was attended by the Gliterati and the Literati - which
included a cross-section of professionals, Psychology students,
counsellors and representation from various humanitarian agencies.
Like-minded enthusiasts came together to explore the complexities of
trauma as portrayed in literature, and it would be true to say that all
present found the evening's discussions exceedingly stimulating. Handled
with class by Savithri Rodrigo and Shehara de Silva, the audience got
the best out of Ashok Ferrey and Vivimarie VanderPoorten.
What we learned was that, whether trauma is an intensively personal
experience or a community suffering together, the restorative healing
and sensitising power of literature cannot be undermined. Ashok Ferrey's
short-stories on trauma, and many of Vivimarie VanderPoorten's poems,
reveal the truth that to every single individual, to every family that
goes to make up the numbers, it is a personal, lived, tragedy.