Category History

Who is Shehan Karunatilaka?

In 2022, Shehan Karunatilaka became the second Sri Lankan author to win the Booker Prize. What fetched his novel ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’ the prestigious literary award?

Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka won the prestigious Booker Prize 2022 for ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’. When it was announced, it was the overriding Breaking News of prime-time media. We got so genuinely excited about someone from our neighbouring country winning the prize that we decided to gather authentic information about him. Here's the information we put together.

About the novelist

The entire nation rose in jubilation when the prize was announced. We all know Shehan Karunatilaka only as a novelist, but he is much more than that- only in films do we find protagonists playing multiple roles, but in real life he dons several roles. He is a children's author, screenplay writer, travel writer, rock singer, music reviewer, copywriter, sports commentator, content writer, and much more. It's rare to come across someone with such rich experiences in varied fields.

The 47-year-old writer was born in Galle, a beautiful old city, situated on the southwestern tip of the island, about 115 km from Colombo. He grew up in Colombo, and that's where he lives now. But he has also lived and worked in the U.K., Singapore, Australia, and the Netherlands for different organisations in various capacities.

An interesting fact about the prize-winning novel is that it had two different versions published earlier – ‘Devil Dance’ and ‘Chats with the Dead’ and was eventually published with the current title in London in 2022.

The Booker Prize

The Booker Prize is considered prestigious as it accords international recognition to the winners and is one of the world's richest literary prizes, offering 50,000 pounds. It is given each year for the best novel written in English and published in the U.K. or Ireland. Three Indian writers – Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, and Aravind Adiga – have won the prize so far.

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida

The seven moons' has several mythological references, and in Greek myth, it is an expedition undertaken to reclaim the throne, and, in the novel, it refers to the 'seven days' of travel between the afterlife and the real world.

The name of the central character, Maali Almeida, is of Arabic origin, meaning 'rich hill’, referring to the topography of their country. The novelist perhaps chose to avoid any reference to Sri Lankan names as the novel is set against the backdrop of the war-torn country.

Maali Almeida is a war photographer who wakes up from his death and tries to identify his killer but with no idea of who did it. He holds a cache of photographs that captures the brutalities committed by various groups, including the military, which "will bring down governments" and wishes to show them to the people he loves most.

In his work, Karunatilaka combines the features of different genres of novels – mystery, surrealism, political satire, mythology, ghost story, history, comedy, fantasy, realism, and so on, and weaves all these strands skilfully to delight his readers.

Significantly, though the novel portrays the grim reality of our country it is not without hope and humour, which he believes are the coping mechanism to lead a sane life.

The lesson from his writings

The important lesson for us is that with the sensitivity to contemporary socio-political happenings and familiarity with different genres of novels, we could spin a story of some merit by employing imagination.

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Who is known as pepper queen of India?

Rani Chennabhairadevi is known as “The Pepper Queen’ (Raina da Pimenta) of India. Her reign lasted 54 years, the longest by an Indian queen. She ruled from Gerusoppa, capital of the Saluva dynasty, between the 15th and 16th centuries. Her kingdom extended from Goa to Bhatkal and Karwar, up to Malabar. This belt was known as pepper country, as the spice grew in the virgin forests. Shiploads of pepper, betel nut, timber and sandalwood were traded with the Portuguese, British, Dutch and Africans in exchange for precious metals and stones. Most of the trade happened through Mirjan port in Uttara Kannada. The queen resided at and controlled the pepper trade from Mirjan Fort on River Aganashini. The Portuguese and the Keladi kings tried to capture Gerusoppa which Chennabhairadevi thwarted twice. The Keladi kings joined with the Bilagi chieftains to defeat her; she was imprisoned and died in captivity at Keladi.

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Some unheard stories of freedom fighters

As we celebrate 75 years of independence, here are some unheard stories of our freedom fighters.

Golden girl kanaklata  

The 16 years old kanaklata was determined to participate in the hoisting of the flag on Gohpur police station close to her house.

It was a period of turmoil in the country and talk of freedom was in the air. Like many other youngsters of her time, Kanaklata Barua felt a passionate desire to help free her motherland. She had lost her parents, one after the other by the time she was 14 and was brought up by her grandparents.

Call to hoist the tricolour on police stations

On September 18, 1942, a few weeks after the ‘Quit India’ resolution had been passed, a leader from Tejpur, Assam, gave instructions to hoist the tricolour on all police stations and government buildings in the district. The 16-year-old Kanaklata was determined to participate in the hoisting of the flag on Gohpur Police Station close to her house. The people had been asked to gather at a place some distance away from the police station on the morning of September 20. Kanaklata finished her household chores. Then she said to her younger sister, “Let us have breakfast together. God alone knows whether we shall meet again.” Kanaklata led one of the groups that advanced towards the police station shouting slogans like ‘Glory to Mother India’ and ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai’.

The officer in charge of the police station warned them not to advance but Kanaklata pressed forward saying, “Don’t try to stop us! We shall leave only after putting the flag up!”

Felled by police bullets

The police opened fire. Some people from the group turned and fled, but Kanaklata continued to press fonward. The police fired again and Kanaklata was hit in the chest. Others around her were also felled by the bullets but now they were very close to the police station and one member of the group, Ram Pati Rajkhoa snatched the flag from the dying Kanaklata, climbed to the top of the police station and planted the flag there.

Her sister and her grandparents broke down when her comrades brought her body home. But Kanaklata would not have wanted it any other way. If she had had another life to give, she would have perhaps gladly given away that too for her beloved country.

Robin Hood of the Godavari

From the jungles of the Rampa region in the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh emerged a young hero who galvanised the local Adivasi tribals to rise against the British Raj in the 1920s. His name was Alluri Sitarama Raju. The Madras Forest Act had severely affected the tribal way of life. It prevented the tribals from engaging in the traditional method of shifting cultivation and collecting forest produce. They ended up being exploited for cheap or free labour by the British.

Raju channelled the tribal discontent into an anti-British force. He realised that mere bows and arrows were not enough. So he conducted lightning strikes on police stations, raiding their arsenal of guns and ammunition. He would announce the date and time of attack and even enter the details of the loot in the station diary!

For two years from 1922-1924, Raju and his guerrilla fighters terrorised the British. A bounty of Rs 10,000 was placed on his head and special forces were drafted to combat his men. No amount of persuasion could sway the local people from being loyal to Raju. They called him ‘Manyam Veerudu (Hero of the Jungle). It was only after Raju was caught and shot dead on May 7, 1924 that the British heaved a sigh of relief.

Young braveheart

In 1938, Dhenkanal (in Odisha) was up in arms against the repressive measures of the local kings who were British loyalists. The British force was hot on the trail of Veer Baishnav Pattanayak, a revolutionary who was stirring up villagers against them. They arrived at the village of Bhuban on October 10, 1938 to nab him, but he escaped. A troop of British soldiers chased him, but they were stopped in their tracks by an ordinary boy of extraordinary courage. Baji Raut was a 13-year-old boatman of Nilakanthapur village who was standing guard at a ghat on River Brahmi. When the British platoon arrived and demanded to be ferried across, Baji Raut refused. A furious soldier attacked the boy with the butt of his rifle, fracturing his skull. The boy was fatally injured, yet he managed to raise an alarm, alerting the villagers. A soldier bayoneted him, while another shot him. Enraged villagers rushed to the riverbank. The platoon panicked and hastily retreated in Baji Raut’s boat while firing away at the mob, killing four more.

Baishnav Pattanayak took the bodies of Baji Raut and the four villagers to Cuttack to give them a hero’s farewell. In 1943, Sachidananda Routray, the father of modern Odia poetry, immortalised the boy’s sacrifice in his poem, Baji Raut.

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Lakshmi Menon, an Ernakulam-based social entrepreneur and designer, has fashioned eco-friendly mattresses for COVID-19 patients from PPE scrap material.

When Lakshmi Menon saw a poor family sleeping on the bare ground, she decided to do something to help the needy. In March 2020, she conceived the idea of shayya mattresses made out of tailoring scrap.

PPE to the rescue

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, hospitals and First-Line Treatment Centres (FLTCS) in Kerala struggled to provide enough beds for patients. Mattresses became the need of the hour, each one costing between 500-700. When Lakshmi called up tailoring units for scrap to make shayyas, she discovered that they had switched to making personal protective equipment (PPE) suits for healthcare workers. A lot of scrap material is generated while making these suits. As it contains small amounts of plastic, it can be disposed of or recycled by a professional agency only something that many tailors cannot afford. So, they would get rid of the scrap by burning it, causing air pollution. Lakshmi then decided to create shayyas from PPE scrap.

These mattresses are easy to make, requiring no stitching. The scraps are braided together and arranged in a zigzag manner before their ends are tied together with scrap cloth. The resulting shayya is 1.8 m (6 ft) long and 0.7 m (2.5 ft) wide. Unlike a regular mattress, which is difficult to disinfect, it can be washed with soap and reused.

Jobs for local women

Lakshmi employs around 20 local women who had become jobless during the lockdown. Each woman makes one shayya a day, for which she is paid 300. A shayya is sold at the same price to cover the labour charge. Around 700 shayyas have been donated so far.

Lakshmi’s innovative project addressed three major issues – waste management, job creation and the lack of bedding for patients. It has t been recognised by the United Nations in their list of best practices. To enable NGOs, students, etc. to replicate her model, Lakshmi provides them with online training.

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What are the interesting facts of The Sundarbans National Park?

Shared between two countries

The Sundarbans is spread across West Bengal, India, and Khulna Division, Bangladesh. Covering an estimated10,00,000 hectares, about 64 per cent of the entire mangrove area of the forest is said to be in Bangladesh, with the remaining 36 per cent in India. The Sundarbans is listed as ‘Sundarbans National Park, as a World Heritage Site from India, and as The Sundarbans World Heritage Site from Bangladesh.

The largest Mangrove forest

The Sundarbans is home to the largest mangrove forest in the world, and is also the only mangrove forest to be inhabited by the tiger. Nearly 78 species of mangroves have been recorded at the Sundarbans, making it one of the richest mangrove forests, as well as one among the most biologically productive of all natural ecosystems.

The largest population of tigers

Apart from being the only mangrove forest inhabited by the tiger, the Sundarbans is also home to the largest number of Bengal Tigers in the world A part of the Sundarbans is designated as the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve to protect the species. The tigers here have adapted to the environment and have become amphibious, swimming long stretches in search of food.

A unique tidal system

The Sundarbans experiences a unique tidal phenomenon, witnessing high and low tides several times within a day. During the high tides, you can witness the water levels rising by six to ten feet. And during low tides, you can see huge areas of flat mud lands.

There is a great natural depression called “Swatch of No Ground in the Sundarbans area. This depression leads to a sudden change in the depth of the water from 20 m to 500 m.

What’s in a name?

Did you know the Sundarbans got its name from the Sundari tree? It is a special kind of mangrove tree found in this area. It has aerial roots (roots which are above the ground) to help with respiration. This is especially useful for the tree during the rainy season when the entire mangrove area is waterlogged.


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What are the facts of the Statue of Liberty in the United States?

Standing in the middle of the sea, the Statue of Liberty is a 93 metre – tall copper statue; think of it as equivalent to the height of a 22-storey building. The statue is a national treasure of the United States visited by millions every year.

A gift from France

To commemorate the centennial of the United States’ independence and honour France’s relationship with the U.S., French jurist Edouard de Laboulaye, in 1865, proposed the idea of presenting a gift from the people of France to the people of the U.S. Laboulaye was touched by the recent abolition of slavery in the U.S., which furthered the ideals of freedom and democracy in which he greatly believed.

Sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, who resonated with Laboulaye, conceptualised a colossal structure that is formally known as Liberty Enlightening the World.

A symbol of liberty and freedom

Several elements of the statue symbolise liberty and freedom. The statue is named after the Roman Goddess Libertas who personifies freedom. The tablet she carries is inscribed with July 4. 1776 in Roman numerals, the day America became a free country. The torch carried by the statue is considered a symbol of enlightenment and lights the way to freedom. As a symbolism of abolition of slavery, Bartholdi has placed a broken shackle at the statue’s foot.

The Eiffel connection

Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the man who built the Eiffel tower in Paris, France, was closely involved in the building of the statue. He was engaged by Bartholdi to address structural issues associated with designing the statue. Eiffel designed the massive iron pylon and the secondary skeletal framework that allows the statue’s copper skin to move independently yet stand upright.

Of seas and continents

The seven spikes radiating from the statue’s crown are meant to be a halo, also known as an aureole. The spikes represent the seven seas and the seven continents of the world and emphasise the statue’s message of inclusiveness and freedom.

Modelled on a real person

The face of the Statue of Liberty is said to have been modelled on Bartholdi’s mother, Charlotte. This was first discovered in 1876, when Bartholdi invited French Senator Jules Bozerian to his box at the opera, where his mother was also present and Bozerian noticed the similarity instantly.


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