About Lal M
A SRI LANKAN WRITER
His next collection of short stories, Can you hear me running, locates itself in the bitter ethnic strife of Sri Lanka and people exposed to ‘violence’ from means other than the war. In these stories which at times are structurally radial, the author explores human psyche responding to natural and unnatural conditions around them: a Coffin-maker in a prison is unable to account for his tears at a symbolic funeral just after the Tsunami; the Tamil class did not come to school after the last cricket match; three pieces of flesh undiscovered after a bomb blast engage in an existential debate. As the critic Michael Meyler says it is the empathy for the suffering of the people that makes this collection of short stories memorable.
In 2012, Lal wrote his first novel Playing Pillow Politics at MGK, which won the Gratiaen Prize in 2012. This is a novel about home and losing one’s home; class inequality; political violence and resistance to such violence. The story is narrated by a disabled narrator with paranormal abilities who re-captures the memories of people, place and events erased for political expediency. Toyota Nanda must live her Bollywood dream or end it—violently; Tandoori Nanda must navigate the fake legal luminaries who are out to claim her house; Victoria Malli must leave the country to overcome his negative complex that is eating away his sanity. These characters are remembered with their actual smells and sounds by the disabled boy in a vegetative state in this novel.
His second novel called Restless Rust was short listed for the Gratiaen Prize in 2020. Once again here is a father talking with his unborn daughter in the womb and expressing his fears when instincts overtake rationale thinking. The unborn daughter is irreverent and over-confident. Her father is timid and bookish. Set amidst the backdrop of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues by the Taliban, the novel explores how people re-negotiate their lives amidst misunderstanding, cultural disparity and potential illness.
Lal has also contributed to BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service, where his short story Tears of a Coffin Maker represented Sri Lanka at the first Tsunami anniversary in 2005. He is a frequent short story writer for the Noel magazine, which is Sri Lanka’s first magazine dedicated to Christmas. His work has also appeared in The Khaleej Times, Times of India, and Channels Magazine (a creative writing magazine published in Sri Lanka).