I first met Anuk Arudpragasam at a party in New York. The apartment was heavy with music, but our exchange had its own infectious pulse. We spoke about modernist novels, the Tamil imaginary and solitude. In conversation, Arudpragasam opened up a new horizon on the philosophical. Loss, habit and desire run through what he reads and writes.
Arudpragasam’s debut novel The Story of a Brief Marriage (2016) is set over the course of a single day and night during the Sri Lankan Civil War. In the book, time appears liquid and slippery. The novel is possessed by the notion that some of the most fleeting moments in our lives occupy a space that doesn’t match their original duration. I was struck by the ordinariness of human intimacy in The Story of a Brief Marriage – people touch, wash, sleep, eat and speak, while all around them, a war marks these everyday moments as fragile and precious.
While in his first novel Arudpragasam’s investigations into time occur against the awareness of its brevity, his new novel A Passage North (2021) confronts time through duration and distance. The book’s protagonist, Krishan, travels north from Colombo to attend the funeral of his grandmother’s caregiver, Rani. Absorbed in reflections on both his own life and the island’s recent history, Krishan meditates on absence and longing at a remove, wondering what emerges if we are ‘lifted up from the circular daydream of everyday life’.
A Sri Lankan Tamil, Arudpragasam splits his time between India and Sri Lanka. The Story of a Brief Marriage was translated into seven languages, won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. On the page and in person he is a magnetic interlocutor, his presence marked by tenderness. As Arudpragasam’s thoughts and ideas slowly unwind, his companions and readers join a new temporality and become more aware of the significance of the everyday.