Artists & Life: Ru Freeman the Author

Ru Freeman by Peter Hurley©

Listen to  Ru Freeman, Srilankan-born writer talking to Gaya Fernando on her life, thoughts and writing. Disclaimer : This is not a literary review and if you have not read her book you will still enjoy Ru’s perspectives. We discussed girls, growing up, the belief a mother has in her children, loving the place you were born in and the difference between abrasive and gentle discourse on war topics to name some of the themes of our conversations apart from the books she has and will publish.

There is nothing pretentious about Ru Freeman. Her voice, expressions, words and thoughts flow with no hesitation, disclaimers and qualifiers, which today precede most opinions publicly shared.  You won’t hear cautious preambles to Ru’s take on politics or poetry.

I was interested in hearing Ru both as an author and a young woman on many issues

Listening to Ru, I guessed that one thing the Seneviratne parents had handed down to their children was the power of uninhibited expression. I realised very soon that Ru’s family – her own three daughters and husband as well as her parents, brothers and their wives- were very close to her heart and she was mum, nangi and wife at the same time, all the time. There were very few statements solely about her doing this or that.

I could have listened for hours. We met in a café on Flower Road, in the heart of Colombo. Listening to excerpts from our conversation, you may hear intermittent strange metallic sounds from a roti karaththaya (roti cart) as café life went on around us in an enclosed back-garden. Here, the still tall and luscious trees of old Colombo rustle and sway in the passing breeze.

Ru looked devastating in a fresh white cotton dress.
 

“In some ways I didn’t have to go out and learn how to write”

 
Writers write to deal with things says Ru. Her family had a heady mix of influences that  were a fertile ground for a young girl-writer. “Between their two careers …and my brothers and I were there…we had left wing politics… and literature… and you put all this together …”
 

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“My mum…She was someone who thought that i was wonderful”

 
Gaya: And your mum, how did your mum influence your writing? And was she happy with what you’ve done, with what you’ve created? Ru’s mother had been an English teacher at Royal College, Colombo. I had read about her in the poems composed by Malinda, her journalist-brother’s writings. Ru: She, I think Biso, the older woman … a lot of that is drawn from my mother… her sort of dignity and sense and way of looking at the world…. And the complete innocence of that dignity… and she couldn’t always navigate the circumstances she found herself in.
 

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“Girls always have to measure up to high expectations in Sri Lanka”

 
Gaya : “Where did the first threads come together for The Disobedient Girl? Was there an inspiration for Latha from your own life?”  I brought up one instance of the visual imagery she used so well throughout her book – the girl using the bar of Lux soap while bathing, the soap of beauty queens. Ru:  “Girls… The expectations that they are charming and lovely… for the majority of people that’s a lot, and it circumscribes your life in some ways.
 

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“I am a huge believer that fiction can tell the truth better than non-fiction”

 
“I also see the book as a vehicle to talk about Sri Lanka… I know writers are idealists but i am a huge believer that fiction can tell the truth better than non-fiction. You walk in open.” Listening to Ru, I know that there had to be a second book simmering somewhere. “The second book has more political events in it… cos it is set in a time of turmoil” said Ru “…and its also set in Sri Lanka…there’s more politics in terms of context, am always interested in people and how they relate to the events…
While I sat there against the backdrop of crows cawing, motorcycles and the rise and fall of voices of the café workers, I couldn’t help but think that Ru was far too talented and too ‘real’ to be allowed to slip away. I felt somehow drawn into a discussion that identified ways in which the young creative people in Sri Lanka could draw inspiration from her perspectives and presence.
 

Click the player to listen now:

 

 

“I think Sri Lanka needs the help and… hindrance… of the Diaspora”

 
Gaya: Is there any initiative you could engage in, from where you are in the USA, with the young people in the Sri Lankan Diaspora for reconciliation, anything that you may have in mind that interests you especially? Ru: I travelled to the North … and Eastern places like Trincomalee and Batticaloa… and when I meet Tamil people who can’t speak Sinhala and English, there is still a sense of compassion and empathy, there is a .. softness to the interaction… that we do not have there in the Diaspora… it tends to be abrasive and sharp and distrustful …
 

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It was fantastic to have met Ru in Colombo against the backdrop of café colour and commotion. Now, she was animatedly calling out to her kids and walking awayfor a last treat: an Ayurveda spa. Tomorrow, she would be on her way, all-too-soon, flying thousands of miles away from her beloved country. For I had no doubt that she was in essence, heart and limb from this place with its loveliness, its peculiar grace that leaves you with the sense of the undiscovered and yet-to-be-revealed secrets for another day. An optimistic day.

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Bio


Ru Freeman’s creative and political writing has appeared internationally. Her debut novel, A DISOBEDIENT GIRL, is published in the US and Canada by Atria/Simon & Schuster, by Viking in the UK, Australia and India, in translation in Italy, Israel, Taiwan, Turkey, Brazil, China and the Netherlands, and in audio by Tantor Media with award-winning narrator, Anne Flosnick. She blogs for the Huffington Post on literature and politics, is a contributing editorial board member of the Asian American Literary Review, and a fellow of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Corporation of Yaddo and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Comments

  1. Gayathri says:

    An Indian friend of mine recommended A DISOBEDIENT GIRL to me a few weeks ago and I thoroughly enjoyed the book! Coming from a middle-class family in Sri Lanka I had a lot of ‘this is so true moments’ that i could relate to and the stories of the women that were in the book resonated with me a great deal.. It really is a brilliant work of fiction set amongst a non-fictional sri lanka. Was looking on the internet for reviews and interviews with the author afterwards and was real glad i stumbled upon this :) Looking forward to her next book!

    • Thanks Gayathri for commenting. This website was only launched yesterday and welcome to iSrilankan. Please email us your thoughts and any contributions you may be interested in making to gaya@isrilankan.com ( same name as you ;))

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