‘I began thinking about it in 2009, after the end of our civil war, when there was a raging debate over how many civilians died and whose fault it was. A ghost story where the dead could offer their perspective seemed a bizarre enough idea to pursue, but I wasn’t brave enough to write about the present, so I went back 20 years, to the dark days of 1989.
‘1989 was the darkest year in my memory, where there was an ethnic war, a Marxist uprising, a foreign military presence and state counter-terror squads. It was a time of assassinations, disappearances, bombs and corpses. But by the end of the 1990s, most of the antagonists were dead, so I felt safer writing about these ghosts, rather than those closer to the present.
‘I’ve no doubt many novels will be penned about Sri Lanka’s protests, petrol queues and fleeing Presidents. But even though there have been scattered incidents of violence, today’s economic hardship cannot be compared to the terror of 1989 or the horror of the 1983 anti-Tamil pogroms.
‘I borrowed from a lot of mythologies and also the idea that the spirit hovers around for seven days - you see that in different forms of Buddhism and other eastern religions. But the real breakthrough was seeing the afterlife as a visa office, as a government bureaucracy with spirits wandering around, not knowing where they are supposed to go.
‘We have this illusion that all our questions will be answered when we breathe our last; you close your eyes, open them and it suddenly all makes sense. But it made more sense to me that you’d be absolutely more confused when you wake up.’
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