Funny Boy

Funny Boy 6. Riot Journal: An Epilogue Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The final section of Funny Boy consists of a number of Arjie’s journal entries from July and August of 1983. The first entry begins on July 25 at 6 AM. Arjie writes that the phone rang in the early hours of the morning and Appa informed the family that “there was trouble in Colombo. All the Tamil houses near the Kanaththa Cemetery had been burnt.” The family is dumbstruck and Amma wonders why; Appa explains that it is in retaliation for a Tamil Tigers attack against some soldiers, whose funeral took place the previous night. But Appa says not to worry, and that the reports are probably being blown out of proportion. Arjie feels that writing is the only thing he can do. Neliya Aunty and Amma have breakfast as normal in an “attempt to provide some normalcy,” but this only shows Arjie “how frighteningly different” today is.
Although this chapter is listed as an epilogue, it is actually an integral part of the novel, essential for understanding Sri Lanka’s history and Arjie’s retrospective narrative voice in light of the other chapters. However, as a series of journal entries, this chapter is also narratively distinct, because it is the only one that Arjie narrates during the action, in the present tense. This contributes to his sense of urgency but also forces readers to fill in the gaps between entries. It also helps account for Arjie’s decision to narrate his past: he notes here that, when overcome by fear and anxiety, he naturally gravitated toward writing to find solace. Readers may already know that July 1983 was when the Sri Lankan Civil War began; regardless, Arjie immediately realizes that the family’s longstanding fears of violence in Colombo have finally come true, and they know this could have profound consequences for their future.
Themes
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At 9:30 AM on the same day, Arjie writes that Sena Uncle and Chithra Aunty visited the site of the riots and confirmed that the Tamils’ houses really were burned down, and the violence is spreading. The adults finish their conversation in Appa’s study, and the children hear Amma sounding concerned inside. When they come out, the adults announce that the family will stay with Chithra and Sena for some time. Amma promises it is “just a precaution” but the children do not believe her; Amma has even sent Anula away. They each bring a backpack with clothes and one important personal item. Most of the family is okay, but “Ammachi and Appachi’s area is particularly bad” and they might have to hide in neighbors’ houses. The radio transmissions do not mention violence, and even announce that there is no curfew.
After learning about Amma’s personal flaws, moral conflicts, emotional history, and judgment errors throughout the book, Arjie easily sees through her attempts at feigning normalcy. Given his knowledge of the unpredictability of violence and memory of visiting Somaratne’s village, Arjie can no longer trust that Amma will protect him—he is now old enough to know better and recognize that nothing can guarantee the family's safety. While their fear stems from others’ possibility of treating them as homogeneous representatives of an ethnic group rather than complex human individuals, their faith in neighbors suggests that their interpersonal relationships with those around them can serve as a humanizing force to counterbalance against the reductionism of nationalist violence.
Themes
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At 11 AM, Arjie learns what the adults were talking about in secret: he overheard the adults in the garden explain that the government is supporting the riots, which is why there is no curfew, police attempts to stop the violence, or information on the radio. In fact, “the mobs [got] electoral lists” from the government and used them to find Tamil families—which means Arjie’s family has to leave their house, or they will remain at risk.
As the police’s sinister persecution of Daryl Uncle and Jegan foreshadowed, now Sri Lanka is caught in conflict not only between certain Sinhalese and certain Tamils, but between the government and the Tamil population. The government uses the Tamil Tigers as an excuse to try and ethnically cleanse its own population, and this makes the family’s situation all the more frightening: now defined as the enemy, they cannot turn to the government that is supposed to protect them against violence.
Themes
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At 12:30 PM, still on July 25, Arjie writes that he is “frightened” because the family’s phones are not working and Sena Uncle has not come to pick them up.
Waiting appears to be the most grating part of the riots, because it forces Arjie to process his own fears and recognize his ultimate vulnerability to violence. Sena Uncle’s delay suggests that something may have gone wrong.
Themes
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At 1 PM, Arjie writes that “the government has now declared curfew,” which is a relief “because this means that the government is not behind the rioting.” Because of the curfew, however, Sena Uncle cannot come get the family. Appa and Arjie think “the situation will soon be under control,” but Amma still wants to go to Chithra’s house.
Arjie and his family’s momentary relief demonstrates how accustomed they are to living through threats of violence; in the past, any escalation has been small-scale and momentary, and (besides the trouble reaching Colombo) there is no obvious indication that this time should or will be any different.
Themes
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At 3 PM, Arjie explains that the riots have actually worsened since the curfew, and describes what happened to Sena Uncle: A man stops at the family’s front gate and Appa cautiously goes outside to meet him. The man, an employee of Appa’s, tells him that “thugs stole all the petrol from” Sena Uncle’s van. In fact, the man rushed out of work when he learned of the riots—which he passed on his way, and where he saw the police doing nothing. Appa’s colleague came across people pouring the oil from Sena Uncle’s van on a car with a family inside, and then a man asking around for a match. Appa’s colleague left as fast as possible and came to inform Arjie’s family, who now cannot stop thinking about the family in the car but try to go on with their days as normal.
In fact, Arjie sees that the government is far more sinister than he thought, and that the curfew is likely the opposite of what it looked like: a way of ensuring that Tamils will be at home and therefore vulnerable to mob attacks. Appa’s employee’s report—which clearly implied that the mob was going to burn alive the Tamil family in the car—is frightening not only because of the extreme violence but also because of the senselessness and sheer anonymity of this violence, which testifies to the utter inhumanity of killers incapable of seeing their victims as human.
Themes
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Justice, Power, and Moral Awakening Theme Icon
At 6:45 PM, still on July 25, Arjie writes that Amma and Appa told the children how to escape the house in case the mob shows up at their doorstep. They will climb a ladder and hide with their neighbors, the Pereras, who have already taken their valuables and birth certificates. The whole family is “certain that the mob will come,” only unsure when.
The very fact that the Chelvaratnams rely on their Sinhalese neighbors to shield them against a Sinhalese mob exposes the patent absurdity of the race riots, which turn individuals into the pawns of political movements and personal rage on the basis of ethnicity.
Themes
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At 11:30 PM, Arjie writes that he cannot stand waiting for the mob to show up, and almost wants them to come now and “put [the family] out of this misery.” Everyone went to bed with day clothes on and nobody has fallen asleep. The adults will wake the children up during the night if the mob comes.
As the anticipation of violence hangs over its head, the family’s habitual attempts to keep up even the most rudimentary appearances of normalcy—by going to bed when they expect to be attacked by an angry mob—no longer serves any function.
Themes
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At 12:30 PM on July 26, Arjie writes that “it seems unbelievable” that so much has passed since his last journal entry 13 hours before, and that “our lives have completely changed.” Neliya Aunty woke him up in the middle of the night, and they quietly made their way to the dining room as the mob’s chants approached the house. The family made their way to the backyard and, one by one, climbed the ladder up the wall and jumped into the Pereras’ yard. Appa and Diggy hid the ladder, and then the family hid in the Pereras’ storeroom, which has a small window high on the wall.
Unfortunately, the family was correct to predict the mob’s imminent arrival and prudent to develop an escape plan. Although they were prepared for it, writing the day afterward, Arjie seems shocked that they could face such a direct threat in such an unpredictable context. Like the punishments doled out by Ammachi and Black Tie, the beating Radha Aunty suffers, and Daryl and Jegan’s surprise arrivals in Colombo, what proves to be the most consequential moment in the lives of Arjie’s family members has no real connection, ethical or causal, to their own behavior. They are being punished and made to suffer, but not for any distinct reason, and to Arjie the utter meaninglessness of their suffering is perhaps the most disturbing part of their fate.
Themes
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Justice, Power, and Moral Awakening Theme Icon
The same journal entry continues. The mob has stopped yelling, but Arjie and his family hear their front door shatter and their house get ransacked. And then they see smoke out of the small window and realize that the mob is burning their house down. The room gets intensely bright for a while, and then dark again, and the mob has left; all the family can hear are the beams of their house falling down. After the commotion, Perera Uncle opens the storeroom door. Appa wants to check out the house immediately, but Amma insists he wait until the morning. The family goes out for tea with the Pereras.
The burning of the Chelvaratnams’ house is particularly distressing because it serves as a message that they are no longer welcome in their own country, and that their identity is being forcibly uprooted by political conflicts. Although he already knows what he would see if he went outside, Appa’s impulse to go look at the ruined house when the mob may still be nearby reflects his desire to salvage what he can of their physical possessions as well as their place in Sri Lankan society. Again, faced with circumstances that promise to drastically upend their futures, the Chelvaratnams do what little they can—have tea with the Pereras—to live normally in the meantime.
Themes
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In the morning, the family goes to survey their burned-down house, which is unrecognizable except for the gate out front and generally seems much smaller. They go inside and look at their old possessions, now completely destroyed, but Arjie feels “not a trace of remorse, not a touch of sorrow for the loss and destruction around [him],” because his “heart refuses to understand” that his house is gone. Finally, Chithra Aunty and Sena Uncle stop by in their van—Chithra Aunty cries and, ironically enough, Amma comforts her. Neighbors stop by and pay their respects. The family’s women collect their few surviving possessions; the men do not. As they head off with Sena Uncle and Chithra Aunty, the neighbors bring them provisions.
Burned to a shell of its former self, the house loses all the defining characteristics that would have previously made it identifiably Arjie’s. Its loss is more bleak than heartbreaking, and the men and women differ over whether to try and salvage what they can to bring continuity into their new lives, or to leave everything behind and start anew. Because she is slightly further removed from the events, Chithra is able to process her emotions in a way the Chelvaratnams remain too traumatized—and perhaps too afraid—to do.
Themes
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Related Quotes
At 3 PM, still on July 26, the family learns that Ammachi and Appachi have also had their house burned down—their whole street, full of burned houses, “looks as if someone has dropped a bomb on it.” Ammachi and Appachi go to stay with Kanthi Aunty. Arjie remembers passing spend-the-days there in his childhood and cries.
The apocalyptic imagery of the bomb suggests a kind of finality to the Tamils’ experience in Colombo, a sign that life can and will never be the same again. The destruction of Ammachi and Appachi’s house is significant not only because it shows the family continues to suffer even more seriously than before, but also because the house was so significant to Arjie’s childhood, as a place of both freedom and gender socialization.
Themes
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At 6 PM the same day, Arjie writes that “something awful has happened.” Someone anonymously called Sena Uncle and said they knew he was sheltering Tamils, and that that night they would all be killed and his house burned. Amma and Appa want to go to a refugee camp, but Sena Uncle insists they stay, so they make another escape plan: they can go through a hidden door to Sena Uncle’s mother’s neighboring house and hide in her library. Arjie is “tired of these escape plans” and “just want[s] it all to end.”
Arjie’s family gets no chance to rest and process what has happened; the phone threat forces them back onto the defensive, and they appear poised to relive the horror of their previous night. Again, the threat to their lives is completely anonymous, unpredictable, and unconnected to anything that the family has itself done to deserve punishment.
Themes
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Justice, Power, and Moral Awakening Theme Icon
At 11 PM, Arjie explains that they had another “scare” two hours before. After dinner, a group of men came to the door and the family had to hide in Sena Uncle’s mother’s library for an hour until they left. The men claimed to only have been “collecting funds for a sport meet,” but Arjie thinks “it is obvious that something odd is going on.” Sena Uncle thinks the men are only after money, but Appa and Amma still want to go to the refugee camp.
Although they cannot know the intentions of the group of men who “visit” Sena Uncle, the family continues to expect violence and ends up reliving their previous night. Uncertainty—about whether these men are innocent or bloodthirsty, whether the phone threat was real or random, and whether they remain targets—becomes the Sinhalese and the government’s most powerful tool against the Tamils.
Themes
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On the next day, July 27, at 6 PM, Arjie writes that the brief break in the curfew—for the purpose of buying groceries—was useless, because so many grocery stores were Tamil-owned and thus burned down. Many people visit Arjie, but “only bring dismal and depressing news.” The only person Arjie is happy to see is Shehan, whom he “wanted more than anything else to hold” but could not because of his family’s presence; Amma tells Diggy not to follow them out into the garden, where Shehan tells Arjie he visited the house only to find it burned down. Shehan changes the subject and they make plans to see a movie, but then Arjie realizes something: “Shehan was Sinhalese and I was not.”
The futility of the curfew shows that different ethnic communities in Sri Lanka are economically interdependent, and therefore exposes the socially self-destructive nature of the anti-Tamil riots. Now that he is forced to share Sena’s home, Arjie encounters yet another burden that gets in the way of his processing his grief and spending quality time with Shehan: his lack of privacy. Arjie’s recognition that “Shehan was Sinhalese and I was not” reflects Shehan’s desire for normalcy—to see a movie—which is something Arjie knows he cannot easily return to, even though his family has been feigning normalcy since the beginning of the riots. Arjie also realizes for the first time that, no matter how little the Tamil-Sinhalese divide means to him, the simple fact that it matters so much to so many others means it creates a gap between the experiences of Tamil and Sinhalese Sri Lankans, further driving the groups apart in a vicious cycle.
Themes
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Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Violence Theme Icon
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Related Quotes
The same entry continues. An uncle from Canada, Lakshman, calls to explain that there are protests in Canada, India, and England over the riots, and that the family can get refugee status and go to Canada. The family is hopeful, and Appa says that they should “watch the situation for a little longer and then decide.” But Arjie hears him later quietly telling Amma to apply for the children’s passports.
Now, immigration looks far more attractive than it did last time; the international community’s outrage underlines the moral horror of the government's stance but also suggests that the family has a brighter future to look forward to outside of Sri Lanka. Appa clearly fears leaving behind his country and business, but he also recognizes that the family can no longer continue fighting for a place in a country that has resolutely decided not to accept them.
Themes
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Justice, Power, and Moral Awakening Theme Icon
The next evening, on July 28, at 8 PM, Arjie writes that the family has learned that Appa’s hotel was attacked and almost burned down, although the guests had been moved out. The president gave an address which “expressed no sympathy for what we Tamils have suffered, nor […] condemn[ed] the actions of the thugs.” In the garden, Appa tells Amma that “it is very clear that we no longer belong in this country.” In retrospect, Appa says, he should have known that this would happen. He asks Amma how she, on the other hand, clearly knew that this violence was coming. They decide that they will plan for Canada after the violence ends. Arjie is “glad,” as he “long[s] to be out of this country” because it is not safe for him and no longer his home.
As things begin to fall apart on a national scale, Arjie’s family loses both faith that the government will try to quell the protests and their main economic reason for staying in Sri Lanka (their hotel). For perhaps the first time in the book, Appa acknowledges Amma's superior wisdom—perhaps because his thinking was so clouded by his desire for his business to work out, and because of her experience with Daryl Uncle. After insisting for years that only the Tamils or Sinhalese can belong in Sri Lanka, nationalist forces on both sides have turned this false choice into a reality.
Themes
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On July 29, at 10 AM, Arjie writes that the visitors continue—this time, it is Ammachi and Appachi, who are just talking about losing their own house. Arjie is “irritated and lethargic,” but not “sad and nostalgic,” about losing his house. He misses only his things and his private space, and especially Shehan. Amma has started crying in the bathroom about losing the house.
Inundated with his experiences and his grandparents' stories of violence and loss, Arjie finds it difficult to continue feeling the constant stream of negative emotions that his situation warrants; in fact, the things he misses are not only symbols of the normalcy he can never recover, but also the very things that would allow him to emotionally process his pain: time and space alone, plus the chance to converse with the only person around whom he can truly be vulnerable.
Themes
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At 1 PM on the same day, Arjie writes that the rioters have returned, yelling that the Tamil Tigers are now in Colombo—a story that the radio denies. Ammachi and Appachi left for Kanthi’s house, but did not arrive, and everyone is worried and praying. There is a curfew again.
The radio—and, by extension, the government—officially denies the rioters’ tall tales, but it is clear that the government has both little genuine interest in saving Tamils and little power over the rioters it has unleashed.
Themes
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Four days later, on August 2nd, Arjie writes that “so many things have happened.” Sena Uncle came back shortly after the previous journal entry and reported that a mob burned Ammachi and Appachi’s car, with them inside. Amma broke down crying; Appa insisted on going to the scene of the crime to investigate what happened to his parents. The rest did not let him; Sena Uncle went back, instead, to “look out for […] stray dogs and cats.” The family was silent; Amma said they should “inform the rest of the family.”
The epilogue's final and most horrible act of violence brings the book full circle: back to Ammachi and Appachi, in whose care Arjie has his fondest memories of Sri Lanka. Like after the house burned down, Appa seems unable to accept the fact of his parents' deaths unless he sees it with his own eyes. Knowing how Appa would react but also that the bodies must be guarded from animals, Sena Uncle again steps up to help the family when it is too dangerous or painful for them to go out themselves.
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In the same entry, Arjie’s narration jumps to the day before, three days after Ammachi and Appachi were killed, and the day of their funeral. Radha Aunty came from America, and the way she held her head reminded Arjie of Ammachi. The funeral seemed “unreal,” and out of shock and disbelief, nobody cried; Arjie feels that the world is forever changed.
Again, the funeral is so far outside the realm of Arjie’s normal experience that he seems unable to emotionally process it at the time, especially since the threat of violence continues. Ammachi and Appachi’s violent end helps explain the sense of nostalgia Arjie (as narrator) feels about his childhood with them, and Radha Aunty’s arrival gestures to the long-term trauma she suffered after her attack, raising the question of how Arjie will adapt to his experiences in the long term.
Themes
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Almost a month later, on August 25, Arjie writes that he has gotten his passport and now “finally realize[s] that we are really leaving Sri Lanka” and heading to Canada in two days. He remembers fantasizing about foreign lands as a child with Diggy and Sonali, but recognizes “that great difficulties lie ahead.” Appa is staying in Sri Lanka for some time to “settle many things.” They will go to stay with their Lakshman Uncle, whom they barely know. And they can barely bring any money. Arjie sees a beggar at a traffic light and “wonder[s] if this would be our plight in Canada.”
Although he has had some time to process the trauma of losing his house and his grandparents, now Arjie is again thrown into a whirlwind, forced to pack up and reenvision his life in order to move into yet another uncertain future. When he contemplates Canada, he wonders about the possibility of a pluralist democracy: whether people like his family will be accepted in North America or will simply be treated yet again as outsiders to be controlled.
Themes
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On August 27, Arjie writes that he has visited Shehan for the last time and “can still smell his particular odor on my body, which always lingers after we make love,” and which this time he does not want to wash off, lest he “lose this final memento.” Their lovemaking was “passionless, uncoordinated, and tentative,” emotionally withdrawn because they were both afraid of getting hurt.
Like Radha's relationship with Anil and Amma’s with Daryl Uncle, Arjie and Shehan are driven apart by political circumstances out of their control. When they have to break up, both of them clearly recognize what they are losing, but neither is devastated to see the other go; by maintaining an emotional distance, they sacrifice the chance to express their feelings a final time in addition to saving themselves from hurt. And yet, in retrospect, Arjie neither yearns for Shehan nor laments leaving him, but rather sees their relationship as an important growing experience. In this sense, throughout the book Arjie progresses from idealizing the romantic love of “bride-bride” and Sinhala love comics to recognizing that, although loss inevitably follows most love, it can still be a positive experience, worth enduring even if it does not itself endure.
Themes
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Forbidden Love and Family Theme Icon
On his ride home from Shehan’s house to Sena Uncle’s, Arjie realized that he had forgotten something, and went to visit the remnants of his family’s old burned-down house, which “looked even more bare, even more desolate than before.” He was astonished to see that “everything that was not burnt had been stolen,” from doors and furniture to rain pipes. Arjie began to cry loudly, out of anger, until he exhausted himself. He turned around and realized that even the flowers in the garden were stolen, probably for pooja (prayers) by people hoping “to increase their chances of a better life in the next birth.” As it began to rain torrentially, Arjie left the gate open and biked back to Sena Uncle’s house. From the top of a hill, he looks back to the house, which he sees momentarily before “the rain fell faster and thicker, obscuring it.”
In the closing passage of Funny Boy, Arjie confronts the house that represents his traumatic uprooting for the last time. The house’s desolation stands for how his own life has been reduced to nothing; everything that has mattered to him has now become insignificant in the wake of the riots. His crying appears cathartic and suggests that he is finally beginning to process the trauma and suffering of his experiences on an emotional level. Arjie's musings about the stolen flowers point to the “next birth” he is about to undergo, when he moves halfway across the world to start over in an unknown place. In this vein, it is noteworthy that Selvadurai does not follow Arjie to Canada (and has also clarified that he has no plans to write a sequel). Instead, he leaves the boy’s future open at the end of the novel, offering the reader a sense of Arjie’s wonder, confusion, and anxiety; the reader knows what Arjie's future may hold just as well as he does, and he leaves Sri Lanka on the cusp of adulthood's radical uncertainty, carrying with him only the moral fortitude he has developed through his difficult childhood and adolescence.
Themes
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Justice, Power, and Moral Awakening Theme Icon