Funny Boy

Amma Character Analysis

Arjie’s Amma (the Tamil word for “mother”) is loving and close to her son; although she has a strong sense of right and wrong, she often chooses not to voice it, but she is also anything but passive. Instead, she tends to hold the family together emotionally in times of crisis. When Arjie is a child, Amma lets him dress up in her clothes, but is forced to stop after the family sees him in the bride-bride sari. Like Arjie, she often silently disagrees with many of the cultural norms that determine life in Sri Lanka: although she forces young Arjie to play with the other boys, for instance, her inability to justify herself reveals “how little she actually believe[s] in the justness of her actions.” Similarly, Amma’s relationship with Daryl Uncle shows Arjie that, unlike many other Sri Lankans, she does not see ethnicity as a defining trait, although she eventually comes to agree with the Tamil Tigers that Tamils might need a separate state to overcome violence from the Sinhalese. Her zealous effort to investigate Daryl Uncle’s death reveals her commitment to justice, but her willingness to give it up shows that she considers her family’s safety primary. In this vein, she is also the first to suggest the family move to Canada. During the riots, which (unlike Appa) she predicted, Amma comforts not only her children but also Chithra Aunty (even though the Chelvaratnams’ own house was the one burned down).

Amma Quotes in Funny Boy

The Funny Boy quotes below are all either spoken by Amma or refer to Amma. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Masculinity and Queerness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the HarperCollins edition of Funny Boy published in 1994.
1. Pigs Can’t Fly Quotes

It was clear to me that I had done something wrong, but what it was I couldn’t comprehend. I thought of what my father had said about turning out “funny.” The word “funny” as I understood it meant either humorous or strange, as in the expression “That’s funny.” Neither of these fitted the sense in which my father had used the word, for there had been a hint of disgust in his tone.

Later, Amma came out of her room and called Anula to give her instructions for the evening. As I listened to the sound of her voice, I realized that something had changed forever between us.

Related Characters: Arjie (speaker), Amma, Appa, Kanthi Aunty, Cyril Uncle, Anula
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
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3. See No Evil, Hear No Evil Quotes

“You’re putting your life at risk for nothing,” Amma insisted.

“It’s not nothing,” Daryl Uncle said. “People are being tortured and killed even as we sit in all this opulence.”

Related Characters: Amma (speaker), Daryl Uncle (speaker), Arjie, Appa
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

As I looked around me, I felt an odd sensation. Our daily routine had been cast away, while the rest of the world was going on as usual. A man I had known, a man who was my mother’s lover, was now dead. I was aware that it was a significant thing, a momentous event in my life even, but, like a newspaper report on an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, it seemed something that happened outside my reality, my world.

Related Characters: Arjie (speaker), Amma, Daryl Uncle
Page Number: 132-133
Explanation and Analysis:
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“So what must we do?”

“Nothing, my dear,” he said sadly.

Amma looked at him, shocked. “Nothing?” she said.

“These days one must be like the three wise monkeys. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

Related Characters: Amma (speaker), Arjie, Daryl Uncle
Page Number: 137-138
Explanation and Analysis:
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4. Small Choices Quotes

“How do you know he’s innocent?” my father asked. “We can’t be a hundred percent sure.”

“You mean you honestly think he’s guilty?” Amma asked, astonished.

My father was silent. We all stared at him, angry and hurt that he would really believe this.

“Look,” my father eventually said, “the best thing is to get as little involved as possible. If they find out that Jegan is connected to the assassination attempt, we could be accused of harboring a terrorist.”

“Nonsense,” Amma said. “Why would they accuse us?”

“These days, every Tamil is a Tiger until proven otherwise.”

Related Characters: Amma (speaker), Appa (speaker), Arjie, Jegan Parameswaran
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:
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"You know,” she said, “I’ve been thinking about emigration.”

My father looked at her in shock.

“Canada and Australia are opening their doors. It would be a good time to apply. For the sake of the children.”

My father shook his head emphatically. “I’ll never emigrate. I’ve seen the way our people live in foreign countries.”

“It’s better than living in this terrible uncertainty.”

He turned to Amma angrily. “How can you want to emigrate? You saw the way our friends lived when we went to America. They come here and flash their dollars around, but over there they’re nothing.”

“It’s not a question of wanting or not wanting to go. We have to think about the children.”

“Don’t worry,” my father said. “Things will work out.”

And then after a while, “Besides, what would I do there? The only job I’d be fit for would be a taxi driver or a petrol station man.”

Related Characters: Amma (speaker), Appa (speaker), Arjie, Daryl Uncle, Diggy, The Banduratne Mudalali, Sonali
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:
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5. The Best School of All Quotes

“The Academy will force you to become a man,” he said. Sonali, Amma, and Neliya Aunty smiled at me sympathetically before they continued with their meal. Diggy had a look on his face that told me he understood all the things my father had not said.

Related Characters: Appa (speaker), Arjie, Amma, Diggy, Neliya Auntie, Sonali
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

I looked around at my family and I saw that I had committed a terrible crime against them, against the trust and love they had given me. I glanced at Amma and imagined what her reaction would have been had she discovered us, the profound expression of hurt that would have come over her face. She noticed that I was studying her, and she smiled. I looked down at my plate, feeling my heart clench painfully at the contrast between the innocence of her smile and the dreadful act I had just committed. I wanted to cry out what I had done, beg to be absolved of my crime, but the deed was already done and it couldn’t be taken back. Now I understood my father’s concern, why there had been such worry in his voice whenever he talked about me. He had been right to try to protect me from what he feared was inside me, but he had failed. What I had done in the garage had moved me beyond his hand.

Related Characters: Arjie (speaker), Amma, Appa, Shehan Soyza, Diggy
Page Number: 256-257
Explanation and Analysis:
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6. Riot Journal: An Epilogue Quotes

Chithra Aunty began to cry. Amma went to her and tried to comfort her. There was something ironic about that. Amma comforting Chithra Aunty. Yet I understood it. Chithra Aunty was free to cry. We couldn’t, for if we started we would never stop.

Related Characters: Arjie (speaker), Amma, Appa, Sena Uncle, Chithra Aunty
Related Symbols: Arjie’s Burned-Down House
Page Number: 292
Explanation and Analysis:
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Amma Character Timeline in Funny Boy

The timeline below shows where the character Amma appears in Funny Boy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. Pigs Can’t Fly
Masculinity and Queerness Theme Icon
...cherishing their monthly Sunday “spend-the-day.” After waking Arjie, his brother Varuna, and his sister Sonali, Amma brings the three children to their grandparents’ house. The children traverse the house’s eerie corridor... (full context)
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After the adults leave, the children are always ecstatic to be free, watched by only Ammachi and Janaki, who is busy cooking and wants nothing to do with the kids anyway.... (full context)
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...this lowly role to that of a bridesmaid. But their third day with Tanuja is Ammachi’s birthday, and this spells trouble: all the adults are to stay around for lunch, and... (full context)
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Ammachi opens her present and the kids leave to play. Arjie finds the girls circled around... (full context)
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...danger of him turning “funny” and becoming “the laughingstock of Colombo.” Appa is furious at Amma for letting their son dress up in her clothing. (full context)
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On occasions that call for special dress, Arjie always watches Amma get ready; he considers her “the final statement in female beauty.” He pretends to try... (full context)
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The morning before the next spend-the-day, Arjie can tell that Amma does not want him to bring his sari. After breakfast, Amma orders Diggy to make... (full context)
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Amma tells Arjie to be in the car in five minutes, and he worries that Her... (full context)
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Diggy had struck a “fragile balance” between obeying Amma and keeping his cricket team—but Arjie quickly overturned this balance by insisting on batting when... (full context)
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As the children assemble to explain what happened, they realize that Ammachi is standing in the doorway; she chastises Janaki for failing to “keep these children quiet.”... (full context)
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...and empty under the sun, and notes that “something had changed.” He dreads returning to Ammachi’s cane, and realizes that he can “never enter the girls’ world again.” He is no... (full context)
2. Radha Aunty
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Ammachi informs the family that Mr. Nagendra—an old friend of Appachi’s from Cambridge—wants to marry his... (full context)
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...of her and imagines what she will look like when she returns for the wedding—and Ammachi runs into him while he does so, then sends him back to dust the furniture.... (full context)
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...Sri Lanka, Arjie wakes up excited to finally meet her. When his family arrives at Ammachi and Appachi’s house, Arjie is surprised to find Radha Aunty struggling to play the piano,... (full context)
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Some time later, Amma invites Arjie to play one of the King of Siam’s children in The King and... (full context)
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...up offering Radha Aunty a ride home, although they remain silent the whole way to Ammachi and Appachi’s house. (full context)
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The second time Anil drives Radha Aunty home, Ammachi interrogates her about “this boy you’re taking lifts from.” Ammachi is distraught to hear that... (full context)
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...with the dead body. Appa dodges the first question but explains that the body was Ammachi’s father’s, and that he was killed for being Tamil in the 1950s, two decades before.... (full context)
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On the next spend-the-day, after play rehearsal, Janaki tells Radha Aunty that Ammachi has visited Anil’s family and told them to keep their son away from her daughter.... (full context)
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...make to leave, but before they leave, Anil asks about Radha’s fiancé. Arjie understands that Ammachi’s real fear was Radha and Anil falling in love—although he thinks they are not, and... (full context)
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...rehearsal, Anil asks Radha Aunty why her mother is so anti-Sinhalese, and Radha explains that Ammachi’s father was killed in an ethnic riot in 1958. When Anil asks, she says she... (full context)
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When they return to Ammachi and Appachi’s house, Mala Aunty’s car is out front and the whole family is waiting... (full context)
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...to Radha and Mala talk. Radha admits that she was never interested in Anil until Ammachi got between them. Now, she thinks about Anil as well as Rajan. She hopes that... (full context)
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When Ammachi calls to get Radha Aunty kicked of the play, Aunty Doris refuses. They agree that... (full context)
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...Radha Aunty is set to return from Jaffna, the family hears of violent unrest there. Ammachi arranges a police escort to take Radha to the train station. After rehearsal, however, Amma... (full context)
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Back in the house, Arjie notices a photo of Ammachi’s father, who was murdered in the 1950s riots, and realizes that this violence might be... (full context)
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Ammachi leads Radha Aunty to her bed, where Mala Aunty, who is a doctor, examines her... (full context)
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...at the house, asking for Radha Aunty, whom Kanthi Aunty says is not at home. Ammachi and Kanthi yell at Anil and curse the Sinhalese. Hearing the whole episode, Radha breaks... (full context)
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Because there was already violence near Arjie’s grandparents’ house, his immediate family brought Ammachi, Appachi, and Radha Aunty to stay with them for a while. One night, Arjie and... (full context)
3. See No Evil, Hear No Evil
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...Europe, and he asks the children what they want him to bring back. Ever since Amma’s elderly and traditional sister, Neliya Aunty, moved in with the family, Arjie has been reading... (full context)
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“As if to contradict [Amma’s] optimism,” the family soon has a visitor: Daryl Uncle, an old family friend who speaks... (full context)
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In the morning, Arjie’s fever and Amma’s concern evaporate. But Daryl Uncle visits soon again, and he asks Arjie about his book.... (full context)
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Neliya Aunty comes into the room, and Arjie calls out to Amma in an attempt to stop her argument with Daryl Uncle. Amma sends Arjie to bed... (full context)
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...present and helps care for him. When Arjie comes to his senses, he notices that Amma and Daryl’s relationship has changed, and that Amma seems to be going to work. But... (full context)
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Amma and Arjie rent a beautiful bungalow in the hills. They pass the first day quietly,... (full context)
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At the hill bungalow, Amma is happier than ever because of Daryl’s presence—but, shortly before they are set to return... (full context)
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Arjie returns to school, and Amma comes with Daryl to pick him up on the first afternoon. There is clearly a... (full context)
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The next afternoon, Amma reports that she wants to check on Daryl Uncle, since the police have just burned... (full context)
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The following day, Amma takes Arjie to the police station. When she says her friend is a “white man,”... (full context)
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When they meet at Daryl’s house, the police assure Amma that “it’s simply a case of break and enter,” and she reveals Daryl’s real occupation... (full context)
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Appa calls that night, and Amma talks to him “as if nothing unusual had happened in our lives.” The next morning,... (full context)
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In the morning, Amma and Neliya Aunty have to go identify Daryl Uncle’s body, which “washed ashore on the... (full context)
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That night, Amma falls sick with a headache and laments that she did not save Daryl Uncle, who... (full context)
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By the next afternoon, Amma has a plan: they go to see Q.C. Uncle, an elderly civil rights attorney and... (full context)
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On their way home, Amma grapples with anxiety and decides to return to Daryl’s house to see what became of... (full context)
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During their drive to Somaratne’s village, Amma and Arjie notice a blue car following them. Fortunately, when they pull over, it continues... (full context)
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As Arjie and Amma head back to their car, the villagers start throwing stones at them. One hits Arjie... (full context)
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The next day, the same journalist from the Sydney Morning Star stops by to see Amma. She gives him little information about Daryl’s project or his death, and he leaves. Arjie... (full context)
4. Small Choices
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Instead, Amma is the one who asks Jegan about the Gandhiyam movement—which resettles Tamils uprooted by the... (full context)
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The next day, Arjie sees Jegan bring the manager to Amma and Appa’s room at the hotel. Jegan complains that the manager has told him not... (full context)
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...a prominent Tamil politician.” He makes Arjie recount “exactly what [he] saw” that day. After, Amma declares that Jegan must be innocent, but Appa questions her and tells them “to get... (full context)
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...DISCOVERED.” It is Jegan, and the article says he “resides with a well-known Tamil hotelier.” Amma and Appa field phone calls all morning, and at lunch he explains that his office... (full context)
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That night, Arjie hears Appa explaining the incident to Amma, who thinks he “should have taken Jegan’s side.” But Appa explains that “as Tamils we... (full context)
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...Jegan “Tiger” and throws a bottle at them. They run back to the hotel and Amma recounts the incident, first to Appa, and then again to the hotel manager, who explains... (full context)
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After Appa’s explanation, Amma breaks the news that she has been considering immigrating to Canada or Australia, “for the... (full context)
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...to wash off the writing: “if we do it, we might be in trouble next.” Amma says she will do it herself and Arjie goes with her. She tells Jegan to... (full context)
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...him on his patio with a glass of whiskey, and Sonali reports that she saw Amma crying in her and Appa’s room. They go to the beach and swim—it is beautiful... (full context)
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...in Colombo, Jegan avoids the family and then moves out the next day. Arjie asks Amma if he said anything before leaving, but she says he did not. Arjie is devastated... (full context)
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...thugs led by a member of Parliament “stuff the ballot boxes with false ballots” when Amma and Appa go to vote. The government “wins,” meaning it gets to rule for six... (full context)
5. The Best School of All
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...he has been. They are curious to hear he has a friend—his first friend ever. Amma says the family should have Shehan over for lunch that weekend, and Diggy shakes his... (full context)
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...inside, eating lunch, and declare that they were simply on a walk. Appa’s expression to Amma immediately demonstrates “that he disapproved of Shehan.” Arjie imagined his father walking in on him... (full context)
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...microphone, then at “the expectant faces” in the audience: Black Tie, the minister, Mr. Sunderalingam, Amma and Appa, and—to Arjie’s surprise and delight—Shehan, on the second floor balcony. Arjie recites the... (full context)
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...Shehan head back to the gallery; Arjie feels “a sudden sadness” when he sees his Amma, with whom he can never have the same relationship. He realizes he is “no longer... (full context)
6. Riot Journal: An Epilogue
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...get the family. Appa and Arjie think “the situation will soon be under control,” but Amma still wants to go to Chithra’s house. (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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. (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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,... (full context)
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...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,... (full context)
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...is going on.” Sena Uncle thinks the men are only after money, but Appa and Amma still want to go to the refugee camp. (full context)
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...“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... (full context)
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...situation for a little longer and then decide.” But Arjie hears him later quietly telling Amma to apply for the children’s passports. (full context)
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...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,... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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,... (full context)