During the epilogue chapter of Funny Boy, as ethnic riots break out in 1983, a Sinhalese mob shows up at Arjie’s house in the middle of the night and set fire to the house, which comes to represent. Luckily, his family has a plan and escapes in time, taking shelter in the storeroom of their neighbors, the Pereras. The next morning, they go outside and see that their house is completely unrecognizable. With nearly everything destroyed, it feels small and alien, nothing like the familiar space at the center of their past lives. Beyond marking an abrupt break between the past and the future, this moment shows Arjie’s family the severe dangers they face as Tamils in Sri Lanka: with their home, their country also becomes a forever foreign and unlivable place in the blink of an eye.
This points to the ambivalent nostalgia that characterizes Arjie’s narrative voice throughout the novel: living in Canada after the narrative’s events, he writes to remember the place (Sri Lanka, his home, and his sense of belonging in both) from which he was abruptly uprooted and to which he cannot return. In the book’s closing lines, on the day he is supposed to leave for Canada, Arjie visits his home once more and realizes that “everything that was not burnt had been stolen,” from pipes to furniture to flowers in the garden (presumably to be used in prayers “to increase [devotees’] chances of a better life in the next birth,” which clearly also serves as a metaphor for Arjie’s hope for a better life in Canada). The house now has a new layer of meaning: in addition to standing for the past that Arjie is now enthusiastically and resolutely putting behind him, it also points to the way his life was robbed of significance by the self-interest and shortsightedness of those who involved Sri Lanka in the war.
Arjie’s Burned-Down House Quotes in Funny Boy
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.
He was trying to cheer me up, and as I listened to him talk, something occurred to me that I had never really been conscious of before—Shehan was Sinhalese and I was not. This awareness did not change my feelings for him, it was simply there, like a thin translucent screen through which I watched him.