Situating the Kegalle Rebels of 1971: The Narrative Disconnect Between Michael Ondaatje and Those Who Took His Family Gun


  • V Perera Non-affiliated Researcher, George E. de Silva Mawatha, Kandy, Sri Lanka


The article uses Michael Ondaatje’s representation of the Kegalle rebels of the 1971 insurgence to examine the question of historical disconnect in the writer which has resulted in his reduction of an era-defining political event to an amusing anecdote. This anecdote – to do with a group of young rebels who came to collect the Ondaatjes’ family gun in Running in the Family – has been widely quoted in literature on Ondaatje’s work, but without sufficient emphasis on what appears to be a historical alienation of the writer. The present discussion attempts to reconstruct the fate of the Kegalle rebels who disappear from Ondaatje’s field of vision after the gun was collected. Through the association of narratives written by former insurgents in Kegalle who retreated to Wilpattu after the uprising failed, I attempt to reconstruct their story to offer an overview of the history Ondaatje misses out on. By interpolating work such as Raja Proctor’s Waiting for Surabiel the article also draws on the role of historical awareness and political empathy in representing a politically-turbulent era.