Ganeshananthan’s, “Hippocrates”, is a wonderful short story which reveals the sufferings caused by the ethnic violence in Sri Lanka. Like her novel, Love Story, it probes into the terrific nature of the human situations in which human life loses all values and relationships.
The narrator in the story says that “there was no point in discussing what had already happened” (Ganeshanandan, 1). The cruelty inflicted by the Sri Lankan soldiers, particularly on women, has caused lasting wounds, both physical and mental, for which there is no cure available, feels the narrator. This paper is an analysis of the story to trace the conflicting motives in the characters.
The story opens with an atmosphere of indifference and strangeness. Everything seems to be mechanical, sans human emotions. The narrator is coming back from Jaffna to Colombo and her fellow passenger is a girl of her age known to her: “We had known each other since we were very young” (Ganeshanandan, 1), and yet they do not speak anything. The train jostles them, indicating that it is the external forces which direct their nearness and relationships, their life.
The narrator’s uncle comes to receive her, but even he is a stranger: “This man, my uncle, looked like my family, but he did not know me, he did not want to know me and the feeling of being surrounded by strangers made a pocket of pain inside my chest” (Ganehanandan, 1). The essence of the story is this pocket of pain created by the ethnic violence in every Tamil heart in Sri Lanka. As her uncle does not speak anything she looks outside but sees nothing.
Her heart is filled with the events of the past. She says, “My eyes were still full of Jaffna. I wanted my brothers – my brothers, who were gone. And I wanted my mother and my father” (Ganeshanandan, 1). The story now takes the readers through the experience of an innocent girl, whom the narrator once treated, to the aftermath of the horrible violence.
As the narrator listens to the radio, the announcer tells the story of a pregnant girl. This provokes the narrator to reveal the truth to the readers. She says, “I want you to understand: I was not born to fight for a political cause. I did not feel chosen. And this woman was not born this way. She was not chosen” (Ganeshanandan, 2). All the girls who join the Tiger Force do not do it willingly. It is the circumstances which led them to it.
There is no existential choice for a Tamil girl in Sri Lanka. The narrator says that like her “she was gangraped, and she watched the men who raped her kill her four brothers. I want you to understand” (Ganeshanandan, 2). No one seems to understand that the girls in that country have/had no choice.
The fate is decided by external factors. The narrator is pregnant, so is the case of many girls who were raped by the soldiers. She admits that the pregnant women were used to detonate the bombs because the officers may have sympathy towards them: “A transgression against a mother is a universal transgression” (Ganeshanandan, 3).
The narrator remembers an event of treating a raped and wounded girl. They both realize that pain has become part of their lives. The girl says that “I want to know what is happening and if the pain goes away then that might be worse”. “She was right. Pain informs”, admits the doctor (Ganeshanandan, 4).
Ganeshananthan’s skilful narration of the protagonist’s past is great and beautiful. Her characters are original and the social conditions rendered are real.
The way the conflicting motives of the protagonist are given is marvelous. The story keeps the readers anchored to the terrible events that took place in Sri Lanka. “Hippocrates” surely places her among the best Diaspora writers. It is a heart-rending story.
Ganeshanandan, V. V. “Hippocrates”,
Retrieved on 5 April, 2011.