On Sal Mal Lane
Why Read On Sal Mal Lane?
Malinda Seneviratne is a Sri Lankan poet, writer and critic. He is a two-time winner of the H. A. I . Goonatilaka prize for translation and the Gratiaen Prize for poetry, both established by Michael Ondaatje.
He completed his undergraduate studies at Harvard, and his graduate studies at the University of Southern California, and Cornell University.This story is your story
The world is made of lanes and avenues. Each lined with gloss and clutter. Some neat and clean, others unkempt and unwelcoming. Yet our first glances often deceive us. An elegant exterior can conceal the distasteful things that happen behind walls and closed doors. And there can be tenderness, and endearments expressed, in places that look too ordinary to deserve a second look.
All the lanes on which we live have stories, though not all of them get told. These stories are like threads of different colors and they are frequently inseparable. What happens down one lane affects what happens on another. Sometimes the real story is the one that intertwines what, at first, look like separate stories. It’s the same with a neighborhood. Think of where you live. Think of your neighbors; the young and old, the rich and poor, those who are happy yet sometimes are sad, the outliers and extroverts and so on. Each one carrying their own story. Each one a major player in someone else’s story, walking down an old familiar road. That’s your Sal Mal Lane.
Ru Freeman’s On Sal Mal Lane is located possibly quite far away from where you are. Sri Lanka is literally at the other end of the world. Her story is about events that took place before you were born. And yet, you will be able to locate yourself in it because it turns around the perspective of young people confronting a world distorted by adults. Sometimes the world around these young people overwhelms them. Sometimes, they take unanticipated blows, fall, rise and pick each other up. Through it all they learn to articulate the kind of unvarnished love that is the defining character of young people everywhere. These young people from a different land in a different country facing different kinds of challenges and tragedies are also entirely you.
On Sal Mal Lane is a story of families sharing the common space of a lane. It is also a novel made of stories that spill out of houses, walk in and out of other houses, and gets re-written again and again. The stories of these young people will spill over into your own.
This is a story about a place that’s far away. It is also a story that could make you look around your own neighborhood and say to yourself “This is Sal Mal Lane, only we call it Elm Street, or 145th & Lennox. That’s Devi on the bicycle, but we call her Mary Ann or Jericho.”
Questions and Understandings for a Unit
Students could explore the following questions:
How can we...
Students could investigate the following understandings:
Sample Teaching Ideas
SCIENCE Speed and Accidents Velocity
is a frequent measurement at scenes of accidents involving movement and/or vehicles. It stands to reason that higher driving speeds will make a collision occur at a higher speed, and lead to serious injury.
Assignment: How does speed affect thought and response?
Assignment: Investigate why people obsess over the verifiable parts of an accident. Does knowing how something happened change the human brain’s response to the fallout of an event?SOCIAL STUDIES Influencers
How is one person’s experience relevant in how they come to define a complex conflict? Can one person’s actions change the outcome of a large-scale conflict? Do people have to understand the reasons for a conflict to address it?
Assignment: Investigate the political theory of personality as it relates to leaders as well as ordinary people and find examples where the course of social movements/political upheaval/war etc. were driven by individual actions. Find an equal number of examples where the actions of one person in your chosen community (school, neighborhood, city, social group), precipitated a bigger social event that had consequences for those beyond that group.Celebrating Many Faiths
In what countries is there a practice of celebrating many faiths with national holidays as happens in Sri Lanka? Do you celebrate or long to celebrate a tradition that is not your own? If you had one of your own to share with your classmates, what would it be? Does it stem from your own cultural or family practice or is it made up?
Assignment: Get together with a group of classmates and create a new “religion.” Give it a name. Arrive at a consensus on whether your fictional religion will or will not have iconography, art, music, daily or weekly rituals. Will it have a national holiday and if so, when? Compare your new religions with those of the other groups in your classroom. Write down what is common. Create a new religion out of your common themes and choices.