Do not buy ‘Upon a Sleepless Isle’. The author, Andrew Fidel Fernando, is better known for his sporting columns. This is his first book – described as a labour of love – a term usually reserved for how parents think of juvenile delinquents when they were born & still beautiful. The Lonely Planet inspired cover suggests a saccharine capture of Sri Lanka by ‘bus, cycle and trishaw’, the preferred modes of transport for Instagram influencers and their Ludwig or Crema filtered snapshots of a sleeping dog, crowded train or thambili. As reviews go, this is clearly an inauspicious start. But as the author will attest after covering cricket’s vicissitudes as only he does and can, a terrible start doesn’t necessarily mean a calamitous end.
The recommendation to not purchase this book is anchored to personal experience. I read it in about four sittings over two days. In that short span of time, Fernando’s sardonic, salubrious and sharp prose resulted in spilt coffee, tea and water, nearly choking on a lozenge, actually choking on an Afghan chicken kebab, a near miss with a spill on keyboard, slight stains on book, a bigger stain on sweater, many scarred strangers and very scared birds. I suppose a more accurate capture would be to recommend a warning label with this book – abandon decorum, all ye who read. Nearly three decades after I first read Carl Muller’s ‘Jam Fruit Tree’, Andrew Fidel Fernando’s penned a book that, even though an entirely different genre and lens, is as compelling and effortlessly, gloriously witty. Do not buy this book for a quiet read, or to pose at Barefoot or Kiku with. Buy it to engorge the text as one would a biryani from Hotel de Buhari. The meal stains as much as Fernando’s prose sticks, and in both cases, the experience is worth far more than what one paid for and not easily forgotten.