Hurricanes, tornadoes and cyclones, even if you’ve only seen them in photographs or videos, are terrifying spectacles. They capture us with their sheer force and size. And yet, no one would in their right mights willingly venture into any storm with that kind of magnitude for the wind and swirl are certainly forbidding, to put it mildly.
For this reason, the term ‘hurricane hunter’ intrigues. When the said hunter happens to be a Grade 9 student who is just 13 years old, it’s even more intriguing. Well, Akalanka Athukorala didn’t really hunt down a hurricane and certainly not one on another planet. He wrote a book called ‘Hurricane Hunters’. It was his second book. In the first, he was, so to speak, a ‘tornado chaser.’ That was when he was in Grade 5. Compelling reads, both, but this however is not a book review.
Akalanka obviously has a vivid imagination, like all children. Children inhabit worlds that adults have forgotten exist. They converse with aliens, planets, angels, gods, trees, mountains and all kinds of creatures just as they would with people. Not all children write down their extraterrestrial experiences. Akalanka did.
Sumathy Sivamohan, award winning writer and senior lecturer in English at the University of Peradeniya, speaking at the launch of the book correctly observed that the story and indeed its publication speak of boundaries. Crossing them, to be precise. Akalanka may or may not have thought about the entire exercise in such terms. He’s not the hero in the story. And yet, high winds and swirling things were what he took on, overcame and about which he spoke. In a sense.
He spoke briefly. There are super heroes and they stand out. Fiction is full of them. In real life, individual brilliance, courage and self sacrifice is rare. On earth, if challenges are overcome, it’s very rarely that it is an individual affair. Akalanka understands this. Teachers, parents, adoring older sisters, friends and well-wishers were part of the story of writing and publishing, he observed. Such appreciative words are common and par for the course at such events, one might say, but then he did say something that demonstrated absolute authenticity of gratitude.
Akalanka mentioned that one of the reasons why he wanted the book published is to encourage others his age to write down their stories and share them with others in book form. Others backed him, he’s backing others. Simply. He chased down a hurricane and in doing so, even if only in some small way, said ‘can be done and you can do it too.’ He has taken out the fear of hurricanes from kids his age, known and unknown. Well, he’s tried to. Sometimes saying ‘I did it, so can you,’ is not enough, but few would even do that little bit for others.
Hurricanes. I’ve never seen one. Hurricane hunters, I’ve never heard of. The one I did meet in Kandy a few years ago was tiny. He didn’t have super hero paraphernalia. No cape. No strange head gear. Didn’t have claws for hands. There was no ‘HH’ embroidered on the front of his shirt. He seemed happy. It was a special day, after all. Didn’t strut. Wasn’t philosophical. He just talked about those who encouraged. It was a piece of fiction but there was absolutely nothing fictional when he, in a few words, said he hoped the exercise would spur others his age to explore the worlds their imagination conjured and to be as creative as they wanted to be.
‘Come hunt a hurricane,’ he did not say. ‘It’s easy,’ he did not say. However, in act and word he told one and all ‘not impossible.’ Without really saying it.
Akalanka Athukorala. A champion, certainly.
This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [February 26, 2020]