Set in the tea plantations of Sri Lanka, Mirage traces the lives of Valli and her family, migrants from a village in Tamil Nadu in search of a better livelihood. The novel depicts the lives of indentured labourers working in these plantations and explores the social structure and the norms of plantation life—an arena defined by economic and sexual exploitation. Through Valli’s world, we gain insight into the complex social relationships – between husband and wife, parent and child, worker and supervisor, friend and neighbour – in these remote plantations. Mirage, translated from the Tamil Thoorathu Pachai, records human dignity in the face of human brutality. The novel chronicles a hitherto ignored piece of human history.
Rare is the intimate knowledge that Kokilam Subbiah has of the countryside of the hills of Sri Lanka, the people living there, and of the economic and social relations prevailing on the tea plantations. The novel, written in a strongly realistic manner, emphasises the strength of forces (like drought and famine) as well as of the social pressures obstructing human freedom.
The author and translator, Kokilam Subbiah (1926–2011), was once actively involved in the unionising of Tamil Labourers, especially women, in the Sri Lankan tea plantations. She taught Tamil and Dravidian linguistics at the University of Chicago and had a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Art Institute of Chicago and held one-woman shows in India. Kokilam Subbiah also wrote poetry and translated Tamil poetry into English. She won the Editor's Choice Award for Outstanding Achievement in Poetry instituted by the International Library of Poetry.