29 January 2020

A love note to an unknown address in Los Angeles

They will one day walk among flowers. Botanical gardens with exotic names will beckon. There will be butterflies and bouquets. They will encounter one day the industry of a cormorant, preening of a peacock, an eagle’s high-elevation majesty, a line of ants and the stealth of a cougar.  

They will see the same mountains again and again but in different colors at different times of the day and in different seasons. The world will renew itself for them, each time in different form, like a snowflake so much like another but yet distinct in configuration. There will be water in a bottle and a glass. It will come as ice and hail, drizzle and thunderstorm. 

Their friends will have names. Some names will remain and some will not. Friends will grow tall. The architectures of learning will acquire different names from junior high school, through high school to college. Favorite books will be displaced by even more enchanting stories. Tunes that run in the head will be nudged aside by the melodies that take up residence in the heart. 

Maps will speak of roads. Signposts will give direction. The rules of the world will lead and mislead, contain and agitate. They will change the rules with a smile, a side-step, a step-back, a fadeaway, a swish, a pump fake and a no-look pass. And with unmistakable love that seeks not love in return. 

In the perimeter of an orchard they will stand and breathe the fragrances of pomegranate and guava.  In the center court of life they will rise and rise and rise. They will reach out and touch unnamed ceilings and with caress bring roofs crashing down. They will then reach down. Using  broken shards and shingles they will manufacture exquisite pottery and upon it inscribe the names of all things felt that today have no words. 

In inevitable skies of innumerable color and cloud formation, all the words of all the prophets will be written for their eyes only. And they will learn that which those who came before learned and those who will come later will come to understand. Simple but evasive truths about vicissitudes, the commonality of solitude and loss, the specificities that will not be resolved by word and the grace which alone nurtures the best of the human condition.

Some nights are darker than others and darkness is not always bested by dawn. And the darkness, it revisits at the most unexpected moments and in the most unexpected ways. And then, giants will appear in even more gigantic dimensions, not as presence but absence.  And then there will be a breeze that comes with music, music wrapped in fragrance, and perfumes congealing into words and moments.  Everything will be fine then. This they know or will come to know one day. 

For now, there are no words for her who to him was mamacita per semipro ‘little mother forever’ or for them, angelic princesses of unsurpassed beauty. For now, there will be tears and let them be shed. But then again, untrammeled love is mercurial. Appears to come, gives impression of exit, stays like a shadow, a soft light and a beacon, and all the world's knowing never answers fully questions that begin with ‘why.’  

But answers there will be. Among flowers. Upon a butterfly wing. In fruit juice and soda fizz. Rolling down a mountain. Dropping off the glance of a stranger. Or a friend. In a stubborn snowflake upon an impossible windowpane. Encased in a drop of water, a drop of poetry, a bead of sweat and a tear. In everyday ornament. In the subtext of a story reserved for four, distinct, utterly loved readers: Vanessa Laine, Natalia Diamante, Bianka Bella and Capri Kobe. 

And these answers will arrive in the name of every man who truly loved his woman, every father who adored his daughters, every daughter for whom there could be no greater heroes than her parents and every sister who was best friend to her sisters. 

This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [January 29, 2020]

malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com   

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...': 

[published in the 'Daily News' on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week]

28 January 2020

A dusk song for Rasika Jayakody

Rasika Jayakody is one of the finest writers of his generation. His Sinhala prose is exquisite. So too his poetry, both in Sinhala and English. Rasika launched his first book last Saturday (January 25). It is collection of articles — mostly what he had written for the now defunct ‘Rivira’ newspaper between 2007 and 2001 and some from his contributions to ‘Irudina’ (defunct as well). He titled it ‘Dawasak daa haendaewaka’ or ‘Reflections at Dusk.’  
As one of the speakers at the launch, Anuruddha Pradeep Karnasuriya, put it, the most compelling aspect of the collection is Rasika’s ability to script in deep philosophical matters upon the architecture of the everyday. His gaze pauses at things and processes that rarely stop most of us. He draws from then insights that don’t shout out, ‘here I am, come write me!’ 

The book will delight. Let me stop there without spoiling potential reading. 

This is about something else that Anuruddha said. During his short speech he briefly spoke on radicals and radicalism. Drawing from the Buddhist parable of the bowl moving upstream, Anuruddha made an interesting observation which I will paraphrase as follows: 

Udu gan balaa (deliberately going upstream or ‘swimming against the current’) has become so fashionable that there’s way too much traffic in that direction. It seems to me that the radical thing to do is to go downstream.’  

Rasika, he believes, is radical simply because he goes with the flow. He perceives things as they are, doesn’t scream and shout, stops when he has to, skirts the cataracts and gets to his destination. 

There’s another element to all this. There are upstreams and upstreams. You can name waterways and destinations. You can imagine non-existent currents. You can make everything sexy. You can swim with a crowd or swim alone. You can advertise the decision. There are lots of frills available and you can dress yourself as you wish. It might work. It might not. In the end you have to decide which way to swim, you have to figure out if you need an entourage, you have to ask yourself if advertising the fact of swimming and direction chosen is useful or not. Of course there could be some in the herd who are not conscious of company, care little about frills and go about the business of swimming without much fanfare. I feel they would constitute the exception. 

Anyway, does this make the person who resists the herd instinct or goes about things quietly a radical? Well, if ‘radical’ is doing what’s unusual, then yes. On the other hand, there could be lots doing ‘A Rasika’. There could be traffic in that direction as well. Then there’s the possibility that the Rasikas have chosen poorly when taking the plunge or wading in as the case may be.  

I believe Anuruddha was not talking of an entire population, but a segment that is fascinated with ‘the radical’. Typically it is not always those who would principally benefit from ‘radical change’ who are ‘radical’ and advertise the fact. It’s the ‘do gooders’. It’s not that they are in want, but they feel for those who are, or rather say they do. There’s nothing wrong in taking up someone else’s battles. There’s nothing wrong in marketing the particular project. There is however the danger of the need to market displacing the act(s) of objection and/or the revolutionary project.

Since we are talking waterways, quests and words, perhaps it would be good to end with a literary reference. Herman Hesse’s ‘Siddhartha.’ Siddhartha is the main protagonist. Govinda is a friend, a shadow in contrast to the shining Siddhartha. It’s Siddhartha’s story. Govinda is like an alter ego. It’s Siddhartha who picks ‘upstream’. They part ways. There’s resolution at the end of the story. Interestingly, upon a river and a raft. 

Labels. They are dangerous sometimes. Fixation with labels can detract and we can err in direction and destination. Such things come to us now and again. When they arrive at dusk, they are more poetic. Poets can write the moments. Rasika has.

This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [January 27, 2020]

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...': 

[published in the 'Daily News' on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week]

27 January 2020

Let’s dissolve parliament and parliamentarians

About 14 years ago, a young parliamentarian entertained a group of friends by doing excellent impressions of well-known and senior colleagues in Parliament. He had everyone in fits of laughter. Borrowing from the title of a cheap movie that nevertheless produced a few laughs, one of his friends said, ‘You are a parliament joker!’

The funny guy didn’t skip a beat. He smiled and retorted: ‘Why are you trying to devalue me? I don’t want to be a joker in Parliament, I want to be a joker for the entire country!’ That generated more laughs.  

Parliament would be funny if it weren’t such a sad place. It’s a sad apology for what it ought to be and what it used to be. Indeed, it’s not so much that we have parliament jokes but that parliament is a joke. It was already a joke before Ranjan Ramanayake’s theatrics. 

It is funny that for some Ramanayake is a hero. A clown, certainly, but no hero. When someone, who finding himself naked attempts to make a virtue of nudity, it is admirable in that he or she is trying to make the best out of a bad situation. That’s not heroic. Desperate, perhaps, but not heroic. Add wild accusations with absolutely no substantiation and a history of the despicable conduct with respect to engagement with the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, and it’s no laughing matter, clownish though it is. Further, those who cheer the man are essentially demonstrating that they are politically sophomoric and morally and intellectually suspect. 

And yet, Parliament is a joke. This is hard to deny. 

This Parliament has lost its mandate. Twice. The local government elections held on February 10, 2018 showed that parliamentary composition does not reflect the sentiments or rather the preferences of the voting population. The presidential elections held in November 2019 affirmed this fact in no uncertain terms. This parliament should have been dissolved a long time ago. It owes its longevity to the 19th Amendment, a carelessly written piece of legislation. It became law because careless or complicit MPs voted for it.

That however is a single technicality which shows incompetence on the part of representatives and one of many that subverts the spirit of democracy. It could be resolved through new legislation.  

The comical and yet sad nature of things parliamentary cannot be put down to the 19th Amendment, however. The political culture pervading parliamentary proceedings was not created by the passage of the 19th. It was there before. This is why it is not enough to do away with the 19th or dissolve Parliament at the earliest day possible as stipulated by the 19th. It may not even be enough to ‘get rid of the 225’ as some have advocated. The 225 sitting parliamentarians that is. Necessary, obviously, but certainly not sufficient.

We have a problem. The people are often blamed for voting clowns, idiots, crooks and even murderers to Parliament. On the other hand, people have to vote for candidates and not for random people they consider to be decent, honest, serious and competent. 

So, it boils down to the discretion of particular political parties. Parties are loathe, it seems, to think ‘quality’ or rather ‘good quality’ (as in unblemished character, proven competence and integrity). They have gone for ‘spenders,’ those who have the capital to contribute to the party’s campaign coffers. They have picked thugs because mobs are effective substitutes to the harder-to-develop grassroots party machine. Genealogy also counts, clearly. Spouses and children of senior politicians are included in lists. 

When there’s money and a large number of foot soldiers, it is not hard to paint even a devilish candidate as a saint. Even if a political party includes some decent people in their lists, such candidates don’t get seen, so to speak. 

All this is known. People are not happy about the way things are. And yet, the culture persists, hardly moved by the noises of objection. Clearly, parties are not serious. If they were they wouldn’t field such persons in the first place and secondly, wouldn’t smuggle into Parliament through the national list those candidates who have been rejected at the polls. 

We need a new parliament. We need a different kind of parliamentarian. We need a system which does not encourage the good to first look away when bad happens and later do the dirty themselves. 

Let’s put parties on notice. Parties, party leader and nomination committees.  Give us professionals. Give us competent people. Give us men and women of integrity. Don’t give us people who have proven that they are incompetent. Leave out the uncouth. Leave out those whose political journeys have coincided with asset enhancement. Leave out the boorish. Leave out those whose contributions to the law-making exercise have been marked by sloth, intellectual poverty and sycophancy. Give us such candidates and run the risk of being judged for being guilty of and accessories after the facts of further entrenching a stinking political culture.

We need a parliament, ladies and gentlemen. We don’t need to have our lives and futures decided in a wrestling arena by thugs, thieves and bad-mouthed morons. Politicians will do their thing. It would be optimistic indeed to expect them to change now. We can warn them and they can refuse to heed warning. And yet, we get to vote. We can choice the right people and if there are no right people, we can choose not to vote. 

We didn’t need Ranjan Ramanayake to tell us what we all already knew. He is no hero and cannot be one, not for a long time to come. We aren’t heroes but we certainly can be heroic. Just by doing the little things. Decisions. Decision on who we want. Decisions on boycotting that which screams out for rejection. 

The Parliament needs dissolution. The political culture too. Politicians will not dissolve themselves. That’s our job.  

This article was first published in the SUNDAY OBSERVER January 27, 2020

26 January 2020

Swiss Embassy Saga: ball in President’s court to end selective prosecution

Ishanka Malsiri, a young archaeologist, recently published one of the most exhaustive scholarly treatise I’ve read in Sinhala or English from anyone in the social sciences in this country. The title was ‘dutugemunuge harda saakshiyata pilithurak [A response to Dutugemunu’s conscience].’ The title is drawn from what the content is all about, an examination of claims made in Gananath Obeyesekera’s much celebrated essay about the conscience of the principal hero of the grand chronicle, the Mahawansa. What is most interesting and educative about Malsiri’s essay is that he has not only examined Gananath’s arguments, but has also examined the worth of claims made by those whose work Gananath appears to have taken as incontrovertible truths. 

In other words, sometimes we have people deliberately making claims and treating them as fact. Sometimes the errors are unintended. Sometimes some political objective leads people to the error of selectivity and general sloth when it comes to citation. There’s a tendency to refute those arguments that contradict the thesis people want to champion and an equal degree of reluctance to question arguments that support preferred narratives. Multiple and cross citation by scholars, political activists and others do the rest. Even those who claim ‘history is a version’ and go a step further to claim that the Mahawansa was written by racist Buddhist monks forget the subjective nature of narrative. All of a sudden, we have ‘fact’. We have myth that is worked into myth models and then we have ‘history.’

There’s a tendency to ignore something that is very basic to any investigation: reliability of source. This is a phenomenon that’s often evident in history and historiography. It is even more evident in the privileging of narratives in political machinations.

Take for example the narrative that certain political agents have agreed upon to privilege and treat as fact with respect to the last stage of military operations by the Sri Lankan security forces against the terrorist organization, the LTTE. Everything is framed by agenda. Gananath has presumed that Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism is one of the key if not the only cause of inter-communal tensions in the island. He sets out to prove it. Similarly we had Yasmin Sooka, Marzuki Darusman and Steven R Ratner (who made the committee appointed by the UN Secretary General to advise him on issues of accountability and allegations of violations (human rights and humanitarian law), Gordon Weiss (author of ‘The Cage’) and other ‘experts’ on Sri Lanka, conflict, conflict resolution, accountability etc., etc., making all kinds of tendentious claims. 

What were these claims based on? Narratives! Who were the narrators? Well, there were people who had a political interest in portraying things in a particular way. Many of them were clearly disappointed that preferred outcomes had not materialized. They said, essentially, ‘so and so told us’. Who constitute these ‘so and so’? Well, others who were told things by still others. Dig further. Go back. Find ‘original source.' In the end you find a source that is unreliable on account of being politically compromised. For example, a doctor who makes a statement under duress or a combatant whose claims need to be treated with suspicion simply because he or she is in the business of killing unarmed civilians including old people, the sick, pregnant mothers and children.

When ‘reports’ come out, that original source is left out. The story takes off from a let’s say ‘reliable point.’ In the end it’s a UN panel of experts that has the last word. No longer do we have allegations. We have facts. Presumption of innocence is now flushed down a pernicious political toilet bowl. They even go a step further: in order to garnish the feast they say ‘let’s have a trial’. They say that and add ‘by the way, now that we have established (!) that Sri Lanka will not have a judicial process that is clean and independent, we will have a neutral (!) panel of judges.’ Yes, the neutrals are hand-picked. Fait accompli. Lies agreed upon.  

All this is preamble. ‘Allegation amounts to conclusive evidence of wrongdoing’ is essentially the drama enacted by the big bosses of the Yahapalanaya regime between January 2015 and November 2019 the Yahapalana government. It was all about ‘Get that man!’ or ‘Get that woman!’. The objective was clear. What was required was to come up with evidence. Well, they couldn’t find anything tangible. The stories, however, made the rounds. 

Now, it can be argued that not all the movers and shakers were committed to a witch hunt (just as we can’t blame everyone associated with processes to vilify Sri Lanka as conspirators in a vile operation). It maybe that they heard narratives related by people they trusted (just like the Darusman Committee, regurgitating the politically compromised narrative of NGO racketeers who batted for the then Opposition). In other words, they were convinced. They convicted, for all intents and purposes, in that grand and unsavory court called MEDIA.  

Now let’s move to the Swiss Embassy saga. It all began when pro-UNP websites reported a ‘white van abduction’. ‘Sexual assault’ was thrown into the narrative. Spice. The New York Times picked it up. Legitimacy. In the end, when the question of evidence came up, there was a lot of egg on the faces of the narrators, from Sri Lanka to New York through Switzerland.

What happened next? The CCTV evidence was examined. The identity of the ‘abducted’ woman and her movements were investigated. The narrative fell apart. The Swiss backtracked. Damage control.

Naturally, thereafter, the identities, politics and conduct of the players were investigated because it was an incident that could have snowballed into an international matter with seriously adverse effects on Sri Lanka. Four names came up and were even mentioned in court: the ‘abducted’ woman Garnier Banister Francis, former CID Director SSP Shani Abeysekera, Dharisha Bastians (former editor of the Sunday Observer and also a correspondent for the New York Times) and Krishantha Cooray (former Chairperson, Lake House). They made calls to each other, it was claimed.

Garnier Banister Francis is the key individual. It’s her story that the Swiss Embassy officials believed and made so much noise about, only to back off when evidence showed they had been hasty and quite undiplomatic in the statements made (why, though?). Shani Abeysekera’s credentials are at worst questionable at this point. Dharisha Bastians has made a career out of information-jugglery. 

What of Krishantha Cooray? Let me state my biases here. Krishantha was the founding CEO of Rivira Media Corporation (Pvt) Ltd., and hired me as the Deputy Editor (Features) of the now defunct ‘The Nation.’ We have issues with each other’s political preferences. We are friends, nevertheless. I tease him often about me trusting him to trust untrustworthy people. We are friends and we openly criticize each other. Krishantha is sensitive and emotional. He goes out of his way to help anyone in need, even those who don’t identify with his political choices. I don’t agree with the way he ran Lake House or rather the editorial policy of that institution during his watch; he wasn’t worse than his predecessors but he could have been better. And yet, during his term, the company made unprecedented profits.

[I've written about Krishantha on one other occasion, way back in the year 2009 when he fled the country in the aftermath of attacks on Keith Noyahr and Upali Tennekoon: 'It is time to thrust sword into sheath' -- The Sunday Island, September 20, 2009]

Krishantha is obviously not a friend of this Government for he was politically very much a UNPer. He was seen as a key behind-the-scenes person in that regime and that party. Now, his name has been dragged into the Swiss Embassy saga. 

Both the President and the Prime Minister have stated in public that he was involved. Why should anyone make such a claim? Either they have compelling evidence or some person or persons they trusted told them that compelling evidence was indeed available.  That’s trust. Does not necessarily imply reliability in a broader sense. In the end the evidence has to be laid out and assessed.

So far, all we’ve heard mention are telephone conversations. Not the content, but the specific fact of someone calling someone else. Initially it was mentioned that Krishantha and Garnier had 40 odd phone conversations. When? For how long? On this, there’s no evidence that such conversations had indeed taken place.  Court was told that Krishantha had spoken with Shani. On how many occasions? When? We don’t have details. And anyway, what's wrong in these two individuals having a conversation? It is not illegal, is it? 

We need the details. Krishantha was the official Chairperson of Lake House until he tendered his resignation on the 22nd of November or thereabouts. Forget the exact date. He was in charge at least until the morning of the 17th. Dharisha was the editor of a Lake House publication. If all phone records were perused, it can’t be impossible to find out how many times they communicated over the phone every month or every day on average. Nothing intrinsically wrong here.  

Let’s suppose they did speak over the phone even after the election. What’s wrong with that? Now Dharisha is supposed to have spoken with Garnier. When first did they communicate? Now let’s assume that there was heightened communications between Garnier and Dharisha during those ‘abduction days.' Does that implicate Dharisha? Was she part of some sinister plot? 

That’s just suspicion. It does not constitute conclusive evidence of involvement. For instance, Dharisha, given her political preferences and prejudices, may have wanted information, perhaps to file a story in the New York Times. She has on occasion rushed to conjure all kinds of fairy tales based on ‘evidence’ pumped by unreliable sources. That’s poor journalism. That much can be concluded. It does not indicate involvement in some sinister plan to stage an abduction and discredit a government.  

If indeed Dharisha and Krishantha spoke during the same period, does it constitute proof of Krishantha’s involvement as well (assuming Dharisha is guilty as charged)? Not necessarily. It’s one individual discussing something with someone he/she has known for more than 15 years. They could have been talking about the weather. They could have been discussing options for the UNP after Sajith Premadasa was resoundingly defeated by Gotabaya Rajapaksa for all we know.  

The fact is, we do not know. 

We do not know. What we have is speculation. What we have is reference to phone conversations without details being furnished. No dates. Nothing about the length of the calls. And absolutely nothing about what was spoken between the concerned parties.

Gananath Obeysekera indicted the Sinhala Buddhists based on what is now known to be erroneous conclusions drawn by dubious or careless scholars. The UNHRC, the UNP and their NGO adjuncts lynched the Sri Lankan security forces by treating conjecture and narratives from unreliable sources as fact. Is that what is being done to Krishantha Cooray? 

We need the truth. And if truth is being distorted for whatever reason we need to know who is doing that and why.  Otherwise what this government would be doing, simply put, is what the Yahapalana Regime did and what the USA, UK, EU, UNHRC, UNP and their lackeys have done.  

This is a test case for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He can put an end to the culture of selective prosecution and deliberate vilification. He can be the Ishanka Malsiri of the political firmament. Indeed, we can all try to emulate Malsiri.


How about creating some history?

Kylian Mbappé Lottin, 21, the best young football players and clearly among the best in the world according to some, already has an excellent reputation for finishing, dribbling and speed. Mbappé plays for Paris Saint-Germain and of course for France. 

He's young. He has dreams. Specifically, ‘the treble of the Champions League, European Championship and the Olympic Games.’ That would not be bad, he adds in a classic understatement. He’s realistic, though. He admits that it appears unattainable but insists ‘I am going to make sure that I fulfill this dream.’

Mbappé said all this in the course of an interview with BBC where he spoke about his career, how far he’s come, where he is and of course Liverpool: ‘What Liverpool do in this moment is amazing. They’re like a machine, they’ve found a rhythm and are like “we play again, we play again.”’ 

It’s true. Liverpool is excellently positioned to secure the club’s first Premier League title since 1990. Mbappé captures the performance well: ‘They’ve lost zero games. When you watch you think everything’s easy, but that’s not easy. The guys are focused, they play games every three days and they win, they win, they win.’

He might as well have been talking about himself. It seems easy but it is not. He’s focused. On what’s important, one might add. And that’s what this is all about. Speaking about PSG, Mbappé acknowledged that it is a young club: we do not have the history of the other clubs, but we want to create the history.’

The desire to make history. That’s important. Especially when you’ve got to do it more or less from scratch. Legends don’t fall from the sky. They are not the creations of extraordinary good fortune. They are produced by hard work; long years of toil that go unnoticed. 

Mbappé joined PSG before he was named the best young player in 2018, the year he helped France win the World Cup. Today the big name clubs are watching him. He’s valuable. If they could they would try to recruit him. But for now, he wants to help his club to win a third straight French title. He’s going about the business of making history. 

History is made, but as Karl Marx pointed out, it’s not made in the circumstances of our choice. Had that been the case this world would not be what it is. It would be like having a card with unlimited credit to order whatever you want from whatever restaurant you like. 

Mbappé has a dream. That kind of frames his life. And yet, it is all about being like Liverpool (this season). You have to turn up for the game. You have to give it your all. Do the little things. Do the hard things. Do what is necessary. The result? Well, they take care of themselves. If you spend time envisioning your celebratory dance after scoring a spectacular goal, the chances are someone’s going to steal the ball from you. If you can’t get over a goal that you could have prevented but didn’t, well then you might concede another one. 

History. It comes in many shapes, sizes and colors. A league title. Excellent results at an examination. Turning barren piece of land into an orchard. Noticing things that you’ve allowed your gaze to pass over, again and again. Little things. Big things. Some that will be recognized by all and some no one will ever notice or, if notice, will not associate with you. The result of individual striving. A collective drive. 

Who turned Liverpool into a legendary team? How is it that in Sri Lanka, a country that’s not on the Basketball Map of the World, there are people who know of the Lakers and Celtics? Someone or some people, some day or over a long period of time, worked hard. They made history. They played again, they played again, they won, they won, they won. They were Mbappés, in other words.

This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [January 24, 2020]

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...': 
[published in the 'Daily News' on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week]