28 July 2011

Patriots were cursed not too long ago…

‘You’ve been writing a lot about intersections lately,’ a friend observed.  I don’t know.  I never planned it that way.  I’ve come to a point where I think life is nothing but a set of intersections.  We see some while some remain invisible.  We notice some and un-notice others.  Maybe this is true for coincidences too.  The how and why of it is I am sure made for stimulating exploration and perhaps it is laziness and nothing else that make me wary of engaging with such questions.  All I know is that certain things happen when they are needed. 

For several months I’ve wanted to write about a man and a book.   Since I know him and since he’s a friend, he and his book have got constantly pushed aside.  Friends can and will wait, I’ve always believed.  This morning I was determined to do justice to the book he had kindly sent me, not by way of review, but comment.  Frankly, I would not dare attempt review simply because of the voluminous nature of the information within the covers and the lack of academic training to evaluate the worth of the same.

As always, before I set out to write this column, I checked my email.  Here’s what was on top: ‘During a time of change, the patriot is a scarce man.  He is hated and scorned.  When his cause succeeds however, the timid join him.  For then it costs nothing to be a patriot.’

That was Mark Twain.  When I saw Palitha Senanayake’s ‘Sri Lanka: the war fuelled by peace’, a 600 page account of the struggle to come to terms to history, politics, deprivations, suspicion, disenchantment and terrorism and of course all the tragedies that are part and parcel of war-making and war-ending, similar thoughts about patriots and patriotism came to mind. 

‘Time of change’ is of course relative.  Sometimes change of any kind takes so long that it is tough to figure out if one is located before, during or after the relevant process.   In this case, we can safely say that the nineties and the early years of this millennium was about believing certain well crafted lies and suffer vilification for refusing to go along. 

Many went along out of convenience, fear and of course the temptation for pocket-lining.  Some did not.  They were called racists, chauvinists, extremists, war-mongers.  No one paid them any money for expressing and defending the truths they subscribed to.  No one paid them any compliments.  It was all about convictions. 

Palitha Senanayake was convinced.  He was convinced that Eelamist posturing had no foundation in history.  He was convinced that the ‘unwinnability’ vociferously proclaimed by those in the high seats of power and their darlings in academe and the media, and of course the NGO circuit was a monumental lie.  Palitha was not alone but neither was he in the company of thousands of the like-minded.  To be honest, the numbers were hand-countable.  Some, like the indefatigable Dr. Nalin De Silva and Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera as well as the redoubtable S.L. Gunasekera were known names. They had public profiles. Palitha Senanayake did not.

And yet he wrote. And he wrote and wrote.  Not all newspapers accommodated him.  I believe he would have to write 4-5 articles before some kind editor carried something he had sent.   He was one of the few ‘scarce men’ at the time.  He called a lie a lie and pointed out that the had to be done had to be attempted.  Change came eventually and there was no scarcity of patriots after that, i.e. when it became apparent that the Palitha Senanayakes were correct: the LTTE could be and had to be militarily eliminated.  In the rush of patriotic fervour, the scarce men of that earlier time were conveniently forgotten.  They had not asked for recognition then, they did not demand acknowledgment later.  They did what they had always done: did their utmost given constraints of time, energy and ability, to protect the land of their ancestors and to defend the truths they believed in.

It was, as Palitha says, a war that was fuelled by peace.  The war came before the peace that fuelled it arrived of course and Palitha is not unaware of this.  Indeed, his book details all that history as well as the myths that Eelamist presented to the world as fact.  He traces a history which no doubt is framed by preferences (as all histories are of course).  It is open to contestation, but this book indicates that the author has not conjured things out of thin air.  It shows extensive reading and study of a wide range of material, a literature from many quarters, agreeable as well as distasteful.  That he has mixed into it thought, reflection and a an acute sense of the present and the future is itself praiseworthy.

Histories are about those who wave the flag at the tail-end of ‘change’.  They would not have got to hold flag had not others, like Palitha, stuck to their guns, bore the insults with stoicism, dug their feet deep into the soil of the land they loved and resisted.

That’s all I can say about intersections right now.  It should suffice.  As for the book, may it be read by those who remember the hard times as well as those who made those times hard.  They’ll all learn something about history and about themselves.
Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com


fayaz said...

i'm a muslim and had always believed that the sinhalese will always have Allah by their side they would win simply because the cause was right. and unlike any muslim country of today, they show the best example of islamic kindness to us muslims..

for where have you seen, in which pat of the world have u witnessed, southern govts paying northern public servants their dues and provided for tamils during the tsunami etc etc, too much to write about..