13 February 2012

On the inclusivity-clause of historiography

Udaya Meddegama once wrote a poem about the Mahawamsa, clearly the most comprehensive account of what happened in this island.  Those who vilify it cannot counter it with any other account written with scholarly rigor that can match it and flounder in a sad process of myth modeling, extensive cross-quoting and other cheap propaganda devices wrapped as historical account. 

They claim it was written by ‘racist Buddhist monks’. The breadth and depth of the tract is such that it would warrant an entire Department or even School (like those in India dedicated to the study of the Mahabharatha and Ramayana), but Sri Lanka lacks historians and people with academic vision.  Vilification is easier.  Such people would be humbled if they read the meticulously researched commentaries of Kuliyapitiye Prananda. 

Meddegama observes: the ‘Sinhala’ race was fathered by the ruffian son of a patricidal and incestuous father whose mother’s sexual fascination was bestiality.  Some start to a ‘racist’ account written by a chauvinist.  The Mahawamsa, then, is an unforgiving narrative. 

History’s players are never one dimensional; the chronicler should not be swayed by great deed to footnote or erase blemish; not in hero and not in usurper.  If history is indeed written by the winners for the glorification of winners, then the Mahawamsa is quite a poor account. 

The above preamble was provoked by the second anniversary of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka’s arrest and talk of updating the chronicle to include that which came after and especially the struggle to free the nation from terrorism.  History will remember and forget and the particular mix of the two is never predictable.  Key facts, however, can and must be recorded.

Fonseka played an historic role. Fonseka, thereafter, lost it.  He was hero, undoubtedly, and he was villain too. Undoubtedly.  The villainy dilutes heroism but rigorous chronicling is unmoved by such things.

The man’s ambition, inflated self-worth, political naiveté etc., and a now proven inability to operate in unfamiliar terrain cost him dearly.  His mean-spiritedness, treacherous and irresponsible ways don’t exactly make him paintable in heroic colours alone. 

He did not win it all single-handedly, but he was key enough to warrant special mention, as much as the Navy and Air Force Commanders, the Defence Secretary, the political leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and those who stoutly resisted all efforts to derail the drive on the diplomatic front did.  Perhaps less, all things considered, but certainly not more. 

He has immense spoiler-potential as I have argued: ‘He has been flip-flopping so much about the white-flags story that no government tasked with safeguarding a nation’s sovereignty can afford to risk mouth-shooting from Fonseka; not because truth should be suppressed, but because he cannot be trusted to be honest.  He can lie in order to exact revenge for perceived wrongs and has proved he is not above putting vengeance above nation.  And he’s not Private Fonseka, he’s the former Army Commander.  Even a lie from a mouth that big can have disastrous consequence for nation and citizen.’  (Daily Mirror, October 20, 2010).

I also stated the following: ‘All this is irrelevant when placed in the context of the overall framework of the law.  Laws should not be broken or twisted and principles should not be selectively applied even in the best interest of the country because it creates bad precedent.  Regardless of the ‘necessity’ element, there is clear ill-will in the execution of proceedings against Fonseka and it does not matter whether the man intended to slaughter the Rajapaksas and their friends within 24 hours of being elected President (if that had happened of course).’

We are talking history here though, not law.  There were many others who erred and in far more serious ways.  Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan aka ‘Colonel Karuna’ for example.  There is a time to fight and a time to forgive, forget and move on, but even these things are irrelevant to the spirit of the law.  ‘Karuna’ is officially a ‘good boy’ now; Fonseka is officially a ‘bad boy’.  But history, when it is recorded, must mention both good and bad.  Either way, both warrant mention, for happy and unhappy reasons.  Write them out, or write them partially, and the error will amount to misinforming generations yet unborn.  It may not matter, but it could. That is the danger. 

A story is not story enough when key incident and key player are written out. It must include the soldier who laid down life for country, the LTTE cadre who marked the earth and memory with his or her heroism, the errant combatants, the suicide bomber, the criminals against humanity and those who marshaled forces to win back a nation, civilization and a tomorrow for our children.  In all their colours, with all the good and bad, the unforgettable and forgettable.

[First published in 'The Nation', February 12, 2012] 


fayaz said...

well thought out and written sir..

Shaik Ahamath said...

There is a good reason these pages of history containing the good, the bad and the ugly, has to be written. There are many around ever willing to paint a different skewed picture and fifty years from now when the participants are no more, our children might be asked for their response.