04 April 2012

A preamble to a proposal for a post-war memorial

[This was first published in December 2010 and although the pro-LTTE voices didn't get as silenced as I thought they had at the time, that whining/screaming should not forbid what I propose below]

In June 2006 The Nation newspaper, in its ‘Eye’ section had a two page spread on war memorials.  I was at the time the Deputy Editor (Features) and I remember inserting two illustrations to decorate the pages.  The first was a cemetery set up by the LTTE.  The second was a blank space, duly boxed, to acknowledge all the 20,000 young men and women who were killed in the 1971 insurrection and the 60,000 who perished in the UNP-JVP bheeshanaya of 1988-89.   

In the first, tellingly, the birthdays and date of death had been omitted, for the LTTE had sent thousands of children to death. That’s something the pro-Eelam sections of the Tamil Diaspora don’t talk about even though it is their money that helped those innocent kids hurry into the Great Beyond.  The decision to insert that photograph was to acknowledge the fact that even those who died fighting the cause of a myth-mongering megalomaniac were nevertheless citizens of this country, needlessly sacrificed. 

Today, more than 4 years later, we are in a post-war situation.  Pro-Eelam sections of the Tamil Diaspora can rest easy that their brethren are not getting killed, even if they are upset that the end of the war also means that Sinhalese and Muslims (and yes, non-LTTE Tamils) are not dying in their hundreds. 

Yesterday was the moment of the tyrant, the rule of dread, the wails of orphans, sighs of widows, landscapes being scarred, scars being opened and re-opened, economies from household to national being devastated, temples being desecrated. Yesterday was made of waiting. It was made of wait dripping to shoulder-shrug to grin-and-bare.  Yesterday saw the consecration of helplessness, attended by the lie of invincibility. Yesterday belonged to quacks calling themselves historians and political analysts and pundits pampered by dubious dollars pontificating on all things under the sun, conferring legitimacy to a terrorist, twisting wild-claim into birth-right. 

Today we are terror-free and voices of Prabhakaran’s lackeys quickly moved from shout to whine and whine to silence.  Yesterday we held our breath, expecting an explosion any moment.  Today we are a breathing people.

Yesterday was made of wounds. Today, we must seek healing. 

Today I remembered those two photographs because there are things we should not forget.  History is written by the victor, this is true.  However, even a cursory reading of arguably the greatest and in many ways most rigorous chronicle, the Mahawamsa, would reveal that there are other ways of writing history, where blemish is called blemish and the fallen celebrated for that which is worthy of celebration. 

Today, in this moment of reconciliation, even as claim remains unsubstantiated and grievance (mis-articulated by way of exaggeration) un-redressed, there are things that need to be acknowledged.

Wars are about all kinds of things. Ideologies. Claims. Disputes.  Wars generate death. Destruction. Displacement. Wars are not happy things. They bring out the worst in human beings.  War is an excellent residence for cruelty.  Wars nevertheless bring out the best in the human being as well.  Bravery. Sacrifice. Heroism.  None of these can be monopolized by one party to the conflict.  Just as much as we cannot condone cruelty so too can we not forget heroism.

Those who fight each other are not one in objective. War’s end allow for retraction, admission of guilt and forgiveness on account of all kinds of errors, especially those that are not sourced to ideology and objective. War’s end can of course result in a putting-behind and moving ahead on account of changed circumstances, but that’s something that should not be taken as given. Still, I believe that a different kind of embrace is possible and indeed desirable.

Both victor and vanquished share the will to live and fear of death, both share the fact of indulging and suffering cruelty, both are one in heroism. Close to a hundred thousand citizens of this country perished over the past 30 years in a needless war.  They were all children of this land, sons and daughters of mothers and father who would never have envisaged the babies they cradled would suffer the fate they did.  They all died in vain. 

The true monument of reconciliation should occur in hear. The true embrace should be the clasp of heartbeat with heartbeat only made possible by recognition of common humanity.  Takes time.  Until then let us grieve our dead and mark our grievance with a monument to all our citizens who died, whichever side they fought on whatever political signature was etched on the bullet that ensured dream-end. 

Let there be a war memorial etched with all names, a grand mix of identity, so we can remind ourselves that our past, bloody and tear-filled, was made of an inextricable weaving of lives, so too should our future be; made of ourselves and one another, in our common humanity and common destiny as children born on this island who will have to live and live together, breathe and breathe together, now and always.