06 December 2013

Notes to a doctrine of un-walling


Colombo today is far more wall-less than it used to be three years ago.  It has been a gradual and deliberate process.  Colombo is now re-landscaped, looks prettier and more livable.  A lot of money has been spent on roads, pavements and such, but if the ‘livability’ factor has been enhanced by one thing, it is the decision to bring down walls. 

It was all spurred by the removal of terrorist-threat, a factor that has produced many positive outcomes.  In short, ‘wall-less’ is a product of ‘fear-less’.  There are two wall-related anecdotes that are relevant here.  

About a year ago a family purchased a plot of land near our house.  They started building. One day, chit-chatting with my neighbor, our conversation wandered to the issue of security.  We’ve lived there for a little more than 10 years. There have been the occasional and petty theft; a bucket, a pair of shears, mammoty and a few missing coconuts.  Nothing ‘major’.  And we have walls.  Not high ones.  But I’ve realized that height seldom forbids.  I told my neighbor that if anything can stop a thief it is good-heartedness. 

The point is that there is no such thing as ‘100% secure’.  When the walls around the National Archives came down my father was more than a little worried considering the invaluable documents the building contains.   My response: ‘Walls are only one particular security device.’ 

We live in a world where privacy is not obtained by brick and mortar.  Roofs do not shelter.  Insurance is ‘after fact’ and companies who promise much get cagey when asked to deliver.  We can have the most advanced security system in the world with sophisticated surveillance cameras and an army of security guards, but are private lives can still be invaded, especially if one uses devices such as mobile phones, iPads, laptops etc.  One can be hacked without a machete, let’s put it that way. 

We cherish our privacy.  We may think we are safe and cocooned from prying eyes.  Indeed we may even die believing that we took our secrets to our graves. The truth is, at best, we can never really be sure. 

If those who really want to see what we look like when are unclothed, metaphorically speaking of course, can do so without breaking a sweat, there’s little we can do about it.  If there are things we do that we don’t want people to know about the chances are that we are not honest to ourselves and to the world.  More seriously there are lives we don’t want to lose by living other lives ‘in secret’.  If we have something to hide the chances are that it is something which, if others get to know, would embarrass us. 

In this day and age, then, embarrassment is something we cannot count out.  So if you can’t take the hit, you should not step up to the plate, to use a baseball metaphor. 

It’s not just about private lives though.  Those who use invisible pathways that no wall or security guard can block are not always interested in discovering dirty secrets. Many such peeping toms are actually mining information that can yield rich rewards.  It is one thing to be seen naked in your shower (metaphorically) and quite another to have your wardrobe stolen (again, speaking metaphorically). 

Naturally, the better endowed have more to lose.  Sadly, wealth seems to come with an unwelcome party-pooper, ‘threat’.   That companion has many eyes, is nimble of foot and has a hundred fingers, all delicate, and is armed with ingenuity.  You have to employ all resources just to make sure he doesn’t get up to any mischief and this means you really can’t entertain your rich friend. 

We have come far, as a species.  Have we come too far?  The walls are coming down, but are other, invisible, contraptions coming up in their place?  Do they offer relief or more headaches? Are we lesser prisoners?  How do we free ourselves?  Can we un-wall like we un-friend or is it that our fixations have taken possession of our minds?  Can we let go? 

Colombo looks so much prettier, wall-less.  Maybe we could ‘let go’ too, un-wall ourselves, bit by bit, and be terror-free thereby, i.e. the reverse process of the city. 

 msenevira@gmail.com

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