19 May 2014

Five years after the fighting ceased

When do wars end?  Do they end with surrender, with military annihilation of protagonist, the recovery of livelihoods, reconstruction of houses, hospitals, schools, return of the displaced, erasing off things with military signature, free and fair elections and a shaking of hands all around?  Do wars end that way, ever, though?  Isn’t it true that the wars that have truly ‘ended’ for all practical purposes those which are beyond recall and whose identity-ties have been smudged by the movement of people and dwarfed by event after earth-shattering event?

What do people do in after-war nations that are yet to conclude their memory-wars?  Do they wait and wait and wait?  No.  Life lives through all wars.  Even in the most terrible conflagrations, amid the worst deprivations, caught in the swirl of loss and sorrow, people can’t roll over and die.  They breathe, they hope and they do their best to survive.  In post-war nations, peoples who have eked out an existence in the harshest of circumstances are naturally ‘better off’ than they were and perhaps better equipped to face new challenges.  But that’s not what is important.  What is important is that they are alive and do not have to deal with the kinds of uncertainties that attend armed conflicts.

And it is the same for those who lived outside the better defined war-zones: places whose young residents were in the battlefield and places that were bombed or were legitimate targets. The entire island was such a place.  These people too have memory-wars to deal with.  And yet, just as they breathed during the war, so too do they breathe now. 

There was more than breathing and anxiety during those endless bloody days that bled into bloody nights that ended as bloody mornings, again and again and again.  There was conversation. There was quarrel.  There was wanting-to-know.  There was a child’s curiosity. There was an old man’s indulgence in a pastime that cannot be discarded – reading newspapers, even if they are old, even if he’s already heard it from the radio or a neighbor.

Abducted though they could very well be the next moment and duly robbed of childhood, children did child-things. They still do. It couldn’t have been laugh-less back then and it is not laugh-less now.  There was color but far more discoloration that the eye could take; but eye adjusted to the dismal and the eye re-adjusted to the return of color.

Even as people struggle with accumulated anguish and things that can only die in any meaningful way with death, even as they have to contend with the fact that days gone by haunt their wakeful hours, even though they know that memory doesn’t sleep at night, people live on.  They draw water from the well, they draw yield from the earth that has not lost its goodness, they seek, find, give and obtain love, and indulge in everyday joys regardless of their dimensions. 

During terrible times even as despair prompts the questioning and doubting of faith and deity respectively, even as places of worship get turned into refuge for the homeless and fearful or cover for men with guns, even as temples are desecrated or destroyed, the sacred resists, the sacred denies all intruders, whatever their uniform, whatever their rhetoric of fervor.  Holy days did not become unholy.  But such days call for greater faith and firm footfall as the faithful re-embrace traditions and customs that nothing, not even war, can burn easily.
 
There are faces in this land, the territories once called ‘cleared’ and ‘uncleared’, weary places where bombs exploded and where bombs were expected to explode. There are hands and feet.  There are eyes and therefore there is gaze.  They look and are looked upon.  Every single expression in the so-called un-reconciled earth can be found in other parts of the island supposedly ‘reconciled’, for memory-angst does not forbid living.  Memory-wars do not bury the fear of death or the will to live.  In every nook and corner of this island there are eight things that are common to all: joy and sorrow, profit and loss, praise and blame, and prestige and obscurity.  And all peoples, to a lesser or greater extent, find ways of dealing with these vicissitudes, some with equanimity, some with resignation and others with arrogance.  


There are streets and street corners.  They’ve been wiped of war’s inevitable dullness and desolation.  The colors of hope have returned.  The music of a normalcy it would have been too optimistic to envision not too long ago fills township and vendors, marketplaces and shoppers.  Even those who loiter, do so because it is good at times to just let the world pass by. 

There will be an old man reading a newspaper while waiting for someone to come with a flat tyre that needs to be patched up.  There will be a toddy-tapper dancing on a rope, moving from tree to tree. There will be fisherman setting out to sea.  The casting of nets and gathering of catch.There will be the gathering of communities.  Construction.  Men and women you might see collecting firewood. There will be harvesting. Cattle will be fed and watered. 

These are not representative stories of the formerly conflict-ridden regions.  These are the ‘everydays’ of people all over the island. And yet these are also images of determination and resolve.  They are the ‘moving-on’ narratives of work, industry, commerce and tough engagement with the social and physical universe, expressions of the indomitable character of the human being to resist subduing.  They are stories of these times; stories that no doubt carry trace of ‘those times’ that came before but are nevertheless inscribed by a kind of ‘resolution’ the users of that word may not understand or even care about.  They are inscribed, also, by a reconciliation of a far more significant kind embedded with gravity of meaning that the users of that word, reconciliation, probably do not have the intellectual, ideological or political endowments to fathom. 


Previously too, there was reconciliation.  People were reconciled to what was considered the fact of inevitability.  Tragedy was expected.  The only thing that counted was the ‘when’ of it all.  This is reconciliation to something else.  Reconciliation to the fact that all that is over, that there will come a tomorrow that’s worth investing hope in, that there is a huge difference being recipient of context and partner in context-creation.

It is all written in line and curve, on face and frame, backdrop and foreground, the random configurations of people and things that narrate a time that is not the best of times but is most certainly times that are infinitely better than times past.
   
Yes, wars truly end for all practical purposes when they move beyond recall and whose identity-ties have been smudged by the movement of people and dwarfed by event after earth-shattering event. From war to memory-war, from the end of war to the irrelevance of memory is a journey of many generations.  But from that first conflagration of sound and fury and through the less loud and less in-your-face struggles of the memory-war to some war-less time, one thing does happen.  People move. People move on. 

This is a moving-on story that we are all a part of.  A moving-on story replete with obstinacy and intransigence, where one-upmanship is part of script, where victor, so-called, will not concede ground and loser, so-called, will demand by way of compensation everything that was fought for to no avail.  A moving-on story where ‘reconciliation’ is code word for extraction and legitimating claims based on myth and land-greed.  A moving-story where such the exaggeration of grievance is responded to with objection to both exaggeration and grievance. 

It is a moving-on story that will be long but will be read nevertheless with reader interjecting preference into narrative. 

And among those who write there will be those endowed with patience and humility, generosity and reason; they may make the lesser numbers, but just as the tyrannies of the world are perpetuated by the few, so too the reversal of the vile. 


Wars never end neatly.  Recovery is never smooth.  Other struggles, wars if you will, can and do weave in and out of these processes, adding or subtracting color as the case may be.  There’s one thing that’s not in dispute, though.  No one wants to return to that other time.  For that very reason, this moving-on will water the earth.  Some flowers must bloom.  
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