11 June 2014

On the 'Suddha' resident within us*

It was Alvis in Wonderland who got me going about white-ness, or the 'acting the suddha' thing and of course the whole black-and-white business of condescension and viceroy-posturing on the part of certain white people holding obscure posts in UN agencies, INGOs etc. Alvis had a response to my piece titled 'The black and white of the (mis) information industry'. I will get to it presently.

That article also elicited a comment (via email) regarding the issue of post-coloniality. The following question was put to me: 'Can ever we rid ourselves of the baggage of a colonial past in continuance to be 'post colonials'; can we ever be rid of that linkage which can transfigure as a form of mental bondage?' A possible answer followed:

Retired supreme court judge and once acting CJ, R.S Wanasundera who is a close friend of the family once said in the course of a conversation with my father that we should completely forget that we were ever under them (the Brits and the rest of the european bandits) and that even the Independence Day is a reminder which is structured in our polity to remind us of our former colonial past.'

Is it possible? I am not sure. The past is never packed up and 'disappeared' in some irretrievable archive. It is present and it is alive, one-way or another, sometimes in perverse ways. The 'solution' (in so far as this is a problem, and I believe it is one) is probably located in how we relate to that past, that very violent past of plundering resources, killing hundreds of thousands of people, forcible conversion, destruction of Buddhist and Hindu places of worship and other forms of attempted culture-erasure. All in the name of 'civilization' and 'civilizing', of cleansing the 'heathens' etc.

Unnecessary attachment to things, tangible and otherwise, is a recipe for discontent. This is what Siddhartha Gauthama taught. If we look back at the colonial era with awe and reverence (as some do even today) we are being toady, a bunch of no-good imitators at best or, more commonly, a nation of slaves. This is an inhibiting condition.

What of the opposite, the looking-back-in-anger option, so to speak? That too is an Upadana, an inevitable grasping of the act of rejection as well as the object rejected that inhibits clarity of thought, prevents concrete and meaningful unfettering of that past, its violence and its baggage.

It is something that has to be dealt with and not wished away, I believe. We have to look at the past, in what it did and what it does, we have to look at its articulation in this moment in time and we have to look it in the eye without flinching, without blinking. Here's where the irreverent Alvis comes in;

'It is rather very apparent here, where whites talk as if they live in paradise in the West (aka NATO land) and were hard put to come by here, the moment you ask them where they are from in the US or Canada and Australia and EXACTLY who lived on that land a hundred years ago, or if they had any black or 'Native Indian neighbours, mates or peers - they deflate...but its not their fault...it is our fault...'cos we let them...our ruling class lets them...and that class there (and here, though more covert) has long benefited from being their 'jobbers, 'and in the end, a loan here and a preference there, is all they need...to wipe out generations of people...'

The key qualifier here, to me, is 'we let them'. Yes, it is our fault. My friend Udayasiri Wickramaratne said it beautifully in one of his 'Arthika Vihilu' columns for the Irida Divaina: 'Some have cats as pets, some have rabbits and some have parrots; not 'some' but all of us, however, have a Suddha in our minds as a pet'.

There is most certainly a whole gang of such Suddhas that Alvis speaks of inhibiting our emergence as a proud and independent people without any unnecessary baggage, true.

There is the Suddha and the Kalu-Suddha. There are the innumerable structures that 'independence' failed to dismantle and which still keep us 'colonized' and 'beholden', make us cringe and grovel and ask for crumbs from tables laden with that which was robbed from us.

However, as long as we don't recognize that colonialism exists both outside us and within us, we will be clutching at straws in terms of trying to drop our colonial baggage. We have to look within, seek out all the Suddhas resident therein (in various disguises, colours and shapes) and tell them all 'get out!' if we are to move forward. This is a necessary prerequisite for getting the Suddha outside out of our hair.

*Written almost five years ago and published in the 'Daily News'.  A Facebook status update about the 'crime' of 'writing in English' reminded me of this.  So I dug it up.  There's a follow-up piece as well.


Anonymous said...

As a 'Suddha' who religiously reads this blog with great interest and respect, I agree that it is healthy to rid the soul of unwanted spirits. From my perspective I travel the world and put a little bit of every culture and peoples I meet inside to give me perspective and appreciation for others. I think the difference is when some one tries to shove it down your throat. That kind of influence is not wanted or needed by anybody. From that perspective I can related a lot to what is said here.