15 April 2015

The barbed-wire that divides and impoverishes

Gunadasa Kapuge comes to me in strange ways and times.  He died in early April 2003 and I did not realize that this is why the Sinhala radio stations were all playing his songs one crazy afternoon.  I remember thinking that if he were to die I would be asked by Manik De Silva, editor of the newspaper I worked for at the time, to write something about the man and that I would not have the words.  That’s what happened.  I was asked to write and I struggled and came up with a line: ‘With you, Kapuge, “goodbye” is a ridiculous word’ (http://www.island.lk/2003/04/06//leisur04.html). 

I still remember listening to a description of the funeral proceedings. I think it was Kingsley from Sirasa FM, but I may be wrong. I was on my way back to Colombo from Matugama after attending a wedding.  The time had come to light the pyre. The commentator ended the programme thus: samu gena yanna apen thava mohothai…nododa inne ai (the moment of departure is upon us; why are you so silent?).   The car was full of wedding guests.  I’ve never experienced such silence.  I just cried. 

He comes, in strange ways, as I said, and I realized that I was right when I wrote 7 years before that ‘goodbye is a ridiculous word’.  This was Aluth Avurudda, 2010. April 14. Taking off from Kottawa, going to Kegalle.  Switched the radio on.  Siyatha FM, I believe.  Kapuge, Gunadasa.  A song written by Ratna Sri Wijesinghe, which was first aired in 1990 I believe.  The song: ‘Bimbarak Senaga’.

It speaks of a land of plenty. A land that gave birth to people who were like the sun and the moon, powerful and benign, a land that was subsequently ravaged, its tanks breached, waters stolen and territories divided. 

The song was written in the late eighties or at least of that time.  A time, let us never forget, was marked by the massacre of innocence, the unnecessary deaths of over 60,000 people, the vast majority of whom were unarmed and had committed no crime other than being born in the wrong decade.

Minee mal pipunu seethala nimna bhoomiye ata katu sathara riyan kada ahimiva vilaapaya nagai.

On the cool plain now decked with ‘funeral flowers’ there are skeletal remains wailing on account of being denied the minimum dimensions of space that the dead are usually guaranteed.  True.  We saw all that.  No one talks about it now, not one asks for ‘Truth Commissions’, or punishment for the guilty.  There is selectivity in these things, one observes. 

Vaekanda kapaa bim katu kambiyen bedaa me rana bime hisa gasaa damana kaduwa bima helau…

It is a directive: drop immediately the sword that seeks to behead this proud and heroic land by breaching dam and dividing the land with barbed wire!
That’s the line that struck me most.  Ratna Sri Wijesinghe points out that the invaders came from land, sea and air: yuddekata avith rupu sen sath muhudu mathin guvanin.  And what did they do?  They tried to parcel out with barbed wire this splendid land (kambi wata kale manaram maaligava do?). Well he uses ‘manaram maaligawa’ (beauteous palace) as a metaphor clearly.  The key word/term is the katu kambiya and the reference to parceling, the undermining of commonalities and other things that can be categories as ‘common’ or podu, common property included.

It struck me that the song is as relevant today as it was in 1990, in 2003, ever since the divide-and-rule doctrine was put in place and ever since the seeds of separatism were sown on the seethala nimna bhoomiya. 

Today, after a regime that vanquished a terrorist organization and defeated the ideology of separatism that spawned the monster called the LTTE, we have all kinds of anti-Sri Lanka forces demanding that the Government be ‘magnanimous’. The Government is required, in essence, to kick in the butt the aspirations articulated by those who voted it to power and defer in favour of the politics, ideologies of the defeated.  The vote was an endorsement of a policy of reconciliation in which separatism did not have a place. No, not even the step-by-step separatism couched in the devolution (to imagined ethnic enclaves) discourse.  The people rejected all that.  That was what was buried in Nandikadal, symbolically in May 2009. 

Today there are both external and internal forces wanting to play the katu-kambi politics of dividing communities, separating peoples and thereby keeping alive the threat of communal politics. 

There is need for vigilance.  Those who talk a lot about democracy must understand that there cannot be any kind of democracy without representation. It must be understood that representation today, by the ruling coalition, is about preserving the unitary character of the state (among other things of course).  There cannot be any room for breaching dams, and parceling out territory to every Tom, Dick and Harry who touts myth as fact and posits aspiration as right.  All those who talk of ethnic-based devolution and thereby pander to Eelamism have to explain the logic of such an exercise given histories, archaeological tract, geographical factors and demographic realities.  Factoring out the sentiments of those who are against such division is not democracy, simply because those who are for the unitary state constitute the vast majority. 

If their sentiments go unheeded, then it will come at a huge cost.  Remember 1988/89.  Quite apart from the fact that the JVP and UNP leadership at the time were bloodthirsty brutes, we have to understand that the former fed on seething resentment at having an absolutely ridiculous proposition thrust down their throats (the 13th Amendment) and the latter had to defend a horrendous accord signed by the previous regime. 

Gunadasa Kapuge gave voice to some words penned by Ratna Sri Wijesinghe.  If we want our nation to be the manaram maaligawa that it has all the potentials to be, then we have to get rid of the katu-kambi, especially those rusted instruments of division that have been written into our constitution without our permission. 

It’s 7 years after he died, but Gunadasa Kapuge keeps singing and as long as we have his voice and of course Ratna Sri Wijesinghe’s words, we will have heart and mind necessary to call ‘rubbish’ that which cannot be described by any other word.  We are indeed a blessed nation, I feel.

Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor-in-Chief of 'The Nation' and an be reached at msenevira@gmail.com.  The above article was first published in the 'Daily News' (April 2010), for which newspaper he wrote a daily column titled 'The Morning Inspection'.