22 October 2015

Pigging out on grubby finger-printing

Someone sent me a wonderful line from Nadine Gordimer recently: ‘The country of the tourist pamphlet always is another country, an embarrassing abstraction of the desirable that, thank God, does not exist on this planet, where there are always ants and bad smells and empty Coca-Cola bottles to keep the grubby fingerprint of reality upon the beautiful.’ This is as robust, as-it-is and unpretentious as it can get when it comes to being honest about a place. It would sober up the most starry-eyed patriot without offending. All quite healthy, I believe.

Let’s forget the tourist pamphlet which is after all just another advertisement; advertisements are not true confessions, we all know that. We can be glad that our country is real, following the Gordimer characterization. Yes, our reality is a fingerprint that contains enough grubbiness to take the gloss off the paradise we tell the world that we are. Of course none of us desire the ants, flies and bad smells, but there is something appealing in the overall imperfection. It is this defective nature of things that spurs all of us to do things; we would die of boredom otherwise.

The notions of the paradisaical tourist pamphlet and reality’s grubby fingerprint lends well to a reading of our political milieu. The tourist pamphlet is of course our much talked about democracy. It is also the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE. It is the fact that despite 500 years of foreign domination, we’ve kept our identity relatively intact. It is also our resilience; our ability to take blows and remain standing (tsunami, floods, droughts, two bloody insurrections and a 30-year war).

The grubby fingerprint pertaining to politics would include the following: the gap between rhetoric and practice, the flaws in the institutional structure which make for power abuse and Treasury theft, a constitution that opens the citizen to all manner of exploitation and humiliation at the hands of the powerful and corruption at all level and the fact that we are yet to resettle all the persons displaced internally courtesy the LTTE. None of these are insufferable.

We know, we live with them and as we do, we still try to wipe away the grubby marks that intrude on the overall structures of democracy.

There are other examples: the fact that there exist among us anti-intellectual frauds deliberately and happily engaging in a project called grubbiness-enhancing; that certain people think that a job is a reward to be enjoyed and not something related to a job-description, a contract and terms therein and a work ethic that weighs on the side of a notion of responsibility rather than right; all this is acceptable grubbiness.

What is important to understand is how grubby is grubby, i.e. beyond which point is grubbiness insufferable. A related question would be, ‘are things as “grubby” as some people make them out to be?’

The truth is Sri Lanka has been trashed way out of proportion both locally and internationally. This is quite ok if trashing was deserved and was done by men and women with integrity. Unfortunately and paradoxically the bad-mouthing has been the vocation (yes!) of people who more than anyone else deserves to be called ‘trash’.

I am thinking of shady characters like Sunanda Deshapriya and his rag-tag team of dollar-hungry social misfits all paid to throw garbage around and manufacture a ‘grubby fingerprint’ that is many times larger than reality. And I am thinking of all those petty thieves and two-bit politicians masquerading as human rights activists and media rights advocates who spared no pains to vilify Sri Lanka in international forums not because of any palpable guilt but that they didn’t like certain faces (e.g. Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sarath Fonseka, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa etc).

Their objective was not social clean-up to acceptable levels of grubbiness mind you. Their project was and is one of obtaining by hook or by crook regime change. Regime change, let me emphasize, not as a necessary instrument to ensure that garbage remains at acceptable levels but to a) to reverse the gains obtained from the comprehensive military defeat of the LTTE, b) put in power a set of traitors who could be counted on to act against the national interest and c) getting revenge from the Government for treating them as the jokers that they are.

We have David Miliband, Bernard Kouchner, Navi Pillai grubbing away with gay abandon with special interest. King Midas’ touch turned all things to gold, legend says. People like Hillary Clinton on the other hand could not help but leave faecal-trace on everything they choose to touch. That’s gross, I know, but there is politics in this business of grubbing beyond reasonable levels. That’s how and why the ‘failed state’ notion was orchestrated. That’s probably why there’s a lot of noise about the EU going to withdraw the GSP Plus concession.

This is not ‘reality-grubbing’ as per the Gordimer observation. This is fantasy-grubbing. We must not forget, however, that at times such defacing exercises have serious consequences; the grubbiness can often stick as per the Goebbelsian approach.

Sure we don’t really need tourist pamphlets and can do with some grubby-fingerprints but only up to a point. Beyond that, Gordimer would understand, we really cannot be expected to twiddle our thumbs and let idiots with nefarious agendas defacate all over us.

Today we do have a ‘real’ country. We also have people trying to over-dose us with reality. That’s a heck load of grubby fingers; some of the ‘ok’ kind and some not. There are too many piggeries. Good to be alert.

First published in the Daily News (October 22, 2009).
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