26 February 2023

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

There are countries in this world. There are geographies that are marked by boundaries containing populations with commonalities and differences but nevertheless governed by specific sets of laws variously applied (for there are no perfect societies). Countries are made of regions. We call them provinces, counties, districts and sometimes even units that are of smaller sizes.

Countries have institutions: ministries, judicial systems, religious organisations, political parties, trade unions, sports bodies, schools, charities, associations, clubs, death donation societies, thrift and credit cooperative societies, NGOs etc. They all have structures. Rules. Regulations. Leaders and followers. Bank accounts. Treasurers. Members. These are also countries. Countries within countries.

A household can be a country. An extended family or clan can be a country.  They all have norms, patriarchs and matriarchs, godfathers and godmothers, gatherings, decision-making procedures. Only, these are far less formal than in the other kinds of countries we mentioned.  

Then there are countries without the kinds of borders we associate with nations -- republics of love and resistance. Such republics are not contained by lines and rules. They float over them, they go underground and under the no-no lines and emerge and merge, without passport, identity card or birth certificate.

Stories are countries that have hearts and legs. They are not stopped by border patrols. There’s flute music that takes aerial routes but will never be caught on radar. A verse is a shape-shifter that can take whatever form a CCTV camera will never notice.

Countries within countries have citizens without cities and yet are not rootless. In fact they draw from the richest nutrient veins of history, heritage and better tomorrows. Their backpacks, handbags, wallets and other carry-ons are made of leather from the silken hides of imagination. They are schooled in the love of lovers who would not be stopped by convention, poverty, jealousy, hatred, subterfuge and other such armies of malice.

Like citizens of all countries, they too are bludgeoned by war, disease, famine, drought, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and other such disasters not of their making. They have however acquired deliberately and further honed the resolve to stand ramrod straight in the face of storms beyond their strength and the wisdom never to panic. In fact if countries and civilisations that go under do one day resurface, it is because within these countries there are other countries with citizens who have resolute hearts, citizens who have decided to abandon ascribed identities in favour of character traits that are less traceable and therefore are impossible to imprison.

They are those who have discovered and developed a response to incurable love in the incurability of love. But let none of it fool us, for even in these countries there are ministries, judicial systems, unions and clubs that exist without headquarters, operate without any structure of authority, without rules or regulations. Only, they exist without names, addresses or formal programmes. And that’s good. For whatever it is that can be defined, can be reduced to numbers and categorised immediately lends itself to purchase or obliteration.

This is why these countries within countries, intangible as they are and indeed exactly because of intangibility, are the ‘regions’ and ‘civilisations’ that will never be subdued by tyranny and will survive the passing of tyrants.

Republics that are intangible have the advantage of going unnoticed and therefore being less open to exploitation. They are less corruptible. Most importantly, the citizens of such republics understand that time is not linear and space resists capture in known dimensions.  

Don’t look for an entry port. Don’t look for immigration and emigration controllers. Don’t look for borders and border patrols. There are no ambassadors who will answer FAQs. There are no official websites. There can be no online transfers that offer access to citizens and cities. And yet these are not republics that cannot be visited. These citizens are certainly not xenophobic.

The sacred, someone said, is a secret or is secretive. Only those with resolute hearts, endless curiosity and the wildest imagination can visit such republics and this, friends, is because they have what it takes to obtain citizenship. One condition: you never apply for citizenship, you just become one by cultivating citizenship-traits, not to obtain citizenship but because it is good, wholesome and warms the heart. 


['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart The allegory of the slow road