Thursday, August 21, 2014

The forgetting game

I am not a person who attacks things because that act of “attacking” happens to be “the thing to do.” This is why, I think, I’ve been called a person who never moves with the crowd. Yes, I am. Maybe that’s why vigils, petitions, foundations, movements and “social media activism” rarely move me. Not because most of them are all talk and no walk (which, mind you, they are), but because, as we all know, “feel good” ceremonies are easier to take part in than affirmative action. Perhaps that’s why visionaries like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and D. S. Senanayake will always get my admiration. There is a world of difference between word and act, and the secret these men discovered was that one need not always be to the other’s exclusion. Pitifully, though, few among us realize this today. That’s why so many self-labelled “champions” of freedoms, rights and unlimited licence (to do whatever their own crass religious/political/creed colour will allow them to) will never “win” the sort of support those men did. And I’m not surprised. Precept, after all, is way easier than practice.

There was a time when "protest" did not presuppose "vigilantism," not because back then a sense of decency prevailed, but because anyone who dared go out into the streets when they weren’t supposed to ended up beaten, battered, gouged and killed. Back then, therefore, it was easier to sift away the hypocritical from the genuine, because the line that divided one from the other was, plain and simple, a very bloody one. Which is why we were not surprised when Nanda Malini, together with Sunil Ariyaratne, became a turncoat revolutionary during the ’80s, which added a spot on her reputation un-erasable by anything she has since sung or said. Of course there were other hypocrites. But those came from among us. For we too figured in with them. None of us had clean hands, except a very few, whom I will continue to admire no matter what.

Perhaps that is why some of these “බොරු විප්ලවවාදියෝ,” unveiled and undressed during their time, remain tight-lipped today. That is why, even in the face of gross abuse of power, they remain silent. For they know that the slightest whimper will set alight the “hypocrisy-hunters” whose job it is to expose and vilify. I am, of course, not just thinking of Victor Ivan here. Judging by some of these hypocrites’ pasts, however, I feel that Ivan and his bandwagon are not wholly unjustified in what they reveal and write. They do have a point. Those in glass houses shouldn’t scream. And we have the biggest screamers here protesting today.

What should we feel about this? On the one hand, I am glad. Not because those abusing power are getting a sort of “impunity” because of the hypocrisy of those protesting against them, nor because I believe in the proverbial baby and the bathwater (or for that matter the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea), but because those hypocrites, considering their past, will very probably commit the same atrocities and abuses – perhaps a hundred times over – if they attain power. Which, thankfully, they won’t. Perhaps that is why I relish it whenever the J.V.P. or U.N.P. come out lambasting every Tom, Dick and Harry in power, because I know the things they’re denouncing figure somewhere in their own past.

People forget. Easily. But not long enough to conveniently throw away memories of charred bodies, maimed lives, and of course abductions. Especially if this act of “forgetting” is to be done in favour of those who charred, maimed, and abducted. So, at least until those who “lived” through the war and the “බීශනය” are dead and gone, we won’t see those born-again protesters come to power. And even when that generation passes off, I’m sure their children and very probably grand-children will not elect them, if that generation had impressed on them the terror they once lived through. This will remain so particularly when the man who leads the protest camp happens to be the same one who once sold the country, and not just to the terrorists.

But on the other hand, I am depressed. Current abuse of power warrants backlash. It is this backlash we are not seeing properly today. I am, of course, encouraged when seeing certain troupes from the Opposition marching out to Sapugaskanda to investigate the refinery and riding on trains to do the same with the railway system, P.R. exercises though they can be at times. That adds a sort of ballast to an otherwise anchorless Opposition. There is action in what is being done, far exceeding anything that the launch of a Facebook page (as Ranil did recently) can bring in. I am no political analyst, but, malleable though the notion of “democracy” is, I believe that a country having a spineless Opposition is as good as an Opposition-less one. That’s saying something.

I know things change. That’s why history is forgotten, for better or for worse. In Sri Lanka though, at least since independence, this process of forgetting has been for the worse. Always. We have forgotten ’56, ’58, ’62, ’71, ’77 and ’83. I don’t doubt that we’ve forgotten ’48 and ’72 too, but that’s not too important. Judging by all this, we’ll forget other years. We will forget ’78, when J.R. “created” a democracy that exists more in paper than in practice. We will forget ’82, when J.R. “added” to that democracy by rigging a referendum. We will forget ’87 and ’89, the years of terror and counter-terror.

Yes, we will forget all these. We will also forget 2009, at least when those who lived through the war and its traumas pass off, and a younger generation that privilege action over laurel will take on the reins. I know this generation. They are not necessarily those who “grew up” after 2009. For them, either the war was not that traumatic (on account, I should think, of a privileged childhood) or the glory of winning it will never justify corruption or malpractice.

And I welcome them. Not because I hate the current regime, but because we need people who, even within the four walls of party and creed colour, will want a genuinely better day for you and me. My only worry, on this count, is whether this process of forgetting so essential to this generation will breed a repeated and tortured history. For us. Again. If it does, we can seek little comfort from all the turncoat Nanda Malinis and revolutionaries another “බීශනය” can bring. At least for those among us who don’t find forgetting a very easy thing to do. Like me.