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Sunday, 2 February 2014

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Colonialism, a drama spinner

When Sri Lankan writers are at a loss for a theme they fall back either on the terrorism in the North. The writer, readers may observe, fares no better. Once I came across a pathetic piece on a young descendant of the royal line of an African country, Ethiopia. The British removed the prince to England, dressed him in European attire and began to teach him English, a language some of their own kings refused to learn. But what did he finally do-he pined for his home and hearth and for his misled mother and then died just hating the English and their language.

The biggest compliment the reigning Queen of England had paid him was, "Poor sweet boy. He hardly looked an African!", Very much reminiscent of the "compliment" paid by the the somewhat sex-crazed Italian PM when Barrack Obama became President of the USA.

Tanned

"He is very well tanned for the job"...The tan refers to some sediment on the skin left behind by Obama"s White mother.

I have also heard of a sad story in our own country of the wife of a patriot who was shot by the British requesting the foreigners to educate her son in English as a compensation for making him fatherless.

They readily consented and had him admitted to a hostel in a premier English college in Colombo but the boy pined day and night for the fields and the cascading waterfalls of his upcountry terrain, for the warm embrace of his mother that he developed a psychosomatic illness and passed away in the dormitory never having mastered the English alphabet.

However, not all went the same way. In fact, a good deal of literature put out by today's younger generation writing in English, most of them expatriates, reveal the fact that they have become the beneficiaries of their grandfathers deciding to quit the native home and hearth and make full use of the Western education and aligned culture.

The nostalgic longings they exhibit here and there could be genuine or fake to deceive the reader that their heart is still with Mother Lanka.

Truth

The stark truth is that the broad thinking and intellectualism they display have transcended national, racial and religious barriers.

Can one say, "Much ado about nothing" No. At least nothing, to the conquistadors themselves. I remember having a chat with a former Minister of Cultural Affairs.

He said that he has just returned from a trip to Lisbon where he had tried to trace documents with regard to their period of rule here and was disappointed.

He learnt that at the time the Ferenghi rule ended here, Portugal was in turmoil due to domestic issues and all documents were removed to Brazil.

Some of which were later brought back to Lisbon too made their exit when an earthquake destroyed the building in which they were kept. And while we are so preoccupied with these invaders and holds umpteen seminars and symposiums on their rule here along with many other aligned topics, the Portuguese seem to be quite oblivious of us. For they were almost the superpower in the world in the 16th century.

They were ubiquitous having stretched their empire from the North Coast of Africa to Macau in China. No international law existed to regulate their activities. Might was the right.

The Iberian peninsula itself had suffered for centuries from Moorish yoke and now liberated the Portuguese were groping their way to power and glory.

In 1454 the Congo basin was discovered by them and in 1494 Vasco Da Gama made his famous voyage to India rounding the Cape of Good Hope. Then in 1500 Cabraal discovered Brazil for Portugal. Excuse the dirty word, "Discovered" used for these countries had existed ever since the world began.

Historians

Even the mighty subcontinent of India, world historians would say was discovered only in the 15th century whereas the Upanishads and the Vedas with their philosophical speculations were being recited around midnight fires at the foothills of Himalayas when those in Northern Europe were running wild in the nude or wrapped in leaves or animal skins braving the freezing cold and nettled forests.

Portugal, frenzied by their initial successes just brazened ahead. And of course Papal power formed the main prop.

Both were in need of help in an amazingly widening world. The doctrine preached by Christ had expanded from the shores of Galilee to European lands north of the Mediterenean due to Roman king Constantine's conversion and Vatican had become the world" s embassy of Heaven. All other faiths were regarded as pagan and had to be wiped off the earth.

The Pope needed a partner for this sinister plan and little Portugal was willing. It would give a moral justification for their land grabbing too.

The Three Bulls issued by the Pope in 1493 partitioning "the newly discovered lands" between Spain and Portugal culminated the process. "Bull" was certainly an apt word for this brazen and utterly illegitimate act of partitioning a major part of the world between two countries just because they were of a particular faith.

Peculiar dramas trailed this process. Some politely call them "Synthesis of civilisations". Some impolitely call them denigration of very high civilisations.

The battle still goes on filling intellectual vacuums for those who have nothing much to do.

The vast majority of the world's population spend their time finding ways and means of sustaining themselves and their families. For a fortunate few such effort is redundant. And if they are academically inclined that long period of what is known as the period of imperialism throws up many an interesting topic, some even descending to trivia if viewed via a normal perspective.

The fusion of words, of dress customs, or even racial amalgamation, these read tantalising while some would just scoff at the whole thing and say things such as que sera sera (whatever will be, will be). For it is just one world.

But if you become too nihilist about it, much reading and writing stuff will be lost and so we go on with a whole package of dramas of colonialism.

Tourist

I once met a female tourist of about 35 years from Portugal at a party. Introduced to her as an opening piece of conversation, I said." So, you once ruled a part of our land". "Did we?" She asked amazed.

"Yes" "Sure?:" "In fact, there are hundreds of books in our country written on that subject and scores of meetings held on the subject".

She sidled up to me and whispered, "History was never my strong subject. In fact, I have not heard anybody talking of this fact. Anyway, we have been powerful once according to what you say. Tell you what?" "Sure" "We are a poor country now. "Once you were a super power". "How nice."

She squeezed my hands.

"You are nice. Something very human about you" Well. Did she expect Sri Lankan Sinhalese to be inhuman? Has the LTTE propaganda succeeded in such an attempt? I looked at her. She too looked so human. Hardly a descendant of that Ferenghi who is said to have thrown babies of families who refused to turn Roman Catholic into the Kelani river from the balcony of the Portuguese General's Palace at Malwana whose ruins yet exist.

She cannot be certainly blamed for the atrocities of General Azavedo, I thought as she shared her packet of roasted gram with me.

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