This year’s Gratiaen may end up like every other Gratiaen? Can it unclog the subterranean veins and drains of our Kolamba denizens?
Ah! The good old days! Once upon a time, everybody lived happily ever before! Everybody got along, sharing kiribath, vadai, vattalapam and frickin’ frikkadel. This went on for thousands of years. Then democracy appeared, and the darker yako took over. And even worse, the English left (though not really). The English who built roads (apparently people did not walk outside their homes and between villages before that), railways (from slavish plantation to penal port) and… and…and it was all fair & lovely (F&L)… until unPax Rajapux. So the tale goes, wagged over and over. Repeated in a myriad different avatara, in popular bedtime stories, academic discourses and adult fictions, seminars and coochy-coochy cafes.
Well, to be honest, Colombots would never openly blame “democracy”. For after all, who’s against Democracy? Especially with a capital D. And especially that Greek variety (though Plato et al were against it). Ok, then, democracy more like in London (whose head of state is an unelected queen?). Or in the US (where elections are the best that money can buy, and most don’t vote?)
Yes, they would never say bad things about those ‘democracies’. Over there. Only ours. Over here. They abhor things like majoritarianism, Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism, Asian despotism, etc. And of course the more politesse would never exhale, ‘Yako’, publicly, that much. They’d say, uneducated, and a jungle of synonyms. etc. What does it add up to? Postpone democracy for another 70 years.
Which brings us to the upcoming Gratiaen Awards, affiliated with England’s Standard Chartered Bank (origins in opium, apartheid and multinational robbery), and the Burus – errrr… British – Council (perpetrator of that scandal known as IELTS, which no Englishman could ever pass, and a famed artful dodger of taxes). We do not know where F&L Unilever would figure in this, but we can bet most attending the ceremony virtually or at the Barefoot (where lips purse, and voices automatically take on elocutory falsettos) would be wearing or applying or washed with at least one of their 300+ products they make elsewhere and sell here through over a 100,000 outlets).
So there we shall find ourselves, let us say, waiting with bated breath, for the announcement of the awards. Let us assume they will not give it – again – to that torrid playwright Jehan Aloysius, who like most pays not his actors, since it’s such a privilege to associate with him. Say his name loud and fast and you hear, Jesus! The political economy of English drama indeed!
And let’s assume – again – they will not give it – again – to Lal Midland-House, whose story is about “the importance of myth and the uselessness of rational thinking”. His forte we are told is dream realism, whatever that is, and being married to yet another double-barrel-named Gratiaen Award winner. Is that myth, dream or real? Nah! Is incest!
The other shortlister, Ciara Mendis (Celtic-Iberian?) apparently writes, “short stories on the politics of language and culture in a postcolonial society. Portraying the manner in which gender…” well, you get the idea. Postcolonial? As Gandhi the M-one said about ‘western civilisation’, subjunctively, “It would be a good idea!” Though the stories could definitely substitute for an NGO / USAID funding proposal.
Which brings us to Ameena Hussein and Carmen Maranda. This is gonna be tough. If we ever hope to be published or more likely pay AH to be published in one of her vanity imprints, we shouldn’t natter a nay or bray a neigh about Ms. Aitch, or her publishing house HP – Wasn’t HP a godawful sauce named after England’s Houses of Parliament, later owned by the cancerous Ceylon Tobacco’s London sire BAT, with label picturing the Tower of London, where many a neck that swallowed the sauce was severed from the body politic). HP prints their books in India – talk about a looooong carbon footprint! (sorry, editor, it’s not HP, it’s PH! Damn! We’s feelin’ too acidic!)
A… A… A… Anyways, Hussein’s contribution is about her favourite Moroccan spy – she says, traveller – Ibn Battuta visiting “Sarandib” (where on earth is that?), which was apparently an “alien, multicultural land” to him, which he didn’t mean to visit but was blown in by a storm – haven’t we heard this before – like our other beloved invader Lourenco Da Almeida. We’re told her book is paean to tolerance – lawdy lawdy!, how snotty Colombots can get!
Sure enough, the book features villainous Buddhist monks, who push off a mountain a Muslim pretender to the throne, fathered by another of our playboy kings Bhuvenakabahu, who merchants showered concubines on. Anyway the story is all about how happily everybody lived despite such plugging and pushing, until… perhaps the unPax RajaPuxes came to power all too recently, pulled along by them famed rickshaw-pullers, the perilous Yellow-Red Chinese, who Colombots also love to grrrrowl at on behalf of their white mastiffs.
How much these “kings” Ms. Aitch’s Ibn meets in Jaffna and Colombo were unhappy satraps of the expansionary-Turkic Delhi Sultanate that had been attacking non-Muslim kingdoms all over South Asia, we may not be told, but we all lived happily ever before them unPax Rajapuxes came along. History may weigh like a nightmare on the shoulders of the living, for everybody, but for some it is a soft golden halal fleece.
As for Carmen Maranda – ok, it’s Carmel, but vutdehell, we just lerrrve flamenco, and that insistent stamping of the feet, as if to shoe-off leeches and mosquitos. Well, Maranda’s book appears bereft of all those NGO trappings and the torah, gospel and sura of the NATOpolitans. She attempts a scientific medical whodunnit lifting the reddha, sari, sarong and unzipping the pants of our Kolamba denizens of all classes – very little mention of that NGO box checker ‘ethnicity’.
Juices and fluids from all orifices and vents run riot below a city made more familiar because we live in it and through the vendible body parts of characters from birth to death. And we sniff out all the aesthetics of what goes on when one undergoes anaesthetic, from maternity ward to mortuary. Good old days and stately mansions are given a shady ominous tinge, and mudukkus and bad new years offer fresh insights into new possibilities… Damn! and it’s Miranda not Maranda!
As for the Gratiaen, it bears the same name of a former attorney general who saved the plotters of the 1962 coup by getting London to overrule Sri Lanka’s parliament! Woo hoo! – So much for English democracy! Ha! So the English never left. Perchance, this is why the Gratiaen is one year JR acolyte and the year after that CBK groupie, then a rare MRoid just to add some tarty HP sauce, and then back to an RW-AKD puk-kolla (son of pukka-sahib?)… unable to make up its mind… or its backside.
But our main issue is when English in Sri Lanka will escape the swishing of the damoclean sword of irrelevance to the vast millions, swirled by the country’s most reactionary skulls and calcified carapaces threatened by the extinction they so belatedly deserve. We could start by making those steel kastane swords again. We were gonna go gaga, but until then… it’s glug-glug.