Sunday, January 29, 2012

Some extra honesty about ‘Sri Lankaness’ and ‘Sri Lankan identity’

Published in my column in The Nation ‘The Painted Goose’ on January 29, 2012 
By Darshanie Ratnawalli

Sometimes, certain sentences lodge in my head until I have to exorcise them by an act of writing. The following are from an essay titled ‘Back to Basics: The Need for an Honest Conversation About ‘Sri Lankanness’ and ‘Sri Lankan identity’ by Achcharya published in Groundviews last year.
“But when those who take part in the Sinhala Buddhist hegemonic project assert ‘Sri Lankanness’, as Rajapaksha did in his end-of-the-war speech (the no-minorities in Sri Lanka speech) many quite rightly suspected the motives behind such an agenda. To assert Sri Lankanness within the present political status quo (without challenging it) is to sign up to this agenda of Sinhala Buddhist hegemonism.”

That last sentence presents an interesting idea. What interests me is how it links ‘present political status quo’ with ‘Sinhala Budhist hegemonism’ in a mutually nourishing equation. I think one may be excused in concluding that, in the writer’s conceptualization, the present political status quo (bequeathed by the departing British) placed the entire socio-political space of sovereign Lanka under Sinhala Buddhist hegemonism; a novel state of affairs not at all reflecting the pre- colonial political status quo prevailing at the time of the Portuguese advent. The political status quo the Portuguese encountered here being (I am still guessing the writer’s reasoning process) the result of centuries of political evolution and restructuring powered by the time honoured medieval mechanisms of warfare, invasion, trade, migrations, pestilence and jungle tide, it was uniquely suited to the socio-political landscape of Lanka. The pre colonial political equation was in fact a home-grown status quo, springing from the very soil of this country and by departing from it the Brits created a rip in the space-time continuum of this country leading to chaos. 

Pre-colonial equation
Let me say that there’s nothing in his essay to commit Achcharya in a concrete way to this chain of reasoning. He does not talk about the pre-colonial equation at all. (except for a tell tale, taken for granted posit he lets slip- “In fact for reasons that I hope that are obvious the Sri Lankan identity is historically a later creation”) I am only trying to reconstruct the synaptic junctions in the writer’s deductive pathway, which may have lead him to come out with the interesting duet of sentences quoted at the start. I don’t think mine is a preposterous or a far-fetched reconstruction because even a casual upward glance into the ideologisphere of this country will reveal this idea floating around like a large and pregnant cloud casting its shadow very far and wide. 

The Sinhala Buddhist hegemonic overtones present in the current collective identity brew of this country was illustrated subsequently by Dr. Michael Roberts in a complementary (and complimentary too in subtext) article to Achcharya’s; ‘Ancestry and Ethnic Identity in the Australian Census… and thus to Sri Lanka’ also published in Groundviews. (However please note that Roberts’ contains a footnote “However, I would place caveats around Aachcharya’s claim that “[the assertion of] Sri Lankanness within the present political status quo (without challenging it) is to sign up to this agenda of Sinhala Buddhist hegemonism.”

 It seems that Dr. Roberts has been trying for the past so many years “in deadly seriousness” to initiate a project of his own to counter the Sinhala Buddhist hegemonic project. This lovely project involves causing hyphenated Lankan identity labels (Sinhala-Lankan, Tamil-Lankan, Muslim-Lankan, Mixed-Lankan) to take root in local vocabularies. This project is intended “as a means of undermining the insidious, but powerful, tendency among some Sinhala people to treat “Sri Lankan” and “Sinhalese” as synonyms”. Dr. Roberts “spotted this tendency initially in some of the Anagarika Dharmapala’s writings in the early twentieth century”. 

 My gut feeling is that after this initial discovery he did not spot this tendency at all in a Sri Lankan context at a time post dating Anagarika Dharmapala. Incidentally I spotted a similar tendency within a USA context. The following is from ‘Sins of the Fathers’, one of my all time favorite novels (first published 1980) by Susan Howatch;
“At the age of nine I had walked into my school classroom to find that someone had written on the blackboard: HANS-DIETER KELLER IS A NO-GOOD GERMAN PIG. Then a gang of older boys had beaten me up and I had run crying all the way home…. Anti sentiment had been common in 1917 and my family had probably suffered less than other German-American families since my father had refused to be intimated. After the incident in the classroom he had hung a large American flag on our front porch and announced to the principal of my school that my constitutional rights as an American Citizen would be violated unless steps were immediately taken to reprimand my assailants. The principal, a fair-minded man, had responded satisfactorily and the rest of my school days had passed without incident. It was my father who had suggested that it would be better if I had an American name. He had favoured Hank, since it was similar to Hans, but I had insisted on Sam, the cowboy hero of a popular comic strip.”

Supra identity
I hope it’s clear that my intention is not to take a crude swipe at USA. The relevant part is the interesting juxtaposition of the American with the German-American while the other sentences are quoted just to create context. This interesting juxtaposition showcases the presence of the non-hyphanated supra identity, which enables (in the case of America) the Part (the Anglo-Saxon part) to equate itself with the Whole (American). In this critical conceptualization a part of America, the Anglo-Saxon people (actually their brand identity more than their corporeal selves), is equated with the whole of America. This (ideological? Nah I’d say natural and subliminal) act of merger is present throughout the American mosaic in a taken-for-granted, insidious and powerful manner causing even a German American to treat American and Anglo-Saxon as synonyms as in the above example. This is why one hyphenated category; English-American is obsolete in America. 

 Actually I am paraphrasing Dr. Roberts’ sentences. Let me reproduce his original sentences because a) it is unethical to paraphrase without doing that b) his sentences are crafted so masterfully to illustrate the part-whole relationship and the hegemonic overtones in the present day Lanka that by slightly paraphrasing them I can illustrate the hegemonic overtones that existed in the political unit called the Kingdom of Jaffna at the time of the Portuguese advent.
“… the insidious, but powerful, tendency among some Sinhala people to treat “Sri Lankan” and Sinhalese” as synonyms….I spotted this tendency initially in some of the Anagarika Dharmapala’s writings in the early twentieth century…..This type of slippage enables the Part (Sinhalese) to equate itself with the Whole. It is a hegemonic act, even when working without aforethought below the surface…In this critical conceptualization a part of Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese people, is equated with the whole of Lanka. This ideological act of merger is presented in a taken-for-granted manner, thus, insidiously and powerfully”

Dr. Roberts does not know it (or maybe he does) but proving that destiny sometimes creates bizarre parallels in people’s lives, Professor T. B. H Abeyasinghe spotted(see ‘Jaffna under the Portuguese’ pgs 24, 25, 26, 27) the same kind of slippage in some of the 17th century Portuguese writings on Jaffna. This was a tendency to treat Jaffnese and Chingala as synonyms. Among those who suffered from this slippage was Fernao de Queiros, ‘the chronicler of Portuguese Sri Lanka par excellence’ (T.B.H, Jaffna Under the Portuguese). In pages 356, 357, 366, 371, 374, 375, 376, 377 of his text ‘The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon’ (Trans. 1930), this type of slippage enables Queiros to equate the Part (Chingalaz) with the Whole (Jaffnese). So in page 377, we are told that the reason for abandoning a certain fortalice is “…because it would necessarily remain in a continuous state of siege, on account of the tenacity of the King and of Chingala courage,…” . The king here is the king of Jaffna. In page 374, in a confrontation that takes place in Jaffna “Vincente Carvalho, Captain of a foist” is attacked by 200 men who become “the delighted Chingalaz” in the next sentence. So it goes. 

Hegemonic act
 In this critical conceptualization a part of Jafanapatao, the Chingalaz , (not a majoritarian part in this region’s demographic configuration according to conventional historiography), is equated with the whole of Jafanapatao. This act of merger, which is perceptual rather than ideological, is presented by Queiros in a taken-for-granted manner, thus, insidiously and powerfully. In other words Portuguese (For it was not only Queiros but also the Lisbon authorities and the Count of Vidigueira too) identified the idea of Jaffneseness with Chingalaness, the dominant identity of Ceilao. This is an example of how natural hegemony exercised by a dominant brand influences perceptions and shapes communications. This was a hegemonic act. It did not involve those committing it buying into any ideology. Nor did it involve the present political status quo.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


(Actually I was not dating Ajith then, but can’t a girl dream?)
Published in my column in The Nation ‘The Painted Goose’ on January 22, 2012

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

In the afternoon of 10 October 1987, sound of shelling was once more heard in Jaffna barely three months after India enforced peace in Sri Lanka with the Indo-Lanka Accord. Most Jaffnese (records UTHR) couldn’t believe that it was the IPKF shelling them and thought it must be the SL army. But it wasn’t. It was the IPKF. On 4th October, 17 tigers travelling in a fishing trawler to or from Tamil Nadu were apprehended by the SL Navy. On 5th October, 2.00 p.m., those 17 men, who had been taken by the IPKF from the Naval base to the Palaley air base, were visited by Balasingam and Mahattaya. At the exact same time, Major General Harkirat (Harry) Singh, Commander of the IPKF, who was in Trincomalee (under orders to ‘deny the airport to the SL forces’), was getting a message; “At 2 o'clock I get a message, why is the G-o-C IPKF interfering in the 'constitutional activities of Sri Lanka? These were the exact words. This message came all the way from the force headquarters in Madras. And, 'Please lift your siege in Jaffna, let the Sri Lankans do what they want to.'”


By late evening that day, the message bore fruit; “Our troops withdrew, the Sri Lankan troops charged, and these fellows swallowed cyanide. Those who chewed, they died on the spot, those who swallowed were saved.” According to General Harry, 13 chewed that day. Only 4 swallowed. That night the LTTE started avenging those who chewed. During the night of 5th October, the LTTE liquidated one Sinhalese baker (poor, elderly, forced to leave Jaffa in ‘83’, had come back with the dawn of the ‘87’ peace to restart his only livelihood in Chunnakam), two Sinhalese cement makers (the GM and deputy GM of Lanka Cement Ltd., come to restart the cement plant at KKS ), 8 Sinhalese soldiers (been in LTTE captivity, hopeful appeals had been made to the LTTE for release with the dawn of the ‘87’ peace) and one Sinhalese cop (serving in the VVT police station re-opened with the advent of ‘87’ peace, beaten to death with a wooden pole by Soosai and another while having a drink in the local bar). The liquidating just continued in the following days until a civilian (Sinhalese) death toll of around 200 was achieved according to BBC reportage. This included 4 Rupavahini crew members, who having been abducted in Jaffna went AWOL presumed dead, 35 long term Batticaloa (Sinhalese) residents who were gunned down, Chief of STF, Batticaloa, Nimal Silva and GA Batticaloa, Mr. Anthonymuttu killed in a landmine explosion while travelling in the same vehicle.

Operational parameters

Meanwhile, in yet another part of the forest, J.R was urging the Indian Defense Minister and the Indian Army Chief of Staff to act. Some say he even dared to articulate the possibility of re-deploying the SL army in the event of no action by the IPKF. On 7th October the IPKF had been issued directives defining their operational parameters. On 10th October 1987, ‘the war resumed, just as Prabhakaran had predicted’, though now the LTTE was fighting the peacekeepers instead of the government troops. I have paraphrased Niromi de Soyza to show up the other worldly relevance of her 2009 Telegraph statement.

“The war resumed, just as Prabhakaran had predicted, though now we were fighting not only the government troops but the peacekeepers, too.” may indeed have relevance and drip with truth in some world other than this one. The bit about Prabhakaran predicting the resumption of war however, has relevance even in this world. To every 100 inept astrologers, who wait passively for their predictions to come true, there is one enterprising astrologer who predicts something and immediately proceeds to kick destiny into shape to make that prediction happen. Prabha was one such.


When he predicted in the early days of the Accord, that the war would resume, did he also envisage the government troops joining in? It’s possible. Prior to October before the war resumed (just as Prabhakaran had predicted) there had been scenes that were simply throbbing with potential. On 18 September 1987, the IPKF looked on while a mob attacked and set fire to the Point Pedro police station. The festivities ended with the policemen being made to walk to the nearby camp with their belongings on their heads, trailed behind by a crowd shouting abuse. That same day, the abusive crowd scenario had been duplicated in front of the SL Army camp in VVT and a single drunk soldier had stood in front of the crowd returning the abuse before being dragged inside by an officer.

Given this latent, simmering hostility to the Sri Lankan Forces and given that in a very real sense the SL state and the SL forces were the ultimate enemy of the LTTE, the IPKF being just an interlude and a fling, could it be…isn’t it possible that…of course that’s it! Eureka, Niromi de Soyza’s Telegraph statement and the Throsby statement can totally be justified!

Look at them statements; “The war resumed, just as Prabhakaran had predicted, though now we were fighting not only the government troops but the peacekeepers, too.” and “when I joined, the Indian forces had arrived and the tigers had chosen to fight the Indian forces as well as the Sri Lankan forces”. When Niromi joins the government troops with the IPKF in a single harness via the ‘not only-but also/as well as’ construct and subjects these two harnessed entities to the common verb ‘fight’, she is merely trying to convey the ultimate and enduring adversarial equation between the tigers and the SL forces while at the same time expressing the new equation with the IPKF. Whew, what a relief!

Not only-but also/as well as

But is it? All you Niromi defenders on the web, who genuinely bought into this explanation need to catch the earliest time machine into your pasts and get your younger selves better English teachers (who can correctly lay down the parameters of the not ‘only-but also/as well as’ construct) together with memberships in good libraries (where you can read those parameters demonstrated in living language across the whole gamut of human experience). Or, alternatively you could look at the model situations below and savour the existential absurdities and the internal contradictions caused when the above parameters are deployed by the linguistically challenged.
“Ajith was the ultimate love theme in my life. I have always loved him and probably always will.. But then suddenly we were …drawn asunder by outside forces. Not that I ever stopped loving him but we were not an item anymore. I was lonely and Ajay was …there. He was Ajith’s friend, reminded me of Ajith and I dare say, I even saw him as a stand in for Ajith. I dunno, whatever, the inevitable happened.
My love life resumed just as my mother had predicted though now I was dating not only Ajith but Ajay too.”

“The cancer in my rectum was in remission. But I was smoking a lot. I couldn’t seem to get through the day without twenty cigarettes. My doctor was expressing grave doubts about my ability to continue in a state of wellbeing while smoking so heavily. And so it came to pass.

My physical sufferings resumed, just as my doctor had predicted, though now I was fighting not only the cancer in my rectum but emphysema, too. Thankfully my cancer was still in remission and did not contribute to my physical sufferings. I don’t think I could have managed to fight emphysema of the lungs and cancer of the rectum at the same time.”

Someone who says ‘When I joined, Monica had arrived and my boss had chosen to date her as well as Jane’ is unmistakably painting ‘my boss’ as a minor Casanova. Protesting much later that boss was no Casanova, that Jane was his steady girl friend who was temporarily unavailable/estranged when the Monica thing was on, will only make you look silly. Similarly the 2009 Telegraph and the 2011 Throsby statements unmistakably label Niromi as an IPKF war virgin who has no awareness of the most unique aspect of that unique episode in our country’s history.

Occupational Force

Between 1987 and 1990, for the first time after the British left, part of this country was under a foreign Force. It was a palpable reality. When president Premadasa presumed to order the IPKF about in December 1989 with his ‘please be confined to your lines or else we will consider you an occupational force and deal with you’, Lieutenant General Kalkat had flashed this reality at him in the same way a cop flashes his badge; “So when the ultimatum was conveyed to me, I conveyed back that as per the Accord, the North-Eastern province is under the IPKF. I am responsible here for the safety of the entire region and if there was militant activity by anyone, any force I would respond. And that if my forces are attacked by anyone I would respond. That is as far as you can go, but it conveyed the meaning of what it meant.”. Even much earlier on in his tenure, Lt. General Kalkat had been compelled to flash his badge when he discovered unscheduled SL army presence in his territory; “…Israeli assistance was for the Sri Lankan special force. Their training camp was on the edge of Batticaloa district, my soldiers had discovered it. And I straight away took up the matter, if they don't leave in 24 hours, my soldiers will deal with them. And in 24 hours they left the place lock, stock and barrel, both Israeli trainers and Sri Lankans.”

Defining the side

It is into this occupied landscape that Niromi de Soyza blunders in with her Telegraph and Throsby statements, her weird pre-publicity blurbs raving about the Sri Lankan Army 'ruthlessly ambushing small platoons of young girls' two days before Christmases of 1987, her book with ‘government forces’ enticingly emblazoned on the back cover and her one-on- one interview accounts carrying tales of playing ‘catch me’ with government forces in the jungles of Wanni and having to deal with the viciousness of the Sri Lankan armed forces together with the brutality of her fellow Tigers in the course of the violence she’d become part of by picking up a gun.

Among a sea of web comments trying hard to insist that bull-shit is icing, there was one commenter called Vijayaraghavan Sakthivel who said; “…Is this what all that academic achievement, all that culture and all that poetry described by DBSJ has produced? A 40 something individual, who would go in front of the world and say things about a highly documented period even a kid would be able to prove wrong? Where is the intellectual sophistication, the general knowledge or the good sense education is supposed to produce?” Ageist and sanctimonious perhaps. But bracing and refreshing too.

The overwhelming impression I have of Niromi de Soyza is as someone who urgently needs some robust good sense shaken into her. When she cries in public(as she is reputed to do without fail), ‘get a grip’ are the words demanded by a context where there are tigresses who lost limbs much more recently than 23 years ago (one such is now playing disabled volleyball for Sri Lanka). So Niromi, it has been fun doing research on and around you. We will be watching your future career with considerable interest. No one expects you to play ball for Sri Lanka, but whichever side you play for, it’s imperative to ‘get a grip’.

India’s Vietnam. The IPKF in Sri Lanka: 10 Years On

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Are you saying the LTTE weren’t a Sri Lankan Force?

Published in my column in The Nation ‘The Painted Goose’ on January 8, 2012

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

The LTTE were technically Sri Lankan Forces too. They are on record in non- Sri Lankan sources as having had amputations performed on people to stop them from leaving no-fire zones. A book, which announces that Sri Lankan forces amputated people’s limbs to stop them from leaving no fire zones will be technically correct too. One can issue statements explaining how the author did not write ‘Sri Lankan Government Forces’, merely ‘Sri Lankan Forces’ and what’s wrong with so and so’s comprehension that he fails to see that the LTTE were Sri Lankan Forces too.

Luckily perhaps for our sanity, Niromi’s story in Sri Lanka stops in 1988 (in her own account she was shot of the LTTE as well as Sri Lanka by 1988). If the saga had gone on past 1989, we’d have to endure arguments that ‘for a young LTTE cadre to describe the LTTE as Government Forces would not be unusual at all as given the collaboration between the LTTE and the SL government against a common undesirable; the IPKF, the LTTE either considered themselves as an extension of the SL Government forces (or far more likely) considered the Government Forces as an extension of themselves.’ (The collaboration started somewhere in October 1989 according to General Kalkat in ‘India’s Vietnam’ )

Even though Sri Lanka was deprived of Niromi’s colorful presence in 1988, before the meaning of ‘government forces’ could ‘branch out’ too much, we are not scot free of creative interpretations. The Tamil people it seems saw the IPKF as doing the dirty work of the Government and there’s nothing incongruous in describing the IPKF as ‘government forces’ as the back cover of Tamil Tigress does.
“Two days before Christmas in 1987, at the age of 17, Niromi de Soyza found herself in an ambush as part of a small platoon of militant Tamil Tigers fighting government forces in the bloody civil war that was to engulf Sri Lanka for decades…”

Lot of people I know checked into private mental homes on the day this argument hit the cyber space, so that they could bang their heads on the padded walls and scream in relative privacy and safety. They have now come out all calm and point out that, though the major players of the Elam wars during the various temporal phases were bound to each other in ever changing relationship equations dictated by expediency, no merging of identities ever accompanied these changes; that the contexts involved were too hugely incompatible and irreconcilable for these identities to ever merge in living, natural language. The IPKF was too much the instrument of an overlord, meting out a client dispensation to a subjugated state to ever become ‘Government Forces’ in Sri Lanka, while the LTTE had rejected their Sri Lankanness and the ‘Government’ far too irrevocably (collaboration notwithstanding), to ever become a Sri Lankan or a government force .

Another argument rolled out to sanitize the ‘Government Forces’ on the back cover is that while Niromi’s honest hand produced the words ‘ Indian government Forces’ for the back cover copy, some other hand belonging to a less informed Allen and Unwin editor deleted the word ‘Indian’. On this one most people were able to do without the padded cell and state with the aid of a tranquilizer only, that ‘Indian government forces’ were a linguistic anomaly for the IPKF in Sri Lanka. ‘Government’ was a superfluity after the word ‘Indian’, which never appeared in actual communications because a nongovernmental Indian force was never part of the equation.

The best one so far is that ‘the government forces- guerilla forces dichotomy’ allowed the term ‘government forces’ to be used for the IPKF when they were the adversaries of a guerilla force. However in language, the key is context, context and context and ironically it’s Niromi herself, who hands us the contextual key to interpret the words ‘government forces’ when she wrote in 2009 that “The war resumed, just as Prabhakaran had predicted, though now we were fighting not only the government troops but the peacekeepers, too.”

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, D. B. S Jeyaraj (if he has published this Saturday’s installment) will now have hit the 15 000 word count in his Niromi saga. Pitted against this abundance are 47 measly words in simple, straightforward English written and uttered in Niromi’s own hand and voice respectively.
“The war resumed, just as Prabhakaran had predicted, though now we were fighting not only the government troops but the peacekeepers, too.”

-2009, Telegraph
“…when I joined, the Indian forces had arrived and the tigers had chosen to fight the Indian forces as well as the Sri Lankan forces”

- 2011, interview with Throsby

They are so unobtrusive and so easy to overlook. In that respect they are like all slips. In detective stories, people only make one critical slip (which is nevertheless enough to alert the clever detective). If you are Niromi de Soyza however, you make one monumental slip in writing and two years later make the identical slip verbally. If your attention had wandered (as it will) while reading through the 4521 words of the 2009 Telegraph story or between the points 18.45 and 19.02 in the 2011 Throsby interview, you would miss these slips (In fact no one in my acquaintance did spot these slips before I pointed them out). But once spotted they (the slips) sing. They sing out pure like the ring of genuine Waterford crystal and grab your attention amidst the tin clatter of words produced by Monsieur D. B.S Jeyaraj.

For a long while, the Telegraph statement and the Throsby statement (as they will go down in history) were dodged and remained unacknowledged by all Niromi defenders on the Net and Press, reminding me of a historical novel about Charles II I had read in school. In it, there’s a scene where Catherine of Braganza, Charles’ Portuguese bride is advised, before she sets sail for England, by her mother, the queen of Portugal, on how to deal with Charles’ mistresses. “You must never acknowledge these women or let on that you know about their relationship to your husband” or words to that effect. Similarly write reams and reams validating and affirming Niromi, cover all other contentious issues, but…silence on the ‘IPKF alongside the government troops’ motif, as if it was sotta beneath their notice.

Even Michael Colin Cooke, apparently Lionel Bopage’s biographer, who wrote ‘The singer might change but the song remains the same: A critical look at Roberts and Sarvananthan ‘outing’ Niromi de Soyza’ was no different. Having dissected the back cover ‘government forces’ he gets struck by curious amnesia about the Throsby statement, which was certainly available to him through the one article by Dr. Michael Roberts, which he seems to have perused in replying (there was a newer article by Roberts, which had he read it would have presented him with the Telegraph statement too and the 2009-2011 consistency.) But, deadlines, you know. You just can’t afford to read everything.

But eureka, around 30th December, 2011, finally, the Throsby and Telegraph statements were acknowledged and a feisty defense mounted. Only I can’t tell you this week. The word count you know. Wait till next week, it’s good.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Amazing Bulls In Our Bullring

Published in my column in The Nation ‘The Painted Goose’ on January 1, 2012

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

Ernest Hemingway was passionate about bullfighting and wrote two books revolving around it. When I was in school or just after, I read one, ‘The Dangerous Summer’ it must have been not ‘The Sun Also Rises’ or I would remember the plot. What I remember is Hemingway being disdainful and scathing about periodic moans by aficionados that the bulls are getting smaller. He was such a persuasive author that I came away from the book determined to always believe in the bulls of my time.

Looking into the metaphorical bullring of Sri Lanka’s ethno-political intellectual space and watching the leading bulls in action, this belief helps me not to despair of the sport when the smaller bulls come charging in and it looks as if they are the overwhelming majority and one may have to accept certain really small bulls as the current gold standard of their category. You need to remind yourself that the bigger bulls are out there, they will eventually come into the ring and there’s no need to prune down your expectations and settle for a lesser and lower sport. So many bulls exposed to the force-field of our ethno-political intellectual space turn out small because there is an inbuilt blight, almost a curse on it. A bull has to have exceptional potential for bigness to withstand the enormous pressures exerted by this resident blight and turn out be of even a reasonable stature. I have (at least) three metaphorical bulls in my sights (I use the bull metaphor irrespective of gender as you will see). Let’s give each of them a connoisseur’s once over. This week’s selection is Dr. Jehan Perera.

In 2010, Dr. Jehan Perera inspired me to write the following paragraph;
“One of the saddest features characterizing Sri Lanka’s Peace process was the widespread infestation of blight and decay afflicting its front guard. The key symptoms were downright lying, the shoddy, almost illiterate nature of the construct building and the inability to display enough intellectual vigour and research ability to support a B gradable school project report, let alone communications worthy of National change agents and opinion leaders.”

Yet, it was not his overall performance in the ring that inspired it but a single incident. It all started with a footnote;
“When a highly educated Sinhalese scholar like Jehan Perera, one who is a genuine grassroots worker for multi-cultural accommodation, is unaware (personal comment in late Jan. 2000) that the eastern coast of Sri Lanka was an integral part of the Kingdom of Kandy from the late sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, the gaps in information—and the success of Tamil propaganda—are starkly manifest.”

Narrating Tamil Nationalism: Subjectivities and
Issues Michael Roberts April 2004- (Footnote 57)

I was immediately deeply skeptical of such historical virginity and did some sniffing around and hit gold one day on the Tamil Canadian, where Dr. Jehan Perera was cited as an authority. In an article entitled, "Balanced compromise on the north-east unit" published in the Sunday Island in the late 90s, he had said the following;
"The fact is that in the census of 1920 only 4 percent of the population of the Eastern Province was Sinhalese. The Sinhalese settlements in the east were small and scattered, even though there is historical evidence that most of the east came under the umbrella of the Kandyan Kingdom. But while the ultimate rulers were in the Sinhalese Kingdom of Kandy, the people of the east were mostly Tamils and Muslims. It is only in the past fifty years that there has been a substantial influx of Sinhalese settlements through state intervention."

This made me write an article with the purple heading (purple headings my specialty) “Why did Dr. Jehan Perera lie to Dr. Michael Roberts? A Sri Lankan Horror Story” . My article also contained the following paragraph;
“Therefore what was starkly manifest to me reading the above footnote in Narrating Tamil Nationalism: Subjectivities and Issues, Michael Roberts was not ‘the gaps in information—and the success of Tamil propaganda’ but the incredible naiveté and innocence of Dr. Michael Roberts.”

This was clearly a mistake. A stony silence greeted my mail to Dr. Roberts asking for a review. Another mail elicited the following reply; “I could not work out who was saying what and found the topic esoteric and pedantic”

When the dust had settled, Dr. Roberts explained that when Dr. Jehan Perera confessed his ignorance his manner was absolutely genuine and nothing would induce him (Dr. Roberts) to believe that he (Dr. Jehan Perera) was only pretending ignorance. Apparently at that seminar or conference, after the statement linking the eastern coast with the Kandyan Kingdom was made, Dr. Jehan Perera sidled up and said sotto voce words to the effect “is it true?” and it was this bashful innocence of manner, which convinced Dr. Roberts.

It is a mystery. If the corporeal Dr. Jehan Perera was whispering in 2000 that he was unaware of any relationship between the East and the Kandyan Kingdom, who wrote "Balanced compromise on the north-east unit" in the late 1990s?

Holmes... I know…a ghostwriter!. Yes Watson, a ghostwriter whose writings, opinions and selective snippets of knowledge form no part of Dr. Jehan Perera’s waking consciousness. But Holmes!... an opinion leader whose opinions (at least some of them) are formed and articulated without his awareness based on knowledge unfamiliar to him? Moreover a research and media director who refrains from research? Where does that leave us? That leaves us Watson back in the bullring watching a very small bull in action and pining for the bigger bulls.

So frankly, I think there need to be bigger bulls to represent the reconciliation circuit and I believe they are out there. I myself know at least one and perhaps I will even write about him. But not next week. Next week we will run our connoisseurs’ hands along the flanks (metaphorical) of that new bull Niromi De Soyza and assess her.