Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Gordon Weiss and the dynamics of redemption.

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

Not for personal gain is this exercise of mine but in pursuit of redemption. Redemption is a curious thing. To counter every wrong pattern that gets drawn on the canvas of existence, it draws some other pattern, next to which the wrong pattern looks so godawful and out of place that it soon gets erased by the collective forces of existence.

Gordon Weiss too has sat in front of his computer and drawn the following pattern;
“The hitherto relatively contiguous area that has formed the basis for a Tamil claim to a historic homeland will be broken up and interspersed with hundreds of army camps, staffed by Sinhalese soldiers…There is nothing new about the creeping erasure of Tamil territorial claims in the name of development…Archeologists and historians, sanctioned by the government, unleashed on to conquered territory and possibly funded by UNESCO, will supply the academic legitimacy for the ‘re-territorialisation’ of Sri Lanka. Eventually, postcards will be printed of newly minted Buddhist sites in formerly Tamil areas, and tour guides will regale sightseers with stories of their discovery and antiquity. Just two weeks after Prabhakaran’s death, the president’s wife unveiled a statue of Sanghamiththa…the woman who – two and a half thousand years before- is said to have brought a seedling of the holy Bo tree to Sri Lanka. The statue now sits in the middle of one of the HSZs, in the heart of Tamil Jaffna…”
-(‘The Cage’, pp.255-256)

Even the sheer godawfulness of this passage generated by the ignorance of its 21st century Australian author is redeemable. A 17th century Dutch mapmaker redeems it by his cartographical representation of Jaffna (held at the Nationaal Archief, Netherlands, but viewable online at beeldbank.nationaalarchief.nl/na:col1:dat516410). He wouldn’t have known that he was being an agent of redemption when he drew up this map of a Jaffna where Sinhalese and Tamil place names exist side by side. He was just exercising his craft in the service of imperial Holland. To him a Jaffna that could be interspersed with a Cottiewatte, Noenavil game, Watane, a Walandale, Lilagamo, Tangode, a Tambale, Batecotte, Anecotte, Naloer, Oergavature, Nagamoene, Tambegamo, Mepale, Pollopalle, Alipalle, Malwattoe, a Walewitakepoelo, etc. would have been business as usual, with no special significance. The fact that four centuries later, demographic changes both colonial state sponsored and natural, would render a major territorial division of his map Welligamo into Valikamam and leave a Vimankamam in place of his Vimangamo and affect almost total erasure of its Sinhalese names, would have, if known, filled the cartographer with indifference. If told that four centuries of political upheaval would make his map an embarrassing skeleton in the cupboard to a political ideology aspiring to own the SL reconciliation space in the global mind map, the cartographer would have tuned out in sheer incomprehension.

Yet four centuries later, the Redemptive Dynamic turns this Dutch cartographer into an agent and his map into a beacon that exposes the human frailty or the psychical darkness behind the Weiss tenets contained in the above excerpt, such as ‘Tamil Jaffna’, ‘Tamil territorial claims’, ‘Tamil claims to a historic homeland on the basis of a contiguous area’. It reveals the plight of men, who accept international postings under global organizations to complex countries swearing to uphold liberal principles, only to get bent by reason of their garden variety intellects into buying ethnic cleansing agendas for multicultural spaces. This agent of the Redemptive Dynamic and his beacon also show the sheer superfluity of ‘unleashing historians and archeologists on conquered territory’ with or without UNESCO funding to give ‘academic legitimacy to the re-territorialisation of Sri Lanka’. All one has to do is to give out framed copies of this map to the sections of the populace entertaining doubts about the legitimacy of the said re-territorialisation. In fact, I am not sure if the Redemptive Dynamic didn’t overdo it a bit with this map. There’s such a thing as having it too easy.

Re Sangamittha, the woman is indeed said by the Pali chronicle of Lanka to have landed in Jambukolapattana with the Bo sapling. But as this same chronicle was instrumental in establishing the identity of even this woman’s father in the inscriptions of India, it seems reasonable to assume that the chronicle was on the ball re the Asokan connection and she did indeed land in Jambukolapattana, which port is widely accepted by historians as belonging to the peninsula.
“……..a brief reference to the regional and not merely Sri Lankan importance of the translation of the Mahavamsa. In time it became the source for determining the identity of Devanampiya Piyadassi mentioned in a series of inscriptions on pillars and rocks in many parts of India, an identification eventually confirmed in the early 20th century, as the great Emperor Asoka. …”
-(‘K M De Silva: Emerson Tennent Memorial Lecture: JRASSL, NS, VOL. XLI, Special Number, 1996’)

Did we really have as a UN official a man who was capable of regarding the celebration of this cultural association in Jaffna, as a violation and an abomination? The shock is fully comparable to seeing running sores on the body of a beauty contestant during the swimsuit round.