By Malinda Seneviratne –
Pablo Neruda, writing about the tragedies of the Spanish Civil War, wrote of poets, especially his young friend Federico Garcia Lorca, whom he greatly admired. He asks, in verse —
And you’ll ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?
And responds, in verse —
Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!
Delivering a lecture on Lorca in Paris (1937), Neruda mused, ‘Federico García Lorca! He was down to earth like a folk guitar, cheerful, melancholic, profound and yet transparent like a child, like the common people. If they had launched a careful search into every corner of Spain for someone to offer in sacrifice, as one sacrifices a symbol, they could not have found anyone better than Lorca to represent the popular soul of Spain, in quickness and in depth. Those who wanted to fire their bullets into the heart of their Race selected well on gunning him down.
We do not know how many poets, unheralded of course, died over the past 42 years (counting from the 1971 insurrection, the killings of 1983, the bheeshanaya of 1988-89 and the 30 years of war that ended in 2009 May). We don’t know if any of the three young boys who died during the Weliveriya clash between protestors and the Army were poets. But if Lorca, to Neruda, was made of grace and genius, was a winged heart and a crystalline waterfall, exuded a magnetic joyfulness that generated a zest for life in his heart and radiated it like a planet, was open-hearted and comical, worldly and provincial, an extraordinary musical talent, a splendid mime, easily alarmed and superstitious, radiant and noble, and the epitome of Spain through the ages, of her popular tradition, then, there is nothing to say that the near and dear, especially the now grieving parents did not believe that their lost children epitomized this land, through the ages, in terms no less flowery.
We can talk about proportionality, about the futility and mischievousness of comparing apples and oranges, provocation and overreaction, agenda both pernicious and innocent, description and inflation, the frilling of fact or its downplaying. The thing about death is that however many are taken, for the victims the number is ‘1’. Then there is the matter of ‘stain’.
A friend said, ‘no amount of whitewashing will be able to take away the stain’. I observed, ‘stains are forgotten except by the near and dear; the white-wash has to be washed away, again and again, but not by those seeking to prostitute stain and victim for their personal/political projects for that would remove stain faster.’
There is the red stain and the black stain. The black begins with grievance and gets blacker by irresponsibility and lethargy on the part of private, state and civil-society agents and agencies that paved the way for a red staining. The red-stainers are end-point actors, but those who played ‘black’ are not innocent and must be held responsible.
We return to Rathupaswala and the larger battle-ground of Weliveriya not only because the white-wash needs to be washed away, so red can remain and black can be sought out, but this sequence of events is eminently replicable. Some say the replication will add up to a ‘Spring’. That’s hope and hope that is not innocent or really distraught over red-stains. But when structural flaws are left unrepaired, fractures are inevitable. When law and order as well as their breach is a whim-matter of politicians, when damage-control supplants damage-prevention, spring or not, convulsions become the order of the day.
Things that necessitate bullet have a ‘before’ and if those ‘before-factors’ are not addressed with determination and humility, they bleed into an ‘after’ that is made of blood-letting. It is easy to hang the dead on the neck of the soldier, the Police Department that proved ineffective, the agent provocateur, the victim, the scum who poisoned the waterways, and the criminally negligent who looked the other way. There are black stains from A to Z in this story. Politician and official, industrialist and regulator, soldier and citizen, the salivating commentator and newsmonger are all hand-stained here. But democratizing blame is an easy game.
There are three people missing in the story. They were scripted out. They will not write poetry again, if they ever wrote at all, but neither will they utter word again. Not Lorcas, to be celebrated by poets and lovers of poetry almost a century later, but not less transparent, no less common and no less residents of bullets fired into the heart of this country, well-aimed. And of this country’s splendid landscapes, heritage, irrigation works, temples and works of literature, we cannot speak, for there is blood to be seen on the streets.
Red stain will be joined by red stain and red stain until we have no more room for the other colors, unless the white-washing stops and the blacks that bled into red are seen as black and duly removed.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com