By Basil Fernando –
As I wanted to discuss many things, and as I found no one else to discuss these things with, I was happy to see you on a branch of a tree in our garden. I told myself, “Ah, here is someone I can talk to.”
As I approached and greeted you, you nodded to me in a friendly manner, which encouraged me to start this conversation with you.
There are many problems that we cannot talk about with human beings these days. They no longer want to converse about things; they like to keep the chatter to just saying “Hi” or talking about the weather, the latest cricket match or a song or a film, none of which they care for very much. It is as if they are trying to talk to avoid a meaningful and good conversation.
You may not understand why I worry about conversations. Your species has survived millions of years without resorting to such things as conversations. It is the unique problem of our species that we use words to communicate with others. And these things called words have caused us many problems. Words can help conversations but words can also destroy conversations. These days, people have learned the art of destroying conversations through all kinds of words.
Now the question is as to why people do not want to converse, and why they want to use words as some kind of a barricade against conversations. That is exactly the reason why I turned to you to have this talk with. Having a good conversation and having to think about something, in the way that we in our species are capable of thinking, is what the people seem to be afraid of.
Such thinking about things seems to create a myriad of complications and disagreements, as well as problems from authorities. In your species, there are no authorities, you don’t have them. I don’t know whether anyone would argue that you have done worse for not having authorities. For us, authorities have become unavoidable, and there is some kind of a general consensus and agreement that authorities have done a lot of good things. However, this is not always the case; there are times and circumstances in which authorities can also be the most difficult problem that people have to deal with.
I don’t want to bore you, so I think I’d better explain this to you with an illustration, so that you could understand this better. I am happy that you are nodding and that we’ve agreed to this conversation. Once, I wrote a poem, and the title of this poem was “Yet another incident in July 1983.” The year 1983 was a time in which there was a very big riot in my country called Sri Lanka, a riot in which many people from the minority – these people were called Tamils – were killed, some burned. Their houses were destroyed, their shops were looted and all other kinds of damage was done to them. I know that in your species you don’t have these things called riots. But we have these things called riots, and during those times it can be terrible for many people. Why I used the title “Yet another incident” for my poem is that, although the incident I described was a terrible one, even that incident didn’t cause very much shock – or any shock – to the people anymore. There were so many bad things happening, very very bad things happening, and therefore listening to or going through one more bad thing was not something that left a very big impression; nor would it, as we would call it in those days, generate “a humane reaction”.
I was telling you earlier about this problem of having conversations with human beings these days and this may be one of the reasons. Too many things are bad, so many things have gone bad, as if there is some kind of madness in the affairs of human beings. I don’t know whether in your species there is a thing called madness. My acquaintance with your species is minor, although I have seen members of your species from the time of my childhood and was fascinated to watch them, and that acquaintance is not big enough for me to have an idea as to whether there is anything called madness in your world. But in our world there are very many types of madness. There are a lot of individuals who may have, due to various reasons, lost their capacity to have their rational faculties – and when this happens we call them “mad”. But there is another kind of madness and that was what I was talking about, and that kind of madness is called collective madness – when everybody is more or less mad. I say more or less mad, because for all purposes we all appear to be quite normal, and we can carry on many of our businesses and activities, unlike those people I told you of earlier who go mad and are unable to function normally. But behind our collective façade and expressions of normalness there is a far deeper problem of really being unable to cope up with what we see and what we hear.
However, this huge disturbance we have within ourselves, we are quite capable of hiding it; smiling at each other as if everything is normal, we can keep all the appearances of sanity, but internally there is some terrible insanity that goes on. It is this insanity which prevents us from responding to a terrible event with compassion and anger as we used to do when we were actually normal – a long time ago. That is the reason why I called my poem “yet another incident”; it is something we hear and something we see, and yet we pass it by, closing ourselves to it.
Why do we do this? It is quite difficult to explain. There may be very many reasons. One of the reasons is that we are afraid that if we get too involved in trying to understand the kinds of terrible things we see, we may get into problems with the authorities. That is why I told you earlier that this thing with authorities these days carries some very problematic connotations. Authority is something we have begun to fear; authority is something that is hidden everywhere and watching us, and if the authority does not like the way we think or the way we talk, it has the power to punish us, and sometimes the punishment can be a terrible one.
I mean that the punishment can sometimes be death. I suppose that what we have in common, your species and mine, is that we fear death. The same way that in your species you take so much precaution to avoid being harmed by predators, we also have similar fears among ourselves. We always try to be safe, to take every possible precaution to avoid death. Now this has gone to the extent of fearing the authority, as it is not only capable of causing death, but seems to enjoy it.
This impression has not come from nowhere, nor did it come from nothing. In fact, for your species as well as mine, nothing comes from nothing. This has come from experiences, from things that have happened to others and from things that we know could happen to us. Basically, we are no longer safe. I don’t know whether you can understand that among us, the human beings, we talk about a thing called history, and what we have learned in the past is that the idea of authority was created to protect us from harm; to protect us from either killing each other or being harmed by some external enemy, and that therefore the authority was considered something very positive, something very benevolent and something very good. But now you can see how it has turned in another direction completely, and that we now see authorities as those with ominous power, power to threaten us and to cause us death.
Now you understand why I have turned to you to have this conversation; because I think that you don’t have that problem, because you don’t have authorities over you. Of course you have the fear of death happening in a natural way, and that is something that your species, my species and all other species share in common. But these days we, the human beings, have something added to that through this fear of authorities; authorities not being our friends, not being our protectors, and not being those who are out to help us, but being somewhat our enemies, if they feel that what we think, what we see and what we do in any way, is not what they want.
You see, our authorities can now tell us what we can do and what we should not do. In your species it is only nature that informs you what may be harmful to do, but we have something more that those natural causes. The result of all this is that people really don’t want to talk to each other anymore. They feel that somebody may say something that will touch them too deeply and that it will lead them to say or do something that will ultimately put them on a collision course with the authorities. To get into a collision course with the authorities these days is quite easy because what we are allowed to do is quite limited. What we are not allowed to think or do is much bigger, vast, and therefore there is the fear that even an innocent conversation with a passerby, or between neighbors known to each other for a very long time, may lead to some terrible consequences. So I hope that I have explained to you how much I appreciate your kindness and your nodding in agreement to have this conversation with me.
*Katussa – (Chameleon )