By Arjuna Seneviratne –
Everyone knows the story of little Johnny and the flea.
Regardless of what sort of essay the teacher tells the class to write, this formidable brat always finds a way to very quickly tie the assigned topic through some marginal link to the flea and then proceeds to blast out his spiel on that redoubtable species and its critical importance to every single reason behind every single reason that underscores every single reason why Johnny, his peers, his educators and his examiners, his family, his community, his town, his country and his planet should or shouldn’t live. The local equivalent of Little Johnny of course, as everyone knows, is Amden and the story is “makkage kathaava”. In fact, when someone constantly harps on a single idea regardless of the idea he/she is responding to or its direction or its worth or its relevance, we, in Sri Lanka say “mekata one uge mekkage ellena” (He just wants to spin his flea) or PMS (“Predetermined Mekka Spinning” – yeah, it was not what you were thinking but it is similarly annoying).
I was recently reading an article on Colombo Telegraph by Vangisha Gunasekera on the global problem of climate instability (to which, by the way, Sri Lanka contributed almost nothing) and found, both to my astonishment and day-long amusement that one of the responses was on Weliweriya (you see, the pollution of water bodies in Weliweriya are just as important to planetary climate stability as Amden’s mekka is to a fish right?). Another was just classic “what we are doing to mother earth at Weliweriya and other places is slow murder and therefore Sri Lankan women are fleeing to the middle east”! What the….?!
Let me clarify that “what the…” What the whole of Sri Lanka has done to mother earth over the last 100 years is not even a blip on the climate horizon in comparison to what China and the USA do to it in a day. LOL. A piece I wrote on the same subject at a global level had someone responding with uppercase statements about Sinhalese kicking out Tamils and Muslims and watch out… the Christians next. Huh? I didn’t even get what this guy’s breed of mekka is or what sort of fish he might want hosting it. It certainly was not the nature of things or the things of nature but I suppose that’s his nature.
Was this specific to environment issues I asked myself. Answer: NO! PMS was evident in responses to practically every post, every article, every response to news, every new Sri Lankan film, every new song, every new piece of art, every civil initiative; regardless of whether the subject was violence against women, pharmaceuticals, beverages, milk products, buildings, or food crops. Whatever the creative, academic, research or governance outcome, I saw broadly, three basic species of mekkas based on their longevity: a) the flavor of the last month mekka (Weliweriya), b) the flavor of the last decade mekka (the regime) and c) the flavor of the last half century mekka (racial and religious differentiation). All of these pointed to a queen mekka: politics. It seems as if people are spinning off or spawning variations of these breeds at a rather dizzying pace – at least on the interactive components of communications instruments.
Was this really true? Was Sunil Perera’s classic “Uncle Johnson’s Jubilee” and its two lines about politics the actuality? Well, no. Not really. The political mekka is the outcome of a desperate search on the part of human beings to find a target for one of three questions: a) “Who is to blame?”, b) “Who can I say tricked me into doing this?”, c) Why can’t I indulge in the same nasty things that I hate to see others doing?”.
What people are doing is finger-pointing and politics is the best vehicle there is to engage in the age old trick of shouting “LOOK THERE, THAT MAN HAS A KNIFE” while he quietly slits the throat of the man standing next to him with his own knife. Regardless of the target, everyone seems hell bent on engaging in digit-stabs that are then countered by the target with similar digit-jabs. Be the perpetrators the people, the regime, foreign powers, weliweriya or Zoroastrianism.
At one level this is simply a mean way of externalizing issues but at another level who can really blame people for this? When people, in the main, indulge in the worst possible human failings as a matter of preference, one of the few ways of reducing internal frustration is to scream in the direction of the nearest external entity that can be hauled in by the scruff of its neck and scaped into the reason why they get our goat. Be that scaped goat a journalist, the USA, the regime or the pollution of water bodies in micro-geographies. Who cares that five decades of agrochemicals have baked our nation’s earth into toxic mudpack? More to the point, who, amongst us who use PMS as a way of life would even want to? One cannot really spin one’s mekka over dozens of regimes or 300 different bad policy modifications can one? One needs a temporally manageable window and an easily identified regimen of action for this and every “current regime” and the conflict between that regime and those that elected it is ideal for the purpose. For everyone. Not just the citizens or the politicians or other “concerned parties”. Not just in Sri Lanka. Across the world. Regardless of whether or not they have little or no role to play in the myriad different ideas that are aired in public forums from nature to notion to nation. Forget reason. It is of no moment to a circus where everyone indulges themselves in flea market entropy.
Take our current regime for example. The world and her husband are pointing accusatory fingers at it and it is reciprocating by pointing accusatory fingers at the world and his wife. People get on either one of these band wagons and fling their fingers all over the darned place and mostly, all they do is end up poking their own eyes out in the process. This is not a tragedy because one really doesn’t need “vision” to get one’s tickles via the biggest mekka of them all – the one that lives just a few miles away from the end of each extended index finger. The only negative upshot of PMS is that there will be a lot of bemused article writers wondering what sort of weird lens these people have fitted to the spectacle frames carefully straddling their non-existent visual organs.
Why do this? Well, we must go back to why Amden did it to find a reasonable answer. Amden knew nothing about most things that were going on in the class. Amden didn’t want to know. Amden didn’t think it is either sufficiently important or edifying to know. Amden didn’t believe for one moment that paying attention in class would help him in engaging in the “attara qualities” that gives him the most joy. What Amden knew very clearly was that he knew something about the mekka. Not a whole lot but just enough for him to make a case for “knowledge of the mekka”. That mekka empowered him. That mekka rationalized everything that ever needed rationalizing for him. Therefore, Amden would grab onto this micro-critter and belabor everyone with it with a tenacity that makes people fall all over the floor laughing their rear ends off. Well Amden doesn’t give a rat’s rear. All Amden is interested in is getting his flea to bite everyone else’s rear. Regardless of what sort of seat the owners of those rears have parked them on.
*Other articles by the same author could be found at http://arjunareflections.blogspot.co.uk/