By Kumar David –
Rage, blow, you cataracts and hurricanes -In cities mutinies; in villages discord
Surely Hamlet is the seminal text of all the English literary cannon; but a few renowned critics say King Lear is “Shakespeare’s greatest achievement” – A.C. Bradly’s respected Shakespearean Tragedy of 1904, for example. To be so eulogized, a work, to quote Ruskin from Sesame and Lilies, must not only be “a book of the moment, but a book for all time”. Then, this harrowing tale of spite and discord must speak to our times also; it must speak to our Lanka where this winter of discontent exhibits no glimmer of a spring. Lear’s tragic downfall was threefold; he divided his realm between his two elder daughters, disinheriting the virtuous Cordelia, his second error was that affairs of state were admixed with profit and ambition for his kin with calamitous consequences, and the final shock was that the anguish and discord of the times drove him to madness. The second fault, Lanka’s ‘First Family’ exhibits with such astounding verve, that I need say no more today.
At first sight, the one error for which our rulers cannot be blamed, is dividing the realm; if anything they fought a bitter civil war, too bitter I would contend, to prevent division. Now, tragically, they have lost in the Peace that which they fought with no thought of crime and violation, to win on the battlefield. Three factions fought to divide Lear’s realm (Cordelia returned at the head of a French army), but our nation is splintered into a larger number of fractious discordant pieces; a big piece around king and court, a smouldering Tamil piece, a pie baked full of lawyers, discontented elite and captains of capital, all livid with anger, and pieces of political opposition whose hatred of the king is so great that it is amazing this heat fails to weld them together. The country is in open revolt and no business gets properly done; investors with deep pockets desert us, and others in skimpy swimwear will slip away from our shores if the volcano erupts.
Jan Kott in a 1964 book, Shakespeare our Contemporary (not written in 2012 in Colombo!) says: “There are only huge monsters devouring one another like beats of prey . . . All that remains at the end of this gigantic pantomime is the earth, empty and bleeding”. Pantomime in Kotte?
“Love cools, friendship falls off, brothers divide. In cities,
Mutinies; in countries, discord; in palaces, treason. And the
Bond cracked ‘twxt son and father . . .
We have seen the best of our time”.
(King Lear: Act 1: Sc.2)
Yes these rulers of our land have seen the best of their times; it will be all downhill from now. Is it not profoundly clear that king and court have reached a great turn in the river of fortune; that from here it will be all rapids and cataracts?
To portray court and courtiers, Cabinet of Ministers, obedient 117 UPFA parliamentarians, e must look elsewhere than Lear. King Henry VIII, Act 2; Sc.4, is most apt.
“At all times to your will conformable,
Ever in fear to kindle your dislike,
Yea, subject to your countenance, glad or sorry
As I saw it inclined. When was the hour
I ever contradicted your desire,
Or made it not mine too?”
(With apologies to Katherine of Aragon)
Oh Ministers of State and Parliamentarians of UPFA face, oh Leftists Dead and Hakeems live, wherefore has fled your shame? True, a few far seeing rats have begun to desert the sinking ship, from diplomatic distance the view is clearer, but authentic panic and stampede have still to come. It is not till Act 3, when in the play’s most memorable scene, Lear rages against cosmic nature, the storm scene, (“Blow winds and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow, you cataracts and hurricanoes”), that the reader confronts Armageddon. Having inherited the kingdom, Lear’s elder daughters Generil and Regan, drove the old king and his rowdy knights out of the castle, into a bleak mid-winter storm.
In mother Lanka we are still in Act 2. The petty bourgeoisie, the umpires of our populist electoral fate, has not driven our king and court out of the electoral realm. Our champions have more method in their madness than Lear. A racist war, fought and won, is a chalice in which wine will not turn to vinegar for many years. That’s the spleen of identity: nationalism, racism, religiosity, and like ailments of the mind. Sunnis and Shiites have slaughtered each other for a millennium because they quote from two commentaries pertaining to one god, one prophet, and one holy book. Nuts I say! So the fact remains that for so long as Lanka’s rural and informal-sector folk, to be precise the Sinhala-Buddhist portion thereof (even Catholics have given up on the Pakses), remain loyal to these disorders of the social mind, Lanka’s Lears will carry on, their madness notwithstanding.
What about a happy ending?
The dark misery of Lear was too much for audiences and after its performance at the court of James I in 1606 there are few records of its staging till 1681; but that was with a twist. A producer called Nahum Tate reworked the play with a happy ending, and the adaptation proved popular for more than two centuries. Only happy Lear was staged throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and Shakespeare’s authentic version did not make a comeback till the early 1900s. After that there was no turning back on stage or screen. Akira Kurosawa made a Japanese filmed called Ran, an adaptation of the story to feudal Japan, which was more brooding and black than even Shakespeare’s Lear. It reflected the maker of Rushamon’s deep pessimism about the sickness of the modern world.
Any chance of a Nahum Tate ending for our Lankan misery? Well don’t hold your breadth, but don’t rule it out either. If the CJ witch-hunt can be brought to a crisis, it will be the signal setback that I am waiting for; but that needs opposition unity across class, party and professional lines. Some way off, but not an impossible dream either. Defeat, withdrawal, suspension or stalemate for the witch-hunt will be a huge victory for democracy and would bury the Pakse’s authoritarian project.
The website Lanka e-news carried an item on 5 December whose legal soundness I am not qualified to judge. It argued that if it could be established to the satisfaction of the Supreme Court that the impeachment resolution was malicious and in bad faith, then under the constitution, the Court could remove the signatories from parliament. This seems far fetched, but it could be the thought underlying the Bar Councils petition to the Court challenging impeachment. It would precipitate a constitutional crisis if the Court finds in favour of the petitioners. Whichever way the conflict evolves thereafter, it would sound the tocsin, and in time Colombo will become like Cairo. Obviously the Muslim Brotherhood as overreached, and as often happens, it may not be able to backtrack in time to reach a compromise that will not rend the fabric of society.
The regime has lacerated democracy, and the walkout in Kotte has thrown down the gauntlet. It is certain the curs will not call-off the witch-hunt; they are determined to burn the lady at the stake. The pressures building up all over the nation on many matters are explosive; the end can only be fall of this regime – eventually but not yet. The manipulation of every instrument of state is now so brazen that the powers that be do not bother to conceal their villainy – could anything be more barefaced than the proceedings that drove the lady out? Hurling abuse, panting openly like a lynch-pack; a finding so perfidious that it was surely crafted in hell, is all this really happening, or is it a surreal Kafkaesque nightmare? It was Goethe who quipped, somewhere, “We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe”. Or is this more to the point:
“In the corrupted currents of this worldOffence's gilded hand may shove by justice,And oft 'tis seen the wicked prize itself
Buys out the law”.
Still I have little confidence that the Sinhala petty bourgeois throng is about to desert the Pakses, en mass, and right away. The madness has to spread and it will need to inflict suffering, much more suffering, before the game is up and the powers that be are driven from office. Of one thing though I am slowly becoming reassured, the lady is going to stand and fight; late in life maybe but I hope she can learn about mass movements. If so, Hooray! One more ally.