By Malinda Seneviratne –
Meanwhile in a parallel universe….
I’ve been here long. Longer than those who claim me. Their earliest ancestors, i.e. those who hadn’t coined a name for me, had to first make their paw prints on my breast. That’s how old I am.
I was here when Raja Raja Chola, in the year 993AD named my body-soils as well as the body-soils of my neighbors as Ila-mandalam with the descriptive, ‘The land of the warlike Sinhalas’. The inscriptions at the temples in Tanjavur and Ukkal are clear. Raja Raja Chola congratulates himself not for robbing Sinhalese who lived in Ila-mandalam but Ila-mandalam itself, which he says ‘belonged’ to the Sinhalas.
I don’t know much about ‘belonging’. Something happens to all those who (think they) own and claim, I’ve noticed. They all die. You don’t have to dig into my heart to know that my body is scatted with remnants of a flourishing Buddhist presence. Now Buddhism is not ethnicity-bound. It is not the preserve of the Sinhalese, although some Sinhalese think that only Buddhists can be Sinhalese. One of the greatest scholar bikkhus was Rev Buddhaghosa and he was ethnically Tamil. Rev Buddhaghosa however was a one-off and the fact that the scholarship-oriented philosophy did not make for texts in Tamil of any import tells a tale; a tale that will pass of course, all things being impermanent and all that.
But let’s leave all that to academics to decipher.
I was told recently that Muttiah Muralidharan doesn’t know me, that he is from another part of what some people call ‘Sri Lanka’. Well, when you’ve lived as long as I have, this business of knowing and not knowing is laughable. I was amused. For example, which part of ‘Sri Lanka’ is C.V. Wigneswaran from? Does he know me well? Does he know me better than Murali does? Callum Macrae, Gordon Weiss, Frances Harrison and Jonathan Miller: do they know me and if so is their knowledge superior to that of Murali?
How about those who left without even leaving footprint for whatever reason? Do they know me? Do their children and grandparents who make claims based on what has happened to me and who feather nests in other lands know me? Fr. Emmanuel says a lot about me. Does he know me, what happened to me and what is happening to me? I remember him being pally with those who deliberately orchestrated processes that caused blood to be splattered all over me.
Does Mahinda Rajapaksa know me? Does his brother Basil know me? Does Namal Rajapaksa know me?
When did all these people first ‘discover’ me? When did they think fit to name, describe and distort? When will they forget and why? I have lots of time and I spend it reflecting on such questions.
I’ve heard some people say ‘this land is mine’ and I smile. No, I do not say ‘Excuse me!’ in a tone where incredulity is mixed with objection. I just called some land-pals a few hundred kilometers to the south. I asked some questions.
‘There are people who “own” me who say that only a certain community can walk all over my body; is it the same in your corner of the island? Some call me “Traditional Homelands of the Tamils”. Now tell me brother, whose ‘traditional homelands are you? Have you been ‘ethnically cleansed’ of all communities but one? Do you welcome only those who belong to a particular community and do people who speak on your behalf talk of others trying to fiddle with ‘ethnic composition’?’
My brother replied.
‘The answer to your first question is “no”. The second, well, according to the law that exists now, “anyone who walks on me, anyone who builds on me and lives on me”. The answer to the third is “No, although I feared something like that might happen about 30 years ago.” The fourth is a two part question and the answers to both would be “no”.’
People coin names, people stake claims. They are born, they decay and perish. Names change and there’s a lot of names that have changed or rather ‘re-ethnicized’. People use the ‘traditional homeland’ tag on me. It amuses me. But if they insist, then I would rather be called ‘The Traditional Homelands of Hope’. Right now, it seems they’ve chosen ‘The Traditional Homelands of Intransigence’.
It has not rained enough to wash away the blood and I sense that more blood will flow before ‘Hope’ can make a claim. Given how long I’ve lived, it’s a small matter to me. Just saying, that’s all.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com