12th October 1997

All in a pol mess

By Rajpal Abeynayake

Its right there plumb on the blockhold. Thadabadas. He's out. Mangalata banghawewa.

To the sound of cracking careening coconuts, the brethren that scream for Sinhala lobby, and some members of the Sangha fraternity, have played right into the hands of Minister Mangala Samaraweera. Let's procrastinate, and leave the discussion on the substance of the Sinhala Commission for a later date. It's the spectacle of the plague that has been ordered on Mangala's house that excites us.

Protesting monks at Matara
Which pitaka in Buddhism sanctions wishing a plague on the enemies house? Or did the Buddha say "vairaen vairaya nosansindhe?'' The sight of the sangha, robes akimbo, bowling right arm medium pacers at a concrete contraption was a lot to take. Jayasuriya has given cricket to Matara, but this?

We have got our values skewed up so much, that I can envision a Sinhala gentleman, his integrity on his sleeve, getting up to defend the coconut campaign. Michael Roberts, Robert Knox or Ananda Coomaraswamy himself may be quoted as authorities to show that the "practice of throwing coconuts was an integral part of Sinhala custom and tradition, right alongside the practices of worshipping ones parents and eating bulath with puvak.''

To those who attempt to come up with any such defence, here is a hoot in advance. If Gandhi won independence for India preaching a trail blazing philosophy of non-violence, here we have the Sinhala Buddhists advocating a political philosophy of vituperation and superstition. But also, for the sheer shallowness in terms of a reaction, the screaming coconut campaign is hard to beat.

On the one hand, it is symptomatic of the confused values of a hybrid political culture. One would think it needs some major accident of thought to promote the Sinhala Buddhist identity by going smack against Buddhist teachings and calling for an outright curse on a detractor. Even so, it's exactly what has happened. But, the sheer casual way in which the whole coconut charge against Mangala is being conducted, makes it clear that it hasn't occurred to anybody in the campaign that there is some inherent absurdity in the act of preserving a Sinhala Buddhist culture via a curse.

The substance of Mangala's tirade against the Sinhala commission report is another matter. If freedom of expression is the issue, the lobby against Mangala has the right to protest against Mangala's statement in any way it likes. This may be by dashing coconuts, shouting slogans or through a campaign of mass agitation combined with mass meditation. There is no gainsaying that the right to protest remains sacrosanct; it just the propriety and decency of the campaign that's at issue.

But, the form of the protest, by the sheer audacity of it, necessarily brings up questions of substance. It's like examining the sincerity of a man who turns up for a funeral in a red suit. The philosophy that underpins the action of wishing disaster on a man who merely made a statement, however inconsiderate his speech was, begs the question whether those who are behind the campaign have real delusions of hegemony over the rest of the population. The initial political campaign against Mangala's statement can be viewed in the spirit of accommodating protest. But, the moment the first coconut was thrown, it was a generous grant of ammunition for those who smelled a rat in the first place. It made it easier for them to say — there, I told you so, these people's visions of hegemony are incurable.

But, the "vroom run-up and there goes coconut " hilarity of the spectacle, which was televised quite happily by Rupavahini, gave a coconutty twist to what was touted to be a serious political issue. Harry Belafonte sang in his lilting simulated pidgin

Have some coconut water

Coca good for your daughter/

Have some coconut candy

makes you feel very dandy/

Coca got a lot of iron

makes you feel like a Lion'

....small wonder the Lion race seeks perpetuity through the troth of the coconut.

It's easy to forget that there are several dimensions of intolerance. Those who accuse the others of being intolerant of Mangala would in turn be intolerant if they censure the protest against Mangala. To pooh-pooh the political sensibilities of an organisation that incorporates a good proportion of the sensibilities of the majority will be patronising as well as condescending.

But, spectators have a right to their freedom of expression as well, and this is why the coconut campaign can be deservedly criticized, even as we defend to the death any body's right to spray coconuts as long as their aim is correct.

But, hypocrisy serves no cause, and this trend of righteousness among those who claim to be righteous, is a sub-culture tendency that exposes the widespread humbuggery of our society. This goes for sundry holier than thou's and those who regularly fleece the gullible

Oh, come on, we can tolerate with a smirk the whole hypocritical mealy mouthed holier-than-thou lot, but God and the Buddha forbid if we don't expose their pranks for the damage they do to individuals, and the polity as a whole. It's human to purr, but divine to forgive; and we all love pol sambol.

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