Of cakes and ale, bread and circuses

So Il Generalissimo didn’t get to chomp on cake this birthday. Allegedly because of the pettiness of the powers that be in minor matters. My heart goes out to him. But it is not of arms and the man that I sing. I sing the body electric. Of the soul so starved for sustenance that pomp and circumstances marches will have to do. And bread and circuses. For eggs and fish and dhal and rice and flour and sugar and petrol and fruit and meat are far too precious to waste them on the masses.

Let them eat cake. A full six years after the tsunami, there are still people crying over spilt milk. And blood and toil and tears and sweat. While Colombo goes to a no-holds-barred party at the newest nightclub to open in a fashionable quarter of the increasingly misnamed metropolis. I mean, whom are we kidding – the capital (in every sense of the word) is going south: the port, the airport, the present eyesore of an international cricket stadium that is reputed to be the largest grounds in the cricket-playing world. Yeah. Right. Whatever.

But we were talking about the poor, the post-tsunami homeless, the IDPs – who’d probably feel more like refugees, if their limited intake of calories permitted them a spare smidgen of energy for a rare burst of philosophical thought on their status quo. That’s not quite cricket, is it? But we party on like there’s no tomorrow – because of all the imagined sufferings in our all-too-recent collective past, which we insist in unison that we must recover from.

Even though it is the lost generation around us, and not us per se, who paid the price with life and limb and livelihood and loved ones gone missing forever.

Also pause for barely a moment to consider that the powers that be have assured all and sundry that all is well. No one from the tragic time of the tsunami is still living in a tent or a ramshackle road-side hovel – even if it is simply because we refuse to see them as we drive Down South, to Yala, or that Six- or Seven-star Resort that was newly opened south of the border in the political capital’s home district. And besides, the only people who live behind bars, in barely humane chicken coops, and rundown refugee (sorry, IDP) camps are the ones who won’t go home, don’t want to go home because they like their abject poverty and the freedoms it offers, or can’t go home for no fault of ours. And they deserve it anyway, don’t they – because they backed the wrong (i.e. losing, lost cause, let down in the end) side, didn’t they? So yah to all you suckers, and come to our party if you can. You’re all invited. Really. No, no. Why are you laughing sadly?

We mean it truly, madly, and deeply. How can we have fun and do the grand this silly season when you stare back at us with those empty eyes bereft not of meaning, but hope? Please, have mercy on us! We neither know nor care about your past plight. We are ignorant and apathetic about your present conditions. We wish you well. Just leave us in peace to trip the light fantastic this New Year’s Eve while there’s still power and glory left in us and our mad, bad, and dangerous-to-be-a-part-of system.

In addition, and in the meantime, and speaking of which (system, that is: see above), the state has caved in and admitted (in every sense) the imperatives of a United Nations fact-finding mission. I doff my dunce cap, and please do join me, ye other dunces. There’s more ways to have your cake and eat it (not you, General!) than hunt with the hare at home and hunt with the hounds overseas. Have I got that the other way round? Never mind, dears; no one from Okanda to Oxford is likely to notice! They’re all too busy playing games of their own. One-upmanship (politics), once-more-down-to-the-beach (poverty alleviation plus). And the propaganda on both sides of the cultural, social, economic, political, and religious divide – Sri Lanka’s greatly riven almost unnoticeably rent fabric – has made us forget that the battle ‘out there’, where real people (not politicos or Wikileaks-loving paparazzi) live, has been and is being or is about to be lost.

So, remember, remember, the 26th of December! And for God’s sake, my sansara-loving but nirvana-desiring friends and neighbours, take fate or kismet or atman by its outstretched arm and lend a helping hand… if, as, and when you see your brothers and sisters fallen by the road, along the many highways and byways of life in this land like no other. Your love or kind words or sympathy or considered cash in hand or assistance on a sustainable basis may be the closest they get to the face of humanity from here to eternity.

In this country, governments come and go, talking of boldness and more boldness with braggadocio. But for those who measure out their lives not in coffee spoons but in tea and sympathy, the moment has come – and gone – for all of us to wake up and smell the urine. And faeces. And bodies pressed together for the cold. Or each to each, seeking shelter from the rain, or heat. How can we make merry, make music in heart and mind, drink wine by the bowlful or barrelful, and then lie down on ivory couches – and all the while not be grieved over the ruin of Sri Lanka?

If you seek our collective monument, a marker that you and I have been here, look around us. Behind the cadjan curtain, beyond the grove of grief. A generation of men, women, and children flounder – lost… While we (you, too? not I – no more, at least) flash and flail and flounder our way to short-lived fun and games and empty pleasures. Oh, that in 2011 (ah, next year is the dread 2012, is it not) we – and they – would be surprised by the joy of discerning, caring, fellow-travellers in this post-war, post-tsunami boat… And that as a crew in a grand adventure of genuine nation-rebuilding, we can seek and strive and reach that shore of the peace that passes all understanding.

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