Living in the Past or the Present?
This morning I wrote in my current book an account of one of my experiences in Thunaivi, Vaddukoddai in Northern Sri Lanka. In essence it was about a statement by a pro-government Tamil with London influence claiming that by asking for self-rule Tamils, like Murugan have ended up with their kovanam / underwear – meaning indigenous power only.
The Hon Mano Ganesan has expressed his sentiments on this issue in his Facebook posting of 18 June. To my mind, the honourable minister for National Dialogue seems to be stating that due to Tamil National Alliance (TNA) not joining the Government – there has been lack of progress in terms of Political solution nor economic development. I on the other hand identify with the progress made by all common Sri Lankans through the outcome in which Tamils have Equal status as the Governing Party with executive powers in National Parliament.
Where such opposition is also of Buddhist Sinhalese culture that structure is like minority status for the mother, relative to the father whose surname is carried by the common family. Where the leading opposition is different / diverse in culture – it is confirmation of Equality in National level leadership. No one needs to ‘give’ it to us. Those who contributed to this will be empowered naturally in any system of democracy – including at family level where husband and wife are ‘seen’ to be equal.
My observation in relation to the Thunaivi comments was that as per the philosophy demonstrated by that legend – Murugan renounced his parental wealth before declaring his own rule with his capital as Palani Hill. That Murugan has come to Nallur in Jaffna as Alankara Murugan (Decorated Murugan). In Thunaivi also – those who renounced the benefits from their Traditional culture – have migrated to various parts of Sri Lanka and beyond. The folks of Thunaivi are of toddy-tapper origin and it is not unusual for some of them to be seen to be climbing up Palmyrah trees to tap toddy. They say they feel more relaxed in that job than in others. The Tamil from London probably was ‘attached’ to the Jaffna of his times and hence the comment. He must have mistaken the ‘freedom’ that the kovanam confirmed for money poverty. That was the zero base start that confirmed globalization.
My attention was caught also by the following comments by Mr Sasanka Perera in his Island article ‘ Meena Amma’s Line Rooms; Anatomy of a Corporate Misadventure’:
If one visits Sri Lankan hotelier, Jetwing’s official website, amongst what can be set aside as ordinary promotions of local tourism, one specific ‘experience’ stands out for all the wrong reasons. Touted as ‘local living in the highlands’, this package is marketed specifically as ‘Meena Amma’s Line Room Experience.’ Line rooms are of course the horrendous living quarters initially constructed by the British for the laborers they had mass-transported from southern India beginning in the 19th century to work in Sri Lanka’s nascent planation sector. Their journeys of mass-migration, pain, death, relocation, living in squalor as well as their contribution to the national economy and local politics are well researched. One of the most recent attempts in this direction is Kumari Jayawardena’s and Rachel Kurian’s 2015 book, Class, Patriarchy and Ethnicity on Sri Lankan Plantations: Two Centuries of Power and Protest. If Jayawardena’s and Kurian’s work as well as that of other researchers places in context, the unenviable ground situation of this specific Sri Lankan ethno-cultural community, the discourse that emanates from Jetwing’s promotions take this narrative to an altogether different and absurd level of articulation.’
The parallel of the above is true of Jaffna also - where also Jetwing has two hotels. I started staying there after our cottage in Thunaivi was stoned because I reported some youth to the Police. This year I rang to wish my brother on May 12th from Jetwing Jaffna, to wish my brother on his birthday. My brother was born in Jaffna hospital across the road and we shared that experience – especially our mother’s challenges during that time. When I described not only Jetwing but the surroundings, my brother said that Jaffna sounds very different to the Jaffna he grew up in. My brother left Jaffna for Canada, in 1983, due to the war. My husband’s brother was shot dead by the armed forces near Jaffna hospital. That area was seriously wounded by the war. Yet, I felt very much at home at Jetwing, Jaffna. I said to my brother that had I stayed on in Jaffna, I would have resided in a home with similar comforts. That confirms the structures that I have developed along the pathway. I now contribute to that global standard as a customer. That is how I pay my respects to Jaffna.
But now I do not keep in the front of my mind the memories of the past – as they happened. The essence of it is registered to motivate me to produce more like myself along MY pathway. I grew up in a home not too far from the city centre. That was good then and Jetwing is its current version of my consolidated self.
Mr Sasanka Perera comments as follows on Jetwing promotion:
[What more would one want? An ‘authentic’ meal with sit in extras from the extended locality to perform the choreographed rituals of ‘authenticity.’ This is Jetwing’s corporatized understanding of estate labor’s ‘simple pleasures.’
But the simplest pleasure of many workers I have talked to over the years has been to escape from the cycles of poverty to which they were bound in the estates, and to ensure that their children had a better life away from the circumstances of poverty they were born into. In this context of sharp contradictions, I wonder what the ‘variety of traditional activities characteristic of their lifestyles’ that Jetwing has in store for us. Of course, to be reasonable, there could be many options. But if the experience has to be ‘authentic’ as claimed, then, over-consumption of alcohol widely available in the form of locally brewed hooch as well as national brands in local taverns and listening to nursery rhymes in dilapidated school buildings where the tin roofs leak in the rains might well be part of the overall experience. We do know from research that these are hardly far from day to day realities in many estates]
Like the folks of Thunaivi who continue to be toddy-tappers – the residents of that home that I lived in would continue to live in lesser luxury than myself. A complaint of lack of sugar in milk cannot be directly related to the complaint of one who complains of lack of salt in the soup. Each manifestation needs to be taken in its own context. The boundaries are space or time.
Plantations need the tourism income and the investors in tourism would know how best to promote their investment in that area. Happiness of the plantation guy who remained a plantation worker cannot be compared directly with happiness of the likes of Mr Mano Ganesan who motivates those who seek to go national and global. They are relative to each other within that community. Outsiders – be it commentators or tourists – become trespassers when insider information is used indiscriminately for their own publicity.
Jetwing is good for Jaffna and I feel Jetwing in Hill-country is also good for progress in that area. Within the local electorate – time based relativity is used to measure progress. If time is the border that separates – then place based relativity is the measure. Time measure should not be applied to the person who has chosen the wider current measure of multiculturalism.