By Basil Fernando
Deaths of butterflies, flowers and young people
'The field is vast Where these deaths occurred. And there you prefer to be alone. …
You look over your kingdom sadly, With that royal sadness That befits the king, The sole king-” From Age Four Revisited – from a new era to emerge, 1972
(March 21, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka Guardian) In this poem, the child recognises the deaths of the butterflies and the flowers.
'Butterflies are not different from the flowers.'
'They wither away like the flowers.'
The child talks about the butterflies that await innocently. When they are caught, they make no noise. They don't bite either. They don't struggle much, even. They wither away like the flowers.
These deaths of flowers and butterflies symbolize the many deaths that were to become a part of the common of experience of Sri Lanka, for so many who were to die without much resistance. The sheer powerlessness of people, particularly the young, before the brutal forces that took away lives without much resistance. The sheer powerlessness of people, particularly the young, before the brutal forces that took away this lives without much difficulty is in the memory of any adult that looks back into his or her time. Like the way a child might remember deaths of butterflies and flowers, an adult remembers the deaths of so many young.
There is some incongruous relationship between beauty, innocence and powerlessness.
Not only likes, but dreams and expectations are also symbolized by the butterflies and the flowers. They are all destroyed by those who 'squeeze tenderly until a finish.'
The power or the idea of ruling is not about creating, caring or fulfilling. It is about destroying.
'Beautiful things are made to be destroyed.'
That becomes the ideology of power.
An adult trying to revisit the memory of age four sees the images of the deaths of butterflies and flowers, the images of all the destruction that has taken place in their country.
In a separate poem, 'The Graveyard of the Victims', the same theme is revisited.
'What then is this Graveyard What is the revelation Here And the grasshopper That keeps the guard And this sand Which defies all tyranny'
Motherland and the graveyard are two concepts which, in normal times, give opposite meanings. However, when power is blatantly abused, when the citizens' lives do not matter, when young people die like flowers and butterflies, powerless to resist their aggressors, what does motherland mean? That's the kind of question that is posed to people who live in societies facing catatrophes, whether such catastrophes of nature's making or the making of hopeless political forces. The sense of powerlessness within the citizens is a clear sign of the idea of the motherland losing its normal meaning.
In a separate poem, a wreath is placed by the wayside of a highway in memory of someone who has no grave. In times of forced disappearences, there are many whose final resting places are not known. That, too, becomes another aspect of a motherland that is in crisis.
The Wreath with no Name
‘The wreath of flowers with no name attached,
Is for you, who have no grave.
It is placed besides a road as the earth,
which touched you, Could not be found.
Forgive me for making a memorial by the wayside,
Link: Part One
To be continued...
By Basil Fernando