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My Lawless Motherland (Part 3)

The anonymous people

By Basil Fernando

(April 12, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sri Lanka is a land where most people live lives which are anonymous. And there are a few who have big names. The entire history of the country has been like this. One of my earliest poems was entitled 'The anonymous people'. The poem reads as follows:

We
Are the anonymous people
No photos
No paintings
To record our pasts
Our forefathers
Collected no stamps
No public wall
Bears our name
No awards of us
In public games
We

Are the anonymous people
Our forefathers were the same
Age’s suffering
Connects us to past
No memories of us
But our world is vast
We

Are the anonymous people
Silence is our mask
All the histories written about Sri Lanka are about the big few; but not about the anonymous 'we'.
Our forefathers
Collected no stamps
They were engaged in different activities of living. In a separate poem, 'The fiftieth year get together', there are the following lines:
My little country—Pearl of the Indian Ocean
Paradise Isle: Portuguese, Dutch, British knew,
feasted in, drank tea—Lanka, Sri Lanka.
Illiterate women making love
to illiterate men
made this land, my land, flow with honey.

Everything the land has achieved is owed to the anonymous people. Those who are called illiterate, men and women, who have made this one-time completely agricultural land produce whatever that is of value.

However,
No public wall
Bears their names
Those names on those walls belong to the few who claim ownership to what the anonymous people have done. In fact, they even claim the ownership of the anonymous people themselves. Anonymity is the characteristic of a society that belongs to others like the cattle. Not very long ago there were more cattle in Sri Lanka than people.

The main form of social organisation in Sri Lanka was caste. The big and the small, having a name and being anonymous, having power and being powerless were all defined by that same caste system.

Caste was more important than religion. Belonging to the same religion did not spare the anonymous from being treated as worthless by the few. Religion did not create equality.

What then happened to the anonymous people? The following lines describe what happened:
Tears too: tens of thousands
disappeared, bombs,
bullets, child prostitutes and soldiers.
The illiterate did try to be literate and many, in fact, achieved that. However, did they lose their anonymity through literacy? No, instead new kinds of violence devoured the identities of those who were seeking a new status.

From the anonymous emerged the forced disappeared.

Basil Fernando is a Sri Lankan poet and has published several collections of poems. An anthology of his poems entitled, Sundramaithry, has been translated into Malayalam by Dr. Dhanya Menon, and published in 2008. This is the first anthology of Sri Lankan poetry translated into any India language. His writings may be seen at www.basilfernando.net under literature.

For further information on the aforementioned poems please see the following links:

Link One

Link Two

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Part One
| Part Two

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