08 September 2010

The End of History

From beneath my office window a ragged chant rises from throats already hoarse at half past nine in the morning. It is accompanied by a lurching dot-and-carry drumbeat. 
        All along Parliament Road from Alexandra Place to Pelawatte, the rent-a-crowds are gathering. The Transport Board buses that brought them fill every lay-by, lane and empty roadside lot. Expensively-dressed thugs and thuggish-looking cops are walking busily up and down, talking self-importantly on mobile phones and walkie-talkies. In spite of the cops, the traffic is an unholy mess. The crowds have taken over the streets.
       No-one dares oppose them, for they are here at the behest, and under the protection, of our new Master. They carry his smirking face placarded on a stick as an amulet, and they wear blue caps, red shirts and other tokens of their loyalty. Most have bunked off from their government jobs to be here and their faces are alight with the joy of sanctioned truancy. Many are already drunk – foam-flecked, sweat-drenched and drooling, primed for the day’s inevitable violence. Here and there a politician walks among the masses, distinguishable from them by the pristine whiteness of his raiment and the bloated lividity of his face, toward which other faces turn as eager sunflowers toward a ashen sun.
       They are here to demonstrate in favour of tyranny, to show the world how eager Sri Lankans are to give up their freedoms and constitutional rights. They have not come here of their own initiative, of course; they were brought. And bought – some for no more than the price of a lunch-packet and half a bottle of arrack. They sell their freedom cheap, these Sri Lankans. But then, their fathers and grandfathers got it cheap, didn’t they, back when Sri Lanka didn’t exist and the British, exhausted by the Second World War and the trials of Indian independence, were only too eager to hand back the Crown Colony of Ceylon to a people who weren’t ready to receive it and, for the most part, didn’t really want it anyway.
       The rest, as they say, is history.
       But history ends today.