Darkness at noon, light at sundown...

Saturday, 26 March 2022 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

HEART OF DARKNESS – a few quiet words on the blacked-out streets may do more to bring some light (in the long run) to our present plight 



What do you do to show you’re not happy – with the un-pretty pass we’ve come to as a people? 

Do you rant and rave on social media – at the predicament of a once-blessed nation, now become a benighted raggedy beggar? 

Curse the darkness all round, do you, and the powers that be that caused it – or light a candle, and join hands with your fellow sufferers in a peaceful, non-violent, apolitical protest?

Despite the seeming futility of it, there’s growing merit in a minor but burgeoning citizen movement which does just that. 

A small yet sincere band of ‘silent warriors’ has spilled over, from humble beginnings at a suburban junction on Colombo’s southern border, and passed on the torch of enlightened protest to neighbouring boroughs. 

And if the candle-bearing brigade captures the imagination of a nation starved of more than food – hope is apparently in short supply at present – it might well ignite a national movement that rescues our island’s lost spirit of resilience and indomitability.

Cant and cynical hypocrisy from on high, on the other hand, threatens to gutter the flickering flame of faith in our innate island spirit. 

We’ve heard the head of state’s tired, stale drone – and, as the lady said, “that don’t impress me much” or anyone but the elite cronies his administration has fed and fed on. 

There’s the firebrand opposition leader on his green horse leading the rabble to the gates of the citadel of power. But his rhetoric alone overshadows any rationality his party’s clarion call to regime change may have once had. 

While the third force has an evident resonance with a segment of citizens fed up with both those houses – ‘a plague!’ – their bloody modus operandi of old casts a long shadow. 

If there’s one thing longer, it’s the memory of supposedly civilised types who recall in gruesome detail the brutal orgy of gory crimes committed by that party in its savage youth. 

Colombo won’t/doesn’t want to/can’t even if they want to forget that bloodbath, flirt as they may with AKD and his cohorts or be impressed by the lady in their ranks who’s pretty ‘with it’ or ‘hip for a new-gen socialist.

So to whom shall we turn as the nation burns with hunger – and shame, anger, and guilt? 

Who will come to the aid of elders in essentials queues who shuffle off their mortal coil while patiently waiting inordinate hours for a handful of sugar or a half-bottle of kerosene? 

Will the vision and salvage programme of any political party pass muster in these dire straits? 

Or will ‘Citizen Sri Lanka’ have to rethink, re-imagine, and reinvent itself if it is to emerge from the economic holocaust – the worst of which indubitably lies ahead?

A triad of factors may make the more reflective among us feel at least momentarily relieved...

Small bright brigade

As noted above, the ‘Candlelit Corps’ is thrice welcome. 

For one, they are peaceful – although the bluntness of their declarations in placards held quietly yet firmly suggests a deep slow-burning anger at the state of a darkened nation. 

For another, they are apolitical – and that is a salutary development among a polity that has traditionally swung between hell-gate and heaven-gate... voting first for one camp, then decamping to another colour when the first lot disappoint – only to repeat the vicious cycle every 5-6 years, while the country goes from the frying-pan into the makeshift-stove fire.

Last, not least, they are representative – anyone irrespective of party, personal preferences, political affiliations, individual affinities, ethno-linguistic markers or socio-economic bracketing can join.

It’s somewhat like the island-wide regiment of people protesting against the horrors of a protracted war in the early years of this decade. With a significant exception: the powerhouse driving it is not an influential business chamber or captains of commerce and industry with vested interests of their own; but rather, common or garden citizens with no hidden agendas except their shared suffering at the hands of callous regimes and their kleptocratic cronies.

It’s an important difference – in that as long as their hardships and sorrow last, so do their persistence and unhappy unity in the face of adversity. 

It’s likely to make the vital difference if all things small unite for a start to stand against the giant of corruption and the trolls of cynical politics, chauvinistic policies and charlatan politikkas of all persuasions.

For instance, small businesses with minimal staff who have been marginalised by the major corporate cabals that curry favour with the powers that be and received preferential treatment from policies/tax regimes that favour big biz and major players who monopolise benefits dished out by patronage politics... will your owners and operators join the protests at sundown – or would the 90 per cent of those who make up commerce in this country watch as there is darkness at noon while the elites who toady to one major political party or another make whatever hay is left while the sun still shines in elect select quarters?  

Simple humble suffering 

If there is one eventuality that used to unite us islanders, it was cricket. Now, you can add queuing to the element of the compound that makes us ‘Sri Lankan’. That it is so is a great pity... and a tragedy that often doesn’t bear re-telling – but it has in it the seeds of its own salvation.

No one can deny that three elderly persons whom we know of have breathed their last while standing from here to eternity – literally – in lines for fuel, whether vehicular or domestic. 

There is a great sense of outrage that the powers that be can calmly tweet their extreme grief at the recent airline disaster overseas while remaining dispassionate about the trinity of tragedies – thus far – at home. 

It reeks of the characteristic apathy and ignorance of a tone-deaf administration, as well as the opportunism of the political opposition, which capitalises on an arrogant executive that has fallen by its own sword.

Just remember that today’s governments are tomorrow’s opposition – and vice versa. Also don’t forget that the people have suffered this much (never before to this extent, unnecessarily), with the prospect of worse to come. 

That an impending plethora of ills – potential deaths, possible hyperinflation, perhaps bankruptcy if the delayed IMF bailout fails as inexplicably as it was stubbornly refused and then surprisingly embraced – could or should unite the people as never before. 

Encouragingly, humanity has uses for adversity. Already, there are signs that the average citizen is beginning, correctly, to locate his or her and their children’s plight in the pervasively corrupt party-political culture. 

This belated realisation – brought about by the false gods of empty stomachs and hollow guts for the long fight against crippling shortages and hamstringing price shocks – must not be allowed to die down into a ‘But what to do? Aney!’ torpor.

A regiment of candles as darkness falls time and again across the nation can strengthen the sinews and straighten the spines of solid citizens raging against the crimes of regimes past and present. 

It can stave off the repetition of an incontrovertible repetition in the future. 

Strong anti-political sentiment

So it is a good and fitting thing to shield the candles of quiet citizen protests from the scoffing winds of naysayers who would pooh-pooh a seemingly minor movement on the fringes of political power – or attempt to stifle civilised dissent by other means. 

It must be protected and empowered. Because it is better by far than the sullen silence of the incumbent administration or the violent rhetoric of the political opposition on the march!

And if the anger of the average citizen can make a start at exposing our bankrupt political culture for what it is, a growing movement may generate the momentum and reach critical mass? Out of this there may emerge a genuine ‘civil society’ united by hardship and untainted by hypocrisy.

From their ranks may rise next-generation leaders. For the legislative assembly as much as executive corridors of power are bereft of anyone, really, with a truly credible vision, the character to match, and the competence to extract us from this morass.

A few – a very few – may favour the government that’s presently clinging on to the skirts and satakayas of power. Although the slew of rats deserting a sinking ship amply demonstrates that the emperor is naked... because the buck doesn’t seem to stop with him. 

The elites who still curry favour in the increasingly forlorn hope that they may benefit in the future – by dint of tax cuts and other preferential concessions – might very well have the masks ripped off their plutocratic faces by a citizen movement if it garners the appropriate and required gravitas to do so.

Many resonate with the boots on the ground activism of the main political opposition. So be it – although their sabre-rattling in demanding that the democratically elected president resign forthwith can be interpreted in only one of three ways... 

Either it is bungling incompetence whereby its rhetoric-oriented leader hasn’t read the fine print of the constitution by virtue of which parliament will elect a new executive in the event of a mid-term resignation or assassination (as has happened once before).

Or it is the equally arrogant ego trip of a populist would-be regime trying pathetically (and dangerously) to demonstrate that its stick – I almost said something else – is larger than their opponent’s one! 

The most charitable interpretation is that this is a calculated ploy to rattle the government’s cage and watch the stool-pigeons fly. Thereby finessing close to the required majority in parliament in the hopes of significantly undermining that notorious two-thirds absurdity...

However you may interpret the doings of the powers that be or the powers that would-be, one thing is clear: the people have finally, well and truly, had it UP.TO.HERE! with their elected representatives and their shenanigans that have unloaded a barrelful of woes on all our heads.

Now, if only the people – small and medium citizens – would ditch partisan politics and the big crooked elites who sanctimoniously prop up a shameful political culture one way or another. 

Therefore, I go – in the hope of seeing you where the future of our nation-state is taking shape.

Not in the Presidential Secretariat, Parliament, or at the All-Party Conference – or even the panoply of noisy violent protests around our city centres. But on the peripheral dusk-lit streets of our darkened commercial capital. And hopefully their light will shine sooner than later in our darkness; and out of that small beginning, our lost generations will see a great light.   

| Editor-at-large – LMD | Enthusiast of apolitical non-violent citizenship | 

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