War Poet at a Time of Conspiracy: Malinda Senevi’s Geneva Poems.

Malinda Seneviratne’s Poem of the Day (http://malindapoems.blogspot.com/), since Geneva, for his closest readership who can do with a pat and a hug that we are in the midst of a major conspiracy, keeps the doctor away. Predominant among the entries over the past few weeks are Geneva-related pieces; and understandably, the sentiments are strong. Things are at a vocal high with ballads such as “The Ballad of Staff Sergent Robert Bales” and the one dedicated to Hillary Clinton (“This is Not Who We Are”). Sandwiched between them are “Draft Requiem for an Empire” and “Draft for an Amnesty International Anthem” — two items rich with dissent. While not being a Rajapakshic and a cheerleader of the “post war” mechanisms of sort, one can still enjoy Malinda’s writing, for he engages ardently (or seems to do so) with a cause and a championship. To level against Malinda Seneviratne charges such as of him being a “blind bat to state suffocation” or of him being immune to the militarization of the two separate states that constitute Sri Lanka, however, should not be done; for such a charge sheet is so-2009.

The Geneva Poems (and by such a title I refer to the gutsy pieces Malinda has written during and since the UNHRC sessions at Geneva, a forum to which he himself had been at the capacity of a journalist) are largely predictable and more so, owing to their apologetic bent. Some sections are more ranty than arty and suggest nothing new or refreshing than the object of tabling a Rajapakshic Sinhala nationalist blast. It is a pity that space-makers (in different forums and involving multimedia) for the regime operate within a limited capacity, even in the act of apology. What Mahinda Abeysundara on ITN does crudely, Malinda does poetically. But, at both extremes the function of the expression are aimed at similar ends.

The continuation of war --- some, to regain; others to maintain.

The writing in question is charged with strong allegations of duplicity and dishonesty, levelled against the USA. However, the drawback in Malinda is that the hegemonic imperialist teeth he attributes the US with, at one level, can very well be assigned to the Sri Lankan government’s mechanisms as well. Malinda writes of the US: “They came for Saddam Hussein / and got Iraq / (and the oil)”. You just have to substitute the words and rearrange, perhaps, the order of the lines and the most immediate issues of the Northern refugee (today a refugee still of political and cultural displacement) would come to shape. In other words, what the United States strives to maneuver through her international links, in a regional sense, is what the government of Sri Lanka attempts across the nine provinces. In a word, what is preferred by the poetry in question is a form of regional / local imperialism against a more optimized global imperialism. The logic of each empire resonates their respective bills. Control and containment are at the base of each hegemonic mantle. But, while the US empire preying on the Sri Lankan government’s  Sinhala imperial designs is reacted on, the poetics deselect those at the receiving end of the contorting agendas of the latter.

Ptolemy's map to this island.

Take for example the 18th Amendment to the constitution of the republic. With some other chick peas, the main focus of this amendment was to make the tenure of the Presidential office unlimited. The gambit, to say the least, is an undermining of the “republic” and everything else which that word, in politics, denote. The very concentration of power into the drums of a center – and an absolute, media piped center at that, energized by court jesters and poets alike – retards democratic participation and the spirit of equality. When the “seettu” system in a rural cooperative store is cast, the idea is that there will be equal opportunity and equal distribution among the community. The logic of a limited tenure is to ensure that all good things, at a point, should make way for other ideas and options, too, must be tested out. The stranglehold of the government, in the regional front, therefore, in many ways resonate the US heavyweight subtlety. If at all, the means and measure, at times, are less subtle and less diplomatic.

Malinda is a blue eyed poet and has the gift in a writer to make a reader’s eyes go blue, too. In a recent submission to his blog Malinda Words titled “Reflections on the Map Of My Country” he makes the worthy nostalgic return to his childhood and charts the growing sense of “country” (rata) through his formative years. His inculcation of the idea of “rata” (country) has been severally received at different key phases in years growing up, but Malinda’s sense of “country”, for all its worth, is a Sinhala nation. The examples, the allusions, the fears and all anxieties mapped out in his aforementioned essay are fundamentally Sinhala and middle class. Malinda words:

“I remember the year 2005 and the kind of map we had. I look back today and I realize yes, we are still a toy in a way but we are more of a country now than we were in 2005. I remember that there are no bombs exploding in crowded places, that the smell of gunpowder is not attaching itself to torn pieces of school-uniform soaked in innocent-blood. I remember that I don’t ask myself each morning ‘will I see them again?’ as my daughters worship me before they go to school and I kiss them and touch their heads saying‘mage duwata budu saranai’ (May the blessings of the Buddha be yours, my daughter)”.

Emotive stuff, no doubt; but, at the same time, the rhetoric diffuses from the larger picture the implications of war. This is a typical exclusive Sinhala Only visualization of “peace” and the map of the country, therefore, ends with an ethnic position. Malinda concludes by saying that he has got his country back. In 2005 (when the Rajapakshe regime came into power), he claims, he couldn’t have said that he owned the country; but that now, he has no doubt that the country “robbed” of him has been restored.

Returning to the main issue – the post-Geneva poetry – the poetry becomes more anxious as the days on the US-led motion catch up. “An Open Note from Geneva” is published on March 22nd, “War Criminality” and “Summary Execution” follow up in Geneva’s aftermath. The unaffectedly witty “Switzerland” comes in between – a very articulate piece: exasperated, but arty, by all means. Malinda says Switzerland was a “flat land” :

“Obelix was right.
A flat land
where flat people fall
on their faces
lap up their own vomit
and say ‘delicious’”.

Perhaps, Malinda was thinking of the Sri Lankan delegate – for the Geneva mission was an under-prepared, under-diplomatic misadventure.

Malinda submitting to the LLRC hearings

The subsequent poems accompany two photos; cliches from the state’s “apology factory” for war crimes allegations – In each photo a soldier is seen helping Tamils / humanity. In “War Criminality” a refugee woman’s infant is helped into a truck by a soldier and in “Summary Execution” an army carder is seen feeding a little kid. The visuals and the semiotics are no different from the governmental imagination of soldiery that bear the double burden of the human rights charter and the artillery. The poetry, yet, submits to an apology, even as such apologies are past the date of expiry and do not spread beyond the anti-Channel 4 readership at home: the regimental eye. The bottle feeding soldier, again, was the governmental card tabled against Channel 4 and the human rights lobby. This, again, is the fetish on which we (the most pernicious of Sinhala Only) make ourselves feel good and relieved. The consistent replaying of that soldier ritualistically ingrains in us the “truth” — no war crimes were committed. That all anti-“humanitarian operation” footage are doctored and maliciously used. So, in a “regained country” (the map restored), being “bombless” (though not less blood smeared) we read Malinda’s Poem of the Day. Hence, we stay cured while others heal their souls of doubt and misgivings.

5 thoughts on “War Poet at a Time of Conspiracy: Malinda Senevi’s Geneva Poems.

  1. I really hope you get this published in some newspaper. A tad too long for The Nation, but I would most certainly carry it if you re-do it to fit our guidelines, which you are well acquainted with. Cheers. Malinda

    • Oh, Malinda…. Only if sarcasm was a drink… Cos it drips 😀

      Seriously — I loved the poems. ‘Switzerland’ the best and the anthems!!

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