Sunday, March 6, 2016

Scary fear and scary lies

This is an excerpt from my novel on Sri Lanka, "The Longest Tweet." Every interaction I have here teaches me so much. Lots of what I learn is scary. 

I'm frightened by this part. I'm scared of my own ignorance and how I'm putting it into writing and calling it truth. It's so much conjecture on top of conjecture on sediments of conjecture. Feels like a fever when you're not totally coherent but the ideas come out and come together so strangely and reflect off each other with utter strangeness but a logic of strangeness that defies logic and defies strangeness. Or feels like a stuffed head where your senses are filled and you can't hear and your voice is bad so you can't communicate. Like people here. Cocooned in cotton barely stirring stuffed in silk, smooth, palatially decorated in their saris and weird western wraps but never functioning. Never moving but always some kind of slow pulse, a slow dance in fast motion. 

Conjecture on top of things you imagine. The basis of it all? Must all be lies. Or must all be truth. Just like research. Well this is fiction or at least what I found out they call "creative non-fiction" so I guess it's OK. But really. I'm scared of the input and the outcomes. Scared for what it could represent if it was true and scared for all the truths it hides, elides, or only partially represents or misrepresents altogether. Scared for the fact that Ravi maybe never went on a train or maybe that he was so blinded he never saw what I saw on a train or not blinded just not noticing. Not even not not mindful. Just not noticing. Why don't people notice things? Do we not notice because we're dumb animals deep down, maybe not so deep down? So like the cows grazing at the verge bigger than big and with intelligence but dumber than dumb. Do we just keep doing keep on doing what we've always done and is that the way we like it the way it's meant to be the way it should be so there's no outcome no energy no nothing on top of the torpor. I personally never saw what I saw and what I asked Ravi about until maybe six or ten times on the train and I never thought of it and maybe never would have noticed it if my head hadn't been turned around by the diamond-true lies I heard about Matale and that other world, hardened and vulcanized and turned and polished and prettied. Until. No. More. Lies. Truth! Would have gone happily along thinking about how pretty tanks were and how maybe they were designed after the human body. No less a lie than the lies I'm making up here and no less a truth. Still based on conjecture. Still based on bias. Still based on misunderstanding and misapprehension. Misunderstandings and misuse of language and culture and the landscape itself where sometimes you can't tell up from down and for sure not east from west. Or north from south for that matter. We're so close to the equator here. Shadows get confused. It gets hot. Too hot to read the shadows. Too hot to tell which way you're going for all the sweat. I'm scared of this homunculus coming from behind and squeezing the truth out or hiding the truth with its huge hands across your face. Hands that are hot and blinding and too powerful and smell of curry. The homunculus looked at me once and it was once too many, through a glass of wine and from much higher up.

I'm scared that Ravi never went on a train or if he went on a train he was so blind to his surroundings and only looked forward and not even backward or to the sides and scared that he might have done this just because maybe he was scared. So scared that he didn't know he was scared? So scared that scared was part of his vocabulary of being, not a scared feeling but a state of imbuedness with fright that it didn't allow any other pronouncement or emotion or even sense of fright. A cocooning of sorts. Just another state of pupa-like suspended animation. Like a nest of eggs on the bottom of a hard leaf. 

Like being in a caldron of fright so boiling and so hot you don't know there is a lip to the caldron so you never look out never think to look out. I'm scared that this caldron of scaredness is accompanied by another caldron, a caldron of lies. Some of the people can't look out of their caldron of fright. It's the only way of life. The only way they have lived. The only way their family lived. They can't move in or around or out of it because it is just it. It is not something to be negotiated or maneuvered. It is not even "just the way things are, sigh." It is the matrix of living. 

So like the caldron of fear some, most, maybe all of the people in the caldron of lies don't swim up to the edge of their caldron of lies. They don't know it's all a soup of lies they're swimming in any more than the other people who don't know they're swimming in scared soup. If Ramya tells me there were so few Tamils (and there are still so few Tamils) in Matale that pogroms never happened in 1983 it's because she has learned her history and learned it well. The caldron is comfortable even if it is boiling and it was prepared for her over millennia just like tanks were prepared for her relatives, the jungle cultivators over millennia. 

I know the caldrons are separate because in one caldron people know truths like Matale. "Matale!" They laugh when I mention it in a tea house. "Matale!" It's a magic word this foreigner knows because it holds the gem of truth. You could make a million necklaces from this gem and each stone would gleam because it is the truth. 

The caldrons are separate and they are people's separately but the people have a few things in common. One. They don't go to the edge of the caldron. In one caldron people stay in fear all their lives but they don't know they live in fear. In the other caldron people stay in lies all their lives. Even brave people stay in fear, weaving more fear bunnies. Even smart people stay in lies, knitting more and better lies for that's what's done in this caldron. Lies, fear, oh dear. Is this sounding Platonic? Cavish? You tell me. You're the philosophy person. I'm seeing this through the eyes of a scientist.  

Like with Ramya and with Ravi. One in caldron A and one in caldron B. Like menu. Sometimes or maybe often this is with and among people who I know are smart or who have been given intellect. At least. People who have language, literacy, vision, and the other senses. But they act insensate! The smile on the naked cinnamon peeler's face, sitting in a shadow on a mud floor with a door ajar to illuminate his work in Batapola in Galle in the South is more resplendent of an intelligence, more lit by the light of intellect, more brilliantly illumined, more diamondish, radiant, resplendent, alive than the eyes of a professor who's a known National Treasure. But they both behave like they're in the jungle. Hiding in shadows. Furtive. Not seeing. Not interpreting. Dumb animals burrowed in leaf litter protecting themselves if there even is a "self" from the rain burrowed into damp places protected from the wind. Not searching a breeze only burrowing deeper, deeper, ruled by the people of the breeze, the orange suited ones high on mountaintops and the white suited ones with their red sashes and their dyed-black hair, so black, and their pink spouting lies mouths and their dead eyes stuck like raisins in the half baked buns of their lightened-skin faces. The orange cloaked and the white cloaked rule the dry breezy places like Wessa Giriya they wrested from the demon worshipping yakkas. But if they took the landscape of the yakkas didn't they become the yakkas? If they replaced a hegemony with a hegemony didn't they take on the qualities of hegemonists, practices of dominance and power and arrays of sprays of baskets of clouds of smoke of garlands of caldrons of sanctified acts and practices that protected their hegemony?

Me: Ravi, did you ever see the Buddhas in every train station?

Ravi: This is a Buddha country, sir. 

Me: Ravi, my country is a Christian country. We are maybe 95% Christian but you never see a cross in any train station or post office or police station. 

Ravi: There are many many Buddhish people in this country sir. Maybe (fingers splay) maybe (eyes bulge and voice becomes emphatic) 75% Buddhish people here sir. And many many few Hindu people. Maybe only 15%. So few, and few Christian people. 

Me: Yes. But why you see Buddha statue in public places? What thinks Christian person when him see Buddha statue?

Ravi: (as to an infant) Sir, many many are Buddhish people in Sri Lanka. Many Buddha places. 

Ravi tells me the truth like Ramya tells me the truth. The truth is demographics and demographics is ownership. Where there is ownership there is no question of how the owners behave. Where there is no question of how the owners behave there is no way, no reason!, for the owners to behave in any way but the way they are behaving. This is their caldron to cook and stir as they see fit. 

My narrow narrow narrow experience here? Professors' aspirations for their students are well, narrow. No need to raise those students' expectations or broaden their horizons. Not asking. Not expecting those students to swim to the edge of their caldron. Don't want to go all political cuz I'm not a political one at all. But. Bill of rights in this place? What and how does it protect? If no expectation for liberties then no liberties protected. If only respect and fear for the owners because of the owners and the way they exercise ownership then no protection of the weak from the owners. Not expected. Not asked for. Not the way we run the culture here. 

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