Saturday, March 19, 2016

Servility, brutality, Kattankudy

A visit with Sukhee and her mom Renu who came all the way from Colombo to spend the weekend here in far off Batticaloa. Kim came too and we spent the day mostly around the table, but with the women taking a trip into town (driven by good Alongo who was Lili's special tuktuk driver) to look at markets, fabrics and such. 

Spent the day in good conversation with the thing that stuck with me the most the issue of ragging in universities here. It happened to Renu 30 years ago and through the lens of subsequent emigration to North America and a lifetime she reflects that she took it in her stride as a well-bred young woman with a strong Buddhist background. "You tell me to crawl, fine, I will. Until I get sick of it. Then I'll tell you to drop dead." I still wonder how and why she remembers it so poignantly. Maybe it was a bigger deal to her at the time than she lets herself remember. 

Walking across in the shady grounds here she reflects that she can understand my view of things (among which she includes what she thinks she has picked up about my feelings about the Tamil East in relation to the rest of this country). She repeats her story but then puts it in a different lens. "They were trying to bring down the upper classes a notch or two. Wonder why they felt they had to do that or what good it would have done anyone. If they wanted to make people equal why not try to bring up the lower ones?" And "I was a city girl so I hadn't considered how first year students from rural areas might be affected by this. Never realized they might be brutalized by this kind of thing."

Renu and her husband left Sri Lanka in the early 1980s for graduate school. What was happening in this country then that gave them that extra push? What about brutality and its twin, servility, that were shaping the next 30 years of Sri Lankan life? I wonder if I can discuss that with her more today. 

Yesterday's Lunch, impromptu and at the tail end of an extremely busy lunch service the boys had to put on. For all I could see Ravi was the only server:

Red spicy brinjol

Mixed Salad

Plain rice

String hoppers (had to be substituted by red rice. String hoppers not available. Too many guests!)

Soya curry

Spicy pumpkin curry

But they only brought one portion of salad (with onion) when I asked for two (without onion). After that we took a boat ride, jolly and looking fatter than usual in our bright orange vests. The water was beguiling, slightly salty, a degree cooler than the air. It was a perfect way to kill an hour and ten minutes or if you fell off the side, kill yourself. 

Speaking of self preservation,

I think we should not go to Kattankudy for lunch tomorrow. Kim invited us with Sukhee and Renu and for awhile I thought it would be OK. The five of us could eat separated from the family, which is the way it would work out. So maybe contact with hosts would be minimal. But wait. I don't need a free lunch that badly! 

There is some real hating going on there. The hate is against me and my people. Sorry. We're Jews. The hate is not imagined. The hate is based on a deep and long lasting educational system that tells them, somehow, Israel and Jews are the worst thing that can happen. So if something goes wrong in town it's known that this is because of Israel. This is what Kim told us and it's incredible to hear. That's not a joke. Kattankudy is a Muslim town thousands of miles and oceans from Tel Aviv convinced that people from Tel Aviv are its worst enemies, bent on its destruction. 

I rode a bicycle to the middle of that place once. Should I do it again? Would you? They know who I am. Who I am is beyond suspicion. I told my host to his face. Who I am dictates that I should not leave alive. They know the harm I can cause. In this case I think it's prudent not to go to Kattankudy. I can barely understand this myself. How do I expect you to understand this predicament? So forgive me please if I forego Kattankudy and stay instead in the quiet of shadows here at Dutch Bar Road. I may not talk to anyone all afternoon. There's a good chance no one here will fear or hate me so I can act in a modulated way, behave like I have a social contract with the rest of the crew, and go about my business. I may spin words or spin tales or just spin a few thoughts around in my head but I'll do this in peace and with no threat to my human body. 

Do I mind what they think of me in Kattankudy? That I'm not man enough to pay them a visit? That I'm afraid of something? Does it make me sad that Kim might think me closed minded!? That I made this up? Think again. I'd rather sit here peacefully on the lagoon than engage with or even sniff at a twenty first century disputation. If I thought we could discuss things it might be interesting to go. For one thing I'd like to ask my host's take on his people offering me hotel rooms with young girls or boys for sex. At least those offers are something I've experienced firsthand. They were put to me like gentle business deals. Not calumny that I read in some religious rag. Maybe I'll write more when I stop feeling sick about this. 

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