Tuesday, April 29, 2014

His solitude appealed to millions

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, fondly named as Gabo, is no more. After a literary career spanning more than half a century, he departed as he came to this world, in solitude. However, he would leave a legacy that would be remembered for years. Marquez was instrumental in the use of magical realism, a literary genre where extraordinary things become natural part of life. His other subject of interest was solitude.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, Marquez spoke about the ‘Solitude of Latin America.’ He spoke about the colonial past and the excesses of dictators who were ruining the continent. At the time, the continent had become a battleground in the Cold War. The outside world did not care when Latin American dictators, who had the backing of the United States in most cases, killed thousands and violated human rights of millions of others. The world was magical because the unspeakable challenges the people faced were unbelievable. He declared that “our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude.”

Despite this people faced life with admirable courage. “Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the eternal wars of century upon century, have been able to subdue the persistent advantage of life over death.” This is the striking feature in Latin American life and history. This is the feature of life in Macondo, the village located somewhere and enveloped in solitude. Strangers come and go, calamities happen. But the people live and die. In the midst of it, the figure of Ursula Iguaran rises. She lives to an extraordinary age and appears as the tower of strength in Macondo. Calamity after calamity, Ursula would rise again. She is the strength which binds Macondo together. She seems to be personifying the Latin American spirit of persistency and courage. She is the hero of Macondo and the hero of Latin America as well.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The exodus from Koggala

Several miles towards Matara from the city of Galle, one arrives at the village of Koggala. It is in fact a strange ‘hybrid’ between a village and a city. A Free Trade Zone with some factories, several hotels and an airstrip give the air of modernization to the area. But, just beside these modern buildings, one can observe the villagers, fishing, farming, engaging in trade, gathering firewood and carrying out the chores of the normal village life.
Koggala railway station is a lonely place most of the time (Pic by me)
If you travel by road or rail to Matara, the Koggala airstrip appears to your left. It is a unique place, where the airport, rail track, road and the sea are all seen at a glance from left to right. Perhaps the proximity to all possible transport modes must have been a reason for the British decision to construct an air strip in Koggala. Most importantly, to the south of the airstrip, there was no other prominent land until one meets Antarctica. The airstrip at Koggala could have played a vital part in surveillance, and it turned out to be so. It was a plane which took off from Koggala which alarmed the British of the impending Japanese attack on Ceylon.

The story of the Koggla airstrip is not a happy one. In 1942, the British ordered 1000 families of the Koggala area to vacate their homes within 24 hours. For the military, it was a simple order to give, despite the fact that the families evicted were also subjects of His Majesty the King of the United Kingdom. Taking whatever they could pack, the villagers left their homes and lands to the mercy of the British authorities and left to find shelter with a relative or a friend in other areas. Almost all their homes were destroyed by the British, with the exception of a well known house today, the ancestral home of renowned writer Martin Wickramasinghe.

Despite the fact that the Japanese threat was real, the removal of families without giving them any alternative was not acceptable under any circumstance. The shock of losing their lands and livelihoods was too much for the innocent villagers.

Sri Lanka has seen a number of forced evictions after the event in 1942, especially during the Eelam War. First, the Sinhalese who were living or working in Jaffna and elsewhere were forced to leave. Some of them lost their jobs, some their lands and in some cases people even lost their lives. The government was unable to protect them from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The LTTE ‘liberated’ many of these people from further suffering by cold-bloodedly massacring them. The history of the Eelam War is dotted with instances of massacres of innocent villagers by the LTTE.

The next turn was that of the Muslim community in Jaffna. In 1990, the LTTE ordered them to leave the peninsular in 24 hours, carrying whatever they could. It was an order similar to that of the British in Koggala in 1942. Many Jaffna Muslims still live as refugees elsewhere in the island.

More recently, in the latter stages of the war, the LTTE forced immense difficulties on thousands of Tamil people in the Wanni, whom the organization claimed to represent. They took their children to fight for a lost cause and even killed the parents if they resisted. In the final days of the war, the LTTE forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes to an uncertain fate. These people were used as a human shield by the LTTE leadership which was trying to buy time so that the international forces could perhaps ‘compel’ the Sri Lankan government to agree to a cease fire. If the LTTE had not resorted to this ‘tactic’ the war would have ended several weeks-if not months-before May 2009.

Today, none of these stories are being heard in international forums on human rights. Furthermore, former colonial masters have now become the leading proponents of human rights. The former colonial societies have been subjugated in a colonial mindset which has been cultivated throughout the colonial period and even thereafter. In this state of mind, questioning their former masters is anathema. Therefore, smaller countries are usually reluctant to rise against the overbearing power of the Western nations. It is in this backdrop that the stories of innocent people, like the refugees of Koggala, do not get reported.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Third Phase of 2014 Indian General Election

The third phase of the mammoth Indian General Election will be held across 90 constituencies in 9 States and four Union Territories including the National Capital Territory of Delhi today. Therefore, this phase will cover a much larger area than in the first two phases held on April 7 and April 9 (yesterday).
Election dates in the 2014 Indian General Election (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)
The 2014 Indian General Election started off on April 7 with the election being held in five of the 14 seats in Assam and one of the two seats in Tripura. Two days later, the election was held in a host of other North Eastern States.

The sheer size of the electorate and the threat of violence have made it necessary for the election to be held in several phases. With more than 800 million eligible voters, holding an election in India is a challenge, even without the threat of violence. However, several North Eastern states face ongoing rebellions and the Eastern heartland of the country is facing the more prominent threat of the Maoist insurgency. Therefore, special security plans are also necessary to hold the election successfully.

Today’s election will include the 20 constituencies in Kerala in South India and the 7 constituencies in Delhi. Kerala is one of the strongholds of the leftwing parties of India which have seen losing support during the last few years. Meanwhile, the election in Delhi would be closely watched given the recent success of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the city.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sunset on the Rampart Wall

Tired feet dragged us on the ramparts. The sea breeze helped to blow off the tiredness in body and soul. Down below, the ocean was throwing wave after wave, relentlessly but unsuccessfully, at the rampart wall. In the distance, the sun appeared as a large orange disk over the horizon. The ocean was preparing to accept the sun under its protection for the duration of the night.
The ocean was throwing wave after wave, relentlessly but unsuccessfully, at the rampart wall. (Pic by Sakuna Gamage)
An individual is insignificant in this backdrop. People had gathered on the rampart wall and the street below, which ran roughly parallel to the ramparts. Many people, both locals and foreigners, had gathered to watch the spectacle. These must have included a number of British and perhaps even Portuguese and Dutch. Throughout the centuries that have passed, their ancestors, and our ancestors, must have marveled at the same spectacle. Street life has changed over these years, but the spectacle of the sunset has never changed. Actually, with the increasingly restless lifestyle, natural spectacles like the sunset must be even more magical to us than to our ancestors.
Lovers walked slowly, embraced in the comfort of the mutual attraction (Pic by Sakuna Gamage)
People gathered on the rampart wall to enjoy the sunset. Parents had come with their children. Lovers walked slowly, embraced in the comfort of the mutual attraction, which was accentuated by the cooling breeze and the darkening skies. The robes of several Buddhist monks who had arrived blended nicely with the orange hue of the falling sun. A cruise ship, which had anchored in the out harbor, was switching on its lights, in anticipation of the impending sunset. So were the street lamps and the headlights of the vehicles down below in the street.

Our feet, commanded by the minds, refused to move on. The scenery and the colors were so tempting. We sat down, away from the path, on the dry grass on top of the rampart wall. People walked, birds flew, the crew ship waited, lovers embraced, children ran and we all watched. All the while, the sun went down and the lights came up.
The ocean was preparing to accept the sun under its protection for the duration of the night (Pic by Sakuna Gamage)
The sun, the all powerful energy giver, had not really gone hiding. All other light sources, which are insignificant flickers compared to the red giant, exist thanks to it. At night, people forget that all light originates from the sun, whether at night or day.

Please read the sequel Stargazing on the Rampart Wall

"Jodl, I want to Know. Is Paris Burning?"

On March 31, 1889, the then tallest man made structure was declared opened in Paris. Twenty days later, one of the most enigmatic and brutal leaders to have lived on the earth was born in a small Austrian town called Braunau-am-Inn. In August 1944, this man had ordered that structure, the Eiffel Tower, to be destroyed. His order was not carried out. The story of how the landmarks in the city of Paris escaped destruction is told in the book “Is Paris Burning?” by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.

Two months into the Allied landing in Normandy, the Allied forces had broken through the German lines and were freely roaming in parts of France. Paris lay ahead of them. The German dictator Adolf Hitler, who had survived an assassination attempt on July 20, was becoming increasingly agitated; perhaps mad, with the passage of time. He believed that Paris is the key to France, and he who holds Paris will control France.
Adolf Hitler was very proud of the German conquest of France. He visited Paris on June 23, 1940, just a few days after the city had fallen.
The Allies, on the other hand, knew better. As the war stood, Paris had no military value. It could be surpassed with ease and surrounded, forcing the Germans inside the city to surrender without a fight. A frontal attack will involve a large number of casualties which was not worth for a militarily insignificant target.

But, there was a different aspect to the story, which the Allies had not realized. On August 7, 1944, Hitler had summoned General Dietrich von Choltitz and appointed him the military governor of Paris. His orders were to hold to the city at any cost, and if the city was to fall, to destroy the landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower. If Hitler could not have it, no one would.

Choltitz, somewhat reluctantly, started to prepare. However, when the explosives were placed in important places, the French people understood what was happening. The underground raised the cry “aux barricades!” and rose against the Germans. However, their forces were less prepared to fight. They wanted to force the Allies to change their plans and liberate Paris.

Meanwhile, despite the decision by the Allies, the leader of the Free French, General Charles De Gaulle, wanted the city to be liberated. Furthermore, in a strange twist of choices, even Choltitz wanted the Allies to liberate the city so that he will not be able to carry out the dreadful order of Hitler. Increasingly suspicious of people around him, Hitler once asked General Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces high Command, whether Paris was burning. It was not; it never did.

Collins and Lapierre, American and French respectively, have done several books together. But this book remains to be the best. It has scores of stories about big and small people, all interwoven into a saga on the city of Paris during its last days of German rule. It is a piece of living history, written from a journalistic eye. It is easy to read, and is a thrill to read as well.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Steve Waugh and Mark Waugh. First Twins to Play Test Cricket Together

Steve (L) and Mark Waugh brothers. Image: 143masti.blogspot.com

On April 4, 1991, exactly 23 years ago, Stephen Rodger Waugh and Mark Edward Waugh became the first twins to play in a test cricket match together.

It was the third test in the Frank Worrel Trophy, held in the Caribbean. West Indies were leading the 5 match series by 1-0 when the teams took to the field in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

Nicknamed "junior", Mark was younger to Steve by a few minutes. In cricket, Mark was much younger in international experience. His elder twin brother Steve had been in the test cricket arena from 1985. The brothers were nearly 26 when Junior made his test debut.

However, in a match which was spoiled by rain, it was the junior brother who took the better honors. He scored an elegant half century, scoring 64 runs against a formidable Caribbean pace attack led by the veteran campaigner Malcolm Marshall and ably supported by Curtley Ambrose and Pattrick Patterson. Later Mark Waugh was called upon to break a troublesome partnership between Jeff Dujon and Ambrose and did so by dismissing the latter.

The two brothers went on to play a pivotal role in Australian cricket, with Steve Waugh leading the test cricket team for several years when the team was at the peak. Mark ended his career in 2002 and his elder brother in 2004. During the 11 years they played together, they appeared together in most of the test matches Australia played. All together, they played 105 test matches together.