March 2012

As always, the North Coast of New South Wales was good to me (if a bit rainy) during this month’s second half: excellent surf for boogie boarding; delicious food; plenty of free time for movies (The Hunger Games and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in the theater, The Lovely Bones on DVD), writing, and reading, including Tash Aw’s prize-winning The Harmony Silk Factory, and Amitav Ghosh’s excellent River of Smoke. This last, the second volume in Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy, which deals with the use of opium as a political tool in the early 19th century, addresses the events that led up to the outbreak of two wars fomented by the British for the depraved purpose of forcing China to permit the import of opium despite its deleterious effects on the Chinese population:

Ghosh skillfully maneuvers the reader into a sense of high dudgeon at the sordid willingness of the Europeans to chemically enslave millions of ‘natives’ (= non-whites) for profit.

Of course, ‘natives’ also prey upon themselves, and Indians in a state of high dudgeon are making use of a new web site to document their experiences:

in a trend that is now spreading to other countries:

This month’s first half found me in Sri Lanka, where there is good news and bad news.

Bad news: The Chinese have established a significant presence on the island, particularly on its south coast where it has effectively taken over the harbor of Hambantota, an action that is sure to intensify the proxy battle there between China and India.

Good news: after a gap of nearly four years I was able to return to Koslanda, the brainchild of the late Manik Sandrasagra, and was pleased to find its development much advanced. We spent a particularly restful night there:

Bad news: the Grease Yaka phenomenon (which in some cases went beyond Peeping-Tommery into violent assault):

Good news: no Grease Yakas have been recently spotted.

Bad news: we visited a certain remote but important Hindu temple that now has for a neighbor a prominent army camp, just a few hundred meters away. The army, claiming that the water in their wells is brackish, sends five tanker trucks a day to suck water from the temple’s wells. (Note: not long ago the Sri Lankan civil war ended, which pitted Sinhala against Tamil. The army is almost exclusively Sinhala, and the Sinhala are Buddhist. The Hindus are Tamil.)

Good news: when we reached a smaller Hindu shrine, deep in a forest not far from the temple mentioned above, worshipping at the devi shrine, we found a group of Sinhala journalists worshipping there; and when we asked cautiously about how Buddhists could worship at a Hindu shrine, they replied that they had faith in Divinity, not in any particular religion.

Bad news: Not all the Sinhala share this attitude. When after eight grueling hours in a trailer attached to the back of a tractor I and my traveling companions reached a certain jungle shrine that until recently was very difficult to locate. It had neither buildings nor idols, only a powerful tree sacred to the Goddess, but when we arrived we were in for a shock. The locale is still beautiful, but it is now easily located, and certain influential ethnocentric Sinhalas have “Buddhist-ized” it, installing an image of the Buddha and various other Buddhist insignia, in a blatant attempt to rebrand what has for centuries been a Hindu shrine to Shakti.

Good news: The tree there is still alive, and lively; the river still unpolluted, and lovely.

Even better news: this year we met the girlfriend of an old friend of ours. He is Tamil; she, Sinhala. When young they were sweethearts who couldn’t marry because of the difference in religion; but instead of descending into some Romeo-and-Juliet-inspired drama they lived other lives until fate recently brought them together again. Maybe there is hope for that country yet …