In the Odyssey that is history, Ithaca is only a way-station

19 November 2018 12:34 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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o much is being written about President Maithripala Sirisena’s political U-turn and the resulting chaos, both pro and against. Of all the regular political columnists, Tisaranee Gunasekara has written what is easily the best analysis, (Deranged, published by the Colombo Telegraph website on Nov. 11).
It’s a gem of an analysis. I am not saying this because it echoes my own fears, hopes and sentiments. This writer is neither a political analyst or columnist. Depending on others’ evaluations and opinions about the current crisis, I found myself swimming in murky waters until I read Tisaranee’s column. I have never met the writer and do not even know how she looks like. What I can see clearly is an analytical mind of the highest order, free of personal prejudice. If she is biased, it’s in favour of democracy and our rights to live and breathe freely in the country of our birth.  


Her language is exceptionally good and obviously she’s extremely well read. In ‘Deranged,’ she quotes from The ‘Lord of the Rings’ by JRR Tolkien and refers to Homer’s epic poems. A political columnist doesn’t have to be literary; but in a country where most journalists brazenly display their lack of reading and inability to present a cohesive argument (in whatever language), it’s both a delight and a relief to come across a writer who has such wide reading and intellectual depth. Her column would still be a gem even without those literary allusions. But they are the embellishments which make reading it such a delight.  


She starts with a quote from Tolkien – ‘Precious, precious, precious, Gollum cried’ – and ends with a reference to Homer. Speaking about the battle that must be waged to protect our democratic rights, she writes: “This battle requires the most inclusive tent. It is a battle that must be waged, and waged right, irrespective of the outcome. In the Odyssey that is history, Ithaca is only a way-station.”  
That last sentence is something which should be hung as a slogan at the entrance of our parliament. It sums up, like nothing else written by any other columnist about the current crisis, the nature of the struggle which will have to be waged if we are not to lose our basic rights as citizens, not just now, or till December or till 2020, but for many centuries to come, for there will be more Ranil Wickremesinghes, Maithripala Sirisenas and Mahinda Rajapaksas in the eons to come.  

 

"What I can see clearly is an analytical mind of the highest order, free of personal prejudice. If she is biased, it’s in favour of democracy and our rights to live and breathe freely in the country of our birth"


The writer has made a comparison with the president’s ‘coup’ with Adolf Hitler’s call to an election as soon as he became Germany’s new chancellor through a backroom deal. She writes: “They (the Nazis) understood that democracy can be killed best and easiest using the legitimacy a victorious election would bring.”  
The comparison is striking. It doesn’t matter that we do not officially have Nazis and fascists here. It’s the thought processes which matter, the homophobia and hatred of political opponents, minorities and democratic institutions. I recall that one writer recently criticized Tisaranee for comparing Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to Adolf Hitler. I believe he has missed the point. When we compare someone to Hitler, it isn’t about so-and-so being exactly like him. It’s rather a way of saying that so-and-so has some of the traits, habits and thought processes which Hitler had. For example, one can argue that Gotabhaya has a nasty temper and liking for revenge, just like Hitler. If he hasn’t, then he can prove me wrong if and when he comes to power again.   


Finally, for those who haven’t read either Tolkien or Homer: Gollum is an important character in Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’. He lives on an island on a mysterious lake, a dwarf in size, and is known for his greed. The latter quality reminds you of someone?   
As for Ithaca, that’s where Odysseus came from. He was sent by King Menelaus to bring back his eloped wife Helen from Troy. This took ten years of war (The Illiad), and it took Odysseus another ten years to return to Ithaca. Now you can figure out why Ithaca  is only a way-station in the Odyssey that is history.    

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