Even though I’m not aware of the statistics, I’m pretty sure Sri Lanka is a country which has more politicians than writers. And among that small number of active writers, only a few stand out. One such writer is Vihanga Perera. So it is, of course, my nature to pay homage to his incredibly thought provoking poems.
To a poetry novice such as myself, his words initially appear straight forward and very few verses rhyme. However, the way in which his poetry is laid out invites the poems to be read twice, and that is when one finds a deeper, consolidated meaning often concealed in the first reading of a piece.
Hence Vihanga Perera’s poetry collection, Busted Intellectual is a triumph of the genre, and a masterful exposition of the post war political stance in Sri Lanka and some of his personal experiences. Political poems in Busted Intellectual present what feels like a snapshot of the life of the minority of individuals (as it turned out to be, sadly!) in Sri Lanka who share the sentiment, that this country could have gone for a humane solution, without much ruthless homicides taking place. Thus it is a collection emerged in a sad atmosphere, but one which is peppered with moments of lightheartedness thanks to some of his personal poems. And possibly a very different choice of words to the one you may be accustomed to. (At least it was to me when I first discovered his poetry blog, which you can check in here)
So now let me take the liberty of quoting some of the excerpts from two poems which I feel you would find ‘controversial’, where he is staunch in depicting what he feels right.
From ‘April-May: A Conversation in One Act’,
Prabhaharan: “SF is killable”
Pottu Amman: “Yes. Killable”.
Ravi: “He goes to Medavachchiya”.
State: “The best General of all. Four stars”.
Army goes past Kilinochchi.
Pottu Amman and Prabhaharan die.
People: “Is Prabhaharan dead?”
State: “Yes. Dead”.
Monk: “Everything is mortal”.
State: “SF is immortal”.
President: “SF is immortal”
SF salutes. Stamps his foot.
These initial lines remind me moments of a perfectly encapsulated morsel of past in early May 09’, when Sri Lankan army first announced victory over the LTTE, a group of terrorists, when there was no ‘I’ but ‘us’ (President of SL, Mahinda Rajapaksha and General Sarath Fonseka) to glorify.
Dauphin: “No one is immortal”.
King: “Save, by constitution, the President”.
Dauphin: “SF is but mortal”.
1st Officer: “SF is mortal”.
2nd Officer: “Yes. mortal“.
3rd Officer: “Mortal”.
Mrs. SF: “SF may die”.
Dauphin Inverted: “Die a slow, natural death”.
And quite ironically these lines reflect how SF was crucified as a traitor later on, solely due to the fact that he worked as the chairmen of the army procurement committee in a situation where his son-in-law had some connection to one of the bidders for the tender and according to tender guide lines (note ‘guide lines’) one should not sit in a tender committee if a relative is bidding. Since there had been no corruption involved, such a guide line violation warranted a warning only. And then how a ‘false’ allegation were made against him sending him to jail for two years, saying he engaged in politics while serving the country as the chief of defense staff. (The allegation rings false and cooked up, especially when the three people who testified against SF joined hands with MR’s regime next day, two as ministers and one as a top officer)
Now from ‘The Public Enemy’, where he discusses some harsh realities of the Sri Lankan psyche,
Three of us are skeptical – that he has been killed.
We protest that he had, by then, retreated
Escaping onslaught in that final minute.
They tell us an ambulance was shot at and blasted
But, we don’t believe that he was actually in it.
For some strange reason, this all looks so unreal,
Unheard of – unnerving and, by vote, unwanted.
This ambiguous death of a branded terror-releaser,
Whose metal had kept the South all haunted, two
Decades of carnage and the ballast’s worth
In those years when no reports came home from North.
Finally, while inviting you to consider reading Busted Intellectual the next time you are in the mood for poetry, I will leave you with one of my favourite excerpts from his personal poem, ‘Deep Down We Both Used to Breathe’, which is both traumatic and beautiful,
Many years later, you tell me stories
Of how Norwegian wood sweats in summer.
“Oh, good” I say, thinking all the time
Of the Beatles’ song. You say: “hey,
Did I do you wrong?”
No. In fact, it was only I, who
Dreamed of six other women
While being in love with you. And at the
Same fatal hour, even as you denied it,
I spoke and I wrote of love that’s true