Today, writing possibly a week before you perhaps read this, I see a hive of activity outside. It's that particular series of full moon days on which the neighbourhood bands together - if not for the common good, at least for joint activity. And what a fiesta it is!
Most houses are festooned with bright lights and bucket lanterns, and blooming flowers are plucked willy-nilly to be offered at the local temple. At irregular intervals, and as if in supremely orchestrated contrapuntal movement, people from all walks of life clad in white proceed from their homes to places of worship. While processions garlanding religious objects wind their way from the sanctuary to the community at large - their whips cracking the air as a counterpoint to the sharp staccato shots fired by the drums.
The moon (la lune ne garde aucune rancune - yes, it bears us no malice) beams down in serene indifference as the pious pray. The impious yet innocent prey on friend and foe for trick or treat. And the ignorant form long but patient queues on suburban sidewalks and along Colombo's most fashionable boulevards to partake of the dole at dansalas.
Yesterday, when the facetious elites jingled their bells and faked their holly jolly smiles and ate their yule logs in seasonal glee, the scene of celebration was somewhat different in the details but alarmingly similar in spirit. Far from the madding crowd - warmed by hot aperitifs, soothingly chilled by cool consumerism, and numbed by an amorphous sense of bonhomie and camaraderie - there may have been an annunciation of love, joy, and peace on earth amongst those who are worthy. But that greeting of good news may have fallen on deaf ears, if only because there was a raucous shout of cheer among the hoi polloi at the simple pleasures of life. Eat, drink, and be merry; for tomorrow we can repeat the process all over again!
Tomorrow, there may be similar in spirit but different in detail corporate celebrations - and they may not necessarily exude the religious odour of incense that wafts from the arresting spectacle of that unique chariot which wends its way past devotee-thronged pavements. Or appeal to the old chthonic gods which reside in our belly, by dint of appetizing hints that only aromatic spices can conjure up, like djinns in a dessert bowl.
No, in fact, unlike those above, such fetes are secular. The carnival that hails the turn of the decade or century or year (we hardly require a significant calendar number to put on the party of the millennium). The charade - sorry, I mean parade - that epitomises all that is good and bad and ugly about the jingoism that has crept into our jargon and the crepuscular chauvinism that too many citizens, for the country's good, mistake for patriotism.
You know what I mean, folks? No! Well, then, here it is in a nutshell:
People today are demonstrably more united on the surface than they ever were. But there are exceptions to this perception. Not everyone is included in the island-wide festivities that gravitate around religious holidays - simply because the poor cannot afford bread; so what price circuses? And under the skin, not everyone is comfortable with the imposition of the majoritarian ethic in a national milieu where (by the mandate of the powers that be) there are no minorities recognized, indulged, permitted. RIP, ye mourners!
In addition, while peace without true justice might just be part of the equation, a circus without bread for the masses is more than a mere nuisance - it is a ploy to keep the rich rich, the middle class aspiring for more, and the poor in their place (which is to say, at the bottom of the pile). Most baulking may be the much ignored facet of our booming thriving democracy, whereby those out of power or on its periphery are allowed the semblance of congregation, celebration, and collective expression of basic human rights. While robbing them - and others of their ilk - the right to dissent, differ, or even be depressed about the state of Denmark.
Even if it is a gilded cage we live in, can't the late avurudu koha sometimes cry for the freedom of the open skies it once enjoyed and still aspires to? Not, it seems, while the fine-feathered friends who dominate the roost strut about like cocks of the walk and lord it over the flock. While their pheasant pluckers make sure no one wants to opt out of the coop. Because in a nation where nothing is wrong, people who feel that the status quo lacks a certain je ne sais qua are powerless traitors only fit to be put down…