Thursday, January 15, 2015

Vultural cultoorists

“Sri Lanka has a rich cultural heritage” is an oft heard cliché among certain segments of society. It is a catchall used to describe something that is understood but vaguely if it is understood at all.  Else it is used as a defense of a country found wanting in things other than culture or heritage. Sometimes it is a heading for sections of tastily decorated brochures screaming weird looking masks, dancers, implements and such truck at people who are outsiders who want a quick look-in.

That last is important. It is a phrase useful only to foreigners and not all foreigners are non-Sri Lankans. Cultural heritage is the physical materials and their means of creation together with the intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations.  So, its relevance is only for those Sri Lankans whose lives are bound up, interlaced and glued together by it. For them, it is a living, slow changing, constantly referenced reality without which the very reason for their existence ceases to be.

Those who like to use the phrase “Sri Lanka has a rich cultural heritage” like to think of it either as art or as artifact. They are, without exception, discomfited, irritated, angry and scared when confronted by the living, continuing, growing fact of culture and heritage, taken either separately or together.  They, without exception, want it dead.
What the &%NM!*?????? The horse belongs in a
Hindu Kovil not a Colombo band stand

Who is this charming bunch of fellows who would like to see our culture, our heritage as a has been instead of as an is?

The first group is that set of moneyed, urban wayfarers with negligible stock in terms of either roots or geographic belonging.  Not very significantly, they also hold Sri Lankan passports. For them, ownership of a heritage artifact gives them a sense of superiority in their social circles and bragging rights over their peers via a kind of self-validated illusion of insight into culture. It creates a veneer of the fashionable rustic. It provides credence for their delusional identification with Sri Lankan nationality.

For them, the rarity of cultural objects or their unusualness are the key factors. This means that if a given heritage facet is no longer living, the worth of its residue increases. If traditional farming societies ceases to exist then the search for the implements used by those societies by these blokes is comparable to sharks after blood. If the hoary old Hindu temples in the north are gone, then the ancient idols and effigies at which hundreds of thousands of the faithful worshiped over millenia become must haves.

The second group is that layer of middle classes, newly prominent glitterati and nouveau riche hailing from urban backgrounds with no idea where they belong, who they belong to, what they belong to. These try to buy themselves a cultural identity through carefully worded lies. “I used to run across the niyara to school as a child and took my meals off a nelum kole” such a one could be heard saying with a pride matched only by its hollowness. “You know, our ancestral name was Manabharana Parakramabahu but that is such a jawbreaker darling? And  Sandra going to school in the USA and everything? W e made the hard choice to use our great-aunt’s surname John” croons another.Ask the first why the midday meal served to a farmer in his field is called the ambula or ask the second who the hell Manabharana was… ? heh!

For these, who do not or cannot own artifacts, the problem reduces to inventing artifactoids - preferably rooted in the aristocracies of the Govi Gama or Vellalar.

The third group are at present a relative minority. They are irksome now but possibly very dangerous in the future. These are the through-and-through Sri Lankans who believe everything Sri Lankan is beneath them.  At least their accents and supposed ignorance of the vocabulary seems to indicate this. They  are hilarious. When they speak, they sound like members of a small Central African tribe who have been speaking Sinhalese or Tamil for a week while having a continuously upset stomach by being force fed indiappa.

The incongruity of a traditional grain storage facility in the foyer of a five star hotel or the presence of a wooden sculpture of a sacred cow in the garden of an upmarket restaurant has to be seen to be believed. The rasping jangling discord of some crackpot Sri Lankan ID-card holder complaining in the African tribal version of Tamil that she doesn't like eating idly vaday has to be heard to be believed. I mean, what are these dirthay boundahs thinking eh?

Well, they aren't thinking well but they were certainly thinking.  Here is what they think: “How can we kill off culture and heritage so that we can cannibalize the flotsam and jetsam to make a fashion statement with the culturally vacuous? How can we get every last water buffalo in a zoo? How can we convert every sacred ritual into a pageant suffused with bling? How can we make speaking broken, accent ridden Sinhala and Tamil fashionable?” In short, “How can we ridicule this stable, deep, even life-system that was hundreds of years in the making in order to give validity to our fluff and glitz alternative which has a history of a decade?

The plan then is clear. They will make ridiculing and belittling our living culture and heritage as fashionable as acquiring the remnants of it. If marketed well, critical mass can be achieved and there would be a wholesale turning of the people from that which sustained them to that which will eventually kill them and their ways. It will also pave the way for these literal culture-vultures to engage in a carrion feeding frenzy. They can also satisfactorily rub their bloated bellies and say “Sri Lanka used to have a rich cultural heritage but all that is left are these valuable little somethings that I, being such a home grown Sri Lankan, want to preserve before even this is gone forever”. Or they can say "This nagula belonged to my great-great-grandfather. He was a great rate mahaththaya in Gampola you know?" or they can say "Oh thank god that mad culture is gone. Finally, we can feel secure in our vapidness"


Well folks, if you are part of our living heritage, our living culture, then, the next time you see part of the fact-of-life of that history mounted or displayed as art, artifact or artifactoid, go to the police. That has become quite the fashion these days you see. Hit the nearest police station and lodge a complaint on behalf of Sri lanka’s living heritage and the people of Sri Lanka who may or may not hold a Sri Lankan passport but who are all worthy of being called by that name. Tell them that a set of mass murderers has been killing both of these off for years. Talk to the TV channels. Get the message out via gossipy FB posts all flush with photos. Make sure, fashionably, that the culprits are brought to book.

These පොල්කුඩු සුද්දාs with the හිරමන  accent එක and the හොර වස්තු belong in හිරේ, නේද dear?

(Subsequent to this being published, friend Mihiri Weerasena said this to me: "Dear Arjuna,  About your article 'Vultural Cultoorists': Do you know that feeling when you read something and it feels as if you're reading a solidification of half-thoughts that you've always had on the subject. You kidnapped my brain children before they were born. I might sue you for pre-intellectual plagiarism".

I am mortified but I acknowledge her mental contribution. Those amongst you who would like to know more about psychic  triggering, please, join up - I do classes on the subject via sky-pee. *winks*)


  1. It's true. Sri Lanka should have a policy of saving items valuable to country's cultural heritage.



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