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Unmaking the Nation: The Politics of Identity and History in Modern Sri Lanka (1995 | 2009).

Pradeep Jeganathan & Qadri Ismail (eds.)

Now in a 2nd Edition, with a new preface, and a comprehensive index.

"Stimulating... Excellent..." -- Journal of Asian Studies. 

"Will be of great value to all those concerned with... nationalism [and] violence..." -- Arjun Appadurai.

"...[F]orces us to think about Sri Lankan symbolic and social formations in an entirely novel fashion." -- Gananath Obeyesekere

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Sunday
Jun102007

That's Cricket

            Colonialism constructs native masculinity as a hierarchized other of its own masculinity. Two strands are clearly visible in dominant constructions -feminisation and naturalization. They both have to do with setting up an unattainable ideal that is, however implicitly, attributed to the typical ‘white’ man, who is, of course, the real man. The first has to do with saying ‘well is that really strong enough, aggressive enough, courageous enough?’ and the other with saying, ‘well perhaps but that is so animal-like, isn’t it?’.
                   Also this comes home to me when I watch cricket matches on TV, and listen to the commentary. Now, it used to be that we had bad commentators, giving bad commentary for years and years, but at least it was our mess. Actually, that’s not quite true, some weren’t that bad. But well, globalisation has changed all that. Now, the audience for matches played in Sri Lanka is global in its distribution and lucrative to advertisers; hence the international commentary set arrives with the visiting cricket teams. These fellows have been a lot worse in the past: in those bad old days Sri Lankan players were totally ‘naturalized.’ The refrain was ‘well, such talented players, if only they had experience.’

At the time we won the World Cup, and taken in relation to ODI in particular, this claim of the lack of experience was just plain silly – the team had perhaps three times the ODI experience of England, when it was all added up. But that didn’t matter, the condescending supporters of little Sri Lanka, like Geoff Boycott and Tony Greig would keep repeating how great we would be with experience. Right until we won.

This kind of construction, for example, was expressed in the way soft dismissals were described at the time. “A rush of blood,” was a favourite; “a rash stroke” another, for native players from the sunny isle. This is to be contrasted with the idea of ‘disappointment.” “Oh /Athers/Stewie/.. would be so disappointed with that shot,’ would the commentator pronounce, implying, at once that the player has a well developed interiority, that can take a manly measure of failure. The type who’s had a rush of blood cannot, he must wait until his head cools; that kind of fellow just plays according to instinct.

After we won the World Cup, the Coach, who had been around for a bit, was discovered. If the natives aren’t really well cultured and cultivated enough, then one needs a white man to coach them, to train them up. Its the coach, they would say, he’s done so much. And yes, I do think Whatmore did a great deal, but that was superficial when compared to what the players did.

That kind of talk has lessened now. We’ve had several white coaches now, I guess, for a while, so even the South Africans think we must have learnt how to play, actually. Now, the problem really becomes deeper; what kind of men are these fellows, do they have the right mix of courage and prudence, that real white men have?

The Ten Sports commentary on the finals of the Indian Oil cup, where Sri Lanka played India in a day-nighter at the Premadasa, was a rich case in point. Ian Chappel was a much much better specimen, than almost anybody from Australia. In most of the lead up matches, his comments weren’t in the colonial mould. I was truly impressed. Then, so unfortunately, he was joined by the appropriately named Heels, or the short, stumpy, former wicket keeper, Ian Healy. This fellow is a white boy of the old school, and soon, even Chappel was infected.

First to go was Attapattu, captaining the fielding side. “Letting things drift,” was the refrain, “not aggressive enough.” With not a whit of thought given to the possibility that this fellow might well have a plan (all on his ownsome). Oh no, the white boys were sure: he wasn’t man enough to be “aggressive.” Too effeminate, no doubt, unlike the hard thrust of any colonial authority. Then when the strategy worked, and Yuvaraj top edged Chandana to deep mid wicket, Chappie didn’t give up; he implied the Indian boy had lost his nerve. When natives play, white boys can do it both ways.

Then again, usually, the Australians will be on about how poorly Sri Lanka is fielding. But hey, in this match, they were doing quite well. The opposite constructions kick in, and this is a new one. These guys are foolhardy. Mahroof dives to stop the ball at the boundary. “Oh how silly” exclaims Heels, “just for one run.” Yes, you can train them to drive, get them out of the jungle, that is – then make them aggressive enough to go for it, and still they don’t have the manly prudence to hold back. To be measured, thoughtful, and not dive at the right time. If he hadn’t dived, Heels would have said, Moods (Sri Lanka Coach Tom Moody) would be so disappointed with Mahroof – he’s got so much work to do.

Ah well. That’s cricket.

Friday
Apr282006

Philanthropy after the tsunami.

At first, it seems silly to ask why so much philanthropy followed the tsunami. With so much death, destruction and dislocation there was great need and, obviously, generosity follows need, one might say. But I want to look a gift horse, not so much in the mouth, really, but in the eye, and ask, quietly, why are you here? What will you be doing? It isn’t radical, after all, to take things for granted; asking ‘why’ and ‘what’ should help us see more clearly.

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