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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2613

Evolving facets of Sri Lankan Conflict – the Spirit Factor

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…..

It was reported a few days ago about the detection of a large consignment of bottles of Mendis Special, a reputed brand of arrack, along with hundreds of cans of beer, on their way to Wanni, in Northern Sri Lanka, which is under the control of Tamil Tigers. Neither the army nor the defence analysts accounted for the need of this semi-lethal cargo – especially in the absence of a festive mood in that particular region - leaving it to us, the humble mortals, for raising the stakes of unguarded speculation.

Why do the Tamil Tigers need ‘Mendis Special’ ? Why now?

We were led to believe that the Tigers used to have a strong code of conduct, in the movement; abstain from alcohol; not indulging in legal sex – marriage; refrain from falling in love and so on.

However, of late, there was news that certain rules have been relaxed under certain circumstances. For instance, when a very senior Tiger could not resist falling under the spell of a fiery beauty, even if the latter threw a bucket of colour water at the former in the name of mischief making; one of the golden rules was revised – marriage was allowed. The Tigers can defend themselves against mocking by pointing two fingers at the constitutions of our own and that of Americans; they have had their changes too!

Since the circumstances in Wanni are changing in an unprecedented way, we may be compelled to draw the conclusion that the use of alcohol may have been relaxed too for the beleaguered members of the movement. To understand the effect of lifting that ban – if it was really the case – we must analyze the power of this particular liquor on individuals when consumed beyond certain limits.

Mendis Special and its other local allies – Gal and Pol – are the envy of political parties when it comes to maintaining loyalty. Those who taste it at some point in their lives never lose the loyalty to the product, regardless of the region they chose to live on the planet, even if they have barrels of their superior western counterparts like whisky or brandy in stock.

If a male expatriate is asked what he wants from the motherland - in the absence of his better half, of course - there is a strong chance of a response, asking for a bottle of arrack – from one of the three varieties. Even Europeans love our arrack while admitting its power to intoxicate in a short time. Our arrack has a secret ingredient to make the drinker addicted to it, something that defies chemistry. There is no rational explanation for this fierce loyalty.

To see how these substances work, there is no better place to be in, than the suburbs of our major towns. A man, who walks into an authorised place which sells these products as a gentleman, transforms into someone who leaves the very place while zigzagging the very road that showed him clear direction, a few minutes before. He may even do a few things that he would not dare do when he is sober: challenging any moving object for a fight; abusing the politicians he hates; winking at passing women regardless of their age; kicking stray dog in the belly etc. At homes, a group of friends may get together to open up a few bottles of arrack in the lounge, very often at weekends, while leaving the burden of making the ‘bite’ – the hot snack that complements the fun - with the wife of the household, as if the ritual was an extension of her matrimonial vow; the men use the opportunity to gossip while making sure what they chat about is serious stuff - ranging from current politics to war in the north; very often, unfortunately, the intoxicated atmosphere is ideal for settling old scores, much to the dismay of womenfolk, who become the helpless audience in such a saga. Events of this kind show that our humble arrack has the power to animate the individuals to go for daring things, which they cannot even dream of when they are sober.

If no rational explanation is forthcoming about the arrival of alcohol consignment to Wanni, especially when the time is not ripe for celebrations of any sort, we have to suspect that these liquids may have been on their way for the consumption of those who are in the battlefield - on behalf of the Tigers. The Tigers may have identified the power of our arrack to embolden the reluctant new recruits to take on the security forces. To achieve that end, the Tigers may have relaxed the rule about the use of alcohol too, just as they did when Velupillai Prabhkaran fell in love with Mathivathini over a water bucket – love at first flash.

Arracks of all sorts are known as spirits for an obvious reason: the spirits live inside them. The moment someone consumes them beyond moderation, the spirits takes over the function of person’s own spirit, while transforming the hapless into a temporary daredevil spontaneously; the kind of stunts that the individual dares to do, is ample proof of gaining renewed vigour.

In this context, an intoxicated armed Tiger can be menace indeed. He can be a threat to his own superiors well before he poses a threat to his enemy. Besides, a pint of arrack can instil an impulse to go solo to take on a professional and well-trained army – a catalyst to shorten the life. In short, arrack has the power to achieve something in a matter of minutes that the monologues of indoctrination could not achieve in thirty odd years.

So, there is a strong possibility of the emergence of a new cocktail from Wanni region – arrack and ultra-nationalism. The guinea pigs for the concoction may be the new recruits who have been hastily enlisted to defend the indefensible. The teacher who surrendered two week ago shed light on the composition of those who would be forced to man the firing lines – clerks, agricultural workers, teachers, and of course in addition to thousands of teenagers from peasant families. That means, a spectre of intoxicated professionals manning the trenches is going to be a reality, no matter how chilling it is.

The war is always unpleasant; however, the methods of changing the chemical composition of the blood of those who have been forced to fight make it uglier and gruesome. The emergence of new cocktails will be doing just that.

History is riddled with instances when the dominant player cornered the weaker – against a wall; the latter often chose the nasty path – and as the last resort. Josef Goebells, the club-footed propaganda maniac of the Nazis, poisoned his own children before committing suicide; the Fuehrer of the Third Reich, who had been dreaming of an empire to last one thousand years, killed his girl friend before turning the revolver on himself; Himler, the notorious head of the dreaded Gestapo bit the cyanide capsule after being caught by the British and then lay dead like a pauper in the middle of a street.

All in all, the end game for the losing party is less than awe-inspiring, no matter how brilliant they have been in the past. The hair-raising patriotism of famous Nuremberg rallies did not eclipse the pathetic reality of the humiliated Nazis when defeated on all fronts. Nor will a cocktail of ultra nationalism plus a small volume of alcohol for the Tamil Tigers.

At least, for the latter, there is still room for a peaceful exit – and peaceful co-existence too. That will be a victory for the commonsense. Let’s bless them for it!

- Asian Tribune -

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