28 July 2008

Letter 2.51

You have, presumably, read something about the political flare-un here -- in fact you probably have more information about the general picture than I do, since there was a clamp-down on communications and, with no newspapers, the only information I could pick up was second-hand reports and 'official announcements' (which, of course, are hardly reliable).

In the areas of the major towns, such as Kandy, there was little fighting, and Udawattakelle itself is particularly safe (it's only a few hundred acres, and with its steep hills the only exits are roads into populated areas: any insurgency forces that were foolish enough to enter would be effectively tramped). However, at night I could hear sporadic gunfire from a distance, out Matale way (to the north): never anything like a battle; rather, I would suppose, sniper action against the military patrols. The curfew, of course, did not affect me, since I had no need to leave the jungle anyway, and could walk within the jungle without hindrance: but after the first few uncertain days (when curfews were noon to 6 AM and, for one day, 24 hours), the curfew now seems to be 4 PM to 7 AM. Between 7 and 4 all is quite normal and everyone goes about their business unconcerned, then there are some quiet hours, and after nightfall occasional gunfire is heard -- the noisiest night I heard perhaps 5 dozen rounds fired over a period of about 6 hours -- 4 or 5 shots, then nothing, for maybe another hour; last night there were a lot of firecrackers going off (it was New Year's Eve, and though fireworks have, of course, been banned -- there was none of the extravaganza of skyrockets that I saw last year -- obviously, with the tension now largely dissipated (even in the trouble spots, such as Matale, full-day curfew has now been lifted) people wanted to make something of the most important national holiday of the year.

Since the insurgents are a bloodthirsty anti-American lot, they probably have the backing of the Chinese equivalent of the CIA. I've known about their plans, their views, etc, for some time now: they don't hate Americans, but rather America, and are -- or, at least, were, perfectly friendly, conducting themselves toward monks as is expected of them in a Buddhist country -- actually some of the university monks are members of their group ('university monks' are a special breed of malcontents who have nothing to do with the Buddha's Teaching) -- however, in spite of 4 or 5 scattered incidents in the last few months, I was surprised that they should have taken up arms so soon. Probably their hand was forced by the discovery of a large hoard of explosives and the accidental detonation of two of their munition 'factories': they could hardly pretend to be a secret organization any more (though, of course, even before, everyone but the government knew, and ignored, their activities in the lackadaisical attitude of Southeast Asia: why should anyone inform the government?)

The future will probably involve continued flare-ups from time to time -- it is most unlikely that the insurgents will actually be wiped out -- as sporadic strikes are launched against the army and police. The immediate future will be quiet as the insurgents reorganize and lick their wounds; the middle future will see more such incidents; and, unless the government can make the necessary cultural (not merely economic or political) changes so that the populace will be able to see a non-violent way of bridging the gap between where they are and where they want to be -- and the policies they are now pursuing (isolationist nationalism) are not going to help people readjust their basic patterns of thinking (a narrow-based, rigidly traditional semi-fatalistic non-responsible et cetera) -- the distant future will see the sort of forced revolutionary change of thought pattern which is, in fact, what is making China a major influence. I don't know. Maybe that really is the best way -- or only way -- or most likely way -- that Southeast Asia is going to avoid the fate of the dinosaur. Certainly no other system (Singapore or Hong Kong cut-throat capitalism wouldn't work in this climate) -- can claim much success.

I've been discussing with two friends -- 'Putta and Vimalo -- the possibility of spending the summer in the Himalayas with a view to going to see a particular teacher in Thailand in the fall. Nothing is settled yet, but it's possible that we may actually go, in which case it will be sometime during the first half of May.

No comments: