Colonial mentality lingers on
Regal Cinema -Pictures by Mahinda Vithanachchi
ROYAL INCLINATION: Royal College, Majestic City, Regal Cinema, Empire
Bakery, the Monarch, Prince Charles Court the list of Sri Lankan
institutions and buildings suggesting titillating regal connections is
It seems that a well-placed Sri Lankan, if he is so inclined, can
lead a life from birth to death at a flirting distance from the Kings
Court. One might conclude thus that from Point Pedro to Dondra and
Colombo to Batticaloa the inhabitants of this island are gripped by the
But then like most Sri Lankan experiences we know this is all make
believe. The illusory regality we love to drench ourselves in is really
lese-majesty. The Court of St Jamesâ€™s, the royalty we readily draw
references to, is a continent away and was forsaken by our Republican
Constitution of 1972.
Even when we were flying the Union Jack our loyalty to the distant
crown was tenuous. When the Crown badly needed from its far-flung
colonies ready and willing defenders of the realms the unwarlike
islanders of Ceylon did not obviously occur to them as good prospects.
They went instead to the ferocious Gurkhas, hardy Fijians and the
faithful Africans to fill their military ranks.
Having done precious little to advance the Empireâ€™s cause then, why
do our people, now independent for over half a century, anoint
themselves all over with the smear of an alien power, a gradually
diminishing one at that?
While the social scientists may offer various explanations for this
clearly irrational national inclination, it maybe useful to bear in mind
the common human inclination to claim virtues and attributes one is most
deficient in. The cowardly take up brave poses, the least virtues spend
much time in places holy while the intellectually poorest avers great
What is regal about these people and their institutions, which flaunt
its name? We are a poor country hugely in debt. Our main foreign
currency earnings are the remittances from Middle Eastern countries
where Sri Lankans are employed mainly as unskilled workers.
Even within the country we see very little regal bearing or conduct.
A nation, which in their own country is routinely subjected to abject
humiliation by visa officers of foreign embassies, cannot walk with the
pride that Royalty is wont to.
Even in transactions among themselves there is little respect or
concern accorded to each other. A punctual meeting is a courtesy
undreamt of. Furthermore, the corruption and general misconduct that we
observe in our society is far removed from the dignity and decorum
usually associated with royal courts. Then why in this very prosaic
society the proliferation of royal references?
It perhaps points to a certain unreality in the collective mental
make-up of the inhabitants of this island. The same psychological
impulse that chose as our national symbol an animal whose wild roar has
never reverberated within the shorelines of this island, drives us
towards announcing all kinds of regal connection knowing very well there
is nothing of the kind here.
Men of a very different timbre built the powerful empires and sturdy
kingdoms we love to be associated with, at least in name. Examining the
various chapters of the epoch defining European conquests of the 17-19
centuries, some of the attributes that come to fore are bravery,
loyalty, discipline, dedication and of course the intellectual daring of
the empire builders.
Not only did they occupy large areas of the world but also developed
and introduced systems of government which more or less found general
acceptance among the subjects. On the negative side, we see wickedness,
contempt towards the weaker people and avarice, which are perhaps basic
impulses of any conquest. And although we have not accomplished any of
the feats of the empire builders can we honestly declare ourselves free
of these vices?
What we need now is not more and more schools and buildings named
after some spurious concept of royalty, but a reasonable appreciation of
our own national strengths and weaknesses. By having a realistic
assessment of ourselves, perhaps we can build on a sounder foundation.
â€śKnow then thyself, presume not God to scan, the proper study of
mankind is man.â€ť