So it’s Berlin 2010. It’s the fall. The maples are caught in the Autumn fire. The sun mellowed down and sentimental. My German colleagues tell me I’ve brought the sun with me, since it’s out again after weeks of rain and meek weather.
And this time, as I was walking through the clean streets, with polite traffic, across city squares with guitarists and lovers and children engrossed with their ice-creams, I felt truly peaceful inside. Unlike last summer, I wasn’t haunted by a heartbreak or an unresovled past in Europe. No guilty feelings. Just me and the summer. I admit, every moment did include a parallel moment, in which I was sharing that moment with G. It was magical. But still, I was not homesick or lovesick, and I was truly present in the moment, fully awake and conscious and absorbing what Berlin had to offer. What a GREAT feeling!
So, the first thing I step into, right after the airport, is a taxi, with a driver who fled Baghdad 30 years ago, for political reasons which he doesn’t want to share with me. But ofcourse, he’s mad about Hindi films. He’s seen Arzoo and Ai Milan Ki Bela. He loves Sholay. And Vaijayanthi Mala is his favourite.
Tumse mohobethain…he crooned as he drove, overenthusiastic to find an audience who knew the same songs. And knew what they meant, as well.
Thanks to globalisation, I was thoroughly entertained all the way to Movenpick Hotel.
And I recollect the same feeling I had, coming to Europe the first time in my life. Just getting out of the train in to the city square, and strangely feeling at home. Surprise! Surprise!
Sunday afternoon; Alexander Platz with Kristin. I take the subway, and momentarily held by this subway singer…
And another one in Alexaner Platz…
Ask me what I appreciate most about the European cities…yes, there are many things a typical tropical woman could appreciate, but what strikes me most is this ‘Love is in the air’ mood. You know the lovers, walking hand in hand, kissing in public, cuddling in the sun and all. (ya, it’s a couple kissing in the background!) It’s this freedom to love, and to express love in public. And I can’t help remembering how wonderful it was to be in love in summer europe, and how dismal it is now, by comparison, to be in love in my tropical isle sometimes…
To generalise, if I may take the liberty to, our men are a bit paralysed in this department. I mean, they are fantastic in bed. They can compete there, at an international level, in terms of technical perfection of the art. But in the art of affection…oh dear…I wish I had never experienced love in Europe now that I have to live with this permanent Rebecca syndrome. I don’t wish to look down on the men in my country. I’m a tropical woman. I want to love one of my own kind. But I couldn’t escape globalisation. So I had to go through all these experiences. And I can’t help these philosophical observations! It’s not criticism, so if you are a tropical man reading this, don’t take it personal.
OK, you’ll say it’s not our culture to display affection in public. But then, do our men display affection in private? Or do they just do it because they are expected to. Some times I feel they do, simply because it’s what our sentimental women kind want. Something just to get over with. Like an obligation.
Life is an obligation. To be faithful to your wife, to love your mother, to fight for your country!
Ha! Ha! Ha! That’s my only reaction!
Of course, I am not saying all our men are like this. I have indeed met a few wonderfully affectionate men in Sri Lanka. But overall, when I listen to my friends and observe the world around me, I feel that our society has crippled our men, hip upwards, I mean. They are denied the right to express themselves. They are denied the right to feel, to be emotional. And I often find them uneasy, when a bit of affection is expressed in public.
I don’t know why people only talk about liberating the woman in this part of the world, because the men, oh them poor souls, they so need to be liberated themselves. Being a man and being human must be difficult, come to think of it.
In Sri Lanka when a bit of affection is displayed in public, the public scoffs right back at it. It’s considered ugly, uncultured and vulgar. What’s ugly, uncultured and vulgar about a man loving a woman, and expressing that in public? I don’t get it. I think it’s at the core of the sexual frustration and violence of this society – the big secret everybody knows but nobody talks about. Without allowing the men to be human, to be affectionate, we will never liberate our women. (That’s my ‘loud and clear’ to the feminists!) It’s not just enough to talk about sexual harassment in public transport, you see – something I have never experienced in Europe and experience daily in Sri Lanka.
I mean, it’s simple right?
High degree of sexual freedom, acceptance of affection, flexible gender roles – low levels of sexual frustration, harassment and violence (summer Berlin or Sweden, to quote an example I know better)
Low degree of sexual freedom, acceptance of affection, strict Victorian mores and gender roles – high level of sexual frustration, harassment and violence (our tropical paradise)
And I don’t know how to change this society around me; or to liberate a man, (or myself for that matter), but I know I can love. Not in a possessive way – not to hunt a man down and put him in chains of lifetime bondage (aka marriage) but in a way that redeems. In a way that supports both individuals to grow, to explore, to be more affectionate beings, not just unto themselves, but to others as well. One could also do all these things within a marriage, or without it. The choice is personal.
I feel this is the key to the politeness, the gentleness, the ‘culturedness’ that I sense in the European public life. Now don’t call me a post-colonial Eurocentric rootless bastard of globalisation. I’m just expressing my opinion. I’m entitled to one.
So to get back to Berlin – Tacheles. I want to talk about Tacheles. It’s this run down building which belonged to East Berlin before. Now, the area is transformed. The Big Bad Banks have come in. So have Gucci and Prada. And the government wants to pull down Tacheles because it’s an eyesore in the middle of a chic commercial district.
And the artists resist!!!!!!!!! The very next day there was a peaceful public demonstration, not devoid of music and dance.
So the call to rally goes:
To enforce art piece Tacheles
We save the creative centre of Berlin – We build a city
The pillage of Berlin by banks, investors and neo-liberal pseudo-politicians must stop!!!
Monday 20th September 2010
And they’ve been successful in resisting the demolishing of the building since the 1990s.
For more on Tacheles go to the Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunsthaus_Tacheles
and then walking through the graffiti covered walls, exuding an anti-capitalist verve, I come across this great poster shop. The work is bold and gripping. (Btw, that’s Kristin in the photo thanks to whom I visited Tacheles)
So why do I feel like this is another important element missing in Colombo. Just the space to have ‘honest straightforward talk, purpose’ (that’s the meaning of the yiddish word ‘tacheles’). Now where’s that space in Colombo, or anywhere in Sri Lanka? Ours is a society of stifled emotion, come to think of it. There is no space to come together and to have a dialogue. No public space for people to meet and talk (leave alone kissing!). In Colombo, the Galle Face Greene is the only ‘public space’ and in the evenings no wonder it is overcrowded. And still, it is NOT a public place. Because, people don’t come there to meet new people and to have a chat, they just come there with their families to fly kites! It’s just an escape from the four walls of an urban home. Nothing more.
So, our civil society – sorry, but there is no ‘society’ in that sense. It’s only a collective of individuals, families and organisations, struggling in their own small worlds. And that lonely struggle embitter them. No wonder, when there is no space, like or unlike Tachales, to bring people together to share things that are common. And our pseudo coffee houses like Commons (which has nothing in common with the common of our country), or Barefoot which has nobody who ever had to go barefoot, offer no ‘public space’. In fact, they form status hierarchies that the middle class has to struggle to access, in order to be ‘cultured’. (Btw, this also makes me a pseudo-intellectual, because I also grace these places despite my criticism.)
So in that sense, we need to pay attention to these words like ‘civil society’ and ‘public space’, because I am not sure that we have these in the true sense of the word.
So, no wonder we are crippled, not only in terms of showing affection in public but also resisting power in public. There’s no culture of peaceful public protest. And our protests, forgive me for being brutal here, but they are soooo boring. And sometimes even sponsored by organisations (like the one I work for, so I am not innocent here, you see!) I mean I do have a soft corner for some genuine individuals who repeatedly take to the streets and I do respect them sincerely. But the truth is it is not in our ‘culture’ to protest peacefully.
We deny the issues till they brim over the top and every 10 year cycle we have a violent revolution or a guerilla war of some sort that can only be countered by terror and suppression only.
And the only way I see out is to work systematically to build these ‘public space’ to be affectionate, to create, to express and to protest!
Ok, this is getting too long. And beginning to sound like a sermon, so I’ll have to skip the rest of the travelogue, in which I visit Fusion Street, a creative organisation working with marginalised and immigrant kids in Berlin, the visit to the New National Gallery of Modern Art, the Pergamon Mueseum…maybe some other day…
At Colombo duty-free I bought a Bailys, a Semmilon Chardonnay, a Chivas Rose and a French Brandy. They are all locked up in my grand ma’s closet right now, which is full of duty-free spirits! You see, my family culture is not one that encourages drinking. Like my mom asks ‘who on earth are you going to go drinking with?’
So you see, if I want to promote dialogue, I can start at home!
Nevertheless, let me raise my glass!
To Love, Art and Politics!