Thursday, May 11, 2017

Reviews in Progress: Army Army by Kumāra Chāpābandara

     In contrast Army wdñ by Kumāra Chāpābandara presents the war as a senseless waste of human lives: “Our people their people … this is bullshit. Both Tamils and us are enmeshed in a war to satisfy the needs of some others, do you understand? Both groups are the ultimate losers of the war” (21). In the title ‘Army’ is in English represents the higher ranks of the Army that according to the writer benefit from the institutionalized framework of the Army which allows them a despotic amount of power and in some cases room for corruption. The second ‘Army’ in Sinhala – represents the vast majority of the ‘ordinary’ soldiers. The novel gives its readers an interesting insight to the role of English language as a rank/class marker in the Army. The protagonist Kumāra Chāpābandara (a pen name used in his newspaper columns) gives a first person narrative of the events of over 12 years of his life as a soldier attached to the Medical Corps of the Sri Lanka Army. The narrator considers war as a big men’s game – both Tamil and Sinhalese, and businessmen, here and abroad - who exploit the poverty-stricken youth of the country: 

Looking back, those who obtain state power the majority of whom are Sinhalese Buddhists misuse racial identity to ensure their survival. Those who appear as the opposition, too, use their Tamilness as a means of survival. The story is the same on both sides. The vast majority of ordinary Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims are under a great amount of pressure. Exploitation, unfair division of resources and the resultant disparities are common to all parts of the country. Liberation is necessary for everybody. Therefore, imprisoning Tamil sections who are suffering from existential issues in a racist framework and arming them for a war against a false enemy is a historical crime. (91) 

     The novel partially refutes the notion that the army is racist by pointing out that they had been used against the JVP uprising in 1971 and 1989-1890 periods against the Sinhalese in the South. The army according to the epigraph is a tool used by whoever in power to fulfil their narrow political ambitions. According to the narrator the war as fought in the 1980s would not be able to end the ongoing situation due to corruption, lack of will, tactics involved and international pressure, i.e. India invading SL airspace, tactics used by the LTTE. Nation-building requires a massive overhauling of the entire socio-political system supervised by visionaries like him.  

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