People seem to have problems with statues all over the world. The Taliban leaders couldn`t sleep until they totally obliterated the Bamiyan Buddha statues. No sooner had the Soviet Union collapsed than the new rulers did begin pulling down all the statues of Lenin et al in a mighty hurry. The US-led forces started to demolish Saddam`s statues so urgently, as if that had been the sole purpose of their invasion of Iraq. After a regime change, it is the statues of the leaders of the previous political dispensation that bear the brunt of the wrath of those who capture power.
Statues of warriors and political leaders do not always get vandalised as such but with the passage of time they fail to inspire the people. Once a man took his little son to a museum, so goes a yarn, and the latter, fascinated by an equestrian statue of Napoleon, asked the former, `Dad, what`s this?` Being a Napoleon fan to the core, the father, bubbling over with enthusiasm, treated the son to a lecture on his hero. Having listened carefully, the boy who was very fond of horses innocently asked, `Then, dad, who is the guy straddling Napoleon?`
However, there is evidence of statues having inspired great writers to contribute literary gems to mankind. R. K. Narayan, story teller par excellence, tells us in A horse and two goats how a villager sells a public statue unwittingly. A foreigner mistakes the poor man perched on the pedestal of the statue for its custodian/owner and offers to buy it. The man, unable to understand English, thinks the foreigner wants to buy his two goats gazing in the vicinity and nods in agreement. And the statue gets sold! Oscar Wilde, the genius, in his inimitable style tells us in The happy prince how a gilded statue of a kind-hearted prince, moved by the suffering of the poor people living around it, gets a little bird to remove the thin leaves of gold and gems adorning it and distribute them among the needy.
But, the lesser folk are hardly inspired by statues, which, to them, are mere landmarks. Look at the large number of statues awash with bird droppings in Colombo. Old timers who know their history may understand the importance of those works of art, but the present generation knows next to nothing about them. Some politically motivated vandals give vent to their beastly urges stemming from hatred at the expense of those works of art.
A statue of the late President Premadasa is reported to have been vandalised in Kurunegala recently. A gang has broken its head. We are reminded of a similar incident which occurred in Britain some years ago. A vandal gave a marble statue of Margaret Thatcher a head cut with a bat. However, the Iron Lady was far from affected by it. Last February, when her bronze statue was unveiled in the House of Commons, she, who is the first living ex-British Prime Minister to be honoured in that manner, had this to say smilingly: I might have preferred iron?but bronze will do?it won`t rust and this time, I hope, the head will stay on! Let this be a lesson for those rowdy politicians here who kill one another over election posters!
In a country, where even the heads of Buddha statues are not safe from treasure hunters, what has befallen the Premadasa statue is, in a way, not something surprising. Those who are responsible for that dastardly act have only demonstrated their political bankruptcy. It must be condemned unreservedly.
Ironically, time was when not even a crow would fly above anything that had to do with President Premadasa. Giant cutouts carrying his pictures were a common sight all over the country from 1977 to 1993, when he was assassinated. Perhaps, no Sri Lankan leader, since King Nissanka Malla, had taken such great pains to self-advertise himself! When President Premadasa declared open a culvert in Hambatntota, so to speak, posters announcing the event would appear in far away places like Anuradhapura! He, no doubt, made a tremendous contribution to the country`s development, as former ambassador and seasoned political commentator K. Godage, points out on this page today. And we make no attempt to cast aspersions on President Premadasa posthumously or pooh-pooh his achievements. But, it needs to be noted that his obsession with self-advertising and self-aggrandisement made him Sri Lanka`s Ozymandias. His hubris and knack for railroading others into toeing his line earned him many enemies. (Our friend up there in the North, too, has similar inclinations, where publicity is concerned, as evident from the giant cutouts with his picture strategically placed in some locations in his empire of darkness to inspire awe in those who live under his jackboot.) One may wonder whether it is a trait of all vertically challenged potentates?Hitler included.
However, we are not short of others trying to make Ozymandiases of themselves, if the thorana like portraits placed at busy intersections are any indication. It behoves them to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors, abandon those gimmicks and rule the country democratically without provoking the masses, if they want the heads of their statues to be in tact after they cross the great divide. They ought to adopt only the work ethic of President Premadasa.
Finally, we hear of a move to erect a statue in honour of the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. The best place for the bust of that statesman, we believe, is the Kadirgamar Institute, where it can be maintained properly.
But, the question is how to restore the Kadirgamar Institute his successors have turned into a wayside eatery to its pristine position as a think tank, for that purpose.
His statue shouldn`t be sitting in a `ministerial restaurant`.