World war 1 ended 90 years ago today. Not that it featured much in Sri Lankan history. The industrialised butchery of 1914-18 is barely mentioned in the foot notes of Sri Lankan history. Perhaps in the back ground of the 1915 riots. I think there is mention in the later stages of Martin Wikramasinghe’s Gamperaliya. It was the last old style scuffles between empires. We the conquered were far away from it all. Our attitude epitomised by they ignored memorial near the public library.
Yet as a kid I had a history buff’s obsession with this European tragedy. How this interest took hold of a Sri Lankan teenage in remains a mystery. A grand parent was confident that it was the result of a past life. Many years later a psychic on another continent said the same thing.
To keep up my rational facade, I prefer to blame it all on a book. Specifically a book of short stories about a fictional WW1 British fighter pilot called “Biggles” (short for Bigglesworth) in the western front between 1916 and 1918. Written by a pilot who survived the war. Picked up the first book at a KVG bookshop. Turns out there were more books. I gradually bagged more over the years. Sri Lankan bookshops can have oddly interesting inventories.
Years later I discovered that bookshops in the developed world have shelves of lavishly illustrated expensive WW1 histories. Carefully chronicling the industrial slaughters with names like Somme, Passchendaele, Ypres, and Verdun. Lots of black and white pictures. Mostly “after” pictures of the carnage and mud of the trenches.
The most timeless are informal shots of the young men in uniform. Taken on leave from the front. Mischievously dishevelled uniforms though the faces are serious. There’s wry smile somewhere in the grainy photo but you got to look. The uniforms change but the look is familiar.
In the first world they are holding the usual stiff ceremonies before of stony monuments. In reality we do our daily shuffling about through the check points hoping not to catch a bomb blast. For me the day gives me a sad mysterious subconscious vibe. Proof that my thoughts, like this blog, are mired in irrelevance when it should be on the here, now and tomorrow.
At least I got a post out of it