Every civilisation begins with a genocide

Excerpt from The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka.

This is an excerpt from the book The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka.

‘Our ancestors have literally been demonised,’ says the creature. ‘I have heard that the Mahakali is a descendant of Kuveni. Some say she is Kuveni herself.’

The traffic bottlenecks on Galle Road. It starts to rain and neither of you get wet. You look around at people running with umbrellas and huddling under shopfronts. The only ones who keep walking are those who no longer have breath.

‘The more I see, the more I am convinced,’ says the creature. ‘History is people with ships and weapons wiping out those who forgot to invent them. Every civilisation begins with a genocide. It is the rule of the universe. The immutable law of the jungle, even this one made of concrete. You can see it in the movement of the stars, and in the dance of every atom. The rich will enslave the penniless. The strong will crush the weak.’

It is now crawling up the windshield and is close enough to slap you. The Benz passes a shop that sells handcrafted souvenirs and flies a Sri Lankan flag on its roof.

‘I always had a problem with that flag,’ you say, while keeping an eye on his overgrown nails.

It looks through the window at the Minister, who has fallen asleep with your box on his lap. The traffic starts to move and the Minster’s demon smiles at you.

‘The mighty lion flag?’

‘When did we have bloody lions here? Or tigers?’

‘Elephants might make more sense.’

‘Or pangolins.’

Most flags have blocks of colour, not always belonging to the same palette: horizontal, vertical, sometimes diagonal, sometimes all three, like the Union Jack that ruled over us all. Some have friendly symbols like maple leaves, crescent moons, spinning wheels and suns with afros. In times more barbarous than these, houses carried sigils of wolves, lions, elephants, dragons, unicorns. Just to show off how bestial they could be if messed with. These days, the animal kingdom features on precious few flags. Mostly birds, stately and non-violent, with the exception of Mexico’s snake-crushing eagle.

‘Look at our flag. What an achcharu. It has everything. Horizontal lines, vertical lines, primary colours, secondary colours, animal symbols, nature symbols, weapons. Yellow, maroon, green and orange. Bo leaves, a sword and a beast. Like a fruit salad.’

‘Seen the Eelam flag? No better.’

The lion holds the scimitar to the orange and green verticals that represent the Dravidian and Mohammedan, holding the minorities at knifepoint. As a retort, the separatist flag of Tamil Eelam has a tiger peeping Kilroy style between rifles. As if to say, I see your lion with sword, and raise you a tiger with two bayonets.

Both flags have a beast and a bad layout and are the colour of blood. Eelam has the tomato red of a flesh wound, Lanka has the plum maroon of an unhealed scar.

There is no evidence that either of these beasts ever roamed these lands, but here they sit on flags, waving weapons and swimming in blood. As if to acknowledge that Lanka was founded on bestiality and bloodshed.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

Colombo, 1990. Maali Almeida—war photographer, gambler, and closet queen—has woken up dead in what seems like a celestial visa office. His dismembered body is sinking in the serene Beira Lake and he has no idea who killed him. In a country where scores are settled by death squads, suicide bombers, and hired goons, the list of suspects is depressingly long, as the ghouls and ghosts with grudges who cluster round can attest. But even in the afterlife, time is running out for Maali. He has seven moons to contact the man and woman he loves most and lead them to the photos that will rock Sri Lanka.

Ten years after his prize-winning novel Chinaman established him as one of Sri Lanka’s foremost authors, Shehan Karunatilaka is back with a “thrilling satire” (Economist) and rip-roaring state-of-the-nation epic that offers equal parts mordant wit and disturbing, profound truths.

Copyright © 2022 by Shehan Karunatilaka.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

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