This is an excerpt from my novel about Sri Lanka, "The Longest Tweet." In this conversation I look at the nature of information and our right to it.
The dream was somehow connected to Adam's Peak. The visitorstranger needed a piece of information, a piece of information about how they heated their houses, something he was sure the locals were keeping from him. He lie in his bed, sweating hard and profusely with illness. In the dream, which was happening in reality, he was being taken by the hand and led to small concrete shelters. The walls of the shelters were low, only up to his knees or so. There was a neat roof, pitched four ways, just higher than his head in each shelter. The space between the low wall and the roof was open. But it was still. No wind circulated in. Light could get in but anyway it was the murky hour after sunset where light remained but mostly fled. Inside each shelter it was sweltering hot. He realized he was sweating more than he would have in a warm bed in a hot airless room. Sweat and heat were the goals he was trying to discover in this village. He was sure they were keeping him from it because there was no fire, no steam, no visible source of heat in any of the shelters they led him to on the hillside. One of the shelters lacked even a roof. It was hotter than the rest. At this point he realized. They had led him to heat. They had led him to a new understanding of heat. They had led him further than he had wanted to go. Further than he thought he could go. By putting himself in their hands he had been led to a new perception of their life here, the way they used heat, the way they thought of heat, the way they related to heat. But they couldn't or wouldn't tell him about the heat. For one thing they hadn't thought about it. Why would you? It was there. They needed it marginally and they got it when they wanted it. So his perception that "they wouldn't talk" was marked by his own need to talk and find out about it. Not by their disregard.
They won't talk. They won't go over it. They won't refer to it. Their answers are three words: "people suffered here." They speak your language but they won't speak it. They show you, slowly on car ride, sites associated with the horrors. But when you look. When you stare. When you ask, "can you please stop the car," there is just a field or a view or a hut or a rut or a cat or a cow or a palmyra tree. There is a roadside. There is some rubble. Nearby is a small poor shop. There are sloping roofs no better and no worse than roofs in other parts of the country but the roofs don't say anything. You can see them and you can see the walls and you can see the verges with rubble in them and you could, if you wanted, walk along those verges like you have walked in the smoke through many verges on this country in a sort of "fact-finding" for intangibles in the landscape. Things that are there, pieces or bits of landscape that could convey information you think, if only they were better developed. A different wall is what you find yourself wishing for. A different species of shrub, as if it would make a difference, a thread of music distant or close or a whiff of something besides the smoke. Was cumin always used here? You would like to ask. You would like to think that the ginger crop or the yellow powder could nudge you an answer. A suggested answer. An answer that's a hint. An answer that whispers. A whisper. For what? From whom? From where? A whisper that's too quiet can't be heard. Can you listen more carefully? Should you listen better? Could you? What if you can't understand the language of the whisper, even if you could hear it. Is it right that you should be privy to this? Should you have known better than ever to have asked because the signals are so jumbled and the colors of the wire are mixed up and the wires themselves are frayed with the wear of energy lost or held in so that these people's lives can go on in relative lack of pain, relative isolation from the "truth" you are asking them to spit up for you?
What right do you have to the information? To this "truth?" To these truths? To the cockles of their experiences? To the gear of the matter? Who are you I ask. Who the hell are you? Even if you had a right to it. To any of it. To one iota of it. To a molecule hanging off one scrap of it, what if it's just that you don't need it? You don't need it because you will never use it. Never use it? You don't need it for "research" you don't need it for a "dissertation" you don't need it for recitation or to prove a point or to walk with it draped on you like a uniform of this time, this place, this shame. How does a uniform of Shame become you? Will you shed it when you feel it to be uncomfortable after your next stop? Unstylish. From another world. From another time and place. From another set of circumstances where at the time you felt this was the best, the very best thing you could wear. In fact it could save your life because it could keep out that one degree of cold that could, if you weren't prepared, kill you. The poor piece of cloth. The wretched rag. This could save you. It was woven from another world and it transported you to that world where safety satiety and warmth were your way of life and the way of life for people all around you. Why save that piece of cloth once you were out? It had no stories to remember it by and no stories to tell to anyone else because nobody cared.
So the locals were showing you/him this piece of cloth or the molecule that stuck to a piece of filth dripping from the cloth. No wonder you wanted to see a different roof or a different shrub or to see a verge that maybe was older, tar and gravel and dust that maybe weren't so new but were laid down twenty or thirty or fifty years before and carried with them something you couldn't bend down and pick up any more. But did you. Would you ever have. Wanted to bend down. Ah. Here is a piece of charred flesh. Here is an ash from a human who was burnt. I smell blood here. Or I smell filth here. These are tangible clues. Now you can only feel the sun and sense the direction of the road. Who walked here? Who was fleeing? Who was chasing? How many chasers were here and what did they carry? How many of the chased fell? Do you really want to know this? Are these really the things you want to carry home in your luggage? So you really want these things on the page? Because they may not please people who read them in another place. They might not last the "test of time" in another time as time flows and time flies and time circles. Time's arrow, time's circle. Rough approximations of what may be contained in time or what time contains or doesn't because time is not material, not even a piece of marginally warming cloth.
So you're off the information grid so to speak. The information you can get is arbitrary, long in coming, hidden, flocked over, dissolved. You can't sieve through it like you might run data through a filter. You can't quantify it like you might've able to count the packets of biscuits on a shelf in Cargill's Food City. This is not shelf-brand information that can be plucked or basketed or twined or tuned or tempted out of hiding. This stuff is buried. This stuff is dreams, not even aromas. This stuff is hiding I think I can say. And when we see that it's hiding we know there's a good reason for it to be hiding and when we know there's a good reason for it to be hiding we know it is "valuable." So valuable that you can't go to the Shanti Cinema down the road on a hot afternoon and watch a movie in Tamil from Tamil Nadu, all the way in India? No! The information is there! So valuable that you can't ride a bike ten, fifteen kilometers out of town or just to the next street corner where you are almost killed by scooters going around the roundabout? No! The information is there! So valuable that you're wasting your time in conversation with a person much younger than you and much younger than the conflict, someone who can't possibly know what there was back then? No! The information is there! So valuable that you can't waste your time getting a haircut or a shave in the saloon on the corner? So valuable that you can't eat the fry fish curry, sprats, they offer you? Or watch the fishermen or listen to the lagoon on its way to the ocean? The information, not just information but if you care, the Information you are seeking is in on with beside encountered by transported in all these things.
You are swimming in information. Currents and eddies and waves of it. The waves are filled with filth but the filth, even if it was produced on a distant shore and buried upshore and unburied by the waves and tides and thrown up on this shore among fishermen's acrylic ropes blue and pink in the boring down sun, those waves and the filth and the random way they are laid on the shore. They are full of information!