In the short term, the person worst affected by Mark’s pronouncements was the Red Shadow (though for the sake of balance we ought to note too at this point that, in the final analysis, he had very little to regret). Even before Mark’s appearance, he had been in trouble enough with his superiors; the television news clips of his contortions amidst the mobs, followed by the graphic revelations of the police dossier, would he knew prove fatal. All he would have to look forward to when he was sent home, which of course would happen immediately, was prison, exile, or at the very least several years in a corrective institution where cold baths and electrodes would be the least of his worries. There would certainly be no chance to enjoy the pleasures he had so recently discovered.
This was more than he could take. He would have been at his wits’ end had it not been for something Mark had said, that tied in with his own enhanced perceptions since his transubstantiation in Negombo. It had occurred to him even then that the free and easy sensuality prevalent there might have had something to do with the free and easy absolution readily available from an indulgent church. Amongst the orthodox things had been very different. The Red Shadow felt that he could not bear to return to a land of cold and dreary penances. A few moments after Mark had spoken, he went into has back garden and clambered over the wall into that of his neighbour, the Papal Nuncio.
There he lay in comfort and in silence, while the storm raged, and the Big Red Embassy disowned him, and his disappearance was asserted conclusively to prove the vicious magnitude of the plot. Naturally he was received as soon as possible into the bosom of the church. There was nothing dubious or hesitant about his faith. In particular, he had an absolute conviction that the Nuncio would get him safely out of the country and bestow him unharmed, even if it were necessary to be disguised as a nun for the purpose, in the refuge offered by Rome.
It could not be denied that the effect of Mark’s speech to the nation was almost miraculous. The troops fired and the police charged as required, and the mobs melted away. True, there were sporadic outbursts of violence, and there was still menace in the air and there were those who said cynically that it was all a matter either of coincidence or of prearrangement; but by and large, and especially where it mattered, in the drawing rooms of Colombo, Mark was held to be the hero of the hour. Indeed, less than twenty-four hours after he had finished his speech, there sprang up in some of the more salubrious avenues of Colombo posters that declared that the hour had found the man to save the country. In some of them, the more brightly coloured ones, Mark even appeared to be possessed of a sparkling set of incisive teeth.
Within a few minutes of Mark’s appearance, Luke had met with his advisers and, with their full concurrence that it was in the best interests of the nation, determined that he too should do his bit on television for peace and harmony. When he asked for permission the next morning however Tom, looking much brighter and cheerier than on the previous day, replied that it was quite unnecessary, since things seemed to have settled down. By evening though the posters had appeared, and Tom decided that tensions were still latent and might burst out again at any minute.
Luke therefore appeared on television exactly twenty-four hours after Mark had done, and when the positive impact of that forceful performance was still fresh in everyone’s mind. It is a tribute then to Luke’s dramatic talent that he too managed to create a sensation. He started by saying that the government now had evidence that the plot Mark had mentioned was not directed only against Tamils, but also against Muslims and Christians and even against those Sinhalese Buddhists belonging to castes that the Brahmins considered inferior to themselves. Indeed, Mark’s statement had been misleading in one minor detail, understandably so in view of the fact that at the time Mark spoke all the facts had not been clear to him. In any case the government had felt that, as a member of the Brahmin caste, Mark could not be expected to disclose the iniquities of what was admittedly only a small segment of that caste, but one that was influential and might take a hateful vengeance on him if he gave them grounds for classifying him as a traitor. Mark after all was particularly vulnerable to such a charge, for he was the only leader who could be classified as absolutely pure, a solidly Buddhist Brahmin of the Brahmins, albeit his family had fallen on hard times before he had restored its fortunes by his advent into politics. It was, he added, a tribute to Mark’s breadth of vision that he had joined together with their great leader Tom, who had been born a Christian, and with Matthew, who had traces of foreign blood, and with John, who was a Tamil, and with himself, Luke, who was emphatically not a Brahmin and would like to make it clear that, whatever anyone said, he was proud of it.
It was now necessary to make it clear, Luke went on, that it was not Catholic Homosexuals who had joined together with Marxists to unleash anarchy upon the land. Rather it was against all members of minority groupings, whether of race or creed or caste or sexual preference, that the violence was to be directed; in turn, so that each particular group could be isolated and thus destroyed, leaving just the Sinhala Buddhist Brahmins, or rather the less righteous amongst them, in full control of the land and its resources, along with the Marxists. There was only one way, Luke said, for this menace to be combated: it was necessary for all members of minorities, and indeed those who might be considered members of minorities because they had changed their occupation or been circumcised or had high-pitched voices or whatever, to band together to combat the arrogance of a self-constituted elite, and the destructive envy of Marxist doctrinaires. He advised that each particular grouping establish a vigilance committee to safeguard its own special interests, but most important of all was that everyone who felt in any way threatened should join together in a common front.
‘I am not a Brahmin,’ he concluded. ‘But as that great man Julius Caesar said, when he was about to bring many peoples together and establish the Roman Empire, I am an honourable man. So are we all. All honourable men. And it is through honour that one truly becomes a Brahmin, not through accidents of birth or marriage. So I tell you all, all you members of what are held to be minorities. Butchers and Bakers and Cinnamon Peelers, Muslim Fishermen and Tamil Transvestites, Sinhalese Seventh Day Adventists, even those afflicted by Saturn in debility in the Seventh House—I tell you, all of you, if we are together, we can overcome. We are the Brahmins of the spirit. We are the honourable men. And in any case, if you add us all up together, there are more of us than there are of them.’
Vital though Mark’s contribution had been, and the more important in that it had ensured a period of peace during which people could listen to Luke and look about them thoughtfully and absorb the significance of what he said, it must also be granted that it was Luke who was responsible for the absolute restoration of tranquillity at this juncture. Mark’s message had brought a lull that might have been only temporary, for the groups around the country that had come together to attack Tamils, though they had lain dormant in case they were shot, still harboured to some extent their animosity and their ambitions. Luke’s words made them conscious of the differences amongst themselves. The groups based on aggressive principles split up almost overnight, and though there were attempts to set up others, it was soon discovered that no one could be trusted since there was bound to be at least one point at which a difference could be established even amongst those who seemed most similar. Even in the drawing rooms of Colombo gossip ceased, at least for a while, as everyone paused to consider carefully the exact identity in every detail—for no one could be sure which details were relevant, and which not—of the persons they were addressing. At the same time, every man was very grateful to Luke for what he had made them realize, that everyone of them had good reason to be proud of their individuality since there was no danger from a majority that he had proved to be simply a paper tiger.
Let us now look for a moment at Indra and Diana as they return from the hills. Radha and Krishna are with them, for it has been felt that it would be too traumatic for them to continue living in the village. Phyllis herself is too concerned at the moment with the need to do something momentous to exorcise the demons that have suddenly sprung up in her village to provide much comfort to individuals, whereas for Indra and Diana it is almost therapeutic to have the younger pair with them in the midst of their own derangement.
They make an interesting group in the light of Luke’s observations. Though Indra’s mother is a Sinhala Buddhist Brahmin, his father is a Muslim who was once a Christian. Diana’s mother is half English and she has never been sure herself what her religion is, if any. Krishna alone can claim to be pure, as far as race and religion are concerned, though doubtless his Tamil Hinduism is tainted in more orthodox eyes inasmuch as he hails from the hills and his Indian origins are recognizably recent. And as for Radha, whom you are doubtless wondering about since you are under the impression that she is Krishna’s sister—to all intents and purposes she is, for she was born of the same mother who was married to the same father; but there was a lot of talk about the time she was born, and we can safely say now without revealing more than we should that it was justified and that, whatever else about her is pure, her racial origins certainly are not.
Variegated though our foursome is, there is also much that binds them together. Apart from everything else, that has emerged and will emerge in the course of our story, there is much that binds them together on the surface alone, as strikes Paul illuminatingly and inspiringly when he first visits them on the very day of their return to Colombo. There is of course much now to bind him to Indra, much more than there was when Shiva lay between them, for now Shiva has gone and left Paul as the executor of his will and the sole trustee for much that must devolve upon the heirs of Indra’s body. They talk more freely now than ever before. Diana is glad, for she has always liked Paul. She remembers now that once, just once, they had planned a long weekend, just the four of them, she and Indra and Shiva and Paul, to the placid beaches of the east. Something had happened to prevent it, she cannot remember what. She wonders whether the others remember.
Surveying the four of them sitting opposite him, Indra and Diana on the sofa, Krishna at their feet, Radha on a stool, Paul is not sure whether the similarities that impinge upon him are the product of his fancy or of heightened perception. Krishna seems to him so very like Shiva when he first saw him, leaning against the mantelpiece in the Dean’s rooms at Trinity. More realistically, he tells himself, Krishna is also like Radha, with her wide eyes and her slim hips; and then, Radha is also like Diana, not only incipiently in her strangely moving feminine serenity, but also in a certain sharpness of nose and firmness of jaw. Of course, Diana resembles Indra too, and more than you would expect in such distant cousins—so that it seems to Paul that there is some sort of a thread binding the four of them together, a thread that he holds in his hands by virtue of his recognition of its existence, a thread which is attached to himself as well. Whimsical as he knows himself to be, Paul is also aware of an acute sense of responsibility.
Matthew was considerably annoyed by Luke’s speech which seemed to him unnecessarily to emphasize divisors in a society that he himself looked upon as essentially unitarian. As far as he was concerned, it was a question of one land and one race and one religion, and there was no need to take any notice of anyone who did not fit in, except of course for those few who insisted on drawing attention to themselves and who therefore had to be firmly and forcefully put down as traitors to the nation. Matthew however was not the hasty sort, and accordingly he decided that very careful preparations had to be made before he launched into his own address to the nation to counteract the effect of Luke’s discordances. That Matthew was entitled and expected to make an address was established early on, for Tom had been more than marginally upset by Luke’s reference to his baptism as a Christian, and was decided that the sooner the memory of Luke’s speech was superseded by something in a very different sort of key, the better for the nation.
It was well for Matthew that he waited, for he soon received a splendid opportunity to eradicate the diffidence that Luke had aroused. Yet it was not luck alone that gave Matthew his chance. He had a sharp mind and, when he was told that the Red Shadow had disappeared, he had not been slow to put two and two together. In any case, though in recent times he had been extremely irritated by the Tamils because of what he saw as a concerted attempt by all of them to divide the nation, his most profound distaste was reserved for the Catholic Church. It was not that he had anything very much against Catholics in general, but as for the hierarchy of the Church, he was convinced that it made every conceivable effort, subtle and not so subtle, to lure its adherents away from what should have been their primary loyalty to the motherland. When, therefore, the Red Shadow vanished on the night of Mark’s broadcast, leaving his car and almost all his belongings behind, Matthew had no doubt at all that he was being sheltered by his neighbour, the Papal Nuncio. Indeed it did not take him very long to arrive at the conclusion that the Shadow and the Nuncio were hand in glove together in all the pursuits that Mark had so graphically described, and a great many other more reprehensible ones too.
Yet for the moment, he simply bided his time and merely set the Black Shadow on the watch. He was rewarded soon enough when he was told that a ticket to Rome had been purchased on the Nuncio’s account in favour of a Sister Maria Theresa. It did not take Matthew long to establish that no Sister Maria Theresa had entered the country. Carefully then he made his preparations. He had in any case long established close and confidential relations with the security forces at the airport; apart from giving them their instructions, he also had an experienced film crew at the ready, with several cameras, and all the appropriate angles artistically mapped out in advance.
The Papal Nuncio’s car drew up at the appointed hour, and the Nuncio descended in the company of a very large nun. Matthew waited in the background as the security forces swooped. The nun’s wimple was swept back, and the red face of the Red Shadow was revealed, and meticulously recorded. Brushing aside all protests, the forces stripped off the nun’s habit, and then for good measures the Nuncio’s cassock too. The cameras dwelt long and lovingly on the Shadow’s red briefs and spruce cheeks, and on the knobbly knees of the Nuncio that could just be seen beneath his satin shorts. It was only after an appropriate interval that Matthew stepped forward and proceeded to harangue the Nuncio. He ignored the Shadow, but pointed at him with one finger while he waggled another sternly in the Nuncio’s face. This was the last straw for the Nuncio, who had had an English nanny in his youth and been terrified of her, especially when she jabbed her finger at him. He broke down and gave in at once to Matthew’s demand that he too take himself off immediately to Rome, if he did not want diplomatic relations broken off and the whole diabolical conspiracy revealed to the world. After he had given in Matthew, though still grave, was gracious. He signalled to the Black Shadow who promptly advanced bearing two batik sarongs which he handed over to the Nuncio and the Red Shadow to help preserve whatever was left of their modesty. They were very bright sarongs, indubitably the product of the skilled band of ex-virgins, with elaborate designs of crowns and wheels of merit and loose-limbed houris with splendid breasts that would call to mind in distant climes the imperial joys of Sigiriya. The Nuncio was told that the cassock and the habit had to be preserved as evidence and, in any case, he was in no position to resist.
It was only on the next evening, after some skilled and rewarding editing, that Matthew was ready to face the nation. He began quietly, and to many minds unconvincingly, with his elaboration of the monstrous plot against the integrity of the land and its people. He pointed out first that the Tamil separatist movement had been fuelled by politicians from a Big Brown country nearby, who had for their own nasty purposes interfered outrageously with the internal affairs of a proud race which would no longer tolerate such nonsense. Then, he went on, it was well known that all terrorist movements were encouraged by a Large Mohammedan country that had established training camps and provided arms and money freely in its vicious attempt to undermine all cultures and concepts that were at variance with its own. Furthermore, no one had any illusions about the Reds who had always been determined to destroy freedom and religion and racial purity and whatever they did not have the benefit of themselves. Finally, there was the Catholic Church which had throughout history been cruelly opposed to anything and anyone that lay outside its own stultifying confines.
It was at this point, when his audience had begun to feel that he was being excessive, that there rolled onto the screen the carefully edited version of the events of the previous day. Matthew’s commentary added to the impact as he recapitulated what Mark had detailed to the nation previously about the Red Shadow’s exploits in Negombo, and then went on to describe the special relationship between the Shadow and the Nuncio which he claimed was suitably symbolic of the whole perverted conspiracy against the moral and territorial integrity of the nation. There was no doubt, he said, who wore the trousers in that particular relationship; and it was clear that it was the Vatican that was the fountainhead of the whole monstrous plot, and that it would not scruple to use anyone or anything of whatsoever shade or persuasion, red or green or brown, to achieve its own infamous ends.
By the time Matthew’s face returned to the screen, after the last glimpse of the bright batik sarongs vanishing up the gangway, the nation was totally ready to rally to his call. For the moment, he did not propose anything very radical; Negombo and its environs would certainly be out of bounds to all foreigners until they had passed a chromosome test; there would be compulsory national service for all males between the ages of seventeen and twenty seven, unless they were Sinhalese Buddhists who had fathered at least one child; ordained persons, of either sex or both, would be permitted to wear only yellow robes or at a pinch pale pink ones, and would be required to have their heads and their arms bare; but apart from this, Matthew concluded, all that was required for the moment was that all good patriots should be aware of the insidious forces ranged against them, and should be constantly alert to rally together forcefully against the next threat that would confront them, whatsoever its source. The price of liberty, he reminded his audience, was eternal vigilance; the price of forcefulness was eternal practice of it. It was only if it were inseparably united that the nation could survive, he concluded, and whilst things like caste and creed and race and sexual preference did not generally matter provided everyone pulled their weight, what was ultimately aimed at was a homogeneous society, not a promiscuous and perverse one.
For the sake of the tender hearted, we will conclude this chapter by recording that neither the Red Shadow nor the Papal Nuncio suffered overmuch from the traumatic experiences described above. The Nuncio indeed did rather well out of them in the long run. He had hitherto been considered by his superiors a very mild and inconsequential man, devoted in an unimaginative fashion only to his duty and his faith. The drama at the airport however convinced those who mattered that this must be a case of still waters running very deep indeed, and here was a subtle mind and a complex personality that could be usefully employed in matters of great importance. His career thrived after he left Colombo and, if we are permitted to look a fair distance into the future, we can see him in resplendent red, the proud possessor of a cardinal’s hat.
On the many occasions in his busy life when he passes through Rome, he always stays with the Red Shadow who moves slowly and steadily upward in the security services of the Vatican. The domestic arrangements of his household are looked after by a series of youngsters flown in biennially from Negombo, more and more of them at a time as the Shadow gets more important and more prosperous. There is little doubt that it will not be too long before he achieves the eminence of being created a Papal Knight of one of the more exclusive orders; unless, that is, he joins the Carmelites, of whose robes he is said to be inordinately fond.