The English Speaking Elite
I am part of a dwindling and slightly pathetic race called the English Speaking Elite, or the Esé. Despite filling out ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ on every police report (they ask), I cannot really speak Sinhala. If I’m under arrest it somehow comes back to me, but for casual inquiries I can’t.
The Esé were once the dominant group in Sri Lanka (or Ceylon) or, more properly, the head niggers in charge. We were the government, we were the cops, we were the businessmen, we were the ministers and we were the minister’s sons. Now we’re not. Despite being an Esé myself, I think this is most certainly a good thing.
People talk about the Sinhalese and Tamils abroad. We talk about the Sinhalese and Tamils and Muslims and Burghers here. No one talks about the Esé. Perhaps because they don’t exist.
There is no mental sort for the English Speaking Elite in Sri Lanka, but it really functions as a race. People marry within it, they network within it, they live in it. These are, specifically, people that speak English at home and speak Sinhala (or Tamil) functionally, badly, or not at all. In the past Tamils and Burghers were the dominant genetic components of the Esé, but they have since fled and they are now a race made of many spare Sinhala parts and a far flung diaspora.
The Esé have an inordinate influence in Western media and politics because THEY SPEAK ENGLISH. They also have a (if only subconscious) grudge against the largely Sinhala speakers in charge because they are all but culturally more qualified to run the country and the sons of the soil are rubbing their noses in it. This is why Mahinda includes them in his lot of people that don’t love the motherland, because they don’t love the bastards she’s produced. Well Mahinda doesn’t name them because there is no name for the people he’s talking about, but let’s call them the nationalist Deviyo sect of the Esé. The opposite of the Yakkos, that being the nationalist sect of the Sinhalese.
Right now the Yakkos are in charge, led by their former mascot Mervyn Silva, trumpeted by the vicious Wimal Weerawansa and underwritten by the intelligent but racially virulent Champika Ranawaka. There is a Sinhala hegemony in the country which makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Especially the Deviyo and, to a mixed extent, the Esé.
I am Esé and it does make me uncomfortable, but I always remember that my grandfather could not have had the same opportunities he had if the Esé had been in charge. I remember for all the golden memories of Ceylon, that the vast majority of people here couldn’t dream of being president or tourism minister or much of anything if they couldn’t speak English, and now they can. Dream that is. Many of the Sinhala speaking people who hold power aren’t especially qualified for their jobs, but they are at least somehow more connected with the masses of people and at least exploit them in a localized manner.
Which is to say, they’re not colonizers, and they are not supported by the colonial class, that is, the Esé. The Esé speak English and liase with the West, which once made them supremely qualified to rule. Now they look rather like fools, and this makes some bitter. It made more leave and it moved one fundamentally Esé generation of leadership (SWRD Bandaranaike and Chelvanayagam) to support, respectively, Sinhala nationalism and Tamil separatism and set off the war that finally established a largely Sinhala speaking state by years of attrition.
But I digress. This is all just political cruft on top of a much more mundane subject, that being the Esé which are, after all, a race – like any other – primarily preoccupied with eating, drinking, living, loving and dying.
The Esé are the few thousands of people I hang out with. We appear to dominate what appears to be the culture of Sri Lanka – the restaurants, the clubs, the pubs, the businesses, the events and the arts. We speak English at home, we are educated and educate our children abroad, we read books, use the global internet, think and earn in dollars, etc. Of course, we don’t dominate anymore, the truly dominant business class is Sinhala-Esé and the political class is basically Sinhala-Yakko which strangely raises Sinhala-Esé children.
It is a weird race, nonexistent if it were not so necessary, because having a word for the English Speaking Elite suddenly makes it possible to analyze and understand Sri Lankan politics, the war and civilization a bit better than before. I suppose one could also say Ceylonese, but that’s a bit of a crippling from the start. I think most English speakers love Sri Lanka as much as anybody else, so I’ll call them Esé, Spanish for homey.