How to be a Great Writer August 25, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
How to be a great writer
by Charles Bukowski
you’ve got to fuck a great many women
and write a few decent love poems.
and don’t worry about age
and / or freshly-arrived talents.
just drink more beer
more and more beer
and attend the racetrack at least once a
learning to win is hard–
any slob can be a good loser.
and don’t forget your Brahms
and your Bach and your
sleep until noon.
avoid credit cards
or paying for anything on
remember that there isn’t a piece of ass
in this world worth more than $50
and if you have the ability to love
love yourself first
but always be aware of the possibility of
whether the reason for that defeat
seems right or wrong–
an early taste of death is not necessarily
a bad thing.
stay out of churches and bars and museums,
and like the spider be
time is everybody’s cross,
all that dross.
stay with the beer.
beer is continuous blood.
a continuous lover.
get a large typewriter
and as the footsteps go up and down
outside your window
hit that thing
hit it hard
make it a heavyweight fight
make it the bull when he first charges in
and remember the old dogs
who fought so well:
Hemingway, Celine, Dostoevsky, Hamsun.
If you don’t think they didn’t go crazy
in tiny rooms
just like you’re doing now
then you’re not ready.
drink more beer.
and if there’s not
that’s all right
Thanks to NavRat for sending me the poem.
Sex at the Olympics August 22, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
I haven’t blogged for awhile. I have been busy, and my attention has been diverted by a new private blog where I have been dealing with some rather unusual things that have been happening to me recently – stuff which I cannot share here. (Alas, the heavy cost of fame!)
So, here’s a little article I received from the NavRat today, that I offer as a re-entry into the blogosphere. Clearly, as busy as I have been, it’s not as busy as some. :-)
The full article in The Times Online.
August 22, 2008
Sex and the Olympic city
Tomorrow night thousands of young men and women with the most fit, toned bodies in the world will mingle for the last time before they fly home. What might they get up to?
I am often asked if the Olympic village – the vast restaurant and housing conglomeration that hosts the world’s top athletes for the duration of the Games – is the sex-fest it is cracked up to be. My answer is always the same: too right it is. I played my first Games in Barcelona in 1992 and got laid more often in those two and a half weeks than in the rest of my life up to that point. That is to say twice, which may not sound a lot, but for a 21-year-old undergraduate with crooked teeth, it was a minor miracle.
Barcelona was, for many of us Olympic virgins, as much about sex as it was about sport. There were the gorgeous hostesses – there to assist the athletes – in their bright yellow shirts and black skirts; there were the indigenous lovelies who came to watch the competitions. And then there were the female athletes – literally thousands of them – strutting, shimmying, sashaying and jogging around the village, clad in Lycra and exposing yard upon yard of shiny, toned, rippling and unimaginably exotic flesh. Women from all the countries of the world:
muscular, virile, athletic and oozing oestrogen. I spent so much time in a state of lust that I could have passed out. Indeed, for all I knew I did pass out – in a place like that how was one to tell the difference between dreamland and reality?
It was not just the guys. The women, too, seemed in thrall to their hormones, throwing around daring glances and dynamite smiles like confetti. No meal or coffee break was complete without a breathless conversation with a lithe long jumper from Cuba or an Amazonian badminton player from Sweden, the mutual longing so evident it was almost comical. It was an effort of will to keep everything in check until competition had finished. But, once we were eliminated from our respective competitions, we lunged at each other like suicidal fencers. There may have been a fair amount of gay sex going on, too – but given the notorious homophobia in sport it was rather more covert.
This sex fest was not limited to Barcelona: the same thing happened in Sydney in 2000, my second Olympics as an athlete, and is happening right here in Beijing, where this time I’m a commentator. I spoke to an Aussie table tennis player this week to check out the village vibe and he launched into the breathless patter common to any Olympic
debutant: “It is unbelievable in there; everyone is totally crazy once they are out of their competitions. God knows what it is going to be like this weekend. It is like a world within a world.” A British runner (anonymous again: athletes are not supposed to talk to journalists unaccompanied by a PR type, least of all about sex) said:
“The swimmers finished earlier in the week and it was like there was an eruption.”
Ah yes, the swimmers. For some reason the International Olympic Committee insists on bunching the swimming events towards the beginning of the Games with the inevitable consequence that the aquatics folk get going earlier – sexually I mean – than everyone else. So much so that, at the outset of the Sydney Olympics, Jonathan Edwards, a Christian and triple jumper extraordinaire, caused a ripple by telling them publicly to keep a lid on it. Edwards was simply concerned about getting woken up by creaking floorboards, but given his biblical credentials, it became a story about morality. Not that his intervention made a blind bit of difference. There is a famous story from Seoul in 1988 that there were so many used condoms on the roof terrace of the British team’s residential block the night after the swimming concluded that the British Olympic Association sent out an edict banning outdoor sex. Here in Beijing, organisers have realised that such prohibitions are about as useful as banning breathing and have, instead, handed out thousands of free condoms to the athletes. If you can’t stop ‘em, at least make it safe.
Which all begs a question, or possibly many questions. First, and most importantly, how can one get access to the village? The bad news is that you can’t, unless, of course, you happen to be an athlete with the relevant accreditation. But secondly, where does this furnace of sexual energy come from? Or, to put it another way, why do sportsmen and women have such explosive libidos? I am not implying, for one moment, that every athlete in Beijing is at it. Just that 99 per cent of them are.
Before we get to that, however, it is worth noting an intriguing dichotomy between the sexes in respect of all this coupling. The chaps who win gold medals – even those as geeky as Michael Phelps – are the principal objects of desire for many female athletes. There is something about sporting success that makes a certain type of woman go crazy – smiling, flirting and sometimes even grabbing at the chaps who have done the business in the pool or on the track. An Olympic gold medal is not merely a route to fame and fortune; it is also a surefire ticket to writhe.
But – and this is the thing – success does not work both ways.
Gold-medal winning female athletes are not looked upon by male athletes with any more desire than those who flunked out in the first round. It is sometimes even considered a defect, as if there is something downright unfeminine about all that striving, fist pumping and incontinent sweating. Sport, in this respect, is a reflection of wider society, where male success is a universal desirable whereas female success is sexually ambiguous. I do not condone this phenomenon, merely note it. Not all athletes are finely tuned specimens of perfect physical health, of course. A fair number are smokers, not prepared to give up despite the nagging of coaches and physiologists. At Barcelona, there was an area where the puffers would congregate near the transport mall. At the table tennis events in Beijing, a male player from Serbia and another from Greece have often been out catching a drag during breaks in play.
But let us get back to all the sex going down in the village. One possible explanation centres on the fact that Olympic athletes have to display an unnatural (and, it has to be said, wholly unhealthy) level of self-discipline in the build-up to big competitions. How else is this going to manifest itself than with a volcanic release of pent-up hedonism? It is a common sight to see recently knocked-out athletes gorging on Magnums and McDonald’s, swilling alcohol and, of course, shagging like crazy. Sometimes all three at the same time. Yet this can be only a part of the explanation because most of the athletes I know are as up for it before and during competition as they are in the immediate aftermath. It is as if sportsmen and women have a higher base level of sexual energy. But why? Can it be that one of the underlying drivers of sporting greatness is also the very thing that produces an overactive sex drive?
If so, you can bet your Olympic accreditation that testosterone is implicated. Testosterone is the hormone responsible for many of the differences between the sexes and is also a key physiological driver of aggression, competitiveness and virility. This is particularly so with regard to women. The duel effect of testosterone on female sporting performance and sexuality was demonstrated – somewhat sinisterly – during the state-sponsored doping programme in East Germany. An average teenage girl produces around half a milligram of testosterone per day. In the mid-1980s German female athletes were doped with around 30 milligrams of androgenic steroids per day. The effect on sporting performance was breathtaking – East German women dominated the world in swimming and athletics – but it also produced libidos (according to the testimony of the athletes themselves) that spiraled out of control.
This is not to say that the athletes in the village are all on steroids, or that elevated levels of testosterone inevitably lead to lots of sex. It is merely to say that, at a population level, higher naturally occurring levels of testosterone in both genders would provide a powerful explanation for the combination of sporting prowess and sexual potency.
I also think it is significant that, for most athletes, the village is thousands of miles from home. The old “what goes on tour stays on tour” mantra is still alive and kicking, not just in sport but beyond.
There is something deepseated in humanity that leads us to play by different rules whenever we leave town, a phenomenon that has caused instances of terrible inhumanity. When it comes to sex, it simply means that those in relationships no longer recognise, or at least ignore, the boundaries of fidelity and honesty that underpin human monogamy. Philosophers call it moral relativism; the rest of us call it hypocrisy.
There is also a Darwinian component to this. Scientists have measured, for example, how male fertility varies with distance from one’s habitual partner. And guess what? According to a report in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, a man’s sperm count doubles when he spends a lot of time on the road – up from 389 million sperm per ejaculate to 712 million. Which, I am sure you will agree, is a lot of extra sperm.
I suggest that it is the coming together (if you will forgive the
expression) of these factors that creates such an explosive sexual cocktail within the security-controlled perimeter of the Olympic village. Not that this is a bad thing. I have always regarded sexual promiscuity – for a single person at least – as a basic human right, even if it is no panacea for happiness or, indeed, anything else. Of course, many athletes will abstain, others may even disapprove. Only one thing is certain: they will never again enter a place quite like the Olympic village. Not, at least, until London 2012.
Roger Federer and Miroslava Vavrinec: Roger and Miroslava (originally from Slovakia) met at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where they both competed for Switzerland. A year later Vavrinec retired due to a foot injury and since has devotedly supported her man.
Matt Emmons and Katerina (Katy) Kurkova: Shooting stars Katy (Czech) and Matt (US) met in Athens 2004. She consoled him after he fired at the wrong target in his final shot which dropped him from 1st to 8th place. The chemistry was instant and they married in 2007.
Derek Redmond and Sharron Davies: The British swimmer Sharron Davies and athlete Derek Redmond met at the Barcelona Olympics (1992). In
1994 they married and had two children. They divorced in 2000.
Alyson Annan and Carole Thate: Two great international hockey players Alyson Annan (Australia) and Carole Thate (Netherlands) met in Sydney (2000). Their friendship led to a civil partnership in 2005 and they have recently had a son via donated sperm.
The hot gold contenders
Guo Jingjing China’s 26-year-old diving diva is the hottest female athlete at the Olympics. But back off, boys – her boyfriend is the Hong Kong business tycoon Kenneth Fok Kai-kong
Usain Bolt The Jamaican sprinter, who celebrated his 22nd birthday yesterday, smashed both 100 metres and 200 metres world records. Let’s hope he doesn’t do everything at that speed
Eamon Sullivan Swimmer, aged 22, from Perth, ensures that these Games aren’t a complete wash-out for the Aussies
Yelena Isinbayeva The 26-year-old Russian pole-vaulter – “the chick with the stick” – takes the women’s silver medal
Laure Manaudou French swimmer, aged 21 and 5ft 10in, takes the bronze medal place for women.
Pete Reed British rower and Royal Navy lieutenant, aged 27, 6ft 7in, 100kg, blue eyes – and he’s ours
Digestif June 28, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
Pradeep and I have cooked for each other several times over the last few weeks. He lives in the neighbourhood. I have been over about three times now and I have each time been hugely impressed by his expertise as a self-taught gourmet chef. If you check out his blog, you’ll know why.
The part I find most interesting, however, is the conversation afterwards. On two occasions now, Indi also has been present, along with a few of the usual suspects. I generally tend to throw them an incomplete idea that I have been thinking about and let the pride tear at it, ripping it apart. There’s no snarling, although, at times, it does get passionate. It’s a great forum for debate, because Pradeep is an encylopedia – his arguments are meaty – and he tackles it with a razor-sharp mind and serves it lightly with humour. And the great thing about having Indi sparring alongside, is that when it comes to argument, Indi is a different animal. His views are principle-centred, he is irreverently hilarious in expressing them, and he will not let go until he is completely satiated.
There are some issues that I still have not worked out in my head. Not that it matters to anyone else – heck, I’ll never be able to run for public office with the things I have said on this blog – but I like to have a clear position on things. To work out issues, having other people from opposing points of view debate it in front of you is great. It’s even better when you can interject and steer.
Anyway, all this is a preamble. What I really want to share with you on this post is this article that Pradeep wrote in his defence a few months ago. I really liked it and I read it again today. I agree with its point of view on the international community, it is a point of view that I have found impossible to express as well as Pradeep has in this article, without sounding like a paranoid NGO-basher. God knows, I am not one of those, but I think our history being the way it is, we have every reason to be skeptical of too much international interference, and a general attitude of mild suspicion of foreign intervention will be to our long-term advantage. Remember the Kandyan Treaty of 1638? I can’t express myself as well as the article does, so, I might as well reproduce it.
ICES and ‘I’: the Struggle for a Critical Social Science
Dr. Pradeep Jeganathan,
Senior Research Fellow,
A mass protest against government attack on job security for young workers in France: ‘I then told him that I was, in turn, worried about the situation in France’.
The “I” in ICES:
September 2006 found me having dinner with a French Anthropologist, at the Delhi University international guest house. I had a month long visiting Fellowship in the famed Department of Sociology there, where I count many friends and colleagues, Jean Pierre was there for the launch of a co-edited volume on Bourdieu, the French Anthropologist who was deft enough to write a classic account of Algerian culture without mentioning violence once, while doing fieldwork in a time of revolt and revolution.
Jean Pierre (not his real name) told me he was very worried about Sri Lanka — the conflict, the violence, the Sinhalese and Tamils. I shared many of his concerns, and when I found his knowledge of Sri Lankan things was superficial, I tried to deepen his understanding, here and there. I then told him that I was, in turn, worried about the situation in France. He expressed surprise. When I said repression of youth protests, widespread racism directed against immigrants, when seen in the context of French intolerance of forms of female dress such as a headscarfs and veils, was very worrying to me, he stopped eating. “You worried!?” He said with amazement, pointing his fork at me. It obviously wasn’t a two-way street when it came to worry. He was worried about Sri Lanka, but was amazed when he heard I was worried about racism in France. When I went on to argue, that French racism was the basis of Franz Fanon’s celebrated analysis of the subject in Black Skin, White Mask — which I had used as the center piece of a global history class, when I was a professor in the US, he left the table, wandering off into the men’s room, not to return for some time. He didn’t even want to discuss it, well certainly not with me.
I first heard of Fanon, when I was an undergraduate intern at ICES. We didn’t really have a library in those days, but Regi Siriwardena had a copy and he lent it to me. It deepened my understanding of “whiteness” as well as “blackness.” Each time I asked my predominantly white, Lutheran students at the University of Minnesota to comment on his most famous line: “the Negro is not. Any more than the White Man,” I too read the line afresh, and understood a new, some thing about the world. When I joined ICES, the “I” in the International stood for that kind of vision. We were looking at the world, from its underbelly, from the point of view of those who had been colonized.
The “I” in ICG:
The I in ICG, the International Crisis Group, is not the I, in the ICES. It does not provide a located, anti-imperial view of the world, rather it provides us with a God’s eye view of “crisis;” not all over the world, but in carefully chosen trouble spots. If you scroll through the country selector on its website, you won’t even find India and China, or the United States or France mentioned; how these ‘crisis’ get selected, should be the subject of a research paper. In fact, North America doesn’t even appear as an area, and its European section doesn’t have regular reports on the Western part of the continent. It is a curious collection of small countries, that are positioned on a NATO or Western European centered political map, with ‘crisis’ that need what ICG calls ‘recommendations.’ North America is just a great blind spot that can never be commented on, but what’s most fascinating is the imputed audience for each set of recommendations. For example, a report on Thailand, has recommendations for the Thai government, a rare report on France, for which no country tab exists as pointed out above, has recommendations for the French government and activists, and a report on Sri Lanka, has three sets of recommendations, for the government. the LTTE and INGOs and foreign governments.
The ‘International Community’
The I in International Community, as used by the ICG, is quite the same as the I in ICG, and isn’t all that very far from the I in Imperial. This is in fact, the “I” that allowed my French colleague Jean Pierre to ‘worry’ over violence in Sri Lanka, but be amazed that I would worry over French racism and repression. When it comes to France, ICG has no recommendations for non—French institutions or organizations. Why, it is an internal matter, no doubt, none of any one else’s business! But when it comes to Sri Lanka, of course they have recommendations for the EU or INGOs.
The “I” in ICISS.
This is where the knowledge produced by ICG is crucial to what is now called, the “responsibility to protect” or R2P. It is in those crisis areas or trouble spots where, recommendations for outside actors and interests have been legitimized. And it is the need to underline this legitimacy, and foreclose criticism of it, that has made necessary, the labored, yet superficial claim that R2P, as a conceptual turn, is vastly innovative — and therefore a enormous advance towards global peace. This is just not true; and is based on a weak argument. The claim to a great advance, comes on several fronts — the first being that there is a rethinking and then a redefinition of State Sovereignty, in the conceptual casting of R2P. This supposedly, is all worked out in the Report of the International Commission on Intervention of State Sovereignty (ICISS). Note the I again! It isn’t really worked out there at all. As should be well known to serious political theorists, State Sovereignty, in pre-modern times was configured in two parts, and is embodied in the King and the King’s body, the subject people. Again, as is well known, the locus classicus of this argument is Kantorowicz’s account, and the literature that follows, whether it be Balibar or Lefort will tell you that in modern societies, it is the ‘people’ constituted as a community of equals, who represents themselves in a state which is an expression of their Sovereignty. The ICISS report does not address the basics of political theory, rather it asserts that if a state is unable or unwilling to protect its population, then its Sovereignty can be challenged to that extent. Well of course, that’s central to the charter of the United Nations, with the provision that a resolution of the Security Council or two thirds of the General Assembly meeting in Emergency Session supports this claim. And as such, intervention under UN authority is allowed under the charter. Does the ICISS claim to challenge this? Yes, most certainly! That’s the big innovation; according to the report, and this is tucked 57 pages in, a regional body (read NATO in Kosovo) or even another state, can intervene unilaterally in another, if it feels that there is a “responsibility to protect.”
So can we, at ICES, begin to study, with a view to intervening at once, racism in France or for that matter the US prison system, where inmates, who are a large proportion of the general population and belong to a minority group i.e., African-Americans, who are, as it is well known, subject to widespread and continuous rape and battery? No of course not, there is no “I”CG report on US prisons or the US for that matter. Sorry, you can’t feel responsible; the ICG doesn’t think it’s a crisis in the first place. The penny drops; this is why Gareth Evens has to be the head of ICG and the ICISS and now the new, Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P).
ICG decides for GCR2P what the cases are; and in those cases, a sub set of which are earmarked for third party ‘recommendations,’ it is asserted that state sovereignty has now been eroded. Sri Lanka is such a case, Burma is another. Thailand or India is not, because I very much suspect, that in those countries –one a long standing democracy, the other having struggled with this form of government for some time– such recommendations wouldn’t be tolerated by the state. Claims of Sovereignty and democracy are certainly not incompatible, it would seem.
And there is of course another criteria which comes in: when a country is ripe for third part recommendations to be made about it. Yes, you guessed it, it is also a failed or faling state, in the eyes of the International Community. That’s why it isn’t enough to address the state, or political groups within the country; oh no, they’ve failed, so we must look to the Internationals (that “I” again), who of course, never fail.
R2P & the UN
To counter mounting criticism in Sri Lanka over this idea of R2P, Rama Mani, in an interview, and Radhika Coomaraswamy in a widely publicized email letter claimed, the Sri Lanka state is a signatory to the 2005 World Summit declaration on R2P and thus, this concept has somehow been “bought” on our behalf, by the government. That’s just not true. The World Summit declaration, which has hundreds of paragraphs, mentions R2P in two, 138 and 139. But it only supports intervention under the charter of the UN — that is after Security Council resolutions and/or General Assembly sessions. Euro—American commentators, like Walter Hodge of the New York Times, have begun to refer to states having “buyers remorse” after signing on to R2P. Well that’s a misstatement, since they’ve never bought it in the first place; they couldn’t surely — a UN summit can not agree to overrule itself! GCR2P, an INGO, funded by multiple government sources and private sources, now established in a University in New York, is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an organ of the UN. But Coomaraswamy who serves on its advisory boards, acts like it is — telling us she is there on the express request of the Secretary General. Well, that’s nice, but it does not make it a UN body, does it? Rama Mani in an interview with Lakbima News makes a specious analogy with UN peace keeping forces in Haiti, which have a Sri Lankan contingent. Sri Lanka has participated in R2P operations, she cries out – so what’s wrong with it. That’s based on typically weak logic; UN peacekeepers, in Haiti or elsewhere, operate under the authority of the UN charter, under security council resolutions, not on a privately commissioned study, authorized by ICG and then regurgitated by the private GCR2P. The situations don’t compare, since what is at stake in the Sri Lankan debate right now, is the direct affiliation of ICES to GCR2P as an associated center.
This is not a matter of opposing the regime in power or not, as Paikiasothy Saravanamutthu and his colleagues have cast this. It’s a much larger issue; the decisions and directives of the GCR2P might well be violations of international law; catalyzing the movement of R2P from principle to practice may well be illegal. If the regime in power in Sri Lanka or elsewhere is committing atrocities against its population, the forum for expressing grave concern and demanding out side intervention, is the UN and its organs; to set up well funded and well heeled private organizations to be such fora might well be constituted as neo-imperial, giving the “I” in ICG, yet another meaning.
It is therefore really quite condescending for Romesh Thakur, to suddenly descend from on high and tell us, that questions of imperialism has long been settled, and in any event, is addressed in the ICISS report, of which he is a co—author. No, it is only an assertion, in this report — there is no argument as such, despite pages and pages of humming and hawing. In his recent opinion piece that was carried in the Hindu and also the Daily Mirror, Thakur cites straw men in an imagined Sri Lankan debate on the matter. He misses, perhaps through bad research or deliberate myopia, G.L Pieris’ reasoned arguments with Gareth Evens’ Tiruchelvam lecture, and again, his comments on Jayantha Dhanapala’s UNDP lecture, to which Tissa Jayathilaka replied. And I hope he will not miss this argument; if he, as an undoubted stand in-for my friend and colleague, Radhika Coomaraswamy, wants to continue with the debate.
While Thakur gets the contours of the Sri Lankan debate quite wrong, the real point is one that Evans labored over, as well. Neelan Thiruchelvam was a cosmopolitan, Evens said, and as such, would never have called R2P imperial. Cosmopolitans are those, in this argument, who’ve somehow got beyond imperialism, and are of course, comfortable with that wonderfully ill defined ‘international community’ of which of course the Canadian High Commissioner Angela Bogdan must be a member. By this argument neither G. L. Pieris nor Rajiva Wijesinha nor I am cosmopolitan; we are somehow parochial because we want to follow the logic of political theory (Pieris makes an important argument about the rule of states with recourse to social contract theory), or international law? Surely, this notion is extremely thin and not really worth further comment, except to note its function in the larger rubric. It is these cosmopolitans who liaise between the third party Internationals, the High level High Commissioners, and their friends, the parochial locals who aren’t really educated and refined — this is the thin upper crust in the society of any failed state, and it’s the kind of interlocutor Grath Evens likes.
Imperial or International?
The “I” matters after all. It matter who speaks and from what position. And it matters if the “I” stands for Imperial or International, and then in turn, what kind of International. ICC, would a good, final example. Once the Imperial Cricket Council, it then metamorphosed into the International Cricket Council, which is when Umpire Hair “called” Muralidharan in the famous Boxing Day test in Australia. The I in International was pretty close to Imperial, in 1995. It took a massive struggle over knowledge, who knows what and how, to establish that elbow flexing was pretty universal among bowlers. And then it took the leaking of an ICC report that Bret Lee flexes more that Murali to finally put the matter to rest. Alternative knowledge matters, and articulating it critically matters as much. That was central to the ICES I joined in 1987, as an undergraduate intern, and it was central to its projects for decades after. It gives me a sad, empty feeling to realize that arguments made on crucial matters by authoritative ICES voices, like those of Radhika Coomaraswamy and Rama Mani are based on bad fact and argument, and more, that we’ve lost the ability to think for ourselves.
Take for example, the simple fact that even though there has been widespread tub thumping about R2P, none of the associated books or journal articles are available in ICES, Colombo’s library — I had to find all the source materials used in this argument myself, an area of research which is far removed from my speciality. We’ve never had a serious in-house discussion of these issues based on a close reading of the documents, and there isn’t one serious article written by any one on the staff, that thinks through these issues. ICES is nowhere where it used to be.
In the old days, when the I in ICES, actually stood for some thing, the ICES, I joined, believed in, and returned from a coveted job in the US to work for, would have been at the forefront of whatever debate that we chose to enter, not from up high, as Internationals who are better than locals, but as internationals who are also local, located, recovering from colonialism and the ongoing brutalities of violence, to contribute, despite and through that experience, not only to the tradition of critical social science in this country, or the region, but beyond, in the world at large.
When a bomb explodes May 16, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
Navin: mara drama
Finally, are they getting it right? May 14, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
1 comment so far
The poster says, ‘The story of the Ramayana will be revealed through a new perspective, that of Ravana, who up to now has been portrayed as the “Demon King of Sri Lanka.”‘ I’m definitely going to try and see this ( above). It sounds as if they are finally listening to my side of it.
The last Ramayana play I went to see a few months ago, was put on by the Elizabeth Moir School. I enjoyed it. It was definitely of a school standard, and the acting, in general, was not exceptional, but it was a decent production, which had a number of points to recommend it. Lucky Attygalle, the director/teacher-in-charge, I discovered later, had written the script herself, which impressed me. It was a good choice of school play and there were some interesting facets of it, like the choreagraphy of the monkey scenes, and the fact that all the monkeys were played by younger students of the school, resulting in the monkeys actually being diminutive in size, when compared with the humans. The costumes were beautiful and made up for the relatively sparse stage.
Unfortunately though, they didn’t get the story right. They did make an effort to show the human side of Ravana, but this is not really what I want. I am quite comfortable with the demon persona. After all, it gives me the opportunity to repeat the words of Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate and actually mean them. (“Well, on a scale of one to ten… ten being the most depraved act of sexual theatre know to man… one being your average Friday night run-through at the household… I’d say, not to be immodest, your wife and I got it on at about… eleven.”) The Sita-throwing-herself-at-me-and-being-secretly-in-love-with-me bit is the part that they got wrong, but then again it IS a school production, and I guess there’s only so much you can be expected to swallow. That’s not what she said though.
However, one thing I did like was Rama and the Ayodhya crowd depicted as a bunch of traditionalist fogies, while Lanka was like the happening place. The costumes especially, brought this out. Ravana was like the most fashionably dressed. Very cool. Lets see if I can try and find some photos.
Hmmmm. Here goes:
That’s Ravana and his brother in Lanka. See what I mean about the funky clothes? I think we should all be wearing this kind of stuff. All the time.
That’s Rama standing up (above), talking to the beautiful Sita, and looking on in the background is Kaikeyi, who was a proper little (albeit underage) minx. Those are the monkeys below.
So, I’ll let you know how I liked this next production after I see it.
Missing Mother’s Day May 12, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
I remembered on Saturday, forgot on Sunday, and upto now, still haven’t called. By some strange coincidence, however, I inadvertently wrote this, below, at the writers’ group meeting last evening. My mind must surely work in strange ways, if I can put something like this down on paper, and not realise what I had specifically decided to make a point to remember only the day before.
“Her night time ritual was always accompanied by her telephone, and the thoughts of her son who she missed very much. She wondered, as she scuttled around her little bedroom attending to the Ponds Face Cream bottle instructions, where he was, what he was doing, and whether he would come and see her this weekend. As she brushed her salt’n’pepper hair exactly one hundred times, she thought of the things that she would say to him if he would call: about old Sopi and her daughter’s truant husband, the lemon butter rulang cake that she had baked this afternoon (just like the old days when her son was little), and the leaking roof on the veranda that the baas had promised to fix two months ago, but which was still neglected, and still dripping.
She wondered if her son was awake. She had a momentary pang – a fleeting urge to dial his number – but she discarded this thought as she dropped the cotton buds into her bedside wastepaper basket. She had not seen him in months – the third of January, to be exact – and she had scarcely been able to chat to him on that occasion because he was in a hurry – an important meeting. Her son worked hard, she knew, even on Sundays, and even though this usually prevented her from spending more time with him, she forced herself to take comfort in the fact that she had raised such a diligently useful pillar of society.”
Strange, huh? I better go make a few calls now.
False patriots are not going to like this. May 6, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
There is a lot of B.S. about patriotism these days. I don’t mean that patriotism itself as a concept is bullshit. Neither, do I imply that we Sri Lankans should not be patriotic about our country. What I deride, however, is the sense of pride, identity and loyalty that many of our countrymen display exclusively towards their own ethnic or religious group. Again, these feelings on their own are hardly harmful, but when they masquerade as patriotism for country, it becomes downright destructive, not to mention a tad irritating (but then, I do tend to have little patience with the retarded).
Patriotism is not the same as the love of, and pride in, religion. It is certainly arguable that it can sometimes be interchanged with love of nation (nationalism), where a nation is a group of people with a defined cultural and social community, but this is not an understanding of patriotism that I like. Nevertheless, even if we do use this definition, to view current Sri Lanka in these terms would be to realise that an intense feeling of nationalism in the majority Sinhala Buddhist population is ridiculously counterproductive to its own political and military aim of keeping the country together. If you want an undivided country, you need nation-building, true. But you need to build an idea of nation that keeps all important groups defined within it, not locked out of it. Building an idea of nation in Sri Lanka that is exclusively Sinhala Buddhist is what the terrorists want. That’s why they are also called separatists. (It’s quite simple really, I don’t know why some people don’t get it. Oh yeah, of course, the retards – I keep forgetting).
The bird brain’s view of patriotism.
So, the billboards referring to Mahinda Rajapaksa as the next Dutugemunu did not help. Neither, did the independence day pennants along the roads which read (exlusively in Sinhalese) “Shakthimath nayakayek, shakthimath jathiyak, shakthimath ratak”, which translated means “A strong leader, a strong nation / ethnicity, a strong country.” I had an awkward time explaining this to a fellow Sri Lankan who happened to be Tamil. The word jathiya can be technically interpreted as nation or ethnicity, but if you ask a Sinhala man on the street what his jathiya is, he is likely to cite his ethnicity. This type of government communication is utterly counterproductive to building a common Sri Lankan identity, and it also follows that it is counterproductive to the purported political and military ideology of this government: that Sri Lanka is one nation, one country, and should not be divided.
Fortunately, however, love of a particular government is only required to be a patriot if the elected government is actually representing the best interests of the people it claims to represent. There are certain times at which goverments are tempted to tramp all over the interests of the people. And, really, you can argue about what constitutes country, but surely The People must be a large part of it? Much more so than the government? At least? Another thing that constitutes country, far more so in my opnion than a particular government controversially elected by a whisker, is the constitution. That is perhaps why it’s called the constitution. (Take note, retards).
And, sometimes, governments in their enthusiasm to keep the country together, or in their enthusiasm for for easy solutions, or their enthusiasm for utterly retarded courses of action, decide to act against the constitution. Most often these instances probably go unnoticed. However, when these instances are open for everyone to see, there is a burden on every citizen to stand against such violations, because the constitution must, at the very least, seem to be obeyed. Upholding the chief instrument that defines one’s country – the constitution – is required of every true patriot. If a part of the constitution becomes outdated or irrelevant, it can be changed, constitutionally.
However, not everyone in our country agreed with this when, last year, the government tried to evict over three hundred Sri Lankans from Colombo and send them away forcibly back to their “homes”. It was huge blunder on the part of the government, apart from being legally and morally reprehensible. Yet, a few seemingly intelligent beings capable of putting pen to paper, not to mention fingertip to typepad, appeared utterly distraught at the outcry of civil society. And the worst part of it was that they claimed to be patriots.
Hogwash. They wouldn’t know true love of country if it rogered them up the ass.
P.S. By the way, the Supreme Court gave it’s ruling a few hours ago that the evictions last year were against many articles of the constitution. You can read CPA’s press release below. My congratulations to them, the true patriots, in this instance.
Sita Speak May 5, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
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This is a poem Vivi sent me some weeks ago. It was written in 1985 by an Indian feminist economist named Bina Agarwal.
Sita, speak your side of the story,
We know the other too well.
Your father married you to a prince,
Told you to be pliable as the bow
In your husband’s hand.
Didn’t you note Ram broke the magic bow?
They say you-the ideal daughter –
Bowed your head in obedience
As you were sent away
With your husband you chose exile
Suffered privation, abduction
And then the rejection –
The chastity test on the scorching flames The victim twice victimised.
Could those flames turn to flowers without Searing the soul?
They say you were the ideal wife
You questioned him not
And let him have his way
The poets who wrote your story
Said: a woman is not worthy of hearing the Ramayana; like a beast she is fit only For being beaten Could such poetry ever bring you glory?
Yet, they spoke their verses without challenge and With such falsehoods got away.
You who could lift the magic bow and play With one hand Who could command the earth with a wordHow did they silence you?
(Bina Agarwal 1985)
Fag May 5, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
I came to you because I was pissed off.
I needed something to comfort me, someone to hold.
I needed someone to make her as mad
As she had made me.
I was angry.
I knew the way she felt about you.
She had never liked your kind,
Always insisting that we never
Shared your company,
To the point that she could hardly bear
To share drawing room or restaurant
With the allure of your wafting charm.
What better way to get to her,
Make her ill with worry,
Than to be seen holding you.
Like I said,
I needed to be comforted
And although I had never
Succumbed to your spell,
I saw your hex on lesser men:
an impulsive rush
a frozen calm
a withdrawing tease
and long degradation.
But, like I said, I was pissed off.
I cared less about the ever after.
I came to hurt someone
at a student bar
at a university not far from Coventry
at the age of twenty one.
I’ve been smoking ever since.
Sita Sings the Blues April 30, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
1 comment so far
I just discovered today that the image I’ve been using of Ravana on the blog for two years is actually from a movie that has just been shown at the Tribeca Film Festival. It seems to be historical in more ways than one. Here’s wired.com’s piece on it:
NEW YORK — Amid the documentaries and live-action features at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival is a first for the event — a feature-length, computer-generated animated film rendered entirely by a single animator, working out of a home office.
Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues, which makes its North American premiere Friday at the festival, tells two parallel stories: the ancient Hindu epic the Ramayana and the breakup of Paley’s 21st-century marriage. It does so through four distinct styles of animation, a “greek chorus” of Indonesian shadow puppets and wildly imaginative musical interludes that use authentic 1920s blues recordings to link narratives 3,000 years apart.
Best known in the 1990s for her comic strip Nina’s Adventures, Paley turned to animation in 1998, mostly using Flash, and produced the illusion-rich Fetch and the award-winning series of shorts The Stork (which portrayed each “bundle of joy” delivered by the stork as a population bomb).
Over an Indian lunch in the Curry Hill section of Manhattan, Paley talked about tech, heartbreak, rotoscoping and her new film.
Wired: What is your movie about?
Nina Paley: Sita Sings the Blues is a musical, animated personal interpretation of the Indian epic the Ramayana. The aspect of the story that I focus on is the relationship between Sita and Rama, who are gods incarnated as human beings, and even they can’t make their marriage work [laughs].
Wired: And that ties in with the film’s second narrative.
Paley: Right, and then there’s my story. I’m just an ordinary human, who also can’t make her marriage work. And the way that it fails is uncannily similar to the way Rama and Sita’s [relationship fails]. Inexplicable yet so familiar. And the question that I asked and the question people still ask is, “Why”? Why did Rama reject Sita? Why did my husband reject me? We don’t know why, and we didn’t know 3,000 years ago. I like that there’s really no way to answer the question, that you have to accept that this is something that happens to a lot of humans.
Wired: And this whole movie was rendered on a laptop?
Paley: I started on a G4 titanium laptop in 2002. I moved to a dual 1.8-GHz tower in 2005, moved again to a 2-by-3-GHz Intel tower December 2007, with which I did the final 1920 x 1080 rendering.
Wired: What software did you use?
Paley: It was animated primarily in Flash. I made some original watercolor paintings by hand, which I scanned and animated in After Effects. I can’t believe I’m such a tech booster now, ’cause I used to be a Luddite!
Wired: Mostly in Flash? How many .fla files, for the Flash geeks out there?
Paley: Let’s see; say six shots per minute, 80-odd minutes, so it’s close to 500 individual scene files.
Wired: I thought I saw some rotoscoping in Sita.
Paley: You did. That was Reena Shah dancing. She did the speaking voice of Sita and she also danced. I videotaped her and traced elements of the dance in Flash. That wasn’t an automatic program, it was all by hand.
Mingers April 27, 2008Posted by ravana in Religion, Uncategorized.
Tags: religion society mingers ugly
It’s 4:30am and I can’t sleep. I did the usual things: got wiped out at an online poker game, tried installing Hellgate London, and checked my mail. There was one particular mail from a friend that came with just one line that read “This is cruel, but funny”, and a link. It was a link to a website called www.mingers.com.
A minger, in British slang, is someone who mings: an ugly person. When I clicked on the link and went to the website it was full of real life pictures of ugly people. There was a minging couples section, a readers’ contributions section, and even a minger of the week. This, incidently, is this week’s minger of the week:
My initial reaction was one of disdain at the cruel mind that had not only concocted this idea, but had gone to the trouble of executing it. This feeling quickly eroded when – trolling through the photographs – I started laughing at how fugly some of them were. I guess that’s one of the basest forms of humour. It possibly had something to do with a feeling of gratitude to god or nature or karma or my ancestors that I wasn’t this fucking ugly. My chances of passing on my genes (if you wish to look at it this way) were so much better than these poor non-threatening mingers with their fugly genes. The extent to which it was so, was ridiculous, even laughable. I felt better about myself, and I had the urge to mail the link to a friend of mine who worries about her weight, to make her feel better.
Through all this, I experienced a feeling of sympathy in the background.
And then a little later, the feeling changed again. When I was checking out the couples section, I felt something else. The thing is, all the couples looked happy. And not just camera happy. Like really happy. I’m not talking about posed smiley shots – everybody looks happy in those – but these minging couples looked unusually happy to me. Like they were meant to be together or something. Maybe, it was my sympathy kicking in, latching on to the dying remnants of a belief that the world is fair and that everything balances out in the end. Or, maybe, it’s easy to let your imagination take control when it’s 5:17am in the morning, there’s an April cuckoo threatening to start cooing outside, and you’ve had absolutely no sleep.
So, check it out and let me know whether I’m imagining this.
Also, before you go, let me leave you with another thought. Below is a picture I came across years ago. I want to know: why on earth would anyone want to do this to themselves?
I thought about this for awhile. And I think, someone would do this to themselves either because they became compulsively addicted to being pierced, or (and here’s the exciting bit) they felt they were ugly in the first place, and they wanted to be sure, and excel at it. You know when you think you have a talent in something and you hone your skill at it? Something like that. Maybe, being ugly was the only thing that set this guy apart from the herd. He felt he was ugly. And, he just wanted to be really sure. He wanted to be better at being ugly than anyone else.
Or, maybe, he wanted to find true love.
P.S. I’m going to go and try to sleep now. I feel kinda ugly for writing this. Goodnight.
He is one of the most famous singers in the country, but he says he does not have a good voice. For the last three decades, he has been one of our most recognizable citizens, but he says he is not good looking. So, what is it then that has made this man and his band so infectiously popular across all age groups, language barriers and income classes? It is his humour. “When you write something about your life, that relates to a lot of people”, he says. “People are fed up with this serious stuff.” Perhaps it was also his sense of humour that helped him woo a bombshell fourteen years his younger, who he married when he was thirty. Now, he is the father of two beautiful daughters and two talented sons who have their own band with their own recent hit single.
He is the epitome of a kana bona Moratuwa miniha - a man with an extra large appetite for all that life offers. Some may call him a libertine, but he is clearly a man who loves his country, albeit one who is disillusioned with what he sees as the hypocrisy of its people. This is a theme that reflects strongly in his band’s last album, which was strongly satirical about Sri Lankan society. His songs have have always been simple and catchy. The country has danced to them at parties and weddings, sung them on trips, and watched the music videos on television.
However, his success has not been without controversy. His sound has been hijacked to communicate political propaganda against his will, and he had a much publicized skirmish with one prominent son of a politician. His popularity and influence would make him an ideal political candidate, and he has been approached by political parties. However, this is something he clearly finds distasteful. “To me the political situation in Sri Lanka is like a toilet”, he says. “When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. But, nobody likes to live in there. It’s in such a pathetic situation.”
The man himself interviewing Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Anura Bandaranaike, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, a UNP-er, and some JVP comrade with a very large plug.
The first interview I ever did was with Sunil Perera in 2005. It appeared in two parts in The LT magazines of July and August of that year, and later Serendipity magazine ran an edited version of it in January 2006. Timothy Senaviratne took the photographs and Deshan Tennekoon did the design and layout. The man was so open and displayed so much of his, er, personality that I couldn’t publish everything that happened at the interview.
Here are the PDF files of the two parts of the interview as they appeared in the LT magazine. I am warning you: it’s not short. (If you want to go straight to the sex, it’s at the start of the second part).
Nine Architects Shortlisted for Geoffrey Bawa Award March 31, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
Tags: architecture, design
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“Sri Lanka is not a design country”, Lars Wallentin, a packaging design guru said at a workshop I attended in 2003. I think he mentioned Norway and Sweden as examples of countries with good design. I don’t know how accurate that is. He’s mainly a packaging designer, so wha’d he know anyway, right?
Nokia, granted, is extraordinarily designed, but my first choice would be Japan. That’s because of the way the Japanese have a long history of incorporating great design into nearly every practical area of their lives, often elevating the mundane into superlative forms of art and technology at the same time. Take their rock gardens, for instance. Or, their samurai swords. Or, the way they present their food. Or, the way they drink their tea. Or, their hairstyles. Or, their kimonos. Or, their martial arts. Or, their animation. Or, even Shibari, their bondage style. Yes, that’s right – they’ve even got a form of art for tying people up.
I guess, it’s just because humans like things that look cool, and these things just look so fucking cool. The architect Pugin who worked on the British Houses of Parliament said, “It is alright to decorate a construction, but never (to) construct a decoration.” Good design is not merely creating design for design’s sake, its taking a practical activity and making it better. Good design should be a part of our culture.
Certainly, Sri Lanka does not have great design in packaging, neither do we choreograph our drinking, nor do we have a traditional art of tying up our significant others, which is understandable (coconut husk rope being so itchy). However, we do have some cool architecture, probably some of the best in the world for the tropics.
Geoffrey Bawa has a lot to do with this. I love his stuff, because it is simple, practical, relaxed, and it blends into the natural surroundings. It is open and light and cool – the way things should be in the tropics.
So, I was happy today when a friend sent me the following presentation on nine Sri Lankan architects shortlisted for the Geoffrey Bawa Award for Architecture. Have a look.
Interview with Prasanna Vithanage March 27, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
This is from an article I wrote for TimeOut Delhi which appears in their latest issue. The photograph was taken by Deshan Tennekoon. Since leaving the cushy corporate job last month to pursue things like writing, advertising, and teaching economics, which interest me more, I have been pleased with the number of assignments I have been getting. I realise that going free lance is no easy task, but the initial signs are encouraging.
Prasanna Vithanage is one of the most controversial and outspoken film directors in Sri Lanka today. His subject matter usually succeeds in irritating the sensibilities of the prudish Sri Lankan establishment by exploring facets of society that are traditionally kept locked in the almirah.
Vithanage has rare credentials: he is one of few Sri Lankan artistes, if not the only one, to successfully battle a minister and the National Film Corporation and win his right to freedom of expression. In 2001 (?) he managed to convince the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka to overturn a ministerial ban on his Purahanda Kaluwara (Darkness on a Full Moon Day, 1997). However, in spite of his boldness, he has achieved recognition for the sensitive and introspective quality of his films by winning awards on the international film festival circuit in Amiens, Singapore, Fribourg, Las Palmas and Makati.
Pavuru Walalu (1990 / 105mins), or Walls Within as it is referred to in English, will be featured at the Sri Lankan Film Festival – Commemorating 60 Years of Indo-Sri Lankan Diplomatic Relations at the end of March. It is a tale which portrays extramarital love, infidelity and abortion – taboo subjects in a country still failing to agree on its post colonial moral identity. Two lovers, separated by World War II, meet twenty years later. The conflict between personal and familial ties results in upheaval, guilt, and loss in a forceful and stark depiction of social reality.
Time Out met Prasanna Vithanage in Colombo one evening last week to ask him about his work, the industry and its struggles. He was punctual, wearing a polo shirt and looking a tad tired, but enthusiastic, after a long day of editing his next film, Akasa Kusum. He asked us to call him by his first name.
TO: Critics have identified “reflectivity” as the primary virtue of your work. What do they mean?
PV: All my films have been an inside-outside process. I have tried to capture what is happening inside the character, unlike say, in action films. They are personal films, when a filmmaker tries to capture human life and society through himself: through his contradictions, memories, and opinions. I have used my films as a kind of self expression.
TO: You are also a theatre director. What was your first love?
PV: Film making was my first love, although I love to work with good actors and theatre has given me a base to find and work with them. I love working with actors, blocking and understanding the character, even in film, but it is different. In theatre you get that live experience.
TO: Why do you think that theatre actors are better than film actors?
PV: In this country, either we have theatre actors or teledrama actors. Our teledramas lack subtext, whereas in a play the most important thing is the subtext. You feel it when good actors and actresses are acting what is going on inside them, but in teledramas always they are talking about the issue and about the emotion. Teledramas have become a launching pad for bad actors.
TO: In your opinion what is the biggest challenge that Sri Lankan directors face?
PV: The biggest challenge to any artist, especially in a polarized country, is to capture the lie. I feel we are losing the middle ground, even the slightest thing like, lets say, depicting a soldier visiting a brothel. The film maker may be interested in the soldier’s loneliness, but the present ethnic war will have a big share in the way the situation is interpreted. The various groups who are thriving on polarization will come against the film maker on their grounds, because they wish to see the soldier as something else, and the war as something else.
Maybe the filmmaker’s intention was to capture the war, or how the present situation has affected our human relationships. It has changed us over the past twenty-five years, but if I show it in a film, maybe the state and its apertures will not like it. So that is the biggest challenge: to be truthful to what you see, and to reach the public in a society where the people are in a kind of fear psychosis.
TO: What is the present state of censorship in Sri Lanka?
PV: The state does not like filmmakers portraying the war in a negative light. The present situation has given a red light to the artist that you have to talk according to the government line, the government values. They have not proclaimed these values, but they mean the old values, our traditional cultural values. Because of the war and the resulting polarization of society along ethnic and religious lines in our country, and the effect of globalization, nationalist feelings have erupted. And, the censor board is a symbol of this.
TO: Leaving the content of their propaganda aside, do you have any admiration for the way the government is using the media to control the population?
PV: [indignantly] No, I don’t have any admiration. I think an artist creates something because he disagrees with the norms or the society or the establishment. And if he becomes a part of the establishment, I think he ceases to become an artist.
TO: Will Sri Lankan directors let their content be influenced by this situation we are in?
PV: I think for me, all the restrictions, in one way will make the expression of the artist more subtle and the work better and when a film becomes more subtle it will make audiences more intelligent.
So that’s the TimeOut article. Incidentally, Prasanna is currently finishing up a production with the producer of The Full Monty, called Machang, about a bogus Sri Lankan handball team that goes missing in London. It is written by Ruwanthie De Chickera and stars her brother and my friend, Gihan De Chickera. Prasanna is also working on Akasa Kusum, about a faded movie star coming to grips with a new world and her own demons, starring Malani Fonseka.
After talking to Prasanna, I feel very interested in his work. I am going to buy his box set from Torana.
Kids will love this. March 26, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
Kids will absolutely love watching Geoffrey Case’s Samurai. It is colourful, lighthearted, and full of movement. Case wrote it with a young audience in mind. The play has themes that are relevant to what is happening in Sri Lanka, and it is hoped that this will get young people thinking.
The Final Question February 13, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
At work today, I came across this conversation between twofriends. You may know them, but not as Anusha and Buvaneka. Buvaneka’s interest is aroused when he spots Anusha’s status message: Anusha is surrounded by characters from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Buvaneka: Ah, I see it is a normal day at work, then?
Only the remembrance
Of a vanished history
And those portraits of your grandparents.”
– Jean Arasanayagam
Dude. February 9, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
That cake was f—ing awesome man,
Like really awesome.
Awesome, awesome, awesome.
My Independence Day February 8, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
Lets Hope Elizabeth Moir School Gets The Story Right February 7, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
So, a friend sent me this today. It turns out, the angels and demons of Elizabeth Moir School are going to trod the boards with their version of the Ramayana.
I sent my friend my version of the story with a note saying that I hope they get it right. My friend replied and said that they are going to depict the conflict between Rama and myself as a divide between the old and the modern. I have to say, I am pleased to be thought of as modern, but I guess it’s understandable that they think Ram is old fashioned. He doesn’t have a blog. And, he’d never say something like, “I am going to see the play fo sho“.
I really do hope they get the story right though. Some of the gossip I have overheard about me is just plain ludicrous. According to some, I forcibly kidnapped Sita and kept her captive in a cave. In a cave. That makes me sound like bloody Hannibal Lecter. If this play starts to go along those lines, I think I might just lose my cool enough to get up in the audience and set the story straight.
But then again, I gave up defending myself after the 20th Century. (That is B.C., by the way). I gave up because, the story just ain’t that easy to explain. You have to explain the whole background and stuff, and set up the characters, and then the backstory. Sometimes, you have to even introduce new concepts and words.
You try explaining to a bunch of school kids that the reason that they found her tied up was because she liked it better that way. The last time I tried to explain that, they thought she just liked munching M&Ms. Sigh…
What the Ramayana Got Wrong: The Real Deal With Sita January 29, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
You heard wrong: I didn’t kidnap Sita.
I didn’t even want to meet her
‘Cos I’d heard she was a cow.
But then I saw her and – wow!
She was a bit of alright!
Okay, so maybe
That dude Valmiki
Heard it differently -
You know how these things get twisted.
Is it my fault that Ram, limp-wristed,
Didn’t give her any of what she insisted
On with me? It wasn’t her intention, poor girl,
To have a vile paparazzi scribe unfurl
Her private affair on the bed of history
(Although some may call it mythology,
but not at all in the way I mean).
It’s none of their business; it would seem
To me: It was my life my love and my mistake
To give her more than she would take.
Could take. Should take.
All she wanted in the end,
Was clean air and a dirty weekend.
A bird in the hand is already a handful.
Ravana Country: Photos from Ella Rock, Ravana Falls and Ravana Cave January 29, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
This is me in Ravana Cave in Ella in April 2007. I did this climb to the cave on the second day after having gone up to the top of Ravana Rock on the first. It took only an hour or forty five minutes to get up here after parking the car at the bottom of the hill near an ancient temple. It was a shorter climb, but it was scarier. My legs were like jelly afterwards, but I was glad I did it. This is where the legendary Ravana left Sita for safe-keeping. I bet there was some serious nookie going on inside this cave. There’s a tunnel at the back which according to legend leads to Ravana Eliya, which is between Hak Gala and Nuwara Eliya. Clearly, the former Emperor of Lanka knew the importance of exit strategy.
This is the view from the balcony of my room. That’s Ella Rock on the right which is the tallest mountain for miles. The one opposite is called Little Adam’s Peak, because apparently people think it looks like Adam’s Peak. I didn’t see the resemblance.
This is the view from the top of Ella Rock. It takes about two hours to get here from Ambiente, if you know the way. The directions in the guidebooks are confusing, but half the fun is getting lost and finding your way. It took seven hours for the whole walk, including three hours spent lost in a forest.
I finally got back along the railtracks, it was dusk, and the mist was moving in fast.
Ella has some of the best views in Sri Lanka, and in my opinion, it is highly underrated as a tourist destination, notably even by domestic tourists. Perhaps this is because it takes about 6 hours to get there by car from Colombo, but in my opinion it is worth it.
The Fallout of the Blogging Panel at the Galle Literary Festival 2008: As Serious as a Heartattack January 24, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
It looks like the Sri Lankan blogosphere and his mum did a trip down South to the Galle Literary Festival last weekend. And, judging by the number of posts on the subject, it looks like the happy couple stopped to take a leak on the bloggers’ panel, as well.
I happened to be on the panel, for better or for worse. We were meant to discuss the topic, “Bloggers: Can they be taken seriously?”. There were six panelists: Indi, Sanjana Hatthotuwa, Iresha Dilhani from Mahavillachchiya, Deepika Shetty, Nazreen Sansoni and myself, and the panel was moderated by Nury Vittachi. Seven people on a stage with only an hour to introduce the panelists, discuss the subject, and deal with questions from the audience is not, as it turns out, the best formula for a lively and meaningful discussion.
We know this now. Make a note, Baldric.
Personally, I felt that I did not have enough time to say very much. I think we concentrated on one main line of discussion: blogs should be taken seriously because there is serious stuff like war and abductions and human rights violations going on and blogs offer a newssource. This was all very well, and true, but we ignored many other aspects like whether blogging could be taken seriously as literature, which in my opinion was more relevant at a literary festival.
The line of discussion also threw a spanner into the works of Nury’s plan to make the discussion a lighthearted, amusing one. This was a plan which I liked, by the way, because I really don’t think bloggers sound very credible when they get too serious. I was all geared for some light repartee, and when the discussion on war and abducting journalists started I was thinking, “Oh shit, they are talking about dying. But that’s not funny! How the hell am I going to weave in 2 girls 1 cup?”
We touched on death threats, and governance, and war, and abductions, but there was not much sex, unfortunately. When we ran out of time, it felt as if a teasing wench had given me a bad case of blue balls. Just as we had got warmed up and settled into it, it ended. I felt so unstatisfied.
Dissatisfaction was a theme for me. The hundreds of groupies that I had expected to ambush me for autographs and a quick banana shake at Pedlar’s Inn were being unusually reticent on the day. So, I really need not have lost sleep worrying about the queueing system. There was one stocky guy, though, wearing shorts and an American accent, who said he had come down specifically for the festival, but he was not my type. Too… male.
To be honest, although unsatisfied, I thought the panel had gone okay, until today. Today I have been reading posts about the festival, and none of them are that complimentary. One girl blogger accused me of coming across as “nice”. I have never been so insulted in my life.
Bitch! I’m sorry.
Even my mum who attended the panel had a go at me. It was not the dreaded conversation about the orgy post, mind you, but she was annoyed about the wording of my profile in the festival programme. She said it made my parents sound like they have been in divorce court all their lives, which on reflection, I had to admit, it did. Sigh. Yes, mum. Sorry.
To top it all off, David Blacker thinks we took ourselves way too seriously. Worse, he has used my real name. Now, that is just great. I am sure the parents of my tuitees are going to be thrilled that Ravana is teaching their young impressionable children. I cannot wait for the consequences of this weekend to unfold.
Other posts about the blogger panel at the festival:
Pissed Off Maldivians Invade the Blog! January 10, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
Maldivians are going crazy on my last blog post. I wrote what I expected to be received as a humorous article about the failed assassination attempt on the Maldivian president’s life and, lo and behold, by this morning, I had received over a thousand hits, and loads of comments. The attention is mainly thanks to a leading newssource for Maldivian happenings, the Dhivehi Observer, picking it up and running it on their main webpage.
Most of the comments are meant to be insulting, but I was pleased at the attention. Some have failed to see the humour in the article and have taken it personally. However, there are some who do appreciate it. They seem to divide along political party lines, with the supporters of the present Maldivian government being offended, and the supporters of the opposition being appreciative. Sound familiar?
Kottu.org has not been sending me as many visitors as it used to, mainly due to an RSS-feed issue, Indi thinks, so I am rather pleased to have received a load of traffic from outside Sri Lanka.
Maybe I should take up writing about the Maldives instead.
Update: It turns out that the last post was so popular that now I am the first hit on Google when you run a search for “Maumoon Abdul Gayoom assassination”. I am also in the first 10 hits when yous search for just “Maumoon Abdul Gayoom” and “Abdul Gayoom”.
This post has also brought me the highest number of hits I have ever had on this blog. I had over 1500 page views yesterday, and combined with the day before, it appears that in two days there have been approximately 2100 page views.
The number of page views are roughly equivalent to 0.7% of the population of the Maldives, and 2.4% of the capital, Male. I must go check the unique hits on statcounter.
In many ways, the Republic of the Maldives is to countries what bonsai is to trees. Most things in the Maldives happen in miniature. The GDP is less than three billion dollars, the capital is only one kilometre wide, and the population, despite the fact that they do it like rabbits, is only 300,000 strong.
I knew these things about the Maldives. However, I assumed the miniature characteristics were largely to do with demography and limiting economies of scale. So, I was caught by surprise when I read about the miniature assassination attempt on the Maldivian President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, yesterday.
Apparently, some Maldivian chap attempted to assassinate their President with a kitchen knife. Coming from a country with a raging internal conflict, personally, I am used to slightly more specialized weaponry. Like a suicide bombing. Or a Claymore mine. Or an AK-47. I find it difficult to comprehend a political assassination with a sharp pointed object first invented in the paleolithic era. It was not even a sword, a machete, or a rambo knife that was used; it was a kitchen knife, presumably stolen from a mother or a wife in the middle of cooking a tuna curry. How quaint, how homegrown…
How bloody ineffective. Predictably, the assassination attempt with the kitchen knife failed. The President’s life was saved by a boyscout, armed to the teeth with scarf and woggle, who happened to be standing nearby.
No, I refuse to go there. I know I could make jokes about the boyscout and the lack of a trained security detail, but I won’t. Traditionally, I am used to presidential security comprising of highly trained men skilled in martial arts and the use of weapons, committed beyond life and limb to protect the body of their elected leader. However, I am willing to admit that this may be just a cultural difference. Who am I to judge? If assassins in the Maldives only use kitchen knives, maybe all you need is a boyscout to save your ass.
Traditional Boyscout Uniform
Thoughts on the Death of a Non Cabinet Minister January 8, 2008Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
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2007 Was The Year That… December 31, 2007Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
1. The LTTE appeared more vulnerable than ever before.
2. Sri Lanka experienced 22 per cent inflation
3. I moved out of my parents’ house, learnt the benefits of Wi-Fi, broadband, and king-sized spring mattresses.
4. I started playing squash and scrabble, and became a pretty decent poker player.
5. The LTTE carried out its inaugural air raid on Colombo while the nation watched its cricket team being defeated by Australia in a World Cup final.
6. I wasted a lot of time over a female of the species.
7. I realised it is time to quit my job and start doing what I really love.
8. I discovered that when you move out, your friends become like your family and then you start getting pissed off at them a lot, just like your family.
9. Mervyn Silva got his ass handed back to him on a platter by the Rupavahini staff
10. Sri Lankans were required to have a valid reason to be in Colombo.
The Definition of Love December 24, 2007Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
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I wanted to post a Christmas message last year, but I got swamped under the wrapping paper and tinsel of Colombo’s crazy Christmas season. (If you have friends of marriageable age, it can really leave you exhausted if you don’t watch yourself, what with all the stag nights, weddings and homecomings, in addition to spending time with returning relatives and friends, office parties, Christmas lunches and dinners and church events. Not that I have done church events in the last few years, mind you.
Now I find myself at work, having to work an unplanned Christmas Eve morning at office. I am going to leave after publishing this post and I am looking forward to driving off with my father’s first cousin and my second cousin’s ex to join the rest of our family in a quiet lakeside resort outside Colombo.
It’s Christmas tradition that this wing of my family gets away every year to the same chilled out resort by the lake. We bring our friends as well, and often the group is more than thirty strong. There are obviously the familiar faces, but there are always a few new ones – long lost relatives down from abroad, family friends who just want to get away and the like. It’s brilliant. Everyone just wants to have a good time and their idea of a good time is very similar, generally involving healthy helpings of good spirits (hic), good food, gambling, wildlife, singing, dancing and, er, cross-dressing. (Okay, maybe the cross dressing part is only Aunite B, and possibly Uncle M, depending on whether or not you include wearing a nappy and sucking on a feeding bottle in your definition of cross-dressing).
This branch of my family is like that.
Anyway this post was not meant to be about my family. It is about the definition of love.
The best definition of love I have come across is from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, which is a book in the New Testament of the Bible. Even though I don’t believe in a mainstream Christian idea of a personal god, I can still appreciate some things about the Bible, and this is one of my favourite verses. If I say I love someone, I generally try and treat them by these guidelines. Obviously, I usually miserably fail, but this is the benchmark.
Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
Here are two versions of that passage. I will post the King James and the New International Version. I prefer the King James because I love the language.
1: Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2: And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3: And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
4: Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5: Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6: Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7: Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8: Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9: For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10: But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11: When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13: And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. 1 Corinthians 13, King James Version
1 If I speak in human or angelic tongues, [a] but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body [to hardship] that I may boast, [b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13, The New International Version
The Sri Lankan Smile December 17, 2007Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
The lieutenant was talking to Bala earnestly when I got in today. Later, I was in the boss’ office when Bala was called in for something, and after the pressing topic of conversation had been dealt with, Bala proceeded on to the “by-the-way” bit of the conversation. Only, this time, the “by-the-way” bit made me nearly shit my pants.
The lieutenant had told Bala in confidence that for some time they had been watching a man who was living right next to our premises. They suspected him of being an LTTE terrorist. The man is from Vavuniya. He had recently been whitewashing his side of the common boundary wall. The wall has an anti-RPG fence on it on to which he has tied a clothesline from his house (or garden). The lieutenant theorizes that the line could be used to detonate a Claymore mine which could be attached to the fence, facing the strategic targets on our premises – the reason why we have a lieutenant and twenty-five soldiers at all times, not to mention, an anti-aircraft gun).
The lieutenant is convinced that the man in question is a terrorist and is going to do something about it soon. His plan is to plant two grenades in his house and arrest the man from Vavuniya. That’s the plan. God knows what will happen after that. Bala said that he had even said something about possibly bumping him off. Well, actually, Bala didn’t say those exact words; he stopped after “might even…” and then just made a sweeping clearing motion with his hand. I had to question, “What do you mean? They might kill him?” and Bala just shrugged.
That’s it. That is the post. That’s the story. I am sorry if it sounds stilted or not as clourfully descriptive as my normal posts, but I feel uncomfortable about this post, mostly because it is set in my workplace. So, that is all you are going to get I am afraid.
Oh, except for two more things. Firstly, I instinctively like the lieutenant. He has a trustworthy, honest, hardworking face. He told us recently during an office disaster contingency seminar that we should stay indoors if an LTTE attack involving an explosion should take place. The reason he gave is that for about a minute and a half after an explosion in the vicinity, he said the soldiers would be likely to spray bullets randomly at pretty much anyone they see. He was very open about this, and he said that it was a natural reaction. He was being honest, and I liked him for it, even though I was taken aback and thought to myself, “Shit, I wonder how much of this random spraying at passers-by goes on in conflict areas.”
Secondly, in case you are wondering, today I did ask the question, “…but what if the man is innocent?”, to which I received only our famous Sri Lankan smile in response.
Telling Mother About the Blog December 11, 2007Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
So, I told my mother about the blog. I told her not because I really wanted to, but because it kind of just slipped out at a moment of weakness.
See, I wanted to tell her that I got invited to be a panelist at the Galle Literary Festival because I thought she would be happy about that, but obviously being a mum she was bound to ask why, and who, and when, and how, and what the hell were you thinking writing a post about orgies. So, I thought I wouldn’t.
But there I was, at my parents’ home for lunch on Sunday, watching a DVD as usual (this time it was 3:10 to Yuma) and my mum was as usual seated near me with the usual Sunday papers doing what she does usually when I am engrossed in a movie, which is talk at me. When I say my mum talks ‘at’ me, I really mean she talks ‘AT’ me. She talks at me no matter what I’m doing, about every single subject under the sun, whether I’m late for work and rushing to the car, or whether I’m reading a book, or whether Jack Bauer is just about to learn the key to everything, it doesn’t matter. This is fair enough nowadays, I guess, because I see her only on Sundays, and to be frank, watching a DVD during the few hours I spend at home is probably a bit cheeky on my part, as well.
So, she was talking at me and I glanced over at her to offer my half-hourly murmur to signify that I really did appreciate the nuances of the internal politics of her women’s charity club or some such thing, and I happened to notice an ad for the Galle Literary Festival and she asked about how she could buy tickets, so I then just blurted out without thinking that I was going to be a panelist at a discussion about blogging.
She was a little surprised at that. And she could see I was being hesitant about it, and perhaps she knew I was regretting telling her. So she didn’t ask too many questions. But then while I was finishing off the film, she had got online, found a program, checked on the panel discussion, and informed me that I was not on it. I checked it on her computer – I actually didn’t know what the topic was going to be until then (“Bloggers: Can they be taken seriously?”), and I said, that’s me, “Ravana”, I’m using a pseudonym. She didn’t seem surprised. So, now she’s going to come for the Galle Literary Festival and she’s probably going to be there at the discussion I’m at, and I won’t be able to talk that much about orgies anymore, without feeling like my mum is watching.
Hope under the Regime of the Rajapaksas November 26, 2007Posted by ravana in Uncategorized.
Hope is a strange little thing. It may not seem much in itself, but it makes everything else taste better. Like salt in the right quantities, its absence is noticed, but its presence is not.
Some people receive their hope with wine and bread on Sunday mornings. Others replace meat in their diet with hope on Tuesdays and Fridays. Some go without eating for a month to be able to taste it. And some, thinking that they are different, look inwards for hope, and finding none, they just have what everyone else is eating.
A former boss told me at my farewell, “You always need something to look forward to. It is the secret of being happy.”
I think this is true. If I am looking forward to a trip on the weekend, no matter how bad my day at work is today, it is not going affect me that much. Take kids and Santa Claus: kids are happier on Christmas Eve thinking about the presents that they are going to get, than on Christmas Morning when they have opened their presents. (Of course, maybe that is because they were hoping for a Playstation and received the Encyclopaedia Brittanica instead. Or, maybe my Santa was just weird like that).
On a more continuous level, to be happy everybody needs to feel that things are going to get better, that things are looking up. Optimism has a knock-on effect. A hopeful population has real economic benefits because their positive expectations lead to more investment to more production to more jobs to more money to more consumption expenditure to more demand for goods to even more production, even more jobs, even more money, and on and on and on.
Of course, not everybody sees hope as a desirable thing. In fact, some think of it as the world’s greatest evil. In “Human, All Too Human”, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had this to say: “Hope. Pandora brought the jar with the evils and opened it. It was the gods’ gift to man, on the outside a beautiful, enticing gift, called the “lucky jar.” Then all the evils, those lively, winged beings, flew out of it. Since that time, they roam around and do harm to men by day and night. One single evil had not yet slipped out of the jar. As Zeus had wished, Pandora slammed the top down and it remained inside. So now man has the lucky jar in his house forever and thinks the world of the treasure. It is at his service; he reaches for it when he fancies it. For he does not know that that jar which Pandora brought was the jar of evils, and he takes the remaining evil for the greatest worldly good–it is hope, for Zeus did not want man to throw his life away, no matter how much the other evils might torment him, but rather to go on letting himself be tormented anew. To that end, he gives man hope. In truth, it is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment.”
Clearly, the concept of finding hope in a woman’s box is not new.
Although I find Nietzche’s view interesting philosophically, I think it is practically unhelpful. Some might say that it is reminiscent of a Buddhist viewpoint that would be that hope signals attachment and craving which leads to suffering. I do not know much about that, but what I do believe is that unless you want to become a monk in a hermitage, or you want to end it all, or you want to be as depressed as the last dodo in Djibouti, then you better get some hope on a rope pretty fast.
This, of course, may result in something that resembles a drowning man clutching at straws to a disinterested or obtuse observer, but what it really is, is an expedient. You may realise that what you are hoping for maybe unlikely to happen, like the opposition defeating the budget in parliament; what is more likely to happen is that the Rajapaksas will stay in power for the next decade.
However, nobody really knows this for sure, not even the Rajapaksas. So, you concentrate on that smaller window of unrealistic probability. Instead of giving up everything in your present life and migrating, you stay sane and stay hopeful and stay here. You hope that the next year will bring something that will change things for the better. Maybe you even start hoping that some of the Chinthanaya policies will start working, despite the evidence. You may know enough about history and economics to know that there is little reason to believe this, but you still hope that you are wrong, just to be able to enjoy everything else about this country that does make you happy.
By definition, hope does not need to be based on something real. I still expressed hope in Santa Claus when I was nine just to get the extra presents. This is why I try not to get into conversations about God with the religious. If it works for you, machang, it works for you.
“Hope is a belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life. Hope implies a certain amount of perseverance — i.e., believing that a positive outcome is possible even when there is some evidence to the contrary.” -Wikipedia