The Return of Ravana

Where have I been all these years?


I got married. Tried to write a novel. Acted in a couple of films. Produced a play. Toppled an authoritarian regime. Y’know, the usual.

Changed the daytime career a couple of times, including since February 2009 to a role in which I was not comfortable expressing my thoughts publicly online.

Why have I returned to blogging?

Firstly, the novel does not seem to be going too well, and when I look back at the years I was actively writing this blog (more than seven years ago), it seems to coincide with a time I was creatively productive in other ways as well. Given the peculiarities of my personality, I think perhaps this blog can be not only an outlet, but also a catalyst for other writing. I am hoping it will perform the same role again.

Secondly, there are many ideas I want to explore and share with Sri Lankan policy makers, both in the private and public sectors, and I need a place to articulate them. I might as well develop them here.

Thirdly, there are several big changes looming in my life which I want to document.


Are my views still the same?

Yes and no. Some of my views have evolved as I have learnt new things and new ways of busting through faulty logic. I met several people with whom interaction has been particularly enlightening. Also, I have been reading a lot more history.

My views on international intervention, in particular, have evolved to the point where I acknowledge that some type of pressure is needed to keep any government honest. Where domestic institutions that ought to provide checks and balances are compromised and ineffective, it might be practically useful and justifiable for international actors to help amplify the legitimate concerns of domestic groups. Sri Lanka’s policy direction in the post-independence pre-war period was determined by a majoritarianism that ignored the democratic rights of the minorities. And so, until our media, courts, police, parliament and other institutions are up to the task of effectively protecting these democratic rights, I think playing the international card is an option that should remain on the table.

However, any international intervention needs to be strategic and sensitive to the situation on the ground. When you look at the recent history of international interventionism around the world, the examples of Iraq, Libya, and Syria which immediately spring to mind, appear to be unmitigated disasters. Similarly, I still think that the particular tone and timing of the international pressure in the immediate aftermath of the war was misplaced, insensitive to domestic realities, and possibly even counter-productive. It helped cement Rajapaksa as a national hero by providing a convenient bogeyman antagonist for years after Prabhakaran’s demise. In the eyes of the SinhalaBuddhist nationalists, he became not only Dutgemunu, but also Veera Puran Appu. The polarization that occurred as a result of the misplaced international effort drowned out moderate voices that could have helped navigate the thin grey line between Rajapaksa’s narrative and the narrative of the Tamil diaspora.

It was not until much later, when international voices became less shrill, that left to our own devices, we democratically rejected Rajapaksa. As an ordinary member of the public, my own efforts in that direction, along with those of many of my new friends and acquaintances, were not insignificant. Many of us put our necks on the line, and I am glad that we did not have to find out what would have happened if Rajapaksa had won. Faced with the rise of ethno-religious fascism that the Rajapaksa regime was enabling, if not actively creating, through groups like the Bodu Bala Sena, Sihala Ravaya, and Ravana Balaya, there was little choice. We had to do everything in our power, within legal limits, to ensure he was not re-elected.

And this is why, even with all the faults of the present government, we still did the right thing by voting Rajapaksa out. We can argue about degrees, but I will grant that at least certain sections of the present government are also corrupt. I would even go so far as to say that as far as management of the economy is concerned, this government is making even the Rajapaksa regime look relatively competent in comparison. However, in terms of democratic freedoms and respecting individual civil liberties, there has been a massive change. And, that change was something that happened almost overnight.

However, this is still not good enough. I do not want to switch back to the Rajapaksas, but the performance of this government is well below what most people who voted for them expected. There is a dire need to hold them accountable by highlighting their faults in the media, offering solutions where appropriate, but also shaming them when they are corrupt.

When we first started blogging, Luddites in Colombo belittled online activism, but the role of online media, particularly on twitter and facebook, in the presidential election of January 8, 2015 was undeniable. It is no longer the territory of the privileged English speaking few. Most of my own writing for the campaign was done in Sinhala using Google Translate, Google Transliterate, and Helakuru on my phone. Social media activists were given much credit for his election victory by President Sirisena himself. In an environment where traditional media was stifled and untrustworthy, new media put down firm roots and grew quickly in influence. There is no stopping it now.

The Tax Man Floodeth

It's about bloody time the Sri Lankan public started questioning what happens to all their taxes.

"Your Municipal Tax Rupees At Work"


It’s a tropical country. It rains a lot. We have something called ‘the monsoon’. It’s world famous, happens every year. So, you could say, heavy rain is not exactly unexpected in Sri Lanka. You would think they were prepared for it by now.

Why do we have a Drainage Board? What do they do there?Apart from scratching their peanuts, I mean.

Every year, heavy rain is used as an excuse for ruined roads, late meetings and low productivity. And now, even powercuts and shortened parliamentary sessions. I kid you not – the distribution for North Colombo’s electricity is under water, and yesterday they finished sessions at 2pm, for fear of being trapped inside parliament by the imminent flooding of the Diyawanna Oya. I wish.

If government had not approved the building of a 11-hole golf course named Water’s Edge on Colombo’s biggest flood outlet, perhaps this wouldn’t be happening with such frequency. Certainly, the flooding of Rajagiriya, at least, has become an annual event because of it, I’ll wager. Before Water’s Edge, I remember Rajagiriya flooding just once. Seriously, it’s not hard to figure out: every year, around this time, as a school kid, I used to pass by where Water’s Edge is now – twice a day – and marvel at how the entire plain turned into a lake during the rains. Surely, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or even an Urban Development Authority expert, to figure out that when you build something on the ground where the water used to go, thereby raising the level of the ground  much higher, then the water will find some other lower place to go to. I learnt this playing in the mud with coloured cups when I was about four. Damn it – I really should have said something.

Someone sue someone! Oh, wait: they already have, haven’t they? For a bad privatisation, though, that was. Well, sue them again! For causing flooding! Loss of property! Loss of business! Drop in land values! And, while you’re at it, sue them for plain bad taste – what’s the point in a golf course with only eleven holes anyway? It’s like a girl with one and a half tits: even if most days you play right, when you feel like a change, there’s no full game left. Off-centre? Sorry, I digress.

What I want to know is: what’s happening to all that government money saved from not buying ammo and guns, and blowing people up? The sad thing is, if we could get to work, and have some electricity, and spend a full day working, perhaps we could make more stuff, and sell more stuff, and make more profit and increase our incomes. Then you could take more of it in corporation and income taxes, and then you would have enough cash to…

Forget it. Just fix the frigging drains man, it’s getting wet in here.

Should Sanath Jayasuriya be running for MP?

For all his world records, and his popularity with Sri Lankans and cricket fans around the world, Sanath Jayasuriya is an ass – at least, according to insiders at Sri Lanka Cricket. He has been playing for far too long and is well past his sell-by date, but he just refuses to go away. When he was dropped from the team in 2006, President Mahinda Rajapaksa personally intervened to get him back on the team.

Quite apart from the precedent this set, its impact on team morale and the demotivation of other up-and-coming players, what exactly does a politician know about international cricket anyway? That was the question in 2006.

Four years on, the question is reversed: what exactly does an international cricketer know about politics? And why, in the name of the Great Khan, does Jayasuriya want to get into this mudslinging match? It seems obvious that this is an arrangment of mutual back-scratching, whereby Jayasuriya gets to retain his position in the side in return for his free ‘sponsorship’ of the ruling party. At this rate, he seems on course to set another world record; this time, for the oldest person ever to play international cricket.

Indi’s Poem to Sita

So, my son Indrajit has been hot on the trail of Rama for a month now in India, and writing about yours truly while he’s at it. I don’t get on the blogosphere much these days, what with my ten heads being kept fairly occupied with other pressing matters of cosmic proportions, like watching Mervin Silva as a judge on Dancing Star.

I digress.

Indrajit, it appears, has also been besotted with the lovely Sita since he went over. It’s positively incestuous. I found a poem to her on his Facebook. I think it’s fresh off his keyboard, and I don’t think he’d mind if I reproduce it here.

Modern steel sculpture of Rama and Sita, Tapovan, near Nasik


Sita, if you meet her,

Greet her, do beseech her

She’s unbridgeable, unmovable,


Sita, none is sweeter

Bird of paradise, Demeter

She’s slender like the ether

And tensile like the steel

Sita, be my preacher

Tell me when and how to meet a

Such a lovely doe-eyed creature

Swimming fish-eyed in the stream

But it’s a thousand miles to reach her

From her stomach to beneath her

It’s impossible to meet her,

In between

Sita Sings the Blues

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a post about Nina Paley, the woman who, at the time, was creating an animated feature-length Ramayana story all by herself. It’s ready now and it is being distributed free of charge on a creative commons license.

You can watch the entire film below. It looks superb. I urge you to watch. After all, how often do you get to see quality animation that is set partly (or mostly) in Sri Lanka?

Video: The Fake Sri Lankan Handball team for Real

If you have seen the movie Machang by Uberto Pasolini, then you have seen actors playing these guys.  Below is video footage of the REAL guys who decided to migrate to Europe illegally by pretending to be a Sri Lankan handball team. This is them really playing a match. Badly, I might add.

You have to hand it to our guys. When it comes to bullshit, I don’t think any other country in the world comes close. The pride with which they sing the national anthem in this viedo is justly deserved. Note how in the second part of this three part youtube extravaganza, they even compliment the opposing players on it having been a good match. Then, in part 3 (my favourite), they sing a Shaggy song with the gusto of the man himself. Did I say they sing a Shaggy song? Well, it’s more like pretend to sing it, cos it’s obvious none of them know the words. Also, they can’t sing for toffee either.

Here’s some movie trivia for you. Did you know that one of the actors playing one of the fake handball team members also absconded in Germany after shooting had finished. That’s right: in a bizarre twist of life imitating art imitating life, a guy playing a guy who absconded, also absconded. It was the guy playing the police cop. In real life this actor is also a goldsmith. He disappeared on the last day and never turned up to the bus, or the airport. I kid you not. Yes, the actor. Playing the guy who absconded. Yes. I am not shitting you. I got the story from some of the other actors. One of the other actors this guy was closest to had been warned in advance that he was going to hook it. He had been picked up in a car by relatives. A few months later he had made it to London from Germany without a passport and was doing rather well as a goldsmith. (The passports of all the cast and crew were with the movie production admin guy).

Amazing huh? It warms the cockles of my heart.

(Here’s the link to part 3 of the video where you get the entire group have a bajaw session and the subsequent German news reports of the incident. Crazy.)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “The REAL Fake Sri Lankan Handball tea…“, posted with vodpod

Guest Post: The Punch Line

Submitted by Yakkada Yakka on June 12, 2009.

We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punch-line“. Colonel Nathan R. Jessep in the movie “A Few Good Men”.

Fri May 12, 2009 3:46pm EDT – SOMEWHERE WITHIN A DENSE EDITORIAL (Reuters) –

More than 7,000 adjectives were expended in the final throes of the article. The number of ad-verbs is possibly three times the official count.

Scanning over the area, one could see that the words were trapped in a sliver of sandy opinion over a turquoise lagoon of propaganda.

The protagonists, claiming no use of heavy imagery – “we only used similes and analogies” – insisted on minimizing collateral euphemisms.

Despite this, a cursory examination shows clear areas where a freewheeling judgement had smashed into a metaphor, causing heavy symbolism everywhere. The brutal bombast shook alliteration violently.

The Dictionary and Thesaurus issued a joint-decree condemning the unedited use of redundant pejoratives.

Acronyms we spoke to claim that massive exaggerations rained down on them until the final hours, punctuating them to within an inch of their lives.

The only escape came from jumping to a conclusion, and then swimming against the undertone to finally reach a safe interpretation. Many arguments, too worn-out to continue, submerged under the allusion, unable to fight the rising conceit.

As night gave into daylight, this trickle gave way to a flood of hyperbole.

Even then, the respite proved brief, as the pressure from the unmanned aerial assumptions was relentless. With nowhere to turn, shelter was often found under a make-shift allegory. “Everywhere we looked headlines were screaming.”

Those who fled were hit by constant flashes of polarisation.

In the final hours, after a lot of confusion, the end of the sentence was found. Ominously, however, many claimed it was just a comma, not a period.

In the aftermath, presumptions were brought for triage to a transit commentary and then taken to an extreme. Sadly, more often than not, no significance could be salvaged.

For the misplaced, the long narrative is still not over. Many are desperately searching for missing facts, only to come up with anecdotes.

The weary acronyms are currently being held out-of-context, surrounded by sharp double-quotes under the vigilant glare of rhetoric.


This is the second solid post on this blog by Yakkada Yaka. After reading this last cracker, Ravana is scratching his ten heads, plotting a way to make his guest demons resident spirits. Solid shit, no?

Reconciliation, Facebook style.

This is a post titled “Make your choice, fellow tamilians”  by Megan Dhakshini Shatrughan. It was shared on a friend’s Facebook wall, and at last count 107 people had “liked” it. It has attracted over a hundred mostly positive comments from Sri Lankans of all major ethnicities. It is one of the few examples, if not the only example, I have seen recently of Sri Lankan ethnicities coming together. This situation we are going through seems to have polarised almost everyone, with even the usual moderates more militant and angry than before. In the midst of this, this post made me feel a little better. We need more of the same, from all sides.
I don’t know how much a truth and reconciliation initiative along the South African model would fit the culture in Sri Lanka, but we certainly need more positive expression of feelings and ideas about what is going on at the moment. Even if it is angry, it needs to come out, as long as it is constructive. The “oh-look-how-shit-everything-is-now-that-the-war-is-over” school really doesn’t help at all. At the very least, try and make it “this-is-shit-this-is-how-to-fix-it”.
“Make your choice, fellow tamilians”
29 May 2009 at 18:20

So, Im a Tamil.and proud of it. Proud of my culture, proud of my language, proud of the achievements of many of my fellow tamilians all over the world. Born here, right here in sunny Sri lanka. And Ive finally decided to say something. I know Im going to ruffle a lot more than a few feathers here- possibly even have a few people get themselves off my facebook friends list , but then, I’ve gotten sick and tired of all the chitter-chatter around me these past two weeks, So I shall say what I have to.

Firstly, I know that Im just tired. Tired of the racism, tired of being generalized, labelled, looked down at, tired of the frikin war and everything that happened because of it. Im sure, as a tamil, you are too.
Second, I’m not too jubilant and dancing on the street now that the war is over. there was too much of a price to pay to get what is today labelled as peace. and I will not dance till it really happens. we all “know” too much about the politics. So I won’t need to say much.

But, here’s where the feathers get ruffled. Im happy too. Im happy that the war is “over”. Happy that He is dead ( oh yes, I said it). happy that maybe, just maybe, if the politicos and powers that be play thier cards right, this country- my country- can actually go somewhere. Develop. be a happy place. Maybe.
But just when I start looking at the positive side of things, I realised that suddenly the racism has actually increased. I realised that I had to keep voicing my usually quite thoughts just so that I wont be labelled anymore. and unfortunately, my dear fellow tamilians, its because of some of you.
I’ve been repeatedly accused of “not knowing the real story” whenever I voice my absolute disgust at the terrorist organisation that has plagued my race, and at the man some of you celebrate as a hero. and you know what? I don’t care what the “real story” is anymore. I am NOT and will NOT allow anyone to label me anymore. To the dear people who are publicly becoming “fans” of Mr.Velupillai Prabaharan, to those of you who are “fighting” for eelam because you don’t want to leave your western comforts, to those of you who say its not over till all of us are killed ( Im sorry, please speak for yourself), to those of you who still beleive the LTTE fought for your rights and nothing else, to those of you who say it is only because of HIM that we can walk the streets today because he has given us a voice ( sorry- he has only made the others so scared to approach a tamil just in case he/she blew themselves up, so he has not given us a voice, he’s just made the world frightened of tamils), to all those who after all this are still making me feel GUILTY to be a tamil, this is a plea to you to please STOP.

STOP, and START trying to make a difference for a change. Turn your patriotic songs of praise for the LTTE into some positive songs about rebuilding our fallen nation.
NO, Im not asking you to help the other terrorists, our dear government who are guilty of many many crimes, but Im asking you to help yourselves. If you live abroad, use your dollars and pounds to fund development for your people here, rather than contribute it towards arms to kill someone. If you live here, then try spreading some positivity rather than telling the whole world that the tamils can’t live in peace and still want a frikkin separate state.

THIS is our country. THIS is a country that many years ago was ahead of even singapore. WHEN will we get there? When we can do things together. please knock that into your deranged brainwashed heads. PLEASE, let this , OUR country get some real happiness. Its about time.

If you think that by saying all this I’m not a real tamil, please think again. I want our race to get somewhere, but not by trampling the others down. I know we don’t have the rights of our fellow sinhalese here, but we will never get them by killing them. ever. we have to work with them. hey, be selfish for a change and do something positive so that YOU can benefit from peace and prosperity. at least think of it that way.
Im doing my part by helping the IDP’s in whatever way I can, but I will not let myself be labelled anymore.
to all of you who were afraid of saying things to me, or when I was around because I am a tamil and you thought I shared the view of the “diaspora” supporters, now you know. I don’t blame you for generalising. its the fault of my people. but you know very well that its not thiers alone.
I can’t write kavithais , but when I listen to this song, it still gives me goosebumps, still gives me tears. justchaneg a few words here and there and we can look at it as an anthem for us to get up and do something positive, make a change. Please.

தமிழா தமிழா நாளை நம் நாளே
தமிழா தமிழா நாடும் நம் நாடே

என் வீடு இலங்கை நாடு என்றே சொல்லடா
என் நாமம் இலங்கேயர் என்றே என்றும் நில்லடா
தமிழா தமிழா நாளை நம் நாளே
தமிழா தமிழா நாடும் நம் நாடே

நிலம் மாறலாம் குணம் ஒன்று தான்
இடம் மாறலாம் நிலம் ஒன்று தான்
மொழி மாறலாம் பொருள் ஒன்று தான்
கலி மாறலாம் கொடி ஒன்று தான்
திசை மாறலாம் நிலம் ஒன்று தான்
இசை மாறலாம் மொழி ஒன்று தான்
நம் இலங்கை அதும் ஒன்று தான் வா..

தமிழா தமிழா கண்கள் கலங்காதே
விடியும் விடியும் உள்ளம் மயங்காதே

உனக்குள்ளே இலங்கேயர் ரத்தம் உண்டா இல்லையா?
ஒன்றான இலங்கை உன்னை காக்கும் இல்லையா

தமிழா தமிழா நாளை நம் நாளே
தமிழா தமிழா நாடும் நம் நாடே

For the benefit of those who can’t read tamil- a pretty loose translation of a song I think can’t really be “translated”!! listen to it on youtube. search thamizha

O! Tamil! our tomorrow is all our tomorrow
O Tamil! this land is all our land!
Say that my home is the Lankan motherland.Be firm that my name is always Sri lankan...
The Community may vary, but the Values are one
The Place may vary, but the Country is one
The Language may vary, but the Meaning is one
The Staff may vary, but the Flag is one
the Direction may vary, but the Land is one
The Music may be different, but the Melody is one
We are all Lanka, we are one. O Tamil! Don’t shed any tears O Tamil!
It will dawn, don’t be fade inside
Isn’t there Sri Lankan blood inside you?
Then won’t united Sri lanka protect you?
Our land is common to all It is born out out of hard toil.Diversity was the fertiliser used to create it
We are the roots that make it strong.O human!It is strong There shouldn’t be division on this land.O Lord!

To Make the F***ing Tea, You Wanker

‘“I think we need answers about what these were used for,” said Mike Gapes, a Labour MP who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee and is a member of the Committee on Arms Export Controls.’
– Originally from The Times Online, the bringer of truth and justice to all, in the article below:

June 2, 2009

“Britain sold weapons to help Sri Lankan army defeat Tamil Tigers

Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent

Britain and other EU countries sold military equipment worth millions of pounds to the Sri Lankan Government in the last three years of its bloody civil war with the Tamil Tigers, The Times has learnt.

Britain approved commercial sales of more than £13.6 million of equipment including armoured vehicles, machinegun components and semiautomatic pistols, according to official records.

Slovakia provided 10,000 rockets worth £1.1 million, while Bulgaria approved sales of guns and ammunition worth £1.75 million, according to EU documents and officials.

It is impossible to verify whether all the approved sales were delivered as the governments involved do not publish those details. Only Slovakia has confirmed delivery of the rockets.

The approval of the sales still raises the question of whether weapons from the EU were used in the last five months of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, during which UN officials estimate that 20,000 civilians were killed.

“I think we need answers about what these were used for,” said Mike Gapes, a Labour MP who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee and is a member of the Committee on Arms Export Controls.

The sales were cleared despite the 1998 EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, which restricts transfers to countries facing internal conflicts or with poor human rights records and a history of violating international law.

They were approved while the EU called for peace talks in Sri Lanka, saying that it did not support a military solution, and expressing concerns about human rights abuses after the collapse of a 2002 ceasefire.

The US also sold Sri Lanka millions of pounds of military equipment in 2006-07 but suspended all military aid and sales early last year because of concerns about alleged rights abuses.

British MPs and MEPs, as well as activists against the arms trade, said that the EU should have done the same as early as 2006, when the ceasefire began to unravel.

“The EU had an obligation not to supply these things,” said Malcolm Bruce, a Liberal Democrat MP who visited Sri Lanka last month. “There were too many unanswered questions. With hindsight, Britain’s sales did violate the EU code of conduct.”

John Battle, a Labour MP, former Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister and now a member of the Committee on Arms Export Controls, said: “We should have been sharper off the mark and so should the EU.”

He called for an immediate suspension of EU arms sales to Sri Lanka until it lifted all restrictions on journalists and aid workers.

Several MPs and MEPs also called for the EU code of conduct, which became legally binding on December 8, to be strengthened to ensure consistency and transparency across the 27 member states.

The code says: “Member states will not allow exports which would provoke or prolong armed conflicts.” It also says that member states should “not issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression”.

Until December 8, however, it was up to member states to decide whether the criteria applied to any given arms sale.

Slovakia said that its rocket deal was justified because there was no UN arms embargo on Sri Lanka, the island had a right to defend itself and the Tigers were banned in the EU as a terrorist organisation.

Britain disputed Slovakia’s position at the time but approved its own arms sales out of concern that countries, such as China, would take its place.

Arms deals

Arms sales approved by the British Government include:

2008 £4 million of equipment including military sonar detection items and components; components for aircraft military communications equipment and military communications equipment

2007 £1 million of equipment including ejector seats, grenades, ground vehicle military communications equipment, military parachutes

2006 £8.6 million of equipment including 50 semi-automatic pistols, components for combat aircraft, military aircraft communications equipment, armoured all-wheel-drive vehicles, components for general purpose and heavy machineguns, small arms ammunition

Source: Times research”


Credit to Sophist for original e-mail.

GUEST POST: Fighting the PR War

By Rukmankan Sivaloganathan

The ongoing campaign by The Times to discredit the recent military victory by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces over the LTTE seems, at times, relentless. Not a day passes by without Jeremy Page, Marie Colvin or Catherine Philp lecturing on alleged war crimes by Sri Lanka. I usually despise the shrill hysteria and the ‘me against the world’ mentality that envelops my countrymen when faced with criticism, but on this occasion I feel it is warranted. In a world where innocent Afghan and Pakistani tribals are killed on a regular basis by unmanned Predator drones in the name of fighting terrorism, the West, quite unbelievably, finds the moral high ground to preach to Sri Lanka. No matter how good the intentions may be, the West just cannot ignore the irony of preaching what they do not practice.

The Times’ campaign is a sad example of the depths to which modern journalism has plummeted. Journalists are now not content to merely report news and provide readers with information to form their own opinions. They are often the source of news themselves, these self-appointed media celebrities. It is no surprise then that two of The Times’ journalists made the news in recent years in Sri Lanka. First, Marie Colvin enters LTTE held territory illegally in 2001 without informing the Sri Lankan authorities and then gets caught up in an SLDF ambush of the LTTE. She then accuses the SLA of deliberately targeting her. This is a ridiculous claim as she assumes that the junior infantrymen who took part in the attack knew who she was and were targeting her. That protagonists in a war usually attack each other was a fact that escaped her I suppose. Then, earlier this year, Jeremy Page was deported from Sri Lanka for not possessing a valid visa. Both of these journalists now write with a decidedly anti-Sri Lankan slant, liberally lacing their articles with unverified facts and figures. In fact, Jeremy Page even called for tourist boycott of the country in a recent article. The Times is currently attempting to escalate their petty vendetta by involving India, accusing that country of being ‘complicit’ in the killing of 20,000 Tamils. This figure has been disputed by the UN itself.

I hold no brief for the Sri Lankan government, which, unfortunately, is growing more despotic by the day. The trampling upon of media freedom and civil liberties was justified under the pretext of war not just by the government, but also by a significant section of civil society who argued, quite wrongly in my mind, that human rights and media freedom were secondary to the goal of crushing terrorism. Sri Lanka’s foreign policy seems to be controlled by individuals who pander to the government’s nationalistic mindset by rabid attacks on any individual or institution who dares question anything the government does or comments on a relevant situation in Sri Lanka. Granted that some of these individuals and institutions are busybodies but then diplomacy is not called diplomacy without reason. However, for all its warts, I don’t believe the Sri Lankan government is racist, which is exactly what The Times et al are implying through their allegations of ‘genocide’. It is incredible that the nations who gave us that terrible term ‘collateral damage’ don’t seem to understand that people die in war. It is unfortunate and, yes, the SLDF could have done more to reduce civilian casualties, but death is a fact of war. I can’t imagine the US or the EU calling for a ceasefire when they have Osama Bin Laden cornered in cave in Afghanistan or Pakistan so expecting the SLDF to do so is hypocrisy of the highest order. The GOSL, though, has played into the hands of the West through its draconian regulations regarding the coverage of the war. It gives the western media a readymade excuse when accused of one-sided coverage. A smarter move would have been to give them the necessary access, possibly embedding them with the troops like the US and the UK armies did in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we could have had them on our side cheering a rare triumph over terrorism. Sadly, common sense is not something the GOSL seems to have.

We cannot afford to burn our bridges with the West as we need them, at the very least, for economic reasons. They are the market for our biggest sources of income; tea, garments and tourism. Though the GOSL did the smart thing in taking aid and military assistance from whichever country that gave it, I don’t see any long run benefit in being allied to Iran and Libya without having excellent relations with the EU and the US. Playing off China against India is probably the only silver lining in our foreign policy storm cloud but I wonder how much of that was planned and how much was a result of us having nowhere else to go. What we now need is a PR offensive with two primary objectives. The first would be to directly counter specific allegations such as those made by The Times, as well as those made by institutions such as the UN. Most of these allegations are based on flimsy evidence and it should not be too difficult to counter them. The difficulty would lie in ensuring that our rebuttals receive adequate coverage. The second objective would be a diplomatic campaign to repair the damage done to our relations with the EU and the US. Although Rajiva Wijesinghe and Dayan Jayatilleke have spoken out recently, I am not convinced it is part of a grander plan. For Sri Lanka to successfully counter all the negative press it has been receiving it has to act now and use the above mentioned gentlemen, along with others of similar calibre, as our voice to the world.

Ultimately though, the success of this campaign would also depend on how effectively we can ‘walk the talk’. The GOSL needs to sort out the issue of the IDPs quickly and transparently, and needs to table the long awaited political solution. The GOSL also needs to start its own investigations into possible violations by the SLDF, not just in this last battle, but in the entire conflict. If the SLDF’s actions have indeed been above board, then it has nothing to fear from such an investigation. In fact, even if found guilty of minor violations, the very act of auditing itself would boost its reputation and strengthen the institution of the SLDF. This last suggestion may not go down well with the ‘armchair patriots’ but the fact is that no army in the world is without its rotten apples. [For example, Israel recently conducted an investigation into the conduct of the IDF in the most recent campaign against the Hamas and this is important for two reasons. One, Israel is arguably the nation most under threat from terrorist attacks and, two; there is an extremely strong connection between the military and civil society due to compulsory national service. Despite this, some of the soldiers involved felt free enough to talk about certain violations committed by the IDF during the Gaza conflict at a university gathering and the media, in general, was objective enough to report it and free enough to demand an enquiry and get it. This example also clearly undermines the GOSL’s implicit position that a war against the LTTE could not have been waged with a free media looking over its shoulders]. Without the deeds to back up the words, any attempts to counter the prevailing anti-Sri Lankan sentiment would unfortunately turn out to be as farcical as the claims made against us.

Colombo plays it beautifully.

On the day after Sri Lanka kicked ass at the UNHRC, I happened to have lunch with a diplomat from one of the countries that backed the UNHRC motion against Sri Lanka. I did not know she was in a senior position in her embassy in Colombo. I had just planned to meet my friend for lunch, and she happened to bring this person along. We had rice and curry at a very modest eaterie – a typical working or school lunch place, and the bill didn’t come to more than Rs. 200 each. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I ended up having a massive argument with her. Later both of us calmed down and she invited me over for coffee to her office in the embassy where we continued the conversation in a calmer mode. Then she gave me a copy of the original draft UNHRC resolution that her country had tried in vain to get passed along with their European buddies.

Why did the argument start? Well, my friend and she commented on how even moderate Sri Lankans seemed to have turned more nationalistic after the military victory. Listening to this, I guessed that this opinion on their part may have been formed by exposure to the reaction to the recent unprecedented international meddling, rather than the Sri Lankan population suddenlty becoming more nationalistic. I preceded to say this, perhaps not very well articulated, on my part, but I did end up saying something about the way the West seems to frame their statements, using the example of David Miliband and his now famous diplomatic flair. I said it was almost like he believes Sri Lanka is still a colony of Britain. And then she said, “Well if Sri Lanka does not want to be treated like a colonial country, it should not act like a colonial country.”

That’s when the shit hit the fan.

[I wish I had time to expand, but I’m moving house and the internet cafe dude just told me they are shutting down, so I gotta run, but before I go…]

This article was published in the Asia Times Online under the title “Sri Lanka wards off Western bullying”. It’s by Ambassador  M K Bhadrakumar, a former career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service in Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey. As I tried to explain to the diplomat in the course of our conversation, just because we don’t pander to the West anymore doesn’t mean we’re acting like a colony. It is the opposite in fact. We’re playing our cards beautifully. I am glad to see someone agrees. Read the article.

“The strange lineup of the member countries of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for or against Sri Lanka at the special session of the body scheduled to take place in Geneva on Tuesday underscores the maritime Great Game unfolding in the Indian Ocean.

Geopolitics is drowning the lamentations over the legitimate aspirations of the Sri Lankan Tamils for equity, justice and fair play and the perennial human-rights questions that arise when the state violates the integrity of the individual. Control of the maritime routes of the Indian Ocean through which 70% of total world traffic of petroleum products passes – and half of the world’s container traffic – takes precedence over the tragic plight of the 300,000 ethnic Tamils of Sri Lanka uprooted from their life. The focus of the world powers is on becoming the “Lord of the Malaccas”.

The special session is being convened in Geneva at the request of 17 of the 47 members of the UNHRC, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Britain. Hovering in the background is the United States. The initiative is primarily of the European Union (EU) and it aims at forcing Sri Lanka to face charges of gross human-rights violations in its war against the Tamil insurgents. An UNHRC recommendation to set up an international commission of inquiry will not mean the end of the world, but it can be a needless headache. An UNHRC special session has been called only on 10 previous occasions.

However, Colombo is not browbeaten. The seasoned poker player has tabled a counter resolution titled “Assistance to Sri Lanka in the promotion and Protection of Human Rights”. Believe it or not, the Sri Lankan resolution commends Colombo for its victory over terrorism and solicits funding from a grateful international community. The 12 co-sponsors of the Sri Lankan resolution include China, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia.

Russia, China backing Colombo
The outcome of the UNHRC special session can be foretold. The EU won’t get anywhere. It had better think of approaching the International Criminal Court based in The Hague. But then, Sri Lanka is not a signatory state. The “international community” can get the United Nations Security Council to refer the case to the ICC, in which case the ICC is mandated to summon a non-signatory state. But then China and Russia wield veto power.

As soon as Colombo declared victory in the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu took friendly note of it. “As a friendly neighbor, China has kept a close eye on how the Sri Lankan situation developed. We sincerely hope Sri Lanka will make efforts to accomplish national reconciliation, social stability and economic progress,” Ma said.

Equally, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko “welcomed” Colombo’s success in “restoring control over the entire territory of the country” and liberating the civilians held hostage. Russia “supports the fight of the Sri Lankan government against terrorism and separatism and for state sovereignty and territorial integrity” and stands ready to “strengthen further its cooperation [with Sri Lanka] … both in a bilateral format and in regional and international organizations on counter-terrorism and on other themes of mutual concern”.

China and Russia will ensure that the “international community” cannot torment Colombo. They have invited Sri Lanka to come close to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a “dialogue partner”. In essence, Sri Lanka is transforming as the theater where Russia and China are frontally challenging the US’s incremental global strategy to establish a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) presence in the Indian Ocean region.

The US has succeeded in bringing NATO up to the Persian Gulf region. In October 2007, NATO conducted its first-ever naval exercises in the Indian Ocean. The alliance is swiftly expanding its relationship with Pakistan. The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told a US Congressional hearing on Thursday, “Where I see NATO going is increasingly towards a broader and more in-depth relationship with Pakistan, because of the common interests.” But it is Sri Lanka that will be the jewel in NATO’s Indian Ocean crown. Russia and China (and Iran) are determined to frustrate the US geostrategy.

US pressure won’t work
But the US has taken a position of high principles – the human-rights situation in Sri Lanka. It can block Sri Lanka’s application for a US$1.9 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Sri Lankan economy is in dire straits. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on May 15 that this “is not an appropriate time” to talk about the IMF loan. She confirmed that the US had “raised questions about the IMF loan at this time”.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly has linked the release of the IMF loan to Colombo allowing the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international aid agencies, to access the camps where “hundreds of thousands” of internally displaced Tamils uprooted in the fighting are sheltered.

Washington is peeved that Colombo already forgot it was the vehement US support that enabled Colombo to launch the military operations against Sri Lanka in 2006. But the Sri Lankan government would say it reciprocated the US backing by signing in March 2007 an Access and Cross Servicing Agreement with the US that allows American warships and aircraft to use facilities in Sri Lanka.

At any rate, the US feels snubbed that Sri Lanka spurned its offer a few months ago to dispatch a naval force to evacuate or provide humanitarian assistance to the Tamil civilians trapped in the war zone. An “assessment team” of the US Navy visited Sri Lanka with a view to work out the range of options for the operation. But Colombo somehow developed cold feet about the wisdom of inviting US “humanitarian intervention”. Quite possibly, third countries might have alerted Colombo to the risks involved.

Unsurprisingly, Washington is pressuring Colombo. Kelly said on Thursday, “The international community needs to make an assessment of exactly what happened and consult with the Sri Lankan government on the way forward … we need to take things a step at a time. We need to focus on the humanitarian situation, and we need to focus on starting a political reconciliation process. Once we take those steps, we can start looking at the broader issue of economic and trade issues [IMF loan]”.

However, the US pressure tactic may not work. Like in the case of Myanmar or Sudan, if Washington steps up pressure, China may come to Sri Lanka’s help. There is moral muddiness all around. Simply put, a “containment strategy” on the part of the US towards Sri Lanka becomes unworkable. Testy times lie ahead.

On Friday, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa accused unnamed foreign powers of having tried to stop the military operations against the LTTE by “threatening to haul us before war crimes tribunals” and that he was ready “to go to the gallows”.

On Saturday, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (who is the president’s brother) told an Indian TV channel, “If one talks of taking our military to a war crimes tribunal, before that you have to take US troops, UK troops, all those troops and all those leaders, into war crimes [tribunals].” He was angrily responding to the EU demand for an independent inquiry into alleged war crimes by Sri Lankan army.

India-China rivalry
The countries that are backing Sri Lanka at the UNHRC special session on Tuesday have a convergence of interest insofar as they oppose the doctrine of “humanitarian intervention” in sovereign states. China and India have been at the receiving end in the past on the human-rights issue and have extended mutual support in warding off UNHRC pressure.

But in the present context, the motives of China and India are complex. The fact is, China has exploited Sri Lanka’s vulnerability to secure the pre-eminent status of a “steadfast ally”. China is building in Hambantota a $1 billion port that it may eventually use as a refueling and docking station for its navy as it patrols the Indian Ocean and protects China’s sea lanes in the Indian Ocean.

Jane’s Defence Weekly has reported on Chinese supplies of ammunition and ordnance for the Sri Lankan army and navy. The Stockholm International Peace Foundation says China gifted Sri Lanka six F7 jet fighters last year. Chinese aid for Sri Lanka touched $1 billion last year. China is presently Sri Lanka’s number one foreign donor, overtaking Japan. (The US and the UK gave measly amounts of $7.4 million and $1.9 million, respectively.)

India views the Chinese inroads into Sri Lanka with disquiet as part of a broad move into the Indian Ocean. But India faces an acute dilemma. Delhi hopes to influence Colombo to seek an early settlement of the Tamil problem, which has serious implications for India’s politics and national security. But its capacity to cajole the diehard Sinhalese nationalists to compromise and reconcile suffers as long as China backs Colombo to the hilt. Colombo’s defiant statements to the West also hold a subtle message for Delhi.

If Delhi tries to roll back its substantial political, military and economic support to Sri Lanka, China will simply step in. The lure of Sri Lanka for China cannot be overestimated by Delhi. Colombo plays the game beautifully. Before procuring weapons from China, Colombo first presents the wish list in Delhi. If Delhi declines, it promptly approaches Beijing. (This was what happened in the case of Hambantota port, too.)

Therefore, Delhi is unsure about Washington’s pressure tactic. It has known Colombo all through as a tough negotiator – be it on the rights of Indian fishermen or over Kachativu Island or regarding stateless persons of Indian origin. Colombo stonewalled for decades all Indian attempts to mediate a settlement to the Tamil problem.

Great Game in the Indian Ocean
Clearly, it is far too simplistic to portray Sri Lanka as a mere playpen of China-India rivalry. There is a huge geopolitical backdrop. The US’s naval dominance is declining. On the other hand, China’s navy may have more warships than the US’s in the coming decade.

In the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, noted strategic thinker and author Robert Kaplan analyzed the power plays in the Indian Ocean. As Kaplan wrote, the US is “beginning an elegant decline by leveraging the growing sea power of allies such as India and Japan to balance against China”.

To a great extent, the US volte face on Rajapksa’s war (after having been such a strong supporter until quite recently) stems from the strategic setback it suffered insofar as while the American admirals had been scared away by Sri Lanka’s ethnic strife, China simply moved in. The West finds Rajapaksa getting too close to China for its comfort. On China’s part, however, the fueling station in Sri Lanka becomes vital for optimally using the series of port facilities that it has lined up in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar connecting the southern Chinese province of Yunnan.

The naval presence in Sri Lanka becomes invaluable for China if the planned canal across the Isthmus of Kra in Thailand materializes connecting the Indian Ocean with China’s Pacific coast, a project that has the potential to dramatically shift the balance of power in Asia. Therefore, no matter what it takes, Beijing will strive to expand its influence in Sri Lanka and help Colombo ward off US bullying.

But, having said that, the US also has a need for greater cooperation with China. To quote Kaplan, the US “seizes every opportunity to incorporate China’s navy into international alliances; a US-Chinese understanding at sea is crucial for the stabilization of world politics in the 21st century”. This in turn creates a compulsion for the US to both act as a “broker” between India and China and as a moderator of the competition between the two hugely ambitious powers. As Kaplan put it, even as India and China “bump into each other” in the Indian Ocean, “the job of managing their peaceful rise will fall on the US Navy to a significant extent”.

Curiously, during a visit to Delhi on May 14, the US Pacific Command chief Admiral Timothy J Keating dropped a bombshell among the unsuspecting Indians by revealing that he declined an offer recently from a top-ranking Chinese naval official for a US-Chinese understanding to split the seas east of Hawaii and west of Hawaii between the two navies.

Keating went on to say that on his part, he invited China to join the annual US-India naval exercises codenamed “Malabar Exercises” (which strategists in Delhi fancy as their exclusive partnership with the US), but China declined, saying it preferred to be an observer. Kaplan was right in saying, “There will be surely tensions between the three [US, Chinese, Indian] navies, especially as the gaps in their relative strength begins to close.”

What all this adds up to in immediate terms is that Colombo will be plainly dismissive of the UNHRC meet on Tuesday. Indeed, its first instinct is to hoot with derision. The Sinhala establishment is fully aware of Sri Lanka’s immense strategic value in the accelerating power struggle in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka sits on a central theater of global conflict and competition and will derive leverage to reinforce its sovereignty and independence and its strategic autonomy.

HSBC on Post-War Sri Lanka

HSBC in an economic report compiled by their Singapore Branch on Sri Lanka, is very positive about the investment prospects in Sri Lanka.  The report (link below) has lots of useful graphs and figures, which is probably one of the best summaries of the econ0mic situation here that I have seen recently.

Over the last 26 years massive resources
have been diverted to meet the needs of the
military. In chart 3 we have shown defence
expenditure as a percentage of GDP going
back to 1991 – on average the country has
spent more than 4% of GDP every year on
equipment/artillery purchases and salaries of
military staff. As a means of comparison
Pakistan has been spending roughly 3% of
GDP since 2000. No doubt both countries
needed this expenditure but this does
emphasise the high financial cost of war not
to mention the loss of life and high quality
labour on account of emigration. Over time
we think there is scope to cut back on military
expenditure, however in the near term
security concerns and counter-insurgency
measures would probably remain.

HSBC Report

GUEST POST: Full Retard

Submitted by Yakkada Yakka

You went full retard, man. Never go full retard.  — Kirk Lazarus from the movie “Tropic Thunder”

You went full retard, man. Never go full retard." — Kirk Lazarus from the movie “Tropic Thunder”

It has not escaped my attention, that certain people have recently developed a peculiar morbid “interest” in Sri-Lanka these days (just to be clear: I use the scare-double-quotes in “interest” in the same way foreign journalists use them in the term “welfare camps”).

With this in mind, I woke up this morning and scanning Indi’s blog, I stumbled on Jeremy Page’s latest missive in The Times. Read it first if you have not.

No no no no, no no no.

I’ve seen some terrible Op-Eds on our situation, but surely this must rank in the Top 10 Full Retard list.

The article is an opinion masquerading as an argument wrapped in a muddle.

He has taken a complex and tragic situation and performed a botched reductio ad absurdum operation on it.

So, did the author go Simple Jeremy? To fully appreciate the idiocy of said opinion in its full glory, let’s subtly re-write the piece:

The opinions of all are welcome, but poor journalism is not

The next time you see some lingerie, a T-shirt or a pair of rubber gloves, you may want to reflect on this: they were probably made for export to Britain. And, like it or not, your labour plays a role in the debate over how to respond to the British Government’s successful but brutal military campaign against Islamic militants, which reached its bloody climax in the Swat valley this week.

Since 2005 Sri Lanka has been allowed to sell garments to the European Union without import tax as part of a scheme designed to help it to recover from the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. That means Sri Lankan clothes are 10 per cent cheaper than those from China and other competitors – helping consumers from the EU to save at least $300 million (£190 million) more annually, than they would have with an import tax. The little island off the coast of Europe, accounts for much of that saving.

Sri Lanka has also helped to rebuild Britain’s tourist industry: Britons accounted for 18.5 per cent of the foreigners who visited Sri Lanka’s famous beaches, wildlife parks, tea plantations and Buddhist temples last year. The value for money holidays in Sri-Lanka have been an invaluable benefit for value-seeking low-income British consumers and for the travel industry in the UK. Only India sends more tourists. Many Sri Lankans also own property there, especially around the southern city of London, not far from where H.E Chandrika B. Kumuratunga, the Sri Lankan science fiction writer who settled in Britain, used to love to holiday.

So the question facing Sri-Lankan exporters, hoteliers, manufacturers and labourers is this: should they continue to support British consumers? Sadly, the answer must be no.

Sri Lanka should welcome the war on Islamic militants – ruthless terrorists that forcibly recruits children, uses suicide bombs and kills thousands of innocent people. But Sri Lanka must also condemn the British Government’s conduct of the war – and take punitive action against it both to discourage other states from using similar methods, and to encourage proper reconciliation between the British and Muslim communities. With the UN paralysed, economic sanctions is the only practical option left.

Many will ask why they should care: there are bigger conflicts in the world, and Britain’s is mercifully confined to its own shores, with no risk that Sri-Lankan troops might be deployed.

The response to that is simple: what about next time? Britain’s war has been discrete only because it is an island; many other conflicts have spilt across borders, forcing military intervention to prevent a humanitarian disaster or a greater conflagration. Consider the break-up of Yugoslavia or Sierra Leone.

Sri Lanka may have, in the eyes of the world, ceded much of the moral high ground over human rights when it shed civilian blood during its recent defeat of the LTTE. But that does not mean that it should abandon its role in defending international law that protects civilians in conflicts and holds governments accountable for their actions during war.

Yes, international humanitarian law is based largely on Western values, and enforced imperfectly, but the world would be a much more violent, unjust place without it. Put simply, every war on terror might look like Britain’s so called “Global War on Terror”.

In an ideal world the UN, not Sri Lanka, would take the lead. But the UN, even in the face of a clear humanitarian disaster and blatant war crimes by both sides, has been compromised. By cosying up to the United States and other countries facing their own Islamic terrorist problems, Britain managed to keep its own war off the formal agenda of the UN Security Council until the last minute. Without the UN Security Council’s backing, an independent war crimes investigation will struggle to get off the ground.

Thus it is once again up to the democratic world to take action – even if that means muddling the issues of trade and human rights.

A key point to bear in mind is that human rights are an explicit part of Sri Lanka’s EcoTourist campaign, the Lankan scheme that provides Ecotourism to several developed countries. These tourists must comply with several international conventions covering environmental, and human rights standards. Most tourists have gone to great lengths to adhere to them.

That may sound like excessive Sri Lankan bureaucracy, but the system is designed to ensure the tourists we import meet Sri Lankan standards – no child sex, for example. It is also designed to give developed countries like the UK, an incentive to improve their own standards to the benefit of their own people.

That is where Britain has let itself down. Last year the Foreign Ministry expressed grave concerns about human rights abuses committed during the conflict.

Since then, the situation has deteriorated dramatically. British armed forces and its allies are now suspected of repeated aerial bombardment of civilian targets including whole villages, recruitment of teenaged soldiers, and of shooting dead at least one innocent Brazilian on the London Underground. Their actions have also herded more than 200,000 civilians into a slim plot of land, and caused an estimated 2 million people to abandon their homes. Even the Red Cross and the UN has been forced to suspend its operations and journalists have been denied access to the war zone. To be fair, Britain has engaged in several ‘hearts & minds’ type programs, which the British Government calls “Welfare” campaigns, but highly reputable sources, such as Robert Mugabe and Kim Jong-il, claim that these are all shams and the real objective is Britain establishing a string of concentration camps in Afghanistan.

Producing low cost exports in these circumstances would make a mockery of human rights and set an awful precedent for other nations. Withdrawing the cheap goods could cost Britain hundreds of jobs, which will hit many innocent civilians. But the fault, if this happens, will lie with its Government for failing to address Sri Lanka’s concerns.

As to whether Sri Lankans should help British consumers, well that’s a matter of personal choice – just as it is whether to help French consumers. But until the international community pulls together and formulates its own robust response, there is no clearer way for individuals to register their disapproval for the actions of the British Government than simply to stop exporting.

Jeremy Page is South Asia correspondent Confused.

MORAL: Never underestimate the ability of a self-absorbed egomaniac to make a career out of a national trauma (especially if he is willing to f*&# a few million people in the ass).

The UN, IMF and the BBC – is the tide turning?

It didn’t take long for Western opinion to start turning positive, confirming that the players in this media game are so very fickle. It helps that the government ended it quickly after the international pressure rose to a fever pitch last week. The government certainly did not do what “the international community” (in the form of Western countries) was asking it to do – they didn’t agree to a ceasefire, but they sorted it out in their own way quickly. I guess that means a lot in a world where memories fade fast and long term attention is always in short supply.

In the latest news, the Toronto Star reports that the UN chief in Colombo, Neil Buhne, is ‘backing Sri Lanka on refugee camps.’ This coincidentally comes just 20 days after The Nation needlessly speculated whether he would get his visa cancelled. They probably figured he was one of the nicer chaps we have had and, to be honest, it doesn’t look too good to expel yet another UN co-ordinator at a time like this.

The economic news which was looking down, is also looking up. While a couple of days ago our sovereign rating was downgraded to negative, the IMF bailout now seems fairly certain of being approved. Investor Jim Rogers had an orgasm over investment opportunities in Sri Lanka, and the stock market keeps going up. The Central Bank revised its growth rate predictions for the year upwards to 5% (not that anything CB governor Ajith Cabraal says really matters – the man has the credibility of a boiled ambarella).

Then, there is our dear BBC which has seemed, over the past few weeks, rather hostile towards Sri Lanka. Their reports have been bathed in a tone of negativity, even going to the extent of reporting the government victory within inverted commas. Perhaps it had something to do with the burning of Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s effigy and the resounding fuck-off that was still reverberating in his ears. Perhaps it had something to do with diaspora pressure. Or, maybe George Alagiah had his own version of things.  Anyway, finally, they seem to have come around and published a story that throws some positive light on the effort that is being put in by at least one Sri Lankan.

This is just the start. Memories are very short and media-wise and diplomatically things should improve. Realising this and keeping the international community managed is an art-form. I have to say, that for all the criticism and even ridicule that the loudest voices in civil society have heaped on Rajiva Wijesinha, Dayan Jayatilleka and Palitha Kohona, they really have done a masterful job of balancing their government’s objective in this international circus. They’ve been very smart. Clowns like Bogollagama probably didn’t make it any easier. There’s a great article here that offers some insight into the process.

Children still being abducted?

I have no way to confirm the veracity of these claims, but the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers has released a statement saying,

“Children (under-18s) are being abducted from refugee camps and from Vavuniya
town in northern Sri Lanka by paramilitary groups who enjoy tacit support from the Sri
Lankan government, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers said today.”

They are calling on the UN Special Envoy to investigate. The full statement is here.

UPDATE: According to today’s Daily Mirror, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe has “rubbished” the above claim. The same source said that UNICEF also has no reports of such activity. This begs the question: how credible is a claim made by an organisation based in London who has limited presence in Sri Lanka? The point of contact in Sri Lanka for such complaints is UNICEF. Is this just based on yet another disapora rumour?

My joy’s turning sour.

My mind is in disequilibrium, as most things in Sri Lanka are right now. I was ecstatically happy two days ago, but now things seem to be turning sour.

The president, encouragingly, has made a statement, Thursday, saying, “Ensuring that the nation’s outpouring of joy at the defeat of terrorism, leaves no room for anyone’s feelings to be hurt in any manner is the greatest tribute we can pay to our Motherland.”

However, this may be a little too late to reverse the harmful effect that some of the celebrating yakkos have had on the Tamil Sri Lankan psyche. There are reports of taunting, of forcibly getting people to raise the flag, of publicly burning and flogging effigies of Prabhakaran, of revellers requesting money from Tamil shops to fund their parties. This makes me feel sick to my stomach.

I don’t believe this is the most prevalent manifestation of celebratory joy. The few people on the street I spoke to yesterday were not of that mindset. They seemed aware of the need for a political solution to address the needs of Tamil Sri Lankans and they were not just celebrating a Sinhala victory, but the end of a long war and the hope of a better future for all Sri Lankans. One of the main things cited was the end to the fear of bombs. One guy told me that in his neighbourhood they had got together and made kiribath which they were offering passers-by, sometimes perhaps a little insistently, dhansal style. I asked him whether they were offering the kiribath to Tamil Sri Lankans as well, and he answered me rather sternly that this has nothing to do with ethnicity, that they are sharing their kiribath and their joy with everyone because they are so happy. I felt his intentions were pure.

However, it makes no difference whether this was the sentiment of the majority of people who stayed in their own communities and neighbourhoods and partied it down. What was seen by the Tamil Sri Lankans were the minority of people who decided to venture into the majority Tamil areas of Kotahena and Wellawatte in their flag laden convoys and trample on sensitivities at a time when Tamil Sri Lankans were feeling especially vulnerable. This is truly sad.

I wish more Tamil Sri Lankans would join in and share the joy that most of the rest of us feel at the end of this long war. I wish they would have faith in a better future for us all. I wish they would feel less afraid to come out and express themselves. I wish they’d convince their concerned relatives abroad that things are getting better. I wish they would want to participate enthusiastically in the procees of constructing our collective future. But how can I expect them to, when some of them are being exposed to this humiliation at the hands of a few thoughtless idiotic Sinhalese? Aiyo. May moda yakku ratama kanawa.

It is true that many Tamil Sri Lankans have been saddened at the death of Prabhakaran. This is something I am trying hard to understand. I do not see this as a rational reaction, because in my opinion his existence made their lives much much worse. However, I can see that he was their loudest and perhaps only effective voice (largely as a result of him killing off any other contenders) and I can understand that to many of them he was larger than life. Maybe I can even understand why some of the less rational would have regarded him as a hero. However, I find it very difficult to understand why many of them immediately felt less safe when they heard he was no more. This I think is a prevalent feeling among some of the Tamil Sri Lankan community and it is something that I am really trying hard to get to grips with. This seems to me a product of warped logic. I would have thought the opposite were true – that Prabhakaran’s existence actually made Tamil Sri Lankans less safe. There was an expectation of being less safe long before any of these celebrations started, and as far as I am aware, as distasteful as some of the reports have been, there are no reports of Tamil Sri Lankans actually being harmed or threatened.

Despite these problems we have in understanding the other community and how it is feeling at the moment, we should all realise that this is the immediate aftermath. It’s only been two days. Feelings are running extremely high and low. We are all trying to grips with things. We need to give each other time to process things and come to terms with this immense change in the staus quo in our own ways. We can only try to understand and express our opinion. Trying to force it down another’s throat is how we ended up fighting this long war in the first place.

However, these fisrt few days are also the ones that leave a mark. A confused mind is a very suggestible mind. At this time of great change, when people are trying to figure out what is going on, what is going to be their future, the people who stand up and say this is how I think it should be, this is what we are going to do are the ones who will get the most attention and set the tone. In this light, while understanding their reasons, I think it is a tragedy that Tamil Sri Lankans are either feeling too vulnerable to speak and participate, or are choosing not to do so of their own accord.

I wish the TNA MPs had turned up to parliament on Tuesday.

Should we be celebrating?

The events over the last few days culminating in today’s holiday has led many people to ask themselves whether they should be celebrating at all. Is it correct to do so? Here is an exchange between a few people. I think they are quite insightful about the different ideas people have.

Marie: Suddenly, ironically, sadly, people seem to be even more conscious of their ethnicity than ever, more combative. At least that’s what I have experienced so far in the last 48 hours. And I thought I was a pessimist.

PJ: You don’t find there is a middle ground of opinion?

TW: This sort of unmitigated joy is disturbing. Because on the one hand, it’s perfectly understandable. And on the other it’s completely inappropriate. Distressing.

Ravana: I think it’s normal to celebrate the end of war. There have been no incidents of violence. Many Tamil Sri Lankans share in the relief, even if some are also saddened by the death of VP.

Marie: PJ, there SHOULD be a middle ground of opinion, definitely. Maybe i am encountering only two extremes. Lucky me 😦 Ravana, it is normal, yes, and no incidents of violence. I am relieved, I am hopeful. I think what I am encountering is people who are saddened by VP’s death being hostile towards their sinhalese friends, and others who are overjoyed, being suspicious of all tamil people. What I meant was, isnt this supposed to be a time for hope and reconciliation? That’s what I thought it would be. I have seen members of ALL communities celebrating. That is great. But deep inside, lots of people see this as a victory for “Sinhalese people” as opposed to Sri Lankans. And I have been made to feel responsible, merely for the fact that I am of that particular ethnicity. It’s crazy.

CW: I don’t think there’s anything to celebrate. This military victory was achieved at a very, very high human cost. It took the lives of hundreds of children and innocent people who had nothing or very little to do with the LTTE. While some people are madly celebrating, large number of others in the warzone are mourning their loved ones. it’s more a time for solidarity than for celebration

NS: all tamil shops are shut — and why, if we should all be celebrating, is there so much tension in the air… I do not get a sense of ‘celebration’ at all.

Why are the ordinary tamils not on the streets?

Too many lives lost to celebrate, but I do feel a sense of… dare I say, hope? (false hope).

The real test will come in the following weeks, when the ‘south’ accepts all minorities into it’s fold with open arms; and the civilians in the north are relocated quickly to their villages.

PSP: Some Singhalese are asking Tamil shops to give money for their celebrations. That might be one reason they are shut. I agree with CW, it’s one thing to be relieved the war is over, another to dance around like monkeys when so many are suffering.

Marie: yeah CW you said it: solidarity, that’s what i want to see. That’s what i dont see and hope for. NS, maybe we have lived too long with this that we are scared to hope. Fingers crossed.

NS: totally agree with CW re. solidarity.

PJ: yeah, its complicated. but we must not forget that many many Sinhala people sent/keep sending food and other supplies to the IDPs. So its not been all celebration. I heard a Buddhist monk on TV, yesterday, I think it was — saying that if more people took atta-sil for Poson, the meals not eaten (you fast at night when you take sil) can be sent to IDPs. There is that sentiment also.

Marie: Yes, PJ. There have been people who really did something useful like that too. What the monk said was inspired. Thanks for reminding me about that, it helps my spirits rise a bit.

PJ: we must always look for both the good and ugly, otherwise its hard to go on.  It’s been a good discussion, ty.

Ravana: Yes, there has been a lot of killing over the last 26 years, but that’s over now. If that’s not a cause to be happy, I don’t know what is.

I felt the tension and mixed anticipation on Sunday and Monday, but after yesterday, it’s just pure happiness that the killing is over and there is unobstructed opportunity to race forward. Yes, a lot of people have suffered and are suffering, but this end to the war will mean that that too will change sooner rather than later.

Maybe this text I received from a Tamil Sri Lankan friend absolved me from restraining my feelings: “I got the text of the speech. If he means it all, now its time for a drink.”

NS: i can only hope, wait and see…

Marie: thanks Ravana for sharing that, I agree with your sri lankan tamil friend. Thanks guys, for commenting, it has helped me clarify things in my mind. Sabbe saththa bhavanthu sukithaththa (may all beings be well and happy)

Ravana: Hope is good, but we have to have faith, too, that things will change for the better. If we have a negative view of the future, it is likely that we will automatically exclude ourselves from the movements that have the motivation and the power to shape our future. We can either be part of the process, participating and shaping it, or we can be a passenger in it, and end up somewhere we didn’t want to go.

Is it cos he is fat?

This article was published recently in the Hindustani Times, and it argues that the LTTE’s downfall is attributable to its leader Prabhakaran’s recent acquisition of an excess quantity of body fat. If he wasn’t such a fatty, it argues, the LTTE would still be a respectable fighting force.

I don’t know how much I agree with this claim. Remember this guy?

Another fat guy

Victorious fat guy.

A Visceral Mistake

Manas Chakravarty, Hindustan Times

May 02, 2009

The LTTE is in a shambles. Their glorious army has been shattered. They have lost all their territory and are running for their lives. How on earth did this happen to such a ruthless fighting force, led by a master-strategist like Velupillai Prabhakaran? Surely it can’t be anything the Sri Lankans have done —  they’ve been fighting without success against the guerrilla group for decades. Why, even the Indian Army couldn’t do much against these suicidal guys.

No, the blame for the LTTE’s great debacle lies squarely on the well-padded shoulders of Prabhakaran himself. The simple but awful truth is that he has committed the most heinous sin a guerrilla can ever commit — he has become fat.

Leading a sedentary life in the jungles of northern Sri Lanka, the LTTE leader often found time hanging heavily on his hands. Like so many of us, Prabhakaran succumbed to the temptation of eating the hours away. Starting with jackfruit and pumpkin idlis, he moved on to jaggery dosas and sweet pongal rice, though he soon abandoned these patriotic recipes for more sinful savouries. Cakes and ice-cream followed and some say he even dumped rasam for sweet French sauces. But it was when he started on chocolates and Black Forest cakes that the bulge really began to grow and soon he was the proud possessor of the largest revolutionary paunch in history.

Since anybody who made personal remarks about Prabhakaran was summarily executed, nobody advised him to cut out the calories, or to jog. Once, after watching an ad for a body shaker on TV — the one where all you have to do is sit and read a newspaper while the contraption shakes your body — I called up the toll-free number and asked them to send the thing to Prabhakaran: address somewhere in the Vavuniya jungles, cash on delivery. Looking at his photographs, I don’t think he got it.

This isn’t the first time, though, that a revolution has failed because its leader became too fat. The Shining Path band of Maoist guerrillas used to terrorise Peru in the nineties, before their leader, Abimael Guzman, was captured.  Imagine the surprise of the Peruvian army when they saw that the terrorist they had nabbed was not a lean, mean killing machine, but instead a baby-faced, pudgy professor. Those stuffed tortillas topped with cream had taken their toll. They promptly dressed him in clothes with horizontal stripes, so that he would look even wider than he was, and paraded him on TV. That soon killed the movement, because nobody, not even a Peruvian peasant, would want to fight for such a ridiculously fat man.

That goes for all revolutionaries. Would Che Guevara have become such a romantic rebel if he had chubby cheeks and a double chin? Would the Russian Revolution have happened with an over-fed Lenin? And is Osama bin Laden in hiding because he’s scared the Americans will get him, or is it because he has become so fat that he can no longer conceal his tummy under his robes? Perhaps the reason he hasn’t attacked the United States recently is because he has a recurring nightmare of becoming so plump he can no longer squeeze out of the narrow opening of his cave.  As a result, he is too busy watching his weight to be bothered about anything else.

Studies by researchers at Rush University Medical Centre have shown that the accumulation of visceral fat, the kind of fat packed between internal organs at the waistline, is often linked with depression. Could it be that Prabhakaran had become so fat that he became depressed, which, in turn, led to his defeat?

Be that as it may, Prabhakaran’s soldiers need not worry. Their leader may have let down both his waistline and his followers, but AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa has recently promised she will take up their cause and continue to fight for a Tamil Eelam. The problem, though, is that she is even fatter than Prabhakaran.

Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint

Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Lasantha Wickrematunge’s Widow, Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge Interviewed on Lasantha’s Murder

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Here a video of BBC’s Christopher Morris interviewing Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. He asks him about Lasantha Wickrematunga’s murder. Rajapaksa defends himself by saying that if he had a problem with Lasantha he would have sorted it out through the courts, as he says he was doing. “Isn’t that the right thing to do?”, he asks.

Personally, I don’t know how anyone can think this man is dangerous. Just the calm, rational demeanour of the man reveals that he has the country’s best interest at heart.  He sees ciriticising the war as treason and god knows, he’s entitled to hold that opinion. This is a democracy after all. He is the type of leader we need in charge of our military, not some crazy nutjob who flies off the handle.

Then, here’s Lasantha’s widow Sonali Samarasinghe Wickramatunga interviewed on the same topic. According to her interview, which was published on the 12th of February, Christopher Morris has fled Sri Lanka too, after being accused of being a terrorist. Also, she says Lasantha was not shot but beaten to death with a metal object that pierced his skull.

Poor girl, she must be losing it with all that pressure. You can hear it in her voice.

Sri Lankan Rapper DeLon’s Reply to M.I.A.

This reminds me of the female rapper a few years ago who parodied Slim Shady’s song with the lyrics, ‘Will the real Slim Shady please shut up, please shut up, please shut up.’ She was made famous by Christina and Britney who wanted to get back at Eminem for dissing them, and helped her along. Unfortunately, in this case, it is unlikely that DeLon’s reply will be helped along out of its Sri Lankan home because… well, M.I.A herself is probably the most famous Sri Lankan out there at the moment.  He’s got about 10,000 hits on youtube, and she’s got about 8 million.

Good effort with the video though. I like the use of visual elements. The severed head of the suicide bomber was a tasteful touch.

Equating M.I.A. with the LTTE is propaganda of the same breed as M.I.A’s own. This video was begging to be made though, and is a strong reply. It highlights the hypocrisy of M.I.A. How can you complain about people equating Tigers with Tamil civilians, and still proceed to display images of Tigers all over your advertising and music videos?

The irony of this whole thing is that MIA gets more publicity because of all this fervour, and so does DeLon. It’s a symbiotic relationship. A shark and a remora. No prizes for guessing who is which.

Incidentally, if you have not thus far basked in the glory of the godsend that is DeLon, you simply must visit his website.

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Obama Gangsta

In his book Dreams From My Father, Obama writes that he went to school with another bi-racial kid named Ray who swore a lot in an attempt to define his identity. In the dialogue, Ray says things like this:

1. This shit’s getting way too complicated for me

2. Ignorant Motherfuckers

3. That guy ain’t shit. Sorry ass motherfucker

4. Sure, you can have my number baby!

5. You ain’t my bitch, nigga.

The best part is that the audio version of the book was actually read by Obama himself, which made this hip hop clip possible in Obama’s own voice.

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“For a wannabe writer,
That’s a pretty poor plot.”
I clutch at humour to drown
tripping on tongue-tied impotence.
“What do you think will happen?”
Impossible question.
I dread that you may become bored,
and I, a flash in the pan,
a glint that deceives a drudge miner’s ritual.
“Just spit it out.”
I don’t say what I think:
You are not Fool’s Gold.
You are the thought marauder,
the cat burglar of my sleep.
You are my nugget,
brighter than today,
and I will not look away
from the scorching brilliance
of your charm.

Video of MIA Accusing Sri Lanka of Genocide and What I Think About the War.

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The singer M.I.A. (a.k.a Mathangi “Maya” Arulapragasam) is as hot as lava right now. She is nominated for both an Oscar (for Slumdog Millionaire) and a Grammy (for Paper Planes).  In the interview, she talks, among other things, about the situation in Sri Lanka. She accuses the “Sinhalese” government of systematic genocide.

According to Wikipedia,

“Her father was a founding member of The Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS). Due to the conflict, the first years of her life were marked by displacement. Contact with her father was strictly limited, as he was in hiding from the Sri Lanka Army. As the civil war escalated, it became unsafe for the family to stay in Sri Lanka, so they relocated to Chennai, moving into a derelict house, with sporadic visits from her father. Later resettling in Jaffna, the conflict deteriorated further, and the family once again tried to flee the island. Her school was destroyed in a government raid. Eventually she, her two siblings and mother Kala moved back to London where they were housed as refugees.”

Her opinions are directly influenced by her upbringing and her experiences, but personally, I find them half-baked and misleading. She gets her facts wrong, for a start, most glaringly by saying Sri Lanka has just two ethnic groups. Her accusation of systematic genocide is sensationalist and is arguable, at best. She also ignores the advances in regional democracy, autonomy and quality of life in the East, which are a direct result of military success and government control.

Which brings me to what I think about the war. That last point in the preceding paragraph is something critics of the military option often fail to acknowledge. We now have regional governance in the East and a Tamil Sri Lankan chief minister democratically elected by the citizens of that province. That’s pretty big. True, the Eastern election was violent and flawed, but which election in Sri Lanka, or anywhere in the region for that matter can be regarded as free and fair? (Refer Bush-Gore 2000) It was not just a cautious first step, but a powerful stride in the right direction. Readers of this blog will know that I am not a fan of this government, but I am not blind to some of the successes of its strategy either. In the opinion of a Tamil Sri Lankan friend of mine, this government appears to have come closer to a workable solution than any other previously.

I have to give credit where it is due. Given the abject failure of repeated attempts at a negotiated solution in the past, and the LTTE’s scuttling of the last ceasefire, the choice of a military route to force the LTTE to surrender was unsurprising, even justifiable. Given this objective, the government has executed it well, balancing a number of different areas in an incredible awe-inspiring juggling act: the military morale and support in larger society, building up support in parliament by dismantling opposition parties into fragments (SLMC, JVP, UNP), the national and international public relations hurdles, the handling of relations with foreign powers and NGOs, the use of strategic alliances with the TMVP and EPDP, and the economy itself, which is still experiencing six per cent growth. If there was an election today, there would be no doubt which party would win.

My main concerns about a protracted military response always had roots in economics. I did not think we would have the financial robustness to withstand a war on the scale that was required. But, it turns out, we have not run out of money… yet. Yes, the economy has suffered. Yes, companies have failed, banks are teetering, people are losing jobs, but it’s happening everywhere else too. We have the dull satisfaction of knowing we are not being left behind; on the contrary, it can be argued that we have been investing in fixing the curse of our economy (the LTTE) over the last two years, and are now almost ready to reap the returns on our investment. (Incidentally, according to Bloomsberg, the Sri Lankan stockmarket has been one of the best performing in the world this year).

Nevertheless, I am jittery about the non-payment of the oil hedging bill – that is not a good sign of things to come. However, so far so good considering, of course, that this is a war economy. I do not think the economy can hold on for much longer though. It is not unlikely that the government will run out of money at some point, and then, all the government’s plans will have to be revised. But will this hit soon enough to affect the war strategy? The conventional military war seems to be drawing to a quicker close than expected, and the government is still paying its bills, so fingers crossed.

The main problems I do have with the government is the disrespect for human rights and their abject failure at winning over the hearts and minds of Tamil Sri Lankans. Admittedly, it is not easy when your army may be killing people who are potentially friends, relatives and neighbours, but still the government has not tried hard enough to appear inclusive of Tamil Sri Lankans. In the international arena, yes, Mahinda has addressed the UN in Tamil. Yes, the independence day telecast commentary were in three languages, and so were the posters – a nice change from the Sinhalese nationalist tone of last year. All these are just noises though. Why does Mahinda still allow himself to be compared to Dutugemunu? It has the all too familiar stink of Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism, as does the anti-conversion bill the government is supporting. The inaction in following up the murders of journalists and MPs like Sivaram, Lasantha, Maheswaram and Raviraj is unforgivable. The crime of killing the 17 aid workers in Muttur, the attack on Sirasa, the attacks on Rupavahini staff by Mervyn Silva – these are crimes that no perpetrator may ever be tried in court for.

It is the government’s responsibility to uphold the rights guaranteed in the constitution. That is its job. Patriots should find the true meaning of the word, not in a blind defence of a government or a party or even the military, but in a defence of the foundation of our country which is enshrined in the words of our constitution.

What I worry about is: what comes after the almost inevitable military victory? The government’s excuse for everything – unemployment, cost of living, reduced civil liberties – has been the war. What happens when the war is no longer usable as an excuse? People are going to want to see a better life. Can they deliver? Can they send 250,000 military personnel home after paying them Rs.20,000 a month? How can they find them alternative employment? What are they going to do with Sarath Fonseka? Is he going to retire quietly or accept a diplomatic post abroad? Is he the man to win the peace in an occupied North? How will they deal with remnants of the LTTE that will try to organise themselves into terrorist cells? Will the government restore journalistic freedoms? Will they release Tissanayagam? Will this become a Sinhala Buddhist state? Who will replace Sarath N. Silva as the Chief Justice? Will we still see abductions, threats to media people and incidents like Lasantha’s death and the attack on MTV? Will these incidents increase? Will the Rajapaksa brothers establish a dictatorship? Will there be a military coup? Will there be a situation where Mahinda remains in power, but Gotabhaya and Sarath do what they want? Who is going to tell them not to?

After all, they got the bombs; they got the guns; and they certainly got the men.


P.S. I am working on a post about what a concerned citizen can do to improve things in our country. Your suggestions, from any point of view, however off-the-wall, are welcome. Please leave a comment with what you think can be done by citizens to affect change, and in which direction. Thanks.

Old Photo

…and in this one you are happy.

Your face says everything;

you are grinning from ear to ear

wearing a red ballroom gown

with your hair straighter than usual.

You have made an effort,

wearing make up for the first time.

The shawl around your shoulders is alluring

but unnecessary because…

I am by your side

grinning from ear to ear

in bowtie and tux,

just gotten off the hired coach

to our Final Fling –

the last stop on a long ride

of hedonism is ended

and the paranoia of final exams are over.

The immediate promise

of life ahead has erased all worry from our foreheads.

You are beautiful,

and I am happy.

This was a long time ago.

Now, the lines have creased our faces.

I have one for work,

one for the bills,

one for the kids

one for the aging parents

one for the life less lived

one even for you.

Your smiles from year to year

Have become narrower and narrower

until now, I cannot think

how you managed to stretch

your lipstuck mouth so wide

from your right ear to your left.


I wrote this in May 2008 and I got the chance of reading it out to an audience at Closenburg during the Galle Literary Festival last weekend. They seemed to like it.

Men and Women at the Galle Literary Festival

Ten years ago, I shared a lift with her. This weekend, I managed to speak with Germaine Greer and get my copy of The Female Eunuch autographed.

As I stood in line for autographs, Friday, after her panel discussion with Tarun Tejpal, an angry Australian pushed past me to rail against her sex-based interpretation of the motivation for the stolen generations. After a heated argument of about ten minutes, she came down off the stage and was promptly met by Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler’s Ark – the book Schindler’s List was based on, who said to her, “I know what you meant when you mentioned rage. I feel it too.”

Then he started bawling his eyes out. I don’t mean one or two tears. I mean face crunched up sobbing. I was standing right by the two authors and I was like WTF. (I still don’t know why he started crying – if his book proves anything, it’s probably that the man has, to borrow Tejpal’s phrase, a highly “exaggerated social conscience”. Maybe some people just feel things a lot more). Anyway, next, Germaine Greer hugs him and starts consoling him. Then she starts tearing up too. She walks out to the book signing area and I follow her with my book, but not before I pat Thomas Keneally comfortingly on the shoulder. What an unusually sensitive man, I think, maybe he’s having a breakdown.

So, then I meet Germaine Greer outside who wipes a couple of tears away before she starts signing my book. I tell her about sharing a lift with her once. She smiles. She signs the book to me and draws a little heart with wings on it. That’s probably what she does for everyone. So, then, I ask her a question.

“Should men open doors for women?”


“No? But…”

“The stronger should help the weaker.”

“Okay… but what about in environments or cultures where not opening doors would be looked on as rude, or impolite or even caddish?”

“See, when I’m in Buckingham Palace, I courtesy to the queen, even thoughI find courtesying a ridiculous act and I find it funny.”

Enough said. Good point, I thought. Romance would be pretty dead in the water without all this. Or would it? The girls appear displeased at Greer’s answer, probably balking at an image of a lifetime of baggage handling and doormanship.

Germaine Greer (1995) by Paula Rego

Germaine Greer (1995) by Paula Rego

So, a few days’ later it was Sunday, and Greer’s one on one with the audience. The topic: “who put the post in post-modernism?” She was very entertaining, putting her points across deftly with humour, biting sarcasm and penetrating insight.  She mentioned something on which she had touched on earlier, which was the difference between men and women when it comes to group behaviour. She accepts, and even purports the view that men seem to have more fun in groups, and that women need to learn to appreciate eachother’s company and trust eachother more. Of course she attempted to poke fun at men in groups and mentioned golfclubs and Lions and Freemasonry, but there was definitely a note of admiration, even envy for what she seemed to realise: men like hanging out with men, men like hanging out with women, women like hanging out with men, but women and women? Nope. She also railed against our violent society (I mean the world, and not Sri Lanka) and blamed it on men, and our tendency to sort things out through fighting and not talking.

But then, I asked her if that wasn’t a part of the same thing? The reason that men feel more comfortable in groups and like each other’s company is because historically they know that if another man has a problem with him or does not like him, he will proabably resort to violence and punch his face in. As long as he’s not fighting, he feels safe. Men’s animosity is far more open, than women’s.

The same goes for their mating behaviour.  Traditionally, the man is the pursuer; the woman, the pursued. The act of pursuit of a mate is one that is far more visible than is the subtle passivity of trying to attract a mate. If a man is therefore interested in a woman, people know about it. They can see him trying to get in her pants, whether it’s caveman days, or Victorian England or modern day Sri Lanka. Everyone knows which man is interested in which woman. Not so with women. No one knows who the women are interested in, save maybe 20% of other women with sharp intuition. So, there is distrust.

Simplistic? Perhaps. But this is a blog post, not a thesis, and I have Maduka Wijesinghe’s book launch to attend. Get over it. But before I go:

She responded to my question saying (jokingly) that she thinks the reason men have more fun in groups is because we have more time, and then (m0re seriously) that fathers are harder to impress than mothers, so both boys and girls grow up trying to impress men, because that’s what they learn when they are very young.

Anyway, either way, I still think I do have some semblance of a point. It follows that I think that women are only going to feel start feeling comfortable around other women, when it becomes as acceptable for them to hit on men, and hit eachother, as vice versa.