The Return of Ravana

Where have I been all these years?

Around.

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"

Seriously.

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

FOR SITA

Sita, if you meet her,

Greet her, do beseech her

She’s unbridgeable, unmovable,

Serene

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?