2nd December 2001

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The return of the court jesters

In the days when monarchies were a dime a dozen and kings and queens could not trace their lineage beyond their mothers, every court had its jester. Historians and others interested in such idiosyncratic studies as court life have never really explained- to my satisfaction at least- why any court needed any jester, from the outside, I mean.

The behaviour of royalty, one would have thought, provided enough comedy for a court to survive all those bacchanalian, gastronomic and other bouts of debauchery without the help of amateur clowns. Perhaps the kings and queens and their hangers-on, sometimes known as courtiers, were so tired of old jokes that they had need of assistance from outside to exercise those already tired jowls. Our own courts, one must confess, were not averse to having a joker or two around. We all know of the legendary Andare who set the royal courts roaring in genuine mirth. But since then the quality of humour, like the quality of mercy has been badly strained to the point of horrible adulteration that in the presidential palace a joke is a serious thing.

In the old days jesters picked from the market- place and brought to court lost their heads. Not at seeing their opulent new work places, one is sorry to say, but for telling poor jokes.

But how times have changed. Somawansa Amerasinghe was the only politburo member from the JVP leadership of the late 1980s to survive when the violence it unleashed turned round and smothered it.

He survived because he ran away. They who could not care for the human rights of the thousands they killed, were suddenly on bended knee before the courts (law courts, I might add) of capitalist countries they once chastised, pleading, nay begging, that their human right to life, be protected.

Somawansa Amerasinghe somehow found his way to the UK where he now lives. If he was shameless enough to run away saving himself but leaving hundreds of misguided party men behind him to suffer what fate held for them, that is his problem and he will have to live with it. But today he finds himself back in the country from which he escaped-albeit temporarily-playing the jester and justifying what they did. 

But would he have had the courage to come to Sri Lanka had he not been cajoled, persuaded or even coerced to return even for a few days?

Is Amerasinghe not a high ranking member of the party that President Kumaratunga admitted on television was responsible for killing her husband Vijaya Kumaratunga? Or has she, like so many other things, forgotten what she has said?

Was it not the same JVP that led the insurrection against her mother's government and had planned to kill her as they did her husband later? 

It seems that jesters are in great demand these days. One has only to read the media and see photographs to see the clowns cluttering the political stage as we head toward December 5. 

The same old courtiers, who robbed the people are running hither and thither to save the kingdom from falling.

And an incensed public waits as the robber barons prepare once more to do what they had done before- rob the people of their franchise. But the drama is not yet over. The newest court jester, temporary passport and all is ushered in.

Tell our party leaders to take up arms again, he exhorts. Sometime during his days in London he has picked up a smattering of Shakespeare. 

"I have come to bury the separatist alliance, not to praise the corrupt and inefficient PA", he says imitating Mark Antony. What a Wansa! Did the Bard anticipate him when he created the jester Malvolio?

Let's hope the joke is not on Sri Lanka.

How to win an election

By Goolbai Gunasekera
Elections are upon us again. Puffing and panting, I climb the hill of a school in Kotte where, with more than usual stupidity, someone has sited an election booth on a mini Sri Pada. Naturally, no vehicles are allowed past the school gate so one really does wonder how elderly voters or those with heart problems or arthritic problems, are able to make it to that lofty cubicle, right at the very top of the incline. My admiration for the teachers of that school grows apace. To think they labour upward on a daily basis proves that they either love teaching or else are terribly figure conscious! 

But I digress. Unfortunately history is rapidly moving no matter how still governments sit. Our last few governments seem to have been entrenched behind bastions of non-achievement - particularly so after the assassination of Ranasinghe Premadasa whose up and at' em policy gave tremendous vigour to an otherwise lazy population. 

"How are you going to vote ?" I ask my Dearly Beloved as we negotiate that hill. 

"With a pencil," he answers briefly. 

"Piggy. Tell me will you." 

"It's my affair if you don't mind." 

"What's the big deal about telling me for whom you intend casting your vote?"

"Can you keep a secret ?" 

Truly, he asks difficult questions. 

Now let us consider the all important issues of the day - issues to which the candidates themselves have paid no attention whatsoever. How could they? One and all, our politicians are busy slandering each other , assaulting and setting thugs on each other. The few who do not, are regarded as being really out of it. Of course, some politicians catch the eye better than most. These few project charm as did President Roosevelt. Others reject it as did Mao Tse Tung. Most of the charming ones are dead and gone. The rest, like Mao Tse Tung, imagine they can lead this country on a Great March to Nirvana. Alas, what a witches brew Sri Lankan politics has become. 

Now here are a few hints to politicians: The wiser ones may listen. The fools will blunder on upturning all order, disregarding the very Rule of Law and arranging matters to suit their private purses. Politicians behave as if there were no day of reckoning. In fact, there isn't. Not by the usual process of law that is. But what of the higher law ? 

Whatever one's religion may be, these laws operate eventually. Since no politician worries his brains over such things, does one assume they are all atheists and Godless beings ? 

Let's assume they are... Godless beings, I mean. They know with the experience of parliamentary skull diggers that all the clever devils are seeking election while all the dim-witted angels are going to vote for them. 

As they follow no known rules of ethics, let's map out a few ideas which we feel will ensure their continued popularity with their voters. This popularity contest they understand and therefore may pay heed too. Here are my suggestion for the victors whoever they may be:- 

1. Stop listening to 'yes'men. They only tell you what you want to hear. 

2. Stop believing your near and dear. They tell you what they think you want to hear. 

3. Stop listening to your underlings. They tell you what those who have bribed them want you to hear. 

4. Stop listening to your wife. She tells you what she thinks her gossip circles want you to hear. 

5. Stop listening to your men friends (if you have any). They tell you what all the cliques and clubmen want you to hear. 

6. Don't ask your women friends for their thoughts either. They will tell you the truth and the truth may cause you to turn tail and run. 

7. Stop trying to hear 'The Voice of the People'. There is no such voice in Sri Lanka. The 'Voices' you hear are as delusional as those of Joan of Arc (and we all know how she ended up). 

8. Don't use gimmicks. They fool nobody, but unfortunately you are shielded by those mentioned above from the derisive laughter of the public. 

9. Stop being pompous. The airs and graces of politicians border on comic opera. There is nothing funnier than a yesterday's nobody trying to look like today's somebody. 

10. Try not to abuse your opponents. No one believes either you or him. You both sound school childish and pretty silly. 

11. Try telling voters the truth. It may shock them into actually giving you a vote again. 

12. Try to bring the words like "honourable", "honest, " dependable" and "trustworthy" back into common usage when discussing politicians. (Impossible, I know) 

And finally just try to listen to that one voice you have so far gagged and bound forever - namely - that persistent little nigger- your own conscience. I know it has been totally underworked so far. Dust it off, bend your ears towards it... and voila! We may actually have good governance at last.

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