17th March 2002

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Thoughts from London
By Neville de Silva

MoU : who or which ‘Karan’ signed what 

If winter comes can spring be far behind, wrote that Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, more in hope, I suppose, than expectation. Going through an English winter in Shelley’s days could not have been a pleasant past time, having to pass the nights by a coal fire and go out every time the coal burnt out.

With no central heating and no special fuel allowance like the one the Blair government offers pensioners-and even refugees, I am told but don’t take my word for it and rush over here- it could be awfully annoying not to mention uncomfortable.

Anybody who has had the misfortune to experience English weather long enough might well wonder why the year is divided into four seasons when they all seem to appear very much the same.

Even the bright, sunny weather two Friday’s ago could not bring enough Sri Lankans outdoors to demonstrate opposite the Sri Lanka High Commission in West London against what is seen as the Wickremesinghe-Prabhakaran pact under which the latter would presumably become the boss of a new geographical entity having failed to be the leader of what some people here called his real Motherland which is Tamil Nadu.

One cannot, of course, blame Ranil Wickremesinghe for that. That was largely due to a political miscalculation (some call it the ultimate faux pas) by VP- that is Velupillai Prabhakaran to you, ignoramus- which was the killing of Rajiv Gandhi. Any chance VP had of becoming Big Brother across the Palk Strait was sacrificed on the altar of vendetta politics.

Anyway, now that we are naming names, can VP’s closest aides- or even the registrar of births- please say how his name is spelt. I’ve seen at least three different spellings including one that calls him Pirabhakaran.

I mean it is easy for chappies like Shakespeare to go about saying “what’s in a name” and that sort of thing. I wonder what he would have said if some stupid petitioner wrote his name as Shakesperera.

I’m not being unduly fussy when I insist on a consistent spelling. One of the first things journalism teaches you is to get name  and place-spellings correctly. There was a time in the journalistic history of this country-Ceylon not Britain-when reporters had to cover weddings and funerals. One of the most important aspects of such reporting was to record the names of those present.

As journalists of those days of yeo used to say, writing Sinhala names in English could actually end in your own funeral. The English spellings often indicated the caste of a person and woe be unto the reporter who unwittingly lowered the caste of an attendee. He could expect to have 50 cents deducted from his monthly salary which was a princely three rupees or so in those golden days of eternal summer. That was if the boss was in a forgiving mood.

If not the poor reporter would be ejected with a kick to his posterior and would be trudging the pavements looking for a more tolerant vocation.

Today few care about spellings, grammar or comprehensible language. But I think we should insist that VP’s minders provide the media and the public with a consistent spelling of the name. To me it does not really matter whether dear Velupillai spells his name as Piribhakaran or Pirabhakaran or Prabhakaran or just V.P.Karan

I think it very important that he informs others of the correct spelling of his name. All he has to do is to give notice in the Gazette.

“I Velupillai Prabhakaran do hereby inform the Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the general public that I shall henceforth be known as Velupillai Prabhakaran and sign all documents as V. Prabhakaran”.

I mean it does not cost more than a few rupees and his tax collectors can always get it from a public servant or a tea boutique owner. There is one small problem. He might not want to give notice in the government gazette especially if it is the official organ of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

Perhaps his ideologue Anton Balasingham might advise that to publish such a notice in the government gazette is tantamount to recognising the authority of the gazette in the Wanni or wherever VP resides these days now that a ceasefire is on and the Norwegians are coming and going more often than Kadirgamar.

Balasingham (Dr. is he?) might suggest that VP publishes the notice in the Wanni Gazette as evidence to future historians that the presence of the Wanni Gazette is sufficient proof that a separate government existed in the jungles of the North Central Province.

I seriously believe that the Norwegians-if they were real facilitators and not fellow travellers, would want to make sure that neither VP’s name nor its spelling is in any doubt.

Well for one thing, our Vanniathamby is signing all sorts of documents these days- from his own edicts to a Memorandum of Understanding which in diplomatic shorthand is a MoU and sounds very much like the noise cows make. 

Others might take this rather lightly, but I insist that this has vital ramifications and unless some understanding is reached every Memorandum of Understanding is bound to lead to plenty of misunderstanding.

Let us say, just say that my old schoolmate S.L.Guna-sekera decides to make an application to the Supreme Court or wherever such applications are made arguing that the MoU is in violation of the Constitution for blah, blah, blah reasons.

And all of a sudden- I don’t know whether such things are possible- the Attorney General appearing on behalf of the government produces a witness who denies that the signature on the MoU is that of Prabhakaran. And how does he know, SL will surely ask dismissively.

Well, the witness will say, because I’m the chappie who taught Prabha how to write English and how to sign his name when I was teaching at Velvettithurai.

Or let’s say some of Prabhas’ pals are caught trying to float a few missiles across the Palk Strait. Ranil W would have to burn the midnight oil-literally of course because of the power cuts- studying the MoU. Next day he will get on the hotline to the Wanni and ask what the hell all that was about.

Why did you violate the MoU?
“What MoU?”, Prabha will ask.
“Why the one you signed and sent me, VP”.
“Whaat Aiyar, I never sent you any MoU”.
“But your name is here”.
Then you spell it to see”.
So Ranil spells it.
“Cha, chaa. Somebody must have made a mistake.That is not how I spell my name no”.

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