POLITICAL SKETCHBOOK                  by Rajpal Abeynayaka  

Lanka, nation of rancour and rife? Or nation of savoury rice?
When S. B. Dissanayake says back to rice, he means business. We were a nation of rice pullers. But then we got lost, and we got bread from the Portuguese. Now S. B. Dissanayake wants to take us back to rice, and how he hopes to accomplish that by taking out promotional space in the media is a good question.

In future, all S. B. Dissanayake sponsored political entertainment will have canapés made with rice. There will be no cocktails or orange barley -- just rice wine, like sake.
But how does one say 'back to rice' to a nation that has more Chinese restaurants per square mile than mainland China?

Somebody suggested on the tube the other day that they must think of free rice soon -- just to finish the surpluses. That completes the picture. A nation of happy hedonists and lotus eaters, an island of serendipity, the only problem being that a few rice cultivators are being sent six feet under, every now and then in the Eastern province. (Only one correction there - S. B. will forbid the expression 'a nation of lotus eaters.'' It has to be - "a nation of rice eaters.' Besides Lotus has a distinct Chinese restaurant ring to it...)

But SB says the Treasury is blocking the rice revolution. Not giving money for this, and not giving money for the other. He is like one of those exasperated Sinhalese Kings you hear of now and then in the Mahawamsa saying "the dhanyagaraya is being threatened by the bhandagaraya.''

But MPs traveling abroad on junkets (oops, study tours) feel threatened too. What will be made available at the duty free? Can't be Scotch of Ballantines? It has to be rice wine, sake, made by Japanese brewers, especially brought down for the purpose.
But in the meantime, paddy farmers are threatening to transport burnt paddy husk to parliament as a gesture of protest on low selling prices. S. B. Dissanayake will see to it that they will all be given a free dose of the parliamentary complex MPs biriyani. Rice for the rulers, rice for the hoi polloi. End of protest.

They have also decided that the MPs morning breakfast be changed from bread and chicken curry to kiribath and lunu miris. The Norwegians will carry a special message to Prabhakaran saying that he must stop his habit of eating pittu in the mornings. But there is going to be intense speculation that the real reason for getting Prabhakaran back to rice is to make him lazy -- like a bunch of Sri Lankan Provincial Council Members. But, S. B. Dissanayake will take out an advertisement, pronto, to say "that's just a canard spread by the RAW.''

S. B. Dissanayake of course is a nationalist with a Naomi Campbell eye or fashion. He is no rustic nationalist -- a man of the soil. If he wears a sarong for a cocktail party, it will be bright red of the Barbara Sansoni variety, else, he will be mistaken for an old Haramanis type leading the Varsity Student's Union. (SB led the Varsity Student's Union alright -- but that was in antediluvian times, before the flood, before Charitha Ratwatte and the Treasury, before rice wine, before the island of serendipity became the island of Ultra Serendipity Plus Plus.)

But this whole thing cannot be incongruous. If his slogan with regard to sarongs is "back to Barabara Sansoni sarongs?" his slogan with regard to rice cannot be just "back to plain old boiled rice?"

It's not difficult to envision this. Very soon, there will be well endowed models who screech " back to savory rice -- back to pilawoo rice -- back to prawn fried rice -- back to herbal rice -- back to Barbara Sansoni rice.'' S. B. for B.S. rice - there, a new slogan for you. Anything but just rice - what do you think, we are a nation of rice pulling yokels?

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