With all the recent chaos in our politics and the unprecedented bedlam and caterwauling in parliament, we seem to forget that Sri Lanka is still a lucky nation. No sarcasm intended. We are truly fortunate. We celebrate two new years. How many countries on this planet have the opportunity of doing so?  I do not [...]


So let the games begin


With all the recent chaos in our politics and the unprecedented bedlam and caterwauling in parliament, we seem to forget that Sri Lanka is still a lucky nation. No sarcasm intended. We are truly fortunate. We celebrate two new years. How many countries on this planet have the opportunity of doing so?  I do not know. Maybe somebody does.

We might be told that Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her birthday twice a year- one an official birthday in June with the centuries-old tradition “Trooping of the Colour” and the private one in April.

India, for instance, has two celebrations to mark two historic occasions — its Independence and later when it became a republic.

But the dual celebration Sri Lanka enjoys is just one of the national events that make the country unique. Some of the other happenings that add to the country’s uniqueness will be referred to in passing due to space restrictions.

Only the other day we hailed the birth of another year according to the Gregorian calendar which Pope Gregory Xlll introduced in 1582 throwing Julius Caesar’s creation which had been in use since 45BC into the bin.

Anyway come April, Sri Lankans of the two majority communities – the Sinhalese and the Tamils — will be readying themselves for another “Aluth Avuruddha” with plenty of clock-watching to perform the traditional rites and duties and partake of the traditional food.

But to me, there is more than the kavun, kokis and kiributh. I look forward to what our great leaders have to say in their multiple statements to the nation, what great thoughts flow from their minds or more likely from those of officials who sit down to create a cascade of verbiage more suited for disposal with the garbage that accumulates for days by the roadside.

This year, I was intrigued by the message released in the name of President Sirisena.  One wonders how many of the Sri Lankan citizens addressed by the Head of State took the trouble to pay serious attention to what was said. It is more likely that the people accustomed to reading and listening to such hollow words of ‘wisdom’ that come tumbling from the heights of political mediocrity do not have time to waste.

It would be a pity to miss out on such a classic statement to the nation. It seems to me that something is amiss. Says President Sirisena: “The dawn of the New Year is an occasion to recollect our achievements and failures as well as gains and losses in the year that ended.

“Through retrospection, a person could make the future path of life fruitful and free of malice”.

That is all very nice. While the President urges the people into an exercise in introspection to recollect our achievements, nowhere does he mention what the achievements have been in the year just ended.

One can understand him keeping the failures tied up in bundle and tucked under the bed. But why does he not air the achievements of the government? Not even a passing mention of the one or more of the glorious deeds that would showcase the achievements.

Without sounding like Zeus descended from Olympus, it would have been more honest and truthful to catalogue the government’s score card, as it were. If it reads like the middle order in Sri Lanka’s batting side, so be it.

What makes me certain that President Sirisena had little to do with the New Year message is the two lines from poet T.S. Eliot buried in it. He is not known to be an aficionado of English literature. Maybe in his school days he read ‘Treasure Island’ or other adventurous narratives as schoolboys used to do.

But it is hardly likely that President Sirisena ever ventured into the field of ‘modern’ English poetry and read other contemporary poets such as Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens or Dylan Thomas.

So whoever fathered this piece of writing on President Sirisena did him a grave injustice for many people would know that the president, a great enthusiast of Sinhala literature and the arts is not one ever likely to quote a couple of lines from Eliot especially when it says “next year’s words await another voice”.

Some reader might well ask whether there is a hidden meaning in this and wonder who this other ‘voice’ might be, particularly as the country heads out to two elections in less than two years. Is Sri Lanka to expect a new messiah in the coming days as the current ‘voices’ are of little use?

Since space is limited one cannot explore the implications of these lines from Eliot’s “Little Gidding” but one does wish that the actual writer added the next line too-“and to make an end is to make a beginning.”

In two places in the message there is a reference to “retrospection of the past”. I always thought that retrospection meant recalling events, happenings from the past, to look back in thought.

So if this resort to tautology is intended to impress the President, one wonders whether it did or it has proved an embarrassment. For what reason was T.S. Eliot be brought into this equation. If there was some dire need, it would surely have been more appropriate to quote the first few lines of “The Hollow Men”.

We are told that, in this “historically decisive” moment, we can learn from the past. Indeed, we can, if our leaders show the way. But have those who govern the country taught us anything of value except to stay away from decrepit politicians.

At the butt-end of last year, we learnt to have two prime ministers, two governments, no government, two leaders of the opposition and a whole lot of trouble that has spilled over to this year. The avariciousness of so-called patriotic leaders brought us to the edge of the precipice.

Whether we will tumble over would depend on whether leaders continue to dabble with the constitution looking for loopholes to creep through as is happening right now. From where the President derives powers to meddle with the appointment of state officials and sets up committees to vet them is surely not powers vested in him by the constitution.

So it is best that, instead of preaching to the people to learn from the past, it is best the leaders show the way for an honourable exit. Let the games begin.

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