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Rajpal's Column

20th December 1998

At the Voet Lights: this is a laughing matter

By Rajpal Abeynayake

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Monica Lewinsky, you don't need an introduction to her, was voted by her high school class as "the most likely to have her name in lights." She had her name in lights, but not in the kind of way her class had expected.But she now has her name in lights here in Sri Lanka as well, and that an achievement of no mean proportions.

At the Voet Lights dinner that lawyers use to let their hair down and let fly, Monica Lewinsky received as much honourable mention as SL Gunasekera did. The Voet Lights dinner is as esoteric as a Papal conclave, and there is a deliberate conclave surreptitiousness that surrounds the event. But it is also a great cathartic event at years end for lawyers to collectively let off steam and let the judges have it for a change. Lawyers might prefer to keep such endeavours off the public record, but, there is merit in divulging some of the esoteric traditions that accompany a lawyer's life.

Other professions can maybe learn a thing or two for instance. A lawyer is a lawyer. You take away the hubris that accompanies the profession, and you end up with nothing tangible.

So even if an event such as Voet Lights (which is in memory of a Dutch jurist) may be an anachronism in post 1956 swabasha Sri Lanka, there is something to be said for professionals that take themselves so seriously that they revive a hundred year old tradition each year in order that they don't take themselves too seriously. The whole raison d'etre of Voet Lights is to pierce pompous egos. It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. In the profession there are many who will give an arm or a leg to do the honours.

In this season's offerings, the Chief Justice was lampooned with this quip. "Several judges have distinguished themselves in their careers by what they did. But the present Chief Justice has distinguished himself by what he didn't do at all."

Mr. Justice GPS De Silva is an affable man, and nobody would associate a pompous ego with this quiet persona.

But yet, a barb like that can define the parametres of a profession. Out of court, every Lordship is a human being at best. But also, for pure value of naked irreverence , the Voet Lights offer a theatre for unbridled humour of the kind one would rarely hear in a public assembly in Sri Lanka these days. You don't have to add value to this Voet Lights thing. If you want to have a laugh at somebody's expense, this is the place to be; the only risk you run is being the target. There is the dose of sexist humour as well, which lawyer ladies take lying down. Now we need to take a hat off to people for daring to be politically incorrect. It makes a sanitized society come to life, in a moment. And lawyers in any case are loquacious.The pun on female recruits being given an oral test before being recruited to the AG's department may have been three shades off colour, but then again, it was a multi faceted barb.Why that is so we leave to some intelligent guessing on the part of the reader.

Lampooning is a lost art in a country that is prone to criminal defamation and all that type of recourse.

But culturally, it seemed to be passe as well. We thought the art was alive only in the Private Eye, Spectator or Playboy or some politically incorrect location like that. Lawyers bring lampooning closer home. That's good. If the President became a lawyer, she would have appreciated that, but that's another story altogether. Ask the Voet Light nearest you for the details.


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