round the clock
So last week we put back the clocks by an hour. Who ordered
this to be done in times gone by and how far back into history this
bizarre practice went, I really don't know.
But by the
time we had remembered to do this heavenly bidding, so much time
had passed since the order of the day had been handed down, we were
not quite certain whether we had to catch up with time or wait for
an hour for it to catch up with us. It is as confusing as trying
to unravel the thought processes of President George W.Bush
It must have been some time during the last world war when wise
men (and women, too I suspect) put their heads together and decided
that this was a splendid way of saving one thing or another, though
I don't know precisely what. Maybe it was to see whether their wristwatches
worked. Some of those watches that some here wear, must surely come
from Norman times.
I know some
former colleagues of mine in Colombo who would have loved to see
such idiosyncracies carried out on a daily basis.
It would come
as no surprise to many, if not all, that many were journalists of
Now those were
types of persons who would liked to have seen the clock put forward
daily by an hour at 10 am and the same clocks turned back two hours
at 6 p.m.
And they had,
I suppose, as good a reason to do so as the intellectual heavyweights
who originally thought of the idea. The great merit in this scheme
was that my colleagues, unlike the great thinkers who came up with
the idea, did not have to wait for this annual turn of events to
gain a couple of hours.
Had their idea
been put to the test, as it were, it would have solved some major
national problems of the day-or so they said. One of them who had
a penchant for mathematics, coming as he did from that side of the
cadjan curtain which began at Elephant Pass and continued north,
had made some quick calculations on the back of an unutilised petty
After we had
each drowned what must have been something like six arracks- adulterated
or not it was too late to say- he was determined to go to the finance
ministry to convince the man holding the money bags what an excellent
scheme they had hit upon.
He didn't have
far to go in those days. We were in a hole in the wall in Canal
Row and the finance ministry was in the Old Secretariat building
across from the Army grounds at Echelon Square.
Now Hotel Galadari
and the World Trade Centre occupy the grounds where once we used
to watch the army on parade and uniformed policemen creep out of
a dilapidated building that housed some important branches of the
To cut a long
story short, as the chap at the rewrite desk used to say before
surgically removing several paragraphs of purple prose, my friend
from the north failed to reach the finance ministry. Not for want
of trying or even persuasion, rest assured. It was simply that the
Dickensian darkness that surrounded the steep wooden stairs of the
York Club was not entirely conducive to sudden and expeditious departures.
action in wanting to impress the finance minister brought the stairs
into collision with him and my northern friend catapulted into Canal
Row and was observed by passers-by emulating a corpus delicti, not
for the first either.
that had been hastily put together in one of those moods of national
ardour was really very simple. If the clocks were advanced an hour
in the mornings, the pubs and other watering holes that infest the
country would open an hour earlier. Putting the clocks back a couple
of hours in the evening would mean the pubs will remain open longer.
In those extra
hours each day the people of Sri Lanka will rise to their national
responsibility and duty and drink enough of the local brew- actually
any brew at hand- for the finance minister to be able to slash his
What is more
he could double his earnings by increasing the price of liquor as
finance ministers do annually.
before the idea could be further distilled-and no pun intended either-
President Junius Jayewardene's government in a moment of extreme
unction and a bow to its dharmishta policies decided to close Colombo's
watering holes at 2 p.m. and reopen them at 5 p.m.
wanted to turn the clock, metaphorically speaking, on public employees
who were thought to be spending their time at the bars drinking
instead of working at their desks like all good public servants
So the world-well
it was a rather small world then as American imperialism had yet
to take root- applauded and Junius Jayewardene's dharmishtaness
was firmly established.
But in their
own genius these advocates of closure forgot to factor in the native
cunning and perspicacity of the Common Man, a fault of politicians
who believe only they have been anointed with wisdom.
So from the
KKS-as the peons of British colonialism came to be known- to the
subject clerk and head clerk, they turned the clock back on the
false prophets of dharmishta. Instead of returning to work some
of them decided stay on inside when the pubs closed their doors
at 2 p.m. until the doors reopened at 5 p.m. and continue as usual.
Were President Jayewardene and his advisers putting the clock back,
metaphorically speaking, as some people thought? Or did the public
service do it?
or not, the other day I heard a gardener has been posted to one
of our embassies that does not have a garden. Some might say that
this is to put the clock back, that this denotes lack of accountability
like in the old days.
But who can
say it is not putting the clock forward? Maybe this gardener will
grow rows of trees creating a new Berlin Wall and some of our politicians
who cannot see the wood for the trees will feel so much at home
and will applaud the wisdom of those who would lead the public up
the garden path.