The Rajpal Abeynayake Column                     By Rajpal Abeynayake  

Who is in shock in London?
LONDON: Will the Sri Lankan restaurant in Lewisham have to close down if there is a return to war in Sri Lanka, and will Vasan the boy from Jaffna who works there have to get back home? My friend Farouk, a BBC correspondent who works in London tells me first that 'the LTTE has pulled out of peace talks.' He is pulling my leg I think, but he swears he heard it over BBC. The news shatters the beer-induced state of lightness I've been feeling momentarily in a North London pub.

But Farouk is from South Africa. He has seen peace brinkmanship better than me. "Countless were the times the ANC led by Mandela pulled out of the peace process in South Africa," he says, and assures me that Sri Lanka will not go back to war. "When the talks broke down in South Africa, the chief negotiators were exchanging secret notes, and it is all history now and written down in the books."

Seems like the Sri Lankan peace process has come to a stage where foreigners, South Africans for instance, can make accurate predictions about where it will all go from here. Of course London will have 'buth curry' for a long time to come - and long as there are pubs in North London there will be ala theldala and Sri Lankan buffet in Lewisham. The LTTE's temporary pullout from talks does not get even honourable mention here in the British newspapers.

But obviously they are discussing Prabhakaran over the Lewisham rice and curry diet. People here, black, white or yellow, think there is a volcano in Sri Lankan food -- but they don't know the volcano brewing in the minds of the Sri Lankans working here, and the largely Sri Lankan clientele. Certainly, Prabhakaran is accountable to these people who work in the Sri Lankan restaurants all over Europe, not forgetting the Tamil doctors and all other top order professionals, too, in this part of the world. The fate of the Tamil Tigers movement, will it be decided therefore in Kilinochchi, or closer to Waterloo and London Bridge?

Not that the ala theldala and the chicken curry are telling. It will all be decided by the kind of compact that has been made between Prabhakaran and those who work and send him money from London, Geneva or wherever it may be in these fast paced Western capitals. So it is rather comic that from among these large statues of the likes of Michael Faraday and Emeline Pankhurst that are littered along either side of the Thames, that there are probably still men who lurk among them, and discuss whether it will be peace or war in that former colony which gave some tropical lustre to the overblown gravitas of what used to be the British empire.

But there is no message from some bewigged potentate to the governor of Sri Lanka for a decision on whether there is going to be war or peace in Sri Lanka. Instead, Tamils who gave money to Prabhakaran's movement discuss whether the man must be told to push for Eelam at all costs, or whether he must be told that brothers and sisters from Lewisham should be able to go on and enjoy a few months in Manipay?

In London these decisions are made with nonchalance, or so I think, even though they may have panic proportion reactions in Colombo. But then, decisions are always nonchalant here, whether it is Lankans deciding on whether war should continue in Jaffna, or whether it is Tony Blair deciding whether there should be an indecent assault on the hapless people of Iraq.

There are a few messages in Westminster, which proclaim, to largely ignoring passers-by that 'we are ashamed to be British.' Apart from these placards, Londoners are engrossed in the latest features on their Nokia phones, and the only kind of fighting that will interest them is football hooliganism or the lack of it. This is post-modern London, and Winston Churchill who said he shall not preside over the dissolution of the British empire, is today only a statue, that is espied from a humongously large Ferris wheel called London Eye that somehow makes London quite plastic despite the many faces of Westminster that has the word 'intimidation' written all over it.

But is intimidation the word then? Back, then, the Foreign Office intimidated the colonies with edicts to governors whose names have ended up all over Colombo's present day road signs. Today, the Tamil diaspora intimidates Prabhakaran, from near to where Churchill called Gandhi a half naked Fakir close to Whitehall. Or does the Tamil diaspora really intimidate Prabha from London? Oh no, I think, from now on, I am going to write in Sinhalese….

My friend Farouk tells me something about London's upper crust, and how confused they are -- now particularly, when a London pastry and bread franchise has been named Upper Crust too in a fit of inspiration. Even in this hugely multi-cultural London, the rest of the world exists to give some once-in-a-while organic respite to the stone concrete cold, glitter and glamour of postmodern London. It is a class-conscious society, and among the whites, they are supposed to slot a fellow white person in a class compartment, exactly two minutes after he opens his mouth and says a word. It is a crisp decision, nothing organic about it.

But Sri Lankans in London know what organic is - it is in their rice and curry and rasam. If they are longing to tell Prabhakaran if there should be war or peace in Sri Lanka - after all it is they who sent the money for it -- let that decision be an organic one, that takes into account life, and not a decision that takes into account the abstractions of a London in love with its granite past, and plastic + electronic present….

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