Plus - Letters to the Editor

Oh Sri Lanka, my banana republic!

The first time it happened was last August while two friends were visiting for their holidays and staying with me in Negombo. Someone came during the night, took my laptop with months of research work saved in it, took my friend’s money and some other gadgets.

The next morning, I went to the police in Negombo who, always very politely, made me wait for a couple of hours until they could file my complaint. They were not entirely unfamiliar with me, since I was with my neighbour who two days before had been there trying to report an ‘attempted’ break-in. Maybe now, being a ‘successful’ break-in, they would take some action.

But two weeks later, I found myself spending another morning at the Negombo Police station after the previous night, I woke up to find someone inside my room with a torch trying to open my closet. I, in an attempt at bravery, chased my assailant out of the house, but unfortunately he jumped into some bushes where I lost track of him.

Two months later, all the police officers in Negombo smiled at me and seemed happy to see me, although I was here, once again, to report that I came back from Colombo that Saturday in November to find all doors, windows, bars and locks broken, and that once again, presumably, the same person, had come in, this time taking time to browse through all my stuff and selectively take whatever appealed to him.

I lived most of my life in developing countries, so the connection between petty burglaries, complicity, police inefficiency and passivity comes to me as no surprise. However, Sri Lanka seems to have taken these phenomena and promoted it to a whole new level of inaction and denial.

I don’t write this purely out of anger and frustration but I write it because I think it is a good metaphor for the general state of affairs in the country, where only crooks and thugs seem to have the discipline and drive needed to excel at their activities.Don’t get me wrong, I really like this country. I have chosen it to be the location for my research. I have spent the last four years studying its various histories, its languages, its cultures. I will go back to my university soon and write a dissertation on it, and I plan to be talking and writing about Sri Lanka for the better part of the next two years at the very least. I like it, but I won’t miss it.

I grew up in Latin America where the concept of ‘banana republic’ was invented, but our Latin banana dictatorships of the seventies and eighties pale in the shadow of Sri Lanka 2010. Why has this country excelled at playing the banana republic game? I think that Sri Lanka seems to have managed to find a way to convince its population that it is better to bury all problems and put on a smiling face than to actually address the issues at hand.

The 30-year war that everyone celebrates by embarking in a sad, touristic victory parade to Jaffna, is still exhibited by the government as the cause of all national problems rather than the consequence of a blatantly unfair system that is still there today, healthier than ever. The corruption and violence that mar the entire country are just dismissed as inexistent or as an international campaign against the country. Meanwhile, as you watch and read the news, you see lots of seemingly proud Sri Lankans writing and talking about the achievements of the current administration, although the really proud Sri Lankans, I believe, are those embarrassed at the reality of the country and at the image it has in the world.

The government, yet again insists on showing the Sri Lankan as a happy-go-lucky islander, who likes the good life and smiles at everyone, instead of being proud of a culturally sophisticated, historically complex national subject. It is hard to believe that rather than building a nation on a shared, although diverse set of histories and traditions, the better option is to deny what makes the country rich and interesting in favour of an infantilized conception of the national self.

I am not from Sri Lanka, but I can relate to this country. I grew up in a place that, like Sri Lanka, was ravaged by colonialism and where, many years later, transnational capital feasted until its endless, rapacious ambition drained all resources. But I also come from a place where there is a new generation that feels embarrassed to see a rich nation tied to poverty and ignorance, that feels ashamed when conflicts cannot be solved peacefully, and where citizens are to be respected and listened to rather than nourished and patted on the back.

I wish Sri Lanka could develop a new generation that wants to be proud, not of its simplicity, but of its sophistication, not of an imaginary future of prosperity and development, but of a history of struggle and self-respect. Sri Lanka does not need people talking to each other, it needs people listening to each other, people caring for each other. Not until people start caring about their jobs, their neighbours, their problems and their education, will there be a chance of talking of a people caring for its nation.

Bernardo Brown PhD Candidate, Cornell University. Visiting Researcher, Colombo University.

Unduvap full moon beams

Unduvap full moon beams
Ever illuminate Sri Lanka,
Reminding us of that
Great Theri, Sanghamitta,
Who brought us
Two invaluable gifts –
The Order of Buddhist Nuns,
The Bhikkhuni Sasana,
And the Sacred Bo Sapling.

O, Great Theri,
You laid the foundation
For the rights of Lankan women;
We hail you as the
Pioneer of the Feminist Movement;
Lankan women are ever
Indebted, ever grateful to you
They pay homage to you.

The sacred Bo Sapling
Of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
Which sheltered Lord Buddha
During his Enlightenment
Is now a Grown Tree
Venerated by Buddhists
And those of other faiths.

Renowned Seats of Learning
Are named after you, they
Scintillate with your name.
I feel it a Blessing
To have had my education
Under your great name,

In Lanka history, you are
Honoured and sung;
Grateful Sri Lanka Buddhists
Pay homage to you
On Unduwap Full Moon Day!

Malini Hettige

For love of a dog

This is the story of a unique Christmas gift inspired by deep love, presented in 1841 by the ruler of the then world’s largest empire – the one on which the sun never sets.

The year was 1840. The handsome Prince Albert, just 21, travelled from Germany to England to marry Queen Victoria, his cousin, also 21. He was accompanied by his favourite dog, Eos, a female greyhound.

The queen, an animal lover, understood the prince’s deep attachment to the dog. The following year, she secretly commissioned the court painter Sir Edwin Landseer to do a portrait of Eos as a Christmas gift for Prince Albert. The prince was charmed by the portrait of Eos in profile.

The dog died a few years later, leaving the prince in a state of shock and depression. Eos was buried in Windsor. The bronze memorial statue on her tomb was modelled on Landseer’s portrait.

Weakened by an excess of royal duties, the prince succumbed to typhoid and died in 1861, aged 42. The queen was shattered. She once told him, “It is you who have entirely formed me.” She mourned him for the next 40 years of her life.

Asoka Weerakoon, Kandy

Will ‘development’ ever reach Mathugama?

We read and hear about development and more development, much of it concentrated in and around Hambantota. But what about places that have been in need of development for years, such as humble Mathugama, in the Kalutara district? The residents of Mathugama have been waiting for years for “development” to reach them.

We waited patiently for the LTTE war to end. The war is at last over, and we extend our most grateful thanks to all those who made peace possible. Now let’s turn to developing the country.

The roads from Aluthgama to Mathugama need attention. And the roads from Mathugama to Horana and Bulathsinhala and Baduraliya and other places are unusable. On rainy days these roads are so full of water, you could swim in them.

When we think of the deplorable conditions of the roads in and around Mathugama, we wonder what the “big shot” Ministers who represent Kalutara district are doing.

Sunil R. Wickremeratne, Mathugama

Waste of water at reservoirs can be avoided

As a retired structural engineer, I would like to comment on Ven. Galaboda Siri Gnanissara Thera’s timely article titled “Don’t let the water run down; Close the sluice gates on time”, (The Sunday Times, December 12).

When our ancient builders constructed reservoirs, they employed empirical methods. These reservoirs have successfully stood the test of time.

The overflowing Kala Wewa

When modern engineers design structures, they employ advanced technology and design them to withstand additional force or pressure. In other words, they are capable of withstanding higher water levels for a week or so without the structure failing or breaching.

This requires the engineers in charge to monitor the structure and the weather forecasts and carefully manage the stress levels of the structure so that nature’s bounty bestowed on us will not go waste.
King Parakramabahu who ordered that “not a drop of water shall escape to the sea” would turn in his grave, if he knew the colossal waste of this precious resource. What took years to accumulate is disposed of in a few days. Nations have gone to war for water which is becoming rarer by the day with global warming becoming more and more a reality while our forest reserves are being chopped down by those who only live for today.

It is alleged that officers responsible for opening these sluice gates give orders without even visiting the reservoirs after their underlings report the rising water levels. The sluice gates are opened as a knee-jerk reaction after making sure that the TV cameras are on the scene.

Contrast this practice with what is being adopted in China, a rising superpower. Chinese engineers and weather forecasters work as a team, calculate the expected surge in the water table and have strain gauges and other instruments in place before they decide to release the water largely to relieve the pressure.

We are blessed that we do not have earthquakes or hurricanes affecting the stability of these structures. The only threat to our structures is the rising water table but, in my opinion, they are quite capable of handling a temporary stress overload for a few days. I hope the minister in charge would take notice. I thank the venerable monk for bringing this to the notice of the general public.

Retired engineer

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