There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t! No, that’s an old joke… And not worthy of wasting your time… So without further ado, here are those two types. Those who a) don’t just stand there, but do something; and [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Hey, don’t just stand there – Do something!


There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t! No, that’s an old joke… And not worthy of wasting your time… So without further ado, here are those two types. Those who a) don’t just stand there, but do something; and b) don’t do anything – they just stand there!

The other day, on vacation with friends from overseas holidaying at home, I moseyed over to a nearby railway station to watch the trains go by. The cute little holiday bungalow by the sea we had booked was close enough to the local stopping-place for passenger trains on the coastal line. Thus many idyllic hours were spent ‘copping’ the numbers of passing M2, M4, M5, M6, M7, M8, M9 and M10 diesel-electrics. Some rare W1 and W3 diesel hydraulics slow-trotted down to the south. Even plebeian S9, S10, and S11 diesel-multiple-units and S8 suburban-transit short-trains quick-stepped along.

All the while we noted their delicious details for later regurgitation and contemplation. Somewhat akin to kine chewing cud, you’d say?

Speaking of cattle, there we were one day, my rail-friend and I, blissfully observing Bombardiers go by, when some other members of the bovine ilk dropped in to watch us watching the expresses rushing past. Sri Lankans don’t mind staring, and Sri Lankans who don’t stare don’t notice that they’re being stared at – so at first, we were oblivious to their curious glances. Then to enhance our sense of good fortune and the truth of God’s existence, the triple air horn of an M2’s klaxon sounded from round the bend.

The most enchanting beast in the railway’s stable was fast approaching our vantage point. We whipped out our cameras and steadied our shaking hands. It was only the loveliest, long-serving, not-lacking-in-romantic-appeal locomotive that was heaving to. Bliss it was that dawn to be alive, to be a rail-fan was very heaven!

Soon however there was to be a fly in the ointment, a rift in the lute, a cloud over our sunny horizon. We had been spotted spotting. And while they had let the many instances of our clicking and shuttering pass without comment for most of our hours there, these minions from the lowest circle of the inferno could not possibly allow us to capture a lovely GM-EMD G12 loco at their railway station.

A Class M2D General Motors EMD G12 locomotive - No. 628, appropriately named ‘Kankesanthurai’, having been imported in 1966 to haul cement-laden trains - here heading a mixed goods-passenger train on the coastal line in early 2013.

No sir, this would have to be the one that got away! To cut a long story short, we were informed in no uncertain terms that photography on the platform was strictly prohibited sans the express permission of the stationmaster.

We debated this… hotly, loudly, and for long enough to let our “Canadian lady” get away… for aficionados know that the M2s (some from as far back as 1954) were imported under the Colombo Plan. Disgruntled and disillusioned, we marched off in high dudgeon – but not before surreptitiously snapping another lovely lass along the way (see photo).

I suspect we not only cheesed off the High Cheeses among this sleepy southern hamlet’s station staff, but have also offended the sensibilities of certain Sri Lankan rail-fans? For there seems to be something of an unwritten code that snaps and videography must receive the prior approval of their Lordships the Mikados. Bear with me, dears. This is not to contest the etiquette of rail-fans around the country, but to make a larger point. About the tendency of some folks to stand there – and do nothing – until it is too late or lamentable. 

We would not have quibbled had we been told at the beginning of our blissful enterprise that there was an embargo on taking photographs. A host of other notices around the otherwise orderly and neat enough station informed us of a plethora of other rules. No smoking. No loitering. No littering. No entering the platform without a ticket. Etc, etc.

But not a word about photography. So what’s the issue? Security? (Hello, the war’s been over for yonks.) Copyright? (Tons of tourists take thousands of reels of footage daily without being interfered with.). Sheer cussedness? (No wonder one of our most precious national assets – the railway – is in a sad state of dereliction and neglect, a large segment of the country being unaware of the beauty and brightness of Sri Lankan trains, and what ills beset the management of the system.)

So here’s the larger point. If we are to make any progress as a civilisation (not simply a country or polity or nation-state), we can take being proactive to the next level. Too many people are waiting for someone to take the initiative, then curb their enthusiasm with bureaucratic bumf. This won’t do. Rome is burning, Nero is fiddling. Wake up and smell the diesels. There won’t be another decent train along anytime soon as long as you and I let the country go to blazes in a bullock cart while we idly watch and wonder how to put a spoke in the wheel of the juggernaut.

“Meanwhile, how many of us went up to Hulftsdorp Hill this week… to protest the death of democracy, to try and restore the right of patricians and plebeians alike to dissent and demonstrate against institutional injustice, to try and make a difference in the rapidly changing nature of our state?”

A final thought. There are three kinds of people. Those who make things happen, those who watch while things happen, and those who wonder what happened! Guess which category we would do well not to be in – or if we are in it now, not to stay there any longer? Don’t just stand there – do something! Because too many Sri Lankans are of the opposite persuasion: don’t just do something – stand there!

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