Had the five UNP MPs who made a scheduled visit to view the Hambantota Port last week remembered to have stashed a rash of bacon or a string of sausages in their pockets, it would have been the complete traditional English breakfast. But then, the morning repast was not on their agenda even though it [...]


Stoned UNP wolf down Southern brunch


Had the five UNP MPs who made a scheduled visit to view the Hambantota Port last week remembered to have stashed a rash of bacon or a string of sausages in their pockets, it would have been the complete traditional English breakfast.

But then, the morning repast was not on their agenda even though it was definitely on the planned menu of the Hambantota welcoming committee who had gathered to meet the honoured guests from Colombo, with eggs and tomatoes to be generously served as the surprise dish of the day.

But, alas, those they thought had come to pray had, instead, come to scoff.

On that momentous April 17th morning, deep in the southern heart of the fatherland, instead of displaying the proper etiquette and keeping a stiff upper lip and playing cricket by the visitors’ rule book, the UNP’s now Famous Five had to go and put their foot in it, by comparing the Magam Port, the pinnacle of Lanka’s floating dreams, to an oversized swimming pool and Mattala, the busy hub of international aviation, to a museum. In their petulant envy, they remained blind to the miracle of prosperity that has dawned on this Asian wonderland and did not realise that, south of the border, even cocks have now begun to lay eggs.

Positively enough, wouldn’t you say, for any self-respecting Lankan citizen to erupt in patriotic anger with ripened tomato, to blaze in nationalistic fury with a surfeit of eggs and, in a moment of political myopia to even grab the nearest gun — toy, though it was later said to be?

Luckily for the UNP MPs there was a pistol packing guardian angel at hand who had providentially manifested itself in the dark portly form of Hambantota’s First Citizen, His Worship the Lord Mayor, Eraj Fernando. As the crowd watched and wondered whether it was a bird, whether it was a plane they realised no, it was Super Mayor who was dashing in to save the endangered UNP MPs in their moment of peril; and they witnessed Mr. Fernando, by remarkable foresight, extraordinary presence of mind and brilliant crowd controlling inspirational gifts, preventing singlehanded the massacre of the sightseeing UNP members.

The new sheriff in town recalling his heroic hour, said, “I prevented public outrage that was growing fast into an outright attack on touring UNP parliamentarians at the Hambantota harbour. I saw the parliamentarians, among one of them my friend MP Ajith Perera, to safety, and away from the site, I even greeted them for the New Year.”

Though Mr. Perera was to state that he never had known Mr. Fernando before, he would no doubt regard him as a close acquaintance of his now, especially after his close encounter with the ruling kind. One who, after playing host extraordinaire, had the ingrained cultural ethos to be aware that it was the Avurudhu season when goodwill and amity are called for; and, displaying not one kokis crumb of political enmity, even had the fulsomeness of heart to wish him and the visiting UNP delegates a suba aluth avuruddhak. Nice touch. Had it not been for the melee, no doubt, the traditional blessing would have been accompanied by the customary sheaf of bulath.

Let the watching world take note that as long as there are civic conscious elected officials of the calibre of the Hambantota Mayor, a southern gentleman to his gun wielding finger tips — the man who can ruffle UNP riffraff and still keep his virtue — any Navi Pillay ‘nosey parker’ international committee of inquiry, who may decide to visit Lanka in the near future, need not unduly fret about being met by a stony reception.

As any good master cook worth his home grown and ground spices will tell you, one cannot make a piquant tomato omelet without breaking a few eggs and adding a dash of peppery pebbles to give it a fiery flavour; and, as far as the rain of stones that fell on the UNP MPs is concerned, stones must be thrown to shoo away the birds above that fly over the cuckoo’s nest, lest their nasty droppings besmirch the guests’ dress when they are pleasantly tucking into an outdoor spot of brunch watching live a wild western skit enacted on the streets in broad daylight. It’s all part and parcel of the full options southern hospitality special package given gratis.

Interestingly enough the incident revealed a hitherto unknown fact. Apparently, according to Mr. Fernando, the power drunk members of the UNP have been showing their muscle on southern streets and have been bullying, harassing, and intimidating the public right in the very heartland of the SLFP. The Hambantota Mayor charged: “The masses in the Hambantota district have been angered by the UNP for a long time for various acts committed by them in the past to intimidate, harass and bully the public in that district. The incident was the result of public outrage that grew at UNP MPs.”

That explains it all. Clear as crystal. No wonder, in the days following the incident, the Police, who had evidently taken Kipling’s ‘If’ to heart and stood smiling in the face of fracas after having outsourced their law enforcement duties to the port city’s municipal father, turned the focus of their investigation upon the UNP members and probed the mystery of their missing body guards, questioning each one of the MPs at length and perusing their Hambantota avurudhu holiday video for hours on end.

Ten days after the event, they are still replaying the video to decide whether or not to present the Hambantota Mayor a pair of cuff links as a reward for his inspired actions. Their inordinate delay in coming to a decision is attributed to the high standards required, the stringency of the criteria set and the complexities involved in the evaluation process in determining the merits or the demerits of the proposed recipient of the nation’s tribute, lest vile, wild allegations of favoritism are recklessly cast in their direction.

So its all’s well that ends well. A storm in a tea cup. Much ado about nothing. And as Southern Provincial Council Chairman Somawansa Kodagoda said, ‘no one received injuries.’ This was the same soul satisfying response the UPFA coalition partner Jathika Hela Urumaya Secretary Udaya Gammanpilla expressed at a news conference last week when he commented on recent Bodu Bala attacks on Muslims and a Sinhala Buddhist monk and sought to gloss over it on the basis that “No one has got hurt.”

So it’s okay then, I suppose. Sorry, false alarm. Nothing to get your pants in a twist. Go back to sleep. The shooting hasn’t started, STILL. No bodies arriving at the morgue, YET.

Talking about shooting, one thing bothers me. The Hambantota Mayor’s first reaction to news reports that he was brandishing a gun was to issue a denial. When confronted with photographic evidence which showed him wielding one he did not dismiss it with today’s common explanation — the one now conveniently used by failed ‘wanna be’ beauty queens now turned politicians to explain away their revealing bikini clad photographs of their indiscreet past — that computer technology has been used to doctor it. He merely said “It was a toy gun”

In the absence of first hand evidence to determine the true nature of his weapon, he must be accorded the benefit of doubt even though it will not carry water in a court of law. But for the present purpose it will have to do. After all, the word of His Worship the Mayor must be accepted as truth and nothing but the truth. But his explanation as to how he came to be in possession of it is what gives me the creeps, especially since Eraj Fernando never lies. He says, “I borrowed it from one of the guards at the Hambantota Port.”

Believe it or not, isn’t that the most alarming factor to emerge from this whole inauspicious avurudu episode? That Lanka’s newly built mega Magam port costing billions of dollars, one of the most strategic locations in the land and deemed a grade one high security zone heavily fortified, is protected by guards carrying toy water pistols?

What next? Strip searches for religious tattoos?


Though born and bred in the Christian faith in her native England, 37-year-old Naomi Coleman embraced Buddhism with all the exuberant ardour of one converted to its sublime philosophy through conviction and not by the accident of birth.

As a practising Buddhist, who also meditates, she took Buddhism to her heart and in an act of fervent adoration tattooed on her right arm the image of the meditating Buddha serenely seated on a pink lotus triumphing evil, even as some Christians have the image of Christ on the Cross tattooed on their bodies.

Trammelled faith: Tattoo ban for Naomi

Rightly or wrongly, she did it out of the greatest veneration and not out of any disrespect. Desecration was furthest from her mind when she took that indelible step.

On Tuesday, after visiting the land of the Buddha, India, she landed at the Bandaranaike International Airport where she was arrested by a policeman in civvies. In his eyes, the Buddha image, even though it was not distorted by any stretch of imagination, tattooed on her white skin was sacrilegious and amounted to an act designed to desecrate Buddhism in its adopted land of Lanka. On Thursday, after having spent two days in a detention centre, she was deported.

“It was a hellish experience, I was kept with criminals, I cried. I was very afraid. I am a practising Buddhist and meditate. That is why I have the tattoo — not out of disrespect for Buddhism. I have been to Sri Lanka twice before and to Buddhist countries like Cambodia and Thailand but this is the first time I’ve ever experienced this sort of treatment or behaviour,” she told the Daily Mirror.

Depending on their spiritual developments, Buddhists have different levels of practising the noble philosophy. Some believe that observing the five precepts, which actually predates the Buddha, make them good Buddhists. Some advance beyond this point and begin to meditate on the four sublime states, namely, loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, andequanimity. Some approach it through the intellect. Some through the heart, through all-encompassing faith. Naomi Coleman chose faith. 

It was faith that made her tattoo the image of the Buddha, just like it is faith that makes some wear chains around their necks with the image of the Buddha engraved on metal pendants, touching their skin, close to their heart. Both may do it as a form of protection and to identify themselves as Buddhists even as people customarily tie ‘pirith nool’ around their wrists. Naomi went one step further and pinned her faith on her skin to show she is Buddhist to the core, in both mind and body.

The police most possibly arrested her under the offence of desecrating religion. But who is to decide what sacrilege is and what is not. In the present case the image of the Buddha tattooed conforms to the conventional depiction of Buddha found in all temples of the land. But one policeman, not even in uniform, at the BIA found it indecent and an insult to Buddhism. From a lowly cop on the beat whose mundane duties were confined to ensuring that tourists were not harassed or their belongings stolen while waiting for their transport, he was suddenly transformed to the exalted status of the nation’s’ religious censor, having to arbitrarily decide what is acceptable and what is profane without any guidelines, depending solely on his own narrow police perception.

With the deportation of Naomi Coleman, the law officials may probably think the problem has flown away with her. But has it?

The detection that Naomi was having a Buddha image tattooed on her upper right arm was only possible in this instance because she was wearing a sleeveless blouse. Had she been wearing a half sleeve dress, she may well be meditating today before the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya and worshiping the many Buddhist shrines in Lanka.

After having demonstrated their fervent devotion to duty and, given their proven track record, their obvious determination to ensure the law is enforced uniformly, the problem that faces the police now, is how on earth they are going to detect people wearing ‘contraband’ tattoos that may possibly denigrate not only Buddhism but all other religions as well? And this does not apply only to tourists but extends to all Lankan citizens too.

As a general rule, it is an offence to possess prohibited goods whether revealed or concealed. Suspicion that a person maybe in possession of such banned items gives rise to the right to subject the person to a body search. Now it seems the same goes for tattoos. Whether flaunted or secreted?

No sniffer dogs can smell it, no sophisticated technology can detect it, no x-ray vision spectacles can spot it. The only possible means of ensuring that the land is free of all possible desecrating tattoo carrying foreigners and locals is to subject each and every one to a strip search, including the citizens who have never gone abroad but still roam the roads. For who knows what terrible tattoos they may be concealing under their shirts, frocks, sarongs or saris?

Naomi’s case is one that should have been treated with greater understanding. The greatest disservice Lanka can do to Buddhism is to mindlessly enforce Taliban regulations that stifle Buddhism’s free spirit and turn off seekers of the truth from the opportunity to experience firsthand the way Buddhism is practised. It is not enough for this nation to proudly boast that it has been the chief protector of Buddhism in the past. It must show, through enlightened practice of Buddhist tenets, it still retains the fertile soil of tolerance without trammel that makes Buddhism’s bloom and sublimity thrive even in the present.

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