Most of us have heard of that English idiom “snake in the grass”. You don’t have to go back to 37 BC and be a reader of the Roman poet Virgil to be acquainted with this metaphor. Surely there are more snakes in the grass today than Virgil could have imagined. It is not because [...]


And now a snake in the house


Most of us have heard of that English idiom "snake in the grass". You don't have to go back to 37 BC and be a reader of the Roman poet Virgil to be acquainted with this metaphor.

Surely there are more snakes in the grass today than Virgil could have imagined. It is not because there is more grass or more people. It is simply that treachery is more widely practised today than in the days when Julius Caesar's friends turned round on him one fine afternoon and stabbed Caesar in the back right there on the senate floor. Still he had enough time to say "Et tu Brute" which subsequently appeared in collections of famous last words.

A mapila has worked its way into the parliament building

It seems even the senate where laws were made in the old days in Rome was not sacrosanct. Much like our own law-making institution called parliament where the sovereignty of the people reside, or so experts in constitution making and breaking tell us.
Thankfully nobody in our august assembly (okay, okay let it go) has been stabbed in the back -- literally I mean -- though several pugilistically-inclined have displayed their prowess now and then inside the chamber and occasionally deposited one or two of their fellow representatives in hospital or seeking some medical treatment.

How quickly they get medical attention would depend on whether paediatric Padeniya and his compadres are working and the big chief is not out there in the streets rallying his 'harm' troopers as Hitler did with his storm troopers, declaring no medicine today for the suffering people.

Why, our great assembly has even seen law makers, law breakers and other assorted types turn the chamber floor into an instant dining area where they have feasted on fried rice and curried chicken and other culinary delights and later let their full-filled selves spend a night on the chamber floor.

While in some legislatures around the world the representatives of the people end up in fisticuffs and pandemonium not only reigns but pours, in our own assembly such antics are rare though outbursts of chaos as a political tactic is not ruled out.

But that does not mean the art of political back-stabbing- frankly even the front is not safe - has not been skillfully cultivated. Such is the state of the art today that snakes from the grass are making their entry into the sanctum sanctorum where the elected, rejected but selected and dejected claim a place by the grace of the people Just a few days back I read that a snake had crept, or should it be slithered, into the House. Well, the story goes that this poisonous reptile called a cat snake or mapila in Sinhala and poonai pambu in Tamil had worked its way into Committee Room 1 on the ground floor of the parliament building.

The snake had been discovered by the cleaning staff in a corner of the committee room. Personally one can quite understand why the snake chose to hide itself in a corner. It would not be wrong to assume that it did not want the morally upright to think that it has been associating with the two-legged kind that often occupy the room.

According to the news report this particular committee room is used by ministers and public officials. See what I mean. Even the mapila seemed to be concerned about who it associates with given the stories that have spread far and wide on the political shenanigans in the house by the oya and the conduct of our politicians outside the House too. Whatever happened to that much-touted Code of Conduct for MPs?

Anyway the conscientious cleaning staff is said to have immediately alerted the House Keeping Department which had taken action to remove the snake. The speed at which all this happened might well be a record for this parliament. Believe me speed is not something generally associated with parliamentary procedure.

See how long it took Provincial Council and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha to steer the legislation necessary for the revamped local elections. When they will now be held neither heaven nor Minister Musthapha appears to know.

Now the poor chap is being bombarded with no confidence motions and stories abound that some in the so-called Unity Government are sharpening their knives. Even his own side does not seem averse to sticking the knives in his back - metaphorically speaking of course.

But any genuine snake in the grass is sure to applaud such meticulous preparations for ending Musthapha's suffering though it would not surprise any but the politically naïve if Minister Musthapha's political boss is patting the chap on the back for keeping his end up despite the barrage of bouncers bowled at him, if one might change metaphors.

Meanwhile one must admire the parliament staff for expeditiously evicting the said mapila from its premises. But there is no mention of what the staff did with the snake which should be a matter of concern to any genuine herpetologist.

One can well understand the parliament staff wanting to keep the premises free of wandering snakes in case one or more of our honest and upright representatives of the people is poisoned by a slithering reptile.

Imagine what a great loss it would be to the nation. A people's representative working with such energy and enthusiasm to uplift the down-trodden is bitten by an intruding mapila that had no business to be there anyway. What a tragedy it would be for democracy and for yahapalanaya whose palanaya, some say, is hardly yaha.
In a way one cannot blame the parliament staff for wanting to dispose of the snake in whatever way it did. After all the duty of the house keeping staff is to keep the premises spick and span like a penthouse at the Monarch Residencies and other up- market apartments where one can rest one's weary head far from the boisterous hustle and bustle of the Pettah market place.

It would not surprise anyone at all if a learned representative of the people dressed in nationalist garb urges the honourable Speaker to appoint a committee to inquire into the circumstances in which a poisonous snake made its way into a committee room used by ministers.

If that vociferous MP Wimal Weerawansa has his way he might well accuse the mapila of a breach of privilege. Surely he cannot forget the snakes in the grass in his political career.

It is surely an important matter unlike some of the ludicrous issues raised on the floor of the House. Who really knows whether the mapila was after a particular minister or a state official? Or did somebody introduce the poisonous snake in the hope that it will 'get' a bombastic politician.

Otherwise why would it hide in a committee room frequented by the dozens of worthies that comprise one of the biggest, if not the biggest, cabinet of ministers in the world.

Some of you might be aware of an old story about the mapila. Whether an old wives' tale or a 24-carat truth is hard to say since one does not keep company with poisonous snakes - at least not ones without two legs.
But as children we used to be told that if one kills a mapila seven others of the same kind will appear and track the killer down. Then it will be kaput for anyone who harmed the snake.

There have been previous instances when snakes have been found in parliament. Whether they were venomous or not one would not know, and there is no point dipping into the Hansard which records nothing but the wise words of our legislators.

While cobras and vipers have been spotted especially when the area was cleared to build this architectural maze which accommodates the collective wisdom of the Sri Lankan nation, some say that it later became home to depath nayas as they are locally called. Apparently they have two heads and could go in either direction without having to do a u-turn.

In political terms it could be a rather messy job. It is said that two heads are better than one. Not in this case. If the two-heads decide to go in opposite directions like our yahapalanites it would be quite a task to fathom where it wants to go.

Take for instance some politicians who are not sure on which side they want to be when all the dirt that is supposed to be dug up hits the fan. If the stories circulating in the media - some would dismiss this as fake news - are true then there are some of our GCE 'O' level failed law makers ready to go in either direction, depending on what more they can scrape out of this political existence.

Meanwhile it has emerged at the Commission of Inquiry into the Bond affair that some legislators have been in contact with Bond wonder boy Arjun Aloysius. While those like the UNP's Sujeewa Senasinghe had contacted Arjun Aloysius, purely to get information for a book he says he was researching some others who seem to have had conversations with the said Aloysius while serving as members of COPE will have their own stories to tell.
But a real depath naya phenomenon was revealed at a recent press conference featuring two cabinet spokesmen Rajitha Senaratne and Dayasiri Jayasekera. Asked by reporters about the telephone calls between Aloysius and legislators some of them COPE members, Dayasiri Jayasekera admitted that this was an issue. "Yes of course there is an issue" he is reported to have unequivocally intimated that such conduct by the MPs was reprehensible.
But his co-spokesman, Rajith Senaratne differed sharply. He found nothing wrong with all this. In fact he went on to say that it is COPE members who should speak to Aloysius which is a curious thing to say. If COPE members wish to speak to him they should do so at a COPE meeting in the presence of other members not carry out private conversations instead of at a scheduled meeting.

What Senaratne suggests is analogous to a judge making a private call to an accused to discuss the case.
In the meantime trouble is brewing in the Unity Government with the coalition allies taking pot shots at each other from behind as well as from the front. Given the emerging tragi-comedy and the nature of our politics it would not be entirely inappropriate to slightly amend Shakespeare's lines in King Lear to read "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless ally".

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