It would have been doublespeak of a high order to have expressed our wishes for a Happy Christmas and Merry New Year last year and this year too for very obvious reasons. It is humbuggery — to use a current fashionable word among writers– we would have been told, had we done so. All Sri [...]

Sunday Times 2

Taking the spirit out of Christmas and life out of Sri Lankans


It would have been doublespeak of a high order to have expressed our wishes for a Happy Christmas and Merry New Year last year and this year too for very obvious reasons.

It is humbuggery — to use a current fashionable word among writers– we would have been told, had we done so.

All Sri Lankans, the majority Sinhaputras even in the politically powerful Ruhuna and other regions have suffered in the last two years of the Lotus Bud (Pohottuwa) government and of course the minorities for many more years before that last two years.

Animals too have been on the march. The much revered jumbos displaced from their traditional roaming grounds, are smashing up homes of the peasantry in search of paddy stored up in houses and some farmers are on hunger strike down Hambantota way protesting against marauding elephants displaced from their habitats by clearing of jungles for plantations and a cricket stadium.

The Covid virus disaster no doubt had a severe setback to the economies worldwide. But is there a country whose economy has been taken to a point of economic bankruptcy by the virus like Sri Lanka? In South Asia apart from Afghanistan which has been devastated for reasons other than Covid 19, is there a country like ours? Bangladesh was considered a ‘basketcase’ of South Asia a few decades ago and has helped Lanka with currency swaps amounting to millions of dollars.

Financial rating agencies have brought down Sri Lanka’s ratings to levels casting doubts on our ability to pay at least installments on the billion dollar foreign loans taken but our Central Bank governor , A.N. Cabraal with ‘cabinet rank’ status and a new salary of Rs 400,000 a month assures us that everything is hunky dory and is shaking the Treasury’s collection till with the few coins in it vigorously trying to make it boom like the Big Ben.

The other man trying to infuse some joy into this desolate depressing time is Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa.  There were reports of his trying out some newfangled vehicle on ‘beach sand racing’ or something like that in the sand filled Chinese Island called Port City and also trying out F-16 racing on deserted million-dollar highways of Hambantota which it was, supposed would by now be jam packed with traffic to and fro from the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Harbour.

The enthusiastic Sports Minister is certainly trying to do his job as well as jobs of other senior ministers according to the new portfolio assigned to him. He is now playing pandu having organised a Sri Lanka Cricket League with glorified names given to various towns in Lanka which we can’t remember. Names like Jaffna Jokers, Pettah Pickpockets, Kandyan Conspirators etc would have made the tournament more popular, we believe ,particularly with participating foreign cricketers who would not, know our ancient history.

In contrast to the two characters trying to infuse some joy into these despondent times, there are the killjoys, the fundamentalists, who see Christmas and the festive season as a period of paying penance and want to take even the little joy of a sip of liquor to boost spirits while sitting down to celebrate the occasion with double masks, social distancing not shaking hands or hugging and having deprived the little fun the people may have on that day by banning the sale of liquor in any part of the country.

Every country and every age has had such kill joys.  Bertrand Russell the greatest philosopher of the 20th century said of them: ‘The infliction of a cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to all moralists; that’s why they invented Hell.’

No one likes to be sozzled on Christmas day or any other day but it happens to some.  It is human to relax over drinks after a year of hard work and drudgery. Psychologists can explain all that.

To ban the simple joys of the common man and even of intellectuals, in reality, wipes out the joy not only of Christmas to Christians but nonbelievers who enjoy Christmas.

Should the greatest concern of Sri Lankans as the year ends be not taking a swipe from the bottle or other existential problems looming ahead? The problems faced by the people are many and we know it all. The basic problem is no money next year to pay debtors or buy food and sources of energy for our daily existence. And no one seems to know the solution.

Economists and Agriculture specialists say there may not be enough rice produced in Lanka to feed its populace of 20.1 million people next year. This, it is accepted, follows the overnight order banning imports of chemical fertilisers by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the decision made to use organic fertilisers for all varieties of crops including rice.

The ‘fertiliser story’ is well known and need not be repeated here. But the result has been that farmers who have been using chemical fertiliser for over five decades came out of their fields on the streets and have been demonstrating against the move for months and the Maha Crop — the main crop — has not been sown to any extent that could yield the usual harvest and there is bound to be a shortage of locally produced rice.

What does this prospect hold for the country in the coming year? A Happy New Year with no rice and little foreign currency to purchase it? Never mind the spirit of the festive season, the life of many Sri Lankans will be taken away not only by the Corona, Omicron or any other virus but by starvation — no food to eat.

(The writer is a former editor of The Sunday Island, The Island and consultant editor of the Sunday Leader.)

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