The Gossip Column

02nd June 1996

By Our Gossip Columnist

The general's knot in the dark

He has joined the ranks as one of ten most decorated military men in Sri Lanka.

General Leuke Bandara Anuruddha Ratwatte is a man of many parts.

He dons fatigues to move shoulder to shoulder with troops in the northern battlefront. The burst of artillery shells or the crackle of gunfire does not rattle him.

If that is in the battlefield, he is equally relaxed in the mess halls where the high and the mighty of the security establishment mix not only with each other but also cocktails of many sorts.

It was only one night last month he sang, "Aji thapara lahiya" to the pulsating rhythms of the Army band. The occasion was a dinner at the Senior Officers' mess at Army Headquarters to mark Lt. Gen. Rohan Daluwatte assuming office as Army Commander.

The formal occasion was over but, later that night, some of those near and dear to the new chief gathered around the band for a few night caps. Creating the right mood were heart rending golden oldies the band played.

Listening to General Ratwatte 's soothing serenade prompted many others to join in the chorus. Among them, the voice of Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva, came loud and clear as a group sang the late C. T. Fernando's "Ma Bala Kaley."

But our soldier turned politician decorated as General after the re-capture of Jaffna or Yapa Patuna received the most unkindest cut from boys in the Ceylon Electricity Board. No it's not over the power cut.

It came in the form of their deciding to go on strike on Wendesday, a day momentous personally to General Ratwatte. He was marrying his long time love Ms Ramani Imbuldeniya. The wedding was set in the family enclave in Mahaiyawa.

But Cabinet chores kept the General in Colombo for a good part of Wednesday. He took wings thereafter by a Sri Lanka Air Force helicopter to Kandy to enter into wedlock at a select ceremony. Alas, the next day (Thursday), the first after he married was also interrupted by reports of the CEB strike aggravating.

General Ratwatte flew in from Kandy to Colombo in an SLAF helicopter for a conference at the Defence Ministry. Couple of hours later, he was back at the helipad at Army Headquarters for the return journey to Kandy.

They make a good match - they're both always lit. That adage was certainly not for General Ratwatte. There was no light, for the whole country was plunged in darkness.

Who were among the lucky invitees? Some of the good General's close associates were unaware. Many did not even know that he had married.

But the wedding cake, 15 kilogrammes of good stuff, came from a five-star hotel in Colombo.

Was it airlifted to Kandy? Well, well. Your guess is as good as mine.

The third ear again

In the months after the People's Alliance victory at the 1994 general elections, an agitated Telecommunications Minister, the young Mangala Samaraweera and his close aides called a halt to wire taps.

Cable junctions where electronic devices located at a building in Maitland Crescent were linked were disconnected prompting wags in the intelligence community to label the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) as No Information Bureau.

There were pious assurances that the NIB would never be run like the way it was done during strongman Zerney Wijesuriya, dubbed as Sri Lanka's Edgar Hoover, for his dexterity in undercover operations and intelligence gathering.

But just one and half years after PA government in office, things seem to be going the wrong way.

It is not the intelligence community that is talking about frequent wire taps and the recent import of multi-million dollar, sophisticated electronic equipment for stealthier operations. There are many others in the know. They have been warned by some sleuths to keep off the telephones of some friends or associates.

Insiders say three of the most common types who have come under the ears of the snoopers frequently are journalists (including foreign correspondents), opposition politicians and some neighbouring diplomats (in that order).

Even the Devas seem helpless, says one wag. Of course the source of equipment remains a closely guarded secret. It's certainly not from Korea, says the wag.

Last week, a Telecom official who sopke to a journalist was warned by none other than a sleuth. He had been a third party listening to the conversation. The subject of course was the black out and impending strikes.

Fundamental rights and transparency? My foot.

Five-star hypocrisy

The total blackout and the resultant water shortage appears to have come as blessing in disguise for the star class hotels in Colombo already reeling under a crisis due to fall in occupancy.

Every single hotel was full. They had all offered a cut rate deal for those who wanted air conditioned comfort, running water on tap (hot or cold) all for a mere 50 US dollars a day plus taxes.

Duty mangers at these hotels, who are customarily entitled to a room for overnight stay, had to do without.

It was the well to do and the likes who filled in most of the star class hotels.

But that is not all. There were two Cabinet Ministers of the People's Alliance and their families too.

Whilst many who voted them were in the dark without water, the two Ministers who were among those who favoured putting the clock foward by one hour to save power, just could not bear the inconvenience.

PA one-liners

Neva Gilunath Ban Chune - translated loosely, that meant a dance session inside a ship even if it sank.

That little one-liner in Sinhala sums up Sri Lankan humour. Even during times of adversity, some of the jokes underscore a very interesting trait - the capacity of Sri Lankans to laugh at themselves. That too at their own expense.

The strike by CEB employees, the resultant countrywide power blackout, taps running dry and the multitude of other hardships did not deter them from coining a series of one-liners. Of course they were all in Sinhala.

One alluded to a campaign line by constituent parties of the People's Alliance during the 1994 General Elections. It exhorted the people to vote PA. "Anduren Eliyata" or from darkness to light they exhorted. There was an addition last week. "Anduren Eliyata. Eliyeng Andurata." From darkness to light. From light to darkness.

Another PA campaign line was to end "Dooshanaya and Bheeshanaya" or "corruption and terror." It has now been changed to "Dooshanaya and Bajanaya." The first, dooshanaya is of course corruption, which one wag claims, still continues. There may not be terror, the alleged State sponsored ones. The word has been replaced by Bajanaya or utensils. The utensils are required to carry whatever little water one could get. Of course, the coiner of that phrase has left out another facet. When talking of water, last week some were seen carrying water in polythene bags. A common scene in some buses.

One opposition Parliamentarian asked a PA colleague in a lighter vein whether he had done his ablutions? The answer was an angry grin.

There were many other one-liners. But they were not for print, not even if the censorship is lifted.

Dutiful Mother

It was parents day recently at CIS and Satellite too was expected to attend to find out how her children had performed in their studies. But young V was worried and had informed the mother to attend another day, as her arrival might inconvenience the parents of other children: What with security checks, and blocking of roads all and attend another day. She did.

Set out entirely for her, Mum came to school, with each subject teacher being given a specified time to meet her to explain to her, both her children's progress. Satellite is very interested in her children's progress and was quick to question all the subject teachers on which subject areas the children needed to be improved. Matters of state there might be, but when it comes to her children, her maternal concerns, naturally takes precedence.

Subsequently the O'Levels too are coming up soon and the CIS this time will be having their paper held at the BMICH.

Rao's googly

Narasimha Rao's only contribution to the Indian team's performance in the Wills World Cup was a congratulatory message to the team after they beat arch rival Pakistan in the quarter finals. But some low rung leaders of the BJP are trying to make it out that he had much more to do with the team's semi final loss to Sri Lanka. According to this incredible rumour, Pakistan's Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto feared a battle between the two countries if India were to go to Lahore to play the finals. Therefore, maintain these leaders, she contacted her counterpart in Delhi. And what was Rao's reaction? He, according to the story, assured Benazir that nothing of that sort would happen. The Indian captain was asked to go slow in the interests of the nation and that explains the amazing way in which the Indian top order collapsed. "We will appraise the people of this during our election campaign," one of the leaders had said emphatically.

Born Free

How lucky to be in the wilds of Kruuger National Park in South Africa when we yakkos are suffering in the concrete jungles of Lanka sans power, water, telephones, railways etc., etc.

Three VIP's were on the UL Safari jaunt to join a fourth who had already arrived ahead on official business.

The veldt beckoned. 'Born Free, Live Free and all that stuff. One of the group however was wise enough to admonish the others that this was not a time for relaxation with impending gloom at home.

So three of the group remained behind and the fourth in the group was asked to go. He was the tourist in the group anyway.

Going Bananas

All are equal before the power cuts, even if some are more equal, having generators. But there are moments when generators pack-up as it did in the House by the Diyawanna this week.

And so, those coming down the lifts had to step out into the dark lobby on the ground floor. But that was not the real danger.

Some bum of a guy with a wicked sense of humour had had some plantain skins obtained from the nearby cafeteria placed judiciously for the heavyweights coming out of the lifts.

Talk of occupational hazards!

Eat fried chicken

So there are long queues at the local KFC. A global citizen commented that it was like the heady old days when Mac Donald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken were inaugurated and Moscovites stepped over each other's toes to get a piece of the fast finger licking good American food.

Anyway, so prospered the Colombo KFC and then of course the water and power crisis hit, and the queues grew even longer. But a tyro at these things did not know what the acronym KFC meant. A wag was there however to help him out. KFC? 'Isn't it obvious,' he said. 'Kema nettang Frychicken Caapan.' So back to Marie Antoinette and revolutionary times.

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