Mirror Magazine

23rd November 1997

Sandra (Michaela) Herman appears on our Mirror back
cover this week. Sandra's hair and make-up were by
Shimi Perera of Ramani Fernando Salons. She was
photographed by Sanjaya vithana.



by Afdhel Aziz

Yesterday I got conned for being Sri Lankan. I was walking down Tottenham Court Road, minding my own business when all of a sudden this chap comes up to me and says in Sinhalese 'Excuse me are you Sri Lankan ?" Taken aback, I answer yes and he strikes up a conversation with me. He gave his name as Jayantha from Ilford and spun some long story about just being dropped off by someone from the Home Office, where he had been trying to get an extension for his visa. After being dropped off in the middle of London he realised that he had no money and had started walking home to Ilford - which would take approximately six or seven hours. He also claimed that he hadn't eaten all day, was starving and needed some money for a travelcard. All this took place in just under a minute. Caught between my usual reaction to conmen in London (which is to administer a sharp kick between the shoulderblades ) and my feeling for a fellow countryman, I forked over the three quid and he left me with thanks and blessings.

Still bemused I reflect on how he managed to single me out as a Sri Lankan from amongst all the crowd out shopping, and so comprehensively sucker me out of my hard earned cash. It takes real talent to do that you know - so if you're ever in London and someone approaches you with a similar sob story, you have been warned. In his haste he somehow forgot to give me any assurance of returning the money - so Jayantha from Ilford, if you are reading this, send three pounds, c/o Our Man in London, The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka. Or else........Popped over to Bush House, the headquarters of the BBC World Service to go behind the scenes of their Sinhala and Tamil programmes, which was a fascinating experience.

Every day at 3:15 GMT, the two programmes go out back to back for half an hour each, with news, current affairs, science and other magazine programmes and a mailbag, to be heard by expatriate Sri Lankans all over the world. (The SLBC Sinhala Service has also started re-broadcasting the news every evening in Sri Lanka ) The teams are made up of seasoned Sinhala and Tamil journalists who work side by side in the same office, exchanging banter and plastic cups as they work to create the daily shows. Well worn copies of bilingual dictionaries lie around the desks, as do political caricatures, vernacular newspapers and spools of edited tape, filled with soundbites and reports from Colombo.

The producer of the Sinhala language show talked to me about how popular the show is. "Apparently there are housemaids in the Middle East who get someone to tune in the world service and then don't listen to anything else." The Tamil section in particular, its listenership swollen by the Indian Tamil population gets hundreds of thousands of letters a year from listeners as far afield as Toronto, Paris, Sydney and the Netherlands. Possessed of an admirably healthy skepticism they treat official government PR machinations and LTTE Press releases with the same careful disdain, preferring to rely on professional journalists who share the same ideals of independence and objectivity.

I ask Priyath about the supposed pro-Tamil bias of the BBC. He dismisses the accusations. "The BBC is open to everyone, and there is no political agenda foisted on us. In fact, last month I was in Colombo recruiting editors for the Sinhala programme and I interviewed Tamil journalists as well - and if they had been the best candidates I would have hired them." Operating with a staff of about ten people each, the team competently prepares and presents a show which has a laid-back feel which belies the amount of work that has gone into each section.

Linking together Sri Lankans around the world every day is no mean feat - but one which the journalists at the World Service seem to do with efficiency and a sense of pride that does them credit...........

As the Christmas decorations get hoisted up already and Oxford Street resounds to ornate lights and endless renditions of 'Deck the halls with boughs of Holly' - Forget the Spice Girls, the coolest teenage sensations around this year are the Teletubbies. Four furry creatures of indeterminate age, race or sex, blessed with names like La La and Po and with televisions embedded in their tummies, they are the ultimate post-modern, information society icons.

Infantile, brilliantly monosyllabic in a soundbite driven age, they have captured the imaginations of kids and teenagers all over the country, with Teletbubbies dolls flying out of toy stores for this Christmas, faster than you can say Buzz Light-year. They are rumoured to be releasing a Christmas single (heaven help us all) Posters of the Furry Foursome adorn students walls - apparently their vocabulary (which consists of saying their names in varying tones ) is quite similar to that of the average undergraduate who has had a dozen pints of lager too many.

If this insult to intelligence is difficult enough to stomach (excuse the pun), then how about the current number one single in the UK Top 20 - "The Ken and Barbie Song", which is a techno tune about the supposed adventures of a Barbie doll sung in a cheesy Euro-rap style, with squealing girlie vocals. (Mattel the owners of Barbie are suing and one hopes that the makers of the song lose their pants in the process). Why is Britain so obsessed with novelty pop acts ? Perhaps it's an escape from the grim reality of those other omnipresent Teletubbies one can't get away from - Tony Blair and the New Labour cabinet..............

Let them enjoy their childhood

Dear DaughterMy darling daughter,

Yesterday I was amazed when Ashanthi came complaining that her little daughter had not done well in the class examination. "Her report is so bad," she said. I inquired of the marks she had got and was suprised when Ashanthi said "Oh they are all in the 80s but that's not good enough!"

Honestly, daughter are we trying to create geniuses - A little child of ten years old is forced to go in for tuition classes and pressurised by the parents to study - "Come first in class."

Added to which the little one has volumes of home work, and the teachers complain "he can do much better if he only tries."

I really wonder what you would have done if I had nagged you to study so much when you were a child - you would have missed much of life for your day would have been filled with only book work. I think, daughter, both the education authorities who are making such syllabuses and the parents should realize that the period of childhood is so limited. Let the child be a child, enjoy, play, run around, see the world he lives in. Then surely parents should not try to pressurise him to be the first in the class.

It is sad, daughter, that the competitiveness of the adult world is being reflected in the lives of the young - let them enjoy their childhood for after all they will have enough problems when they are older.

So, daughter, when you have a little one of your own, let him have time to play, "feel the rain on his face and the wind in his fair, and gaze in wonder at the sky."


The storms of change

We had all congre gated at chez Ditto. It was his birthday and this was the almost ritualistic gathering. We sat around in his room talking. The conversation subject-hopped like a CD on permanent skip/search.

The conversation soon got on to the subject of Dinesh. "Did you hear?" asked Ditto. "He's gone abroad." I replied that I hadn't heard. "He left last week."

"Remember the time he went go-karting and burnt his hand on the engine while driving?" asked Chuck laughing. All of us except Keshan knew the story and laughed along. Keshan was puzzled. "But the engine is behind the driver's seat. How can you burn your hand on the engine?" he asked. "Hey, this is Dinesh we're taking about." Chuck offered as explanation. "Besides, it wasn't his engine that he burnt his hand on." "He burnt his hand on someone else's engine?" Keshan was incredulous, "How the hell did he manage that?"

"He was giving hand signals."

"He is just too thick" said Dilbert joining the conversation. "If he were half as thick he'd be too thick," said Keshan. Chuck looked puzzled. "If he was two thick wouldn't half that be one thick? Unless of course you mean half thick in which case it would be a quarter of two thick. Because a quarter of one would be one-eight of two and that wouldn't be thick at all. "He deftly dodged the heavy book Ditto threw at his head.

"Dinesh is stupid," pronounced Dilbert, We all agreed that this conclusion had been reached not out of cruelty towards him but out of fairness to the rest of mankind.

Dinesh had been a part of my little group of friends since kindergarten. We had seen each other grow up. Our parents knew each other and we were friends by habit.

When we were all kids we played games together. We made up our own rules for these games, but everyone knew then and played by them. But as we got older and started playing different games with funny names like "Responsibility", "Honour" and "Girl", the rules suddenly changed. We soon discovered that we all had different rules by which we played these games. We didn't fully realise it then. But we were changing.

This was a very trying time for friendship. We were discovering that our friends were different from us. They had different tastes, values and expectations.

As we got older and as our conversations changed along with our interests, Dinesh participated less and less in them. He was always the one who said something wrong and the last to get the jokes. He laughed on cue and nodded at the right times but no longer tried talking. To us it seemed as though he had suddenly gone stupid.

We felt uncomfortable having him around and he felt uncomfortable around us, but none of us ever admitted it or ever let on. We carried on as if nothing had changed.

What an ordeal it must have been for him - wanting to participate in conversation with his oldest friends and being afraid to say a word thinking that he would be ridiculed or thought of as stupid.

But Dinesh had not changed, we had. We were angry with him because he had not changed with us. It frustrates us that he was no longer like us. We had shared so much as children, but now we only share memories of those things that we shared.

We all know that people change over time. But when it comes to our friends we are unwilling to accept change, especially if that change is different from our own.

Shaw captured the dilemma of change in a nutshell when he said, "My tailor is the most sensible man I know. Because he takes my measurements anew everytime I see him, where as everyone else expects me to fit into their old measurements of me."

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