Letters to the Editor

5th December 1999

Who is the fool?

A brief 'Episode' on television amused me immensely. A gentleman in politics triumphantly proclaimed that he had asked a leading politician, "Do you know what Amawatura is?" The reply he received: "Is it hot water or cold water?"

The question that came to my mind was, who was the fool? Was it the man who asked the question or the one who answered it. The speaker did not reveal the circumstances under which the question was asked. To me and to many others, who saw this, it was indeed a silly question to which the answer has been loaded with sarcasm and disdain. One cannot understand why one politician wants to test the knowledge of a political adversary with a question like this, when there are other burning issues.

It might interest readers to know that a similar question was asked from a young Sub-Inspector (SI) of Police by a promotion board about 20 years ago. As DIG Metropolitan, I was chairing the board. There were two other senior gazetted officers who had risen from the ranks. A young man with a very good record of service, though with a village background sat before the board with confidence. 

After the preliminaries, a board member fired the question: "Name one of the Seven Wonders of the World". The young SI thought for a while and replied, "Test tube babies Sir". The officer's face lit up. I thanked the SI and gave him full marks. I told the officer concerned, "We are living in the past. Our general knowledge is bunkum. That fellow is living in the present. We need to understand the perceptions of the youth". Later, over a cup of tea I told him that if the SI had the right to question and asked him to explain the Cuban missile crisis, he would have looked a fool!

With the utmost respect for some of my friends who joined the Ceylon Civil Service it needs to be said that it was also the most privileged bureaucratic brotherhood this country ever had. If Mr. X - CCS. failed as an AGA he was sent to the Treasury, if he failed at the Treasury , he was sent as the Wild Life Chief; rejected even there, he was appointed Salt Commissioner and not worth his own salt, he was made a High Commissioner! But failures did not matter. They were 'top appointments' that added much weight to one's CV., to help qualify oneself to be an international civil servant.

The trouble with Sri Lanka is that many leaders and those trying to be leaders are constantly harping on our past. True, we have a heritage that we could be proud of. But our heritage should not put us in shackles. If we are to keep pace with other nations today, the emphasis should be on the present and the future. Great literary works, great chronicles, whether they be the Saddharmalankara, Ramayana, Mahavamsa, the Iliad or even Amawatura have survived and they will continue to survive. There will be enough priests and scholars for centuries to come to guarantee their survival. Bureaucrats, technocrats and politicians will do well today to be nurtured in the works of Alvin Toffler or Arthur Clarke. Their role models should not be Dutugemunu, Sirisangabo or Valmiki, but men like Ford, Nuffield or Bill Gates.

Back to Amawatura, ask a rustic of the dry zone of Sri Lanka what it means. He will probably say. "I couldn't care less. Give us water to drink and also to irrigate our crops." It is sad indeed that wonderful people sometimes tend to lose their bearings when they enter politics. Two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on (political) office, a rottenness begins in his conduct". How true, how sad.

Edward Gunawardena 

Lord Buddha and the poet

  • Just desserts will follow!
  • Don't use Lord Buddha for political games
  • This is called cheap popularity , Minister
  • Perhaps it was Satan and not Lord Buddha!

  • Just desserts will follow!

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Buddhist philosophy was originally in the Pali language. The poet is a Muslim and the poem is in Tamil and translated into English. As the campaigning for the upcoming elections has commenced, all types of political games are being played by unscrupulous politicians. This poem has an obvious sacrilegious motive, and to say the least is in bad taste. It will only create religious disharmony and is an ill wind that blows no good. Minister Ashraff should have referred to his own religion in his poem.

    Poet Ashraff's ancestors were aliens to this Dharmadvipa, and came here for trade. The Buddha's peaceful message of ahimsa had no occasion to shed a drop of blood. There were no forced conversions, and no Holy Crusades or Jihads. There was only tolerance towards all others irrespective of caste or creed. Now it appears that Buddhist tolerance is the cause of all the ills in this country. Poet Ashraff has taken mean advantage of this tolerance. He should be grateful to a Buddhist government in a predominantly Buddhist country, for recognizing him and elevating him to such a high ministerial position. If he was a Buddhist in a Muslim country could he have ever dreamt of such a thing? Add to this Mr. Ashraff will know only too well, the death sentence passed on another writer Salman Rushdie for his poem the "Satanic Verses". The death threat to that writer still continues. Mr. Ashraff is the luckiest of men to get away with this type of blasphemy. Not even a mild reproach from the Government and the good Minister carries on heedless.

    The war in this country with all its attendant ills is due to the acts of aliens through greed, hatred, and ignorance. Those clamouring for separation and the acquisition of tracts of limitless land do not know of the impermanence of all material things and must by their actions only come to grief themselves. I would respectfully advise this fledgling political poet to write a poem in the name of Allah the Almighty with special reference to the Quran in his own language. I would not be surprised if the law of action and reaction (Karma) would follow this good poet and sooner or later treat him to his just desserts in his political career.

    Justin Aponso

    Don't use Lord Buddha for political games

    Mohamed Ashraff, the politician turned poet shows how shallow his thinking is when he attempts to use Lord Buddha to convey his politics to the reader. 

    According to him if the Sinhalese learn Tamil and the Dhamma is taught in Tamil, the problems he has identified can be solved. This indeed is a simpleton's prescription! Nay, it is a cunning way of diverting the attention of the masses from politicians, some whose multi-million dollar deals were the subject of parliamentary scrutiny. Even though the debates on these issues were conducted in all three languages the truth failed to emerge. Another politician-poet in the future will advocate that debates to problems facing the country should be conducted in Arabic. 

    Now that the Poet Ashraff has arrived, we wish to implore him to let us have his poetic vision on the East Timor massacres by armed Muslims. 

    Ranjith Soysa 
    Melbourne, Australia

    This is called cheap popularity , Minister

    Enough is enough Mr. Ashraff. After your antics and your part in the quicksands of the Deegavapi controversy you are back in the saddle now with your mediocre and ridiculous poetry involving Lord Buddha and Buddhism. 

    On the one hand Prabhakaran and his murderous clique have already desecrated Sri Maha Bodhi and the Temple of the Tooth which are most sacred to Buddhists all over the world and now you are on the warpath ridiculing the Sinhalaya and Buddhists with sarcasm under cover of poetic licence to ridicule Lord Buddha. Why don't you leave Sinhala Buddhists and Lord Buddha alone and write poetry on Allah and ask him solutions to your questions and seek help to unite Sri Lanka? You say there would not have been a civil war by Tamil separatists if English continued as the official language, but are you not aware that it was the late S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike who made the change and you are right now a power wielding minister of SWRD's daughter's government. 

    Mr. Ashraff, in the name of Allah, please mind your business and don't put your PA partners to ridicule and embarrassment, including the Muslim community in general who are well disposed to the Sinhalese.

    Colombo 3

    Perhaps it was Satan and not Lord Buddha!

    Ashraff the poet has made a mistake. The poet could not have spoken to Lord Buddha because after 'parinirvana' Buddhas do not appear in spirit or person.

    Perhaps it was the Mara (Satan) who Muslims believe was chased into a pig sty who came to Ashraff, in the form of Buddha.

    But what intrigues me is this. In Minister Ashraff's famous TNL debate with Soma Thera he made an opening address and said that the Moors came to this country during the time of the Sinhala kings without womenfolk and that they married Sinhala women and settled down. He therefore implied that the Moors are part Sinhalese.

    So, why do these descendants who are half Sinhala continue to show a preference for the completely alien Tamil language?

    Perhaps under colonial rule it was wise to be part of the minority Tamil speaking community. But today it is different. Shed the Tamil speaking identity and align with the true identity.

    This will help Ashraff to savour the kalamasutra and the true spirit of the entire Buddha dhamma.

    Metthananda Wijekulasuriya


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