18 July 2018

I was not close to Chitrasena, but he was close to me

Amaratunga Arachige Maurice Dias better known as 'Chitrasena' died on the 18th of July 2005. This article was written for the Sunday Island and was published in that newspaper on the 24th of July 24.
I sent a text message to a beautiful friend, Nayana, whose childhood was made of a household visited by and which visited Panibharatha, Chitrasena, Amaradeva and others that defined an age and indeed the rarest kind of cultural blossoming this country has known in recent times. Those encounters, for her, had been unsolicited visitations. These encounters had also been accompanied by factors that did not leave unblemished marks and markers in her memory screens. I just said, "Chitrasena died last night". She replied with a question, "Were you close to him?" I answered, "No. But he was a root."

I never saw him dance. He was, to me, "Chitrasena Maama". He was someone who turned up at our one-room annex down Pedris Road in the early seventies to go sea bathing at Kinross on certain Saturdays with my Appachchi. Years later I learnt that in fact he was a distant uncle of my father's and as such he should have been "Chitrasena Seeya". Appachchi called him "Chitra" so he remained "Maama" to the end, even though he was not a Maama whom I saw frequently.

My next significant memory of him was in 1978 (I believe) when "Ustad" Podiappuhami gave a sitar recital at the Lionel Wendt. This was the second time I attended one of his concerts, the first being in 1977. Appachchi took us. I liked North Indian music, but I always fell asleep. In fact I fall asleep at all classical concerts, perhaps because I didn't really understand what it was all about, even though I found it pleasant to the ear. 

Anyway, at that recital Podiappuhami was bested on the tabla by the late Shelton Perera. Appachchi took aiya and I to the Arts Centre Club where all the artistes had gathered. The "Ustad" was livid and was drunk. Chitrasena Maama was quite high as well and for some reason was angry with the "Ustad" who I believe was staying with him at that time. I remember his sauntering across the tennis courts of Women's International berating the Ustad in the choicest filth. All I knew at that time was that Podiappuhami "did" music and that Chitrasena Maama danced. I didn't see why they should quarrel.

I have never actually talked with him. I have for the most part been just another person in the same room. I never danced. Never really understood dance either. No, I wasn't close to him. I interviewed him on the occasion of his 80th birthday for the Sunday Island during an exhibition of his memorabilia at the National Art Gallery. But the closest I got to him was in the last couple of months when I took him to get some tests done and when I visited him at Durdans Hospital a couple of times. We just talked the things people usually talk in such situations. "How are you feeling today?" I would ask and he would respond honestly enough. He showed irritation but never complained.

The last time I saw him was a few days before he passed away, at his daughter's place in Bambalapitiya, Appachchi made one comment which I believe said all that needs to be said of the man known to all as Chitrasena: "The way he has borne his illness and his suffering tells just one thing: he will not have to go through anything like this throughout sansara." His expression did not change, not the eyes that said he knew much and not the half-smile that placed him several strata above the rest of us in spiritual terms. These were elements that described a condition he must have inhabited for many decades. In fact, from the early seventies to the early 21st century, that was a constant, come to think of it.

I was not close to him. Those who were will know more. Those who also knew his stage presence in its many forms will say much, I am sure. Even those who didn't but know about this country, its history and heritage will have much to say by way of appreciation. My friend Anuruddha Pradeep, lecturer in Political Science and one of the most perceptive readers of the political scene I know, for example, told me, "He was the person who took caste out of the dance equation; he lifted it out of those tight frames and kept it in an exalted place."

But was it just "dance"? I have lived much in the years that followed the incident at the Lionel Wendt, long enough to know at least instinctively that art is without bounds, and that dance and music and even theatre are not separate or separable forms of experience.

Anuruddha recently told me about Nadeeka Guruge who is probably one of the brightest composers of his generation. He had met the man at some workshop and asked him to sing an old Hindi song, the title of which escapes me now. Nadeeka had said, "mama sindu kiyanne nehe; mama vindinnam, umbala kemathinam ahagena hitapang" (I won't sing for you; I will experience it, you may listen if you like), and had proceeded to whistle the tune while strumming his guitar. Anuruddha and the others present had been mesmerized. 

The true artiste, I believe, must play to satisfy himself/herself, for the personal need to discover self in and through experience. Chitrasena, by all accounts, was like that. And it is for this reason that he became who he was, and will continues to be long after the memory of the man is obliterated by time. It is also for this reason that we are "close to him". He did things to figure out "self" and therefore, and therefore alone, he was able to "give".

I was not close to him, but he was indeed close to me, because he was a root in the fullest sense of the word. He drew from the soil in which his feet were firmly planted, he did not distinguish art forms from one another except in their trivialities and in the practicalities of compartmentalisation. 

Watching a re-run of an interview of the man in the program "Uragala" the day after his death, listening to his descriptions and recounting of his work, his philosophy and his time, I realised the depth and the limitlessness of his creativity. I also realised how hollow is what passes for "dance" and "music" and "drama" today. Much of it will not reveal us to ourselves for the simple reason that the exponents are not interested in self-discovery or the pursuit of perfection in the broadest sense possible.

My father, Chitrasena's nephew, friend and companion in the long hours prior to departure, was right. The man had somehow gone beyond our reach, as per our current capabilities. The man was a root, and by this very fact, imparted a simple but profound lesson in terms of what anyone, even one ignorant of dance and music like me, can do to shed mediocrity. Let us lament the passing of a great one. Let me remember always his half-smile and his gaze that looked back into millennia and so could produce for generations to come something that enhances that which we casually and carelessly call "life".


13 July 2018

The reds, greens and the seasonality of colors

Prof Michael Dear, Professor Emeritus in the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley, and Honorary Professor in the Bartlett School of Planning at University College, London, once taught a class on postmodernism in the Geography Department, University of Southern California.  

At the end of the semester, he asked people where they believe they are now located ideologically.   Most said ‘postmodernism’. Kanishka Goonewardena, then doing fieldwork for his PhD dissertation and was auditing that class, said ‘Marxist’. 

‘Is that a confession?’ Michael, who was always good-humored, asked.

‘It is a confession and a threat!’ Kanishka was good at repartee.   

There are statements that cut both ways, ‘watermelon’ for instance. Those who are opposed to both environmentalists and socialists or anyone who is not saying ‘hooray’ to capitalism accuse the ‘greens’ of being watermelons, green on the outside and red within.  

Some ‘greens’ who believe that environmental issues are not just about saving fauna and flora but are inextricably linked to broader economic, social and political matters, say it with pride: ‘yes, we are watermelons, green outside and red inside.’

This is not about watermelons, although it is about greens and reds. Green as in UNPers (those of or loyal to the United National Party) and red as in self-labeled leftists or liberals who take up what used to traditionally ‘left causes’ or even ‘deep reds’ if you will.  The ‘reds’ would include the political parties/groups that have no qualms about affiliating with the UNP or the SLFP and contesting with one of these parties in a coalition or supporting their presidential candidates. For example, the Communist Party, the LSSP, NSSP, the United Socialist Alliance, other splinter groups, the JVP and the plethora of trade unions. 

Included too are those political itinerants who form clubs every now and again, especially when elections are at hand, under fancy names such as ‘aluth parapura’ (new generation) and ‘purawesi balaya' (citizens’ power), ranting and raving over injustice and tyranny only to fall silent once those they back kick justice and democracy in their proverbial behinds. 

Greens, on the other hand, are more settled, politically. Those who are not card carrying members are wont to desist from criticizing the party, whether it is in power or not, or at worst only offer ‘constructive criticism’ to ‘make it better’. The UNP is of course faulted now and then, but then again with a bunch of caveats. At best, a bit of tokenism smeared with liberal doses of badmouthing ‘the other guys’.  

I heard the most interesting observation about the political vacillation of greens and reds just the other day from a friend who insisted, ‘don’t quote me’ as in ‘don’t mention my name’. So, I am not taking credit for this gem: ‘the reds are red until they get something, then they are green.’ My two cents: ‘and the greens become red when they are in the Opposition’.  

Sure there are exceptions, for the most part individuals disillusioned with parties they were members of, living frugal and principled lives. As for parties, one can think of some of the Trotskyite groups such as the Socialist Equality Party (previously knows as the Revolutionary Communist League. Apart from this, reds transition from revolutionary to democratic socialists to socialist democrats, conditional supporters of bourgeois parties to the parties themselves, either through membership or open support.      

There’s no need to name too many names (and there are many) but the following comment by the late Raja Gunasekara illustrates the point. It happened at his residence when he agreed to represent a group of 14 or 15 young people in a fundamental rights application. He read all the affidavits which I had drafted under the guidance of Sanath Jayatilaka. He was most impressed by the one describing the history of political engagement of Champika Ranawaka. 

And the comment: ‘I only hope he doesn’t end up in the UNP. I remember listening to Mahinda Wijesekera when he was young. So eloquent. He was thinking on his feet. Look what happened to him!’

‘Look what’s happened to a lot of people!’ is the obvious extrapolation.  That’s if one attaches some intrinsic value to ‘Left,’ a highly debatable point when you strip eloquence from action and consequence. 

My friends contention, however, is interesting. There are JVPers, for example, who ‘graduated’ literally and metaphorically after the insurrection of 1971 failed, and moved out of the party and into various action-groups (the term ‘NGO’ was to arrive about a decade later). We are talking about those who wanted to retain the ‘left’ badge and not those who abandoned the social project altogether (they were branded and castigated as counter-revolutionaries, renegades, opportunists and so on). Some started newspapers. Some took on projects: environment, women’s rights, conflict resolution, peace activism, sustainable/alternative development and of course human rights. Businesses, for the most part.  

When they wanted to be seen as ‘left’ in more tangible form, they would issue statements in support of or in line with the JVP and of late the Frontline Socialist Party. Whether they vote for these parties, we don’t know. By and large they’ve backed either the SLFP or the UNP with the support extended depending on the rewards obtained or anticipated.  

If the chosen party looks like it is being defeated at a major election, they slide to the other side or if they’ve misread the temper of the electorate and have backed the loser they re-acquire a bit of redness.  

The UNP is the unabashed right wing party of the country.  It is the party under whose watch and with its active participation or tacit support the worst human rights violations took place: the riots of 1983, the bloodbath that took 60,000 lives towards the end of the same decade and the worst human rights violations in the ‘ethnic conflict’ (among all governments from 1983-2009). 

And yet, when in the opposition, the UNP changes its ideological color. It’s sometimes a whitish pink, at times pink and can and has turned various shades of red. Those who said nothing when the UNP governments oversaw the bashing of heads, proxy arrests, abduction, torture and extra-judicial killings of both Sinhala and Tamil youth all of a sudden get upset over the police baton-charging or tear-gassing protesting students. 

The party which was once led by a man who promised to retire the electoral map for ten years, who obtained undated letters of resignation from all Members of Parliament representing the party and rigged election after election including one which illegally extended the life of an elected Parliament by six years, gets all democracy-fixated when in the Opposition.  Indeed, when it comes to freedom of expression, democracy, accountability, transparency and such, the curtailers of freedom, the Bonapartists, the corrupt and abusers of all rights, go red. As in ‘Left’. But only when in the Opposition.  

And the blues?  A home to reds who lap up benefits (just like the UNP), the SLFP is essentially a poor cousin of the UNP and the JVP.  They are neither deep red nor deep green. They go reddish in Opposition and greenish when in power, at least since 1977. They have, for decades, accommodated so many reds in coalitions (the UNP only had tacit support from the JVP and then again, not for a UNP candidate but candidates backed by the UNP) and their own ‘progressives’ (e.g. T.B. Illangaratne and Hector Kobbekaduwa) were more red than the official reds (those of the CP and LSSP) that the ideological color has for decades been purplish. 

Things of course went crazy when Maithripala Sirisena became President and dragged the party into the yahapalana arrangement with the UNP. Sirisena himself doesn’t seem to be sure if he’s part of the government or the opposition. Indeed, there are times when he talks as though the UNP is in power and he in the opposition and vice versa. 

Such things aside, it’s the green-red switch that says most about the nature and fate of the ‘left movement’ in the country.  Anura Kumara and the JVP are lampooned as red-greens or baby elephants in red docilely doing the bidding of the UNP pachyderm.  The biggest of the red parties, the JVP, had no qualms about taking dollars from Washington or rather syphoning bucks doled out with Sarath Fonseka’s campaign; but then again the late nineties was also marked by bank robberies and ransom.    

The operations of the party-less reds are the most hilarious. They talk the red talk but are happy to walk the green walk. Sure, they’ll justify it with a lot of red rhetoric or rather watered down red rhetoric; they will never object to capitalism and the miseries it spawns. It’s easy because they are classless reds, meaning they’ve established color-changing credentials and qualified for benefits by abandoning the class project. 

All things considered the greens are an insult to the larger greens (those concerned with the health of the planet) and the reds have embarrassed the larger reds (those committed to class struggle).  We have reds who, when scratched will turn green (or blue-greens if that variety is in power). We have greens who when scratched (read, ‘when in opposition’) won’t necessarily bleed but will blush just enough to be mistaken for decent citizens concerned about justice, integrity, good governance, democracy etc.  

What color are humbugs, I wonder. 

09 July 2018

The NYT story exposed much more than it intended

If not the Rajapaksas, their supporters are certainly perturbed by the New York Times (NYT) article on wrongdoing regarding the China Harbour Engineering Company, which is one of China’s largest state-owned enterprises. The NYT piece has since been dismissed by the Rajapaksas, their spokespersons and the Chinese Embassy in Colombo.

The NYT has claimed that the company had paid large sums of money to the election campaign of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.  The Chinese Embassy claims that there was no wrongdoing and that the company  was compliant ‘with the laws of the market from beginning to end, reflected by the principle of wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits.’

The NYT story emphasizes two concerns. First, that Rajapaksa was corrupt, and secondly, it was all a part of China’s strategy to have a port in the Indian Ocean, a key element of its ‘string of pearls’ strategy to control the seas.  

First let’s discuss these concerns and the self-righteousness of that newspaper. If ‘bribe’ is an issue, well then the NYT could have also written about the USA pumping bucks into an election campaign that would cough up a plaint president in Sri Lanka. 

Former Secretary of State John Kerry unapologetically acknowledged that the US did fund that campaign. It is also known that the State Department routinely funds agents and agencies in Colombo engaged in political activities whose objectives coincide with those of the USA. Do we even need to go into how the USA has helped install dictators, military juntas and other ‘friends’ in countries all over the world?  

The NYT never had a problem with such intervention. So the issue is not bribery but bribing those not in the good books of the USA, if indeed there was a bribe here. We need to keep in mind that companies do fund election campaigns of parties and politicians and that typically the bucks are sent to all takers. These are essentially investments, which is why legislation on campaign finance is so necessary and so regularly ‘back-burnered’ by politicians, the current lot included. Some funders get contracts, some get ports (the NYT would have us believe). 

The NYT hints that the Chinese interest was strategic more than commercial. If that be the case, then this government and especially Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is on the same page as Mahinda Rajapaksa with respect to ‘going along’ with China’s interest. One might say that Ranil’s collusion was more timid since Mahinda at least got some bucks out of the deal. No give and take, but just give. That is, IF the UNP directly or indirectly did not benefit from ‘the principle of wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits’.   

Why should the NYT be upset over China doing stuff that’s in China’s interest when the USA does the same? According to David Vine of the Politico Magazine, ‘despite recently closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States still maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad—from giant “Little Americas” to small radar facilities. Britain, France and Russia, by contrast, have about 30 foreign bases combined.’  

How many ‘cough up’ pieces have the NYT written over the years, one has to ask.  The NYT talks about a ‘debt trap’ as though it’s a Chinese invention. Well, that’s been part of the Bretten Woods doctrine for decades, and the USA has been the key mover and shaker in the ‘debt-for-coughing-up-whatever’ strategy.  To the peoples in whose names such coughing-up happens, the identity of the beneficiary is hardly important. Enslavement is not fun and the name of the slave-master is of little consequence. 

Now let’s get to the drama. A quick sweep of the chronology would help paint the true picture of this government’s clumsiness, this time dripping into media practice. The Daily News reported in July, 2015 that the CID was investigating a case where the China Harbour Engineering Company had given Rs. 149 million to the former President's election campaign. Again quoting CID sources, the Daily News said money had been obtained from HTPD Phase 02 013359190/19 account of the company, maintained at Standard Chartered Bank, Colombo. A person by the name of V.H.R.H. Francisco had obtained Rs. 89 million on December 12, 2014 and January 07, 2015 in three cheques.

What does the NYT say?  Here goes:

‘At least $7.6 million was dispensed from China Harbor’s account at Standard Chartered Bank to affiliates of Mr. Rajapaksa’s campaign, according to a document, seen by The Times, from an active internal government investigation. The document details China Harbor’s bank account number — ownership of which was verified — and intelligence gleaned from questioning of the people to whom the checks were made out.’  

What’s this ‘active internal government investigation’? The only investigation anyone knows about is the one referred to in the Daily News story. Probably the same source, we can presume.  Probably and not possibly, considering that among the contributors to the NYT article is a journalist who held a high post in the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd (ANCL aka Lake House) which publishes the Daily News. 

The journalist was recently appointed as the editor of the Sunday Observer.  The journalists strong political loyalties to the current regime and strong antipathy to the previous are well known.  That’s not important here.  It’s the connection with the newspaper that ran the first story that matters. That’s what makes the NYT a re-hash and a cheap one at that.  

The excitement of the Rajpakasa loyalists now and their silence back in 2015 is strange. Are they indirectly saying that they are more effected by a NYT story than a Daily News story? Is it because the word of Lake House is not taken seriously by the voters anyway? Was it that back then, just after political fortunes hit an unexpected low, they were too down-and-out to respond? We don’t know.

What’s strange is that once the NYT’s rehashed story ‘broke’ it was not only the Rajapaksa loyalists who got excited. The Government went to town, ridiculously implying that because the NYT said it, it is serious, notwithstanding the fact that the Daily News had said virtually the same thing three years before! 

Then we have Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe calling for a CID investigation based on the NYT story.  So essentially, he’s asking the CID to investigate something the CID had already investigated. What happened to that investigation, though? What did the CID conclude? Did it not conclude anything of significance or did it find things that could embarrass certain individuals in the new regime?

If all this was not enough, we have another Act in the drama, that concerning ‘naming’ journalists. The NYT has sought to tutor the Rajapaksas about how to respond to media stories. 

The international editor of the NYT Michael Slackman said the politicians' actions appears intended to silence critics and curb press freedoms and ultimately deprive Sri Lankans of information in the public interest.’  They’ve said that instead of taking issue with the relevant journalists, concerns should be addressed to the editors of the particular media institutions. These sentiments have been echoed by the Foreign Correspondents’ Association (FCA) in Colombo. 

First of all, the only response that can directly be linked to the political group(s) that the Rajapaksas belong to was a media conference where two members of parliament (Kanchana Wijesekera and Dullas Alahapperuma) mentioned journalists who had contributed to the NYT story by name and called Minister Mangala Samaraweera to explain their alleged longtime loyalties to him. 

That’s a strange request. Loyalty is not at issue here. What’s at issue is the re-hash and the clumsiness of the entire process, starting from July 2015, both by the relevant media personnel and the government. One of those named, anyway, is a stringer for the NYT and in the case of this story only helped put the NYT correspondent in touch with relevant informants. Both Wijesekera and Alahapperuma seem to have got the wrong end of the stick, but to say, as the FCA has, that they ‘vilified the authors of the report without utilizing established channels to redress any grievance’ is downright silly.

Journalists have bylines. They take responsibility for the content they produce. They are morally and professionally bound to be ready for response.  Neither Wijesekera nor Alahapperuma threatened anybody.  That they were barking up the wrong tree is a different matter; for example, the spouse of one of the journalist, the ups and downs of the person’s professional life has nothing to do with either the journalist or the NYT or the Daily News report.  That said, some of the backers of the previous regime have in fact launched a nasty and threatening campaign against the said journalists. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have also overreacted. They state, ‘politicians have every right to dispute the findings of a news report, but publicly singling out Dharisha Bastians and Arthur Wamanan is a worrisome development in a country noted for attacks on journalists and unsolved journalist murders.’  What the said politicians did was to name the journalists named in the NYT article. It’s not that there were dozens of journalists contributing to the article and that only these two were ‘singled out’.  

Interestingly, Mangala Samaraweera also joined the howling-in-horror circus, condemning ‘virulent personal attacks by individuals linked to the joint opposition and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) in a bid to intimidate journalists who worked on the NYT (New York Times) report, attacking them for doing their job.’ Virulent personal attacks? Really? ‘In a bid to intimidate?’ Oh well! 

Let’s talk about virulent personal attacks and bids to intimidate. On the same day that Samaraweera issued this statement, his it was revealed that his Coordinating Secretary Thusitha Haloluwa has launched as scathing attack on a journalist who had exposed financial irregularity in a state institution running into millions of rupees. The fact was exposed by SLVlog a month ago and was picked up by News 1st only three days ago.  is Samaraweera not bothered by the virulence and the intimidation?

The FCA is concerned about all journalists and apparently issues statements relevant to foreign correspondents or correspondents working for foreign media institutions. What does the CPJ have to say about Haloluwa, though? 

Samaraweera would also remember how in February 2016, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe launched a virulent and intimidating attack on Daily Mirror (naming its editor) and Derana. 

Here’s an excerpt: “Everyone from the Daily Mirror tagged along with Rajapaksa, and one of its writers Kesara Abeywardena had written an article saying I should resign from the party leadership. I am asking them to get in line with the new line of thinking, and I have given them sufficient time for it. If they cannot get in line, without writing lies they have the opportunity to leave. We won’t tolerate this.”

So Wickremesinghe thinks it’s up to him to fire journalists who don’t toe his line. That’s not the first time Wickremesinghe has launched virulent and intimidating attacks on the media. The FCA can remain silent. How about the CPJ? How about Samaraweera himself?  

The point is, are we supposed to talk about corruption, debt traps, coughing-up, media ethics, media-integrity, protection of journalists and such across the board, or are were supposed to be selective? The NYT, CPJ and Mangala Samaraweera seem to think ‘selective is best’. Well, that’s what the Rajapaksas were all about, weren’t they?  

The entire NYT story, what preceded it and what followed it, far more than ‘exposing’ the previous regime, has shown that this government, its loyalists and the journalists it uses, are morally corrupt, professionally inept and are two-tongued.  As for the NYT, let’s not even go there for it would be such a waste of time! 


05 July 2018

A poser for the self-righteous: how about a Tamil or Muslim presidential candidate?

Yahapalanists, i.e. those advocating yahapalanaya or good governance, as per their own articulation of the term, are for equality, justice, truth, transparency, accountability and other such lovely things. Again, as per their rhetoric, they abhor injustice, corruption, nepotism, graft, misuse of state resources and abuse of authority, among other things. 

Yahapalanaya, in the way the term has been used by its advocates, is not just about good governance. Yahapalanist rhetoric has waved many other flags, with noble objectives beautifully embroidered on them. They have called for a separation of religion and state, regularly rant and rave against assertion of identity (usually limited to those by  Sinhalese and Buddhists) and insist that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country (carefully omitting relevant numbers and percentages).  As such we have to take ‘yahapalanaya’ as a political concept that embraces all these things and it is the broader definition that we use here. 

Yahapanlanists, in the sense the term is used here, refers to all those in the United National Party (UNP), the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and other parties who directly or indirectly backed Maithripala Sirisena’s presidential campaign and all individuals and organizations opposed to the previous regime.

Alright. Various key Yahapalana spokespersons have often dismissed and vilified their political rivals, in particular key personalities in the Joint Opposition and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna as well as those in organizations claiming to represent Sinhalese and Buddhists. They have been called racists and chauvinists. They are said to be out of touch with the times, accused of living in the past and being obstacles to progress.  

This is not a defense of those accused thus. The ululation notwithstanding, there is truth in some of these charges at least with respect to some of those charged. The issue here, however, is about the integrity of the accusers, or put another way, the yahapalanist worth of the yahapalanists. In short, the question is, ‘do/can they put their money where their mouths are?’

Now both the parties led by the President and Prime Minister, the SLFP and UNP respectively, have a long history of positions taken than yahapalanists would not hesitate to call chauvinistic, racist, extremist, intolerant etc. These parties have spawned many leaders who have in their operations turned the basic premises of yahapalanaya on their proverbial heads and kicked them in their proverbial behinds to boot.  Furthermore, it is not as though the current lot are squeaky clean when it comes to upholding the yahapalana articles of faith.  Let us be generous, however. 

Let us assume, for arguments sake, that the yahapalanists are actually abiding by yahapalana principles. Assuming thus, among all litmus tests one can theoretically conduct to ascertain integrity with respect to the noble objectives articulated by them in the run up to the January 2015 election there is one that I believe would demonstrate beyond a shadow of doubt their commitment to the yahapalana cause: the ideal profile of a Yahapalana presidential candidate? 

If, as they claim, the JO, SLPP and other non-yahapalanist political groups are ‘majoritarian’ cannot they, the yahapalanists, being the righteous, noble and exemplary political actors on the Sri Lankan stage, be they members of political parties or not, argue for a presidential candidate who is the antithesis of whoever a JO/SLPP-led coalition puts forward (i.e., a racist in the eyes of yahapalanists)?

No, it would not be enough for such a candidate to be a Sinhalese or a Buddhist uttering yahapalana terminology at every turn. They should go the whole hog. Get a non-Buddhist who is also a non-Sinhalese as the candidate.  If they don’t, it could mean that they are playing ethnic-politics that is a far cry from yahapalana ideals. 

Let’s take Ranil Wickremesinghe. His religious affiliations are not clear, but there’s no doubt that he is a Sinhalese. Sajith Premadasa is a Sinhala Buddhist.  Ravi Karunanayake is a Christian, but he’s a Sinhalese. Sinhalese are out, so let’s not labour the point with other potential UNP candidates. Among those who are neither Sinhalese nor Buddhists, the most senior is Kabir Hashim. How about Kabir as the UNP’s next presidential candidate? Has any yahapalanists stopped to even consider him? 

It doesn’t have to be someone from the UNP, after all that party has not fielded a candidate at a presidential election since 2005. The UNP can find someone from outside the party system (e.g. Sarath Fonseka in 2010) or back a candidate from another party (e.g. Maithripala Sirisena in 2015). And the UNP need not worry if the political history of the particular candidate being embarrassing either due to wrongdoing (e.g. Fonseka, who was called all kinds of names by UNP stalwarts) or association (e.g. Sirisena). What counts is agreement on a program, never mind ability to deliver or lack of political will (e.g. Sirisena).

I am sure there are exemplary Tamils and Muslims untainted by political affiliation and endowed with the kind of integrity and aloofness from the dust and grind of ideological/political engagement. Can the yahapalanists come up with some names? Better yet, will they sweat and toil for such a person to be nominated as a candidate who runs against ‘the racists’?   

Let’s assume that they want someone who is already ‘political’ (considering the utter failure of the Fonseka experiment); let’s lower the bar. Let’s just say ‘ok’ to any Tamil or Muslim politician, regardless of his/her track-record ideological or political.  

R Sampanthan is the most senior politician in today’s Parliament, along with John Amaratunga, the latter not relevant since he’s a Sinhalese.  Sampanthan had his black marks thanks to circumstances forcing his party to be an LTTE mouthpiece and before that for subscribing to Appapillai Amirthalingam’s chauvinism, such blemishes can be ignored. He’s not disgraced himself as the Leader of the Opposition. Moreover on countless occasions Sampanthan has spoken for all citizens and not just the Tamils.   

Age is not on his side, obviously, for he’s 85.  How about M.A. Sumanthiran, then? The occasional Tamil nationalistic rhetoric aside, Sumanthiran has also, like Sampanthan, spoken for all citizens, articulating their concerns and critiquing policies that could have a detrimental impact on them. How about a Sirisena-like deal, where Sumanthiran is nominated as the ‘Yahapalana Candidate’ with all yahapalanists backing him?  Would the main ‘yahapalana party’ go along? That’s the UNP, by the way, which added a ‘yahapalana’ tag to the party name when contesting as a coalition in August 2015.  How about Rauff Hakeem?  He’s been embraced by the UNP and the SLFP at different times. Arumugam Thondaman?  

Would all this shock the yahapalanists? Would they say I’m being mischievous and just trying to tease yapalanists to find someone who is unlikely to win?  Well, the fact of the matter is, either you are idealistic or else you are abusing idealism. You can’t be a yahapalanists who is willing to bend the yahapalana yardstick, surely?  

Let’s hear it from them.  Dear yahapalanists, would you go with a candidate whose choice will do justice to your multi-ethnic, multi-religious rhetoric or would you not? 

කැප්ටන් සහ කළු කමිසයක් අඳින මාළුකාරයා

බොල්ගොඩ වැව අසබඩ ජීවත් වන සරල මනුස්සයෙක් කපිතාන් එල්මෝ ජයවර්ධන. සැලකිය යුතු වත්කම් ඇති, රට රටවල් ගානේ දේශන පවත්වන එල්මෝට මම ආමන්ත්‍රණය කරන්නේ 'කැප්ටන්' කියලයි. කැප්ටන් හරිම සුන්දර කෙනෙක්. කැප්ටන් වැඩියෙන් සතුටු කාත් එක්ක හරි කතාකරන්න. කාට හරි උදව් කරන්න. කැප්ටන්ට විවිධ ප්‍රොජෙක්ට් තියෙනවා. විශේෂයෙන් දුප්පත් දක්ෂ ළමයින්ට අධ්‍යාපනයක්, පුහුණුවක් ලබාදෙන්න කැප්ටන් මහන්සි වෙනවා. කැප්ටන් විහිළු කරන්න කැමතියි. විනෝදකාමීයි. සැහැල්ලුවෙන් ජීවත් වෙන කෙනෙක්.

කැප්ටන් කතන්දර කියන්න දක්ෂයි. ලියන්නත් දක්ෂයි. පසු කාලෙක 'සෑම්ගේ කතාව' නමින් නිෂ්පාදනය කරපු චිත්‍රපටය පදනම් වුණේ ග්‍රේෂන් සම්මානය හිමිකරගත් කැප්ටන් ඉංග්‍රීසියෙන් ලියු 'සෑම්ස් ස්ටෝරි' නවකතාව මතයි. ඉතින් මෙතනින් මගේ කතාව මොහොතකරට නතර කරලා කැප්ටන් දවසක් කියූ කතාවකට ඉඩ දුන්නොත් හොඳයි කියල හිතෙනවා. 'බොල්ගොඩ වැවේ බොහෝ අය මාළු අල්ලනවා. ශතවර්ෂ ගණනාවක් අල්ලන්න ඇති. හෙට ඒ පැත්තට ගියොත් බලන්න පුළුවන් වෙයි. බෝට්ටු. දැල්. මාළු බාන මිනිස්සු. ඒත් මේ කතාව එක්තරා මාළුකාරයෙක් ගැනයි. එයා සුවිශේෂ වෙන්න පුළුවන්. නැත්තම් ඒ කට්ටිය හැමෝම එයා වගේ වෙන්නත් පුළුවන්.

'ඒ මනුස්සයා හැමදාම මගේ ගෙදර ළඟින් යනවා එනවා මම දැකල තියෙනවා, ඒත් අපි කතා කරලා තිබුනෙම නැහැ. මට එක දෙයක් හොඳට මතකයි. එයා හැමදාම ඇඳගෙන හිටියේ එකම එක කමිසයක්. කළු පාට කමිසයක්. දවසක් මම ඒ මනුස්සයාව නවත්තලා කිව්වා "දෙන්න තියෙනවා" කියල. පාර්සලක්. කමිස වගයක්. ගන්න කැමතිද කියල ඇහුවම මෙහෙම කිව්වා: "මම කොහෙවත් යන්නේ නැහැනේ...මට මොනවටද කමිස?"

'ඉතින් අපි කතා කෙරුව. එයාගේ නෝනා පොලේ එළවළු විකුණනවා කිව්වා. දුවට පිටරට යන්න ඕනකමක් තිබුන කිව්වා, ඒත් ඒක කරගන්නත් බැරිවුණා කිව්වා. ඉතින් 'තියෙන දෙයක් කාලා ඉමු" කියල දුවට කිව්වලු. දුව පිටරට ගියේ නැතිලු. එයාල ඉන්නවා. ජීවත් වෙනවා. 'ඊට ටික දවසකට පස්සේ අපේ ගෙදර වැඩ කරන කෙනෙක් මට කිව්වා කළු ෂ(ර්)ට් එක අඳින මනුස්සයා මාළුවෙක් දීල ගියා කියල. මගේ උදව් අවශ්‍ය නොවුණත් උදව්වක් කරන්න උත්සාහ කරපු එකට අගයක් දෙන්න හිතුව වෙන්න ඇති.

'ඒ වගේ අය මම දැකල තියෙනවා. මගේ ඉඩම ළඟ එයාලගේ බෝට්ටු බැඳලා යනවා. හැමදාම දකිනවා. එකම අය, එකම බෝට්ටු. ඉඳහිට අහනවා ඔය බෝට්ටු වලට මෝටරයක් හයිකරන්න හිතල නැද්ද කියල. ඒ ගැන වැඩි උනන්දුවක් දක්වල නැහැ කවදාවත්.

'මේ මිනිස්සු ගැන, විශේෂයෙන්ම කළු කමිසය අඳින මනුස්සයා ගැන මම නිතර කල්පනා කරනවා. එයාල මහන්සි වෙනවා. වැඩිය හම්බකරන්නෙත් නැහැ. හැමදාම වගේ ඔහේ ජීවත්වෙනවා. තියන දෙයක් කනවා. මම මගේ ජීවිතය ගැනත් මට මුණගැහෙන අයගේ ජීවිත ගැනත් හිතනවා. මම ලෝකේ වටේ ඇවිදිනවා. හෝටල් වල දවස් ගණන් ලගින්න වෙනවා. කොහේ ගියත් ඇහෙන්නෙම මැසිවිලි. කෑම ගැන, හෝටල් වල සේවය ගැන. ඇත්තම කියනව නම් ඇද ගැනමයි කතා කරන්නේ. අඩුපාඩුමයි පේන්නේ.

'කළු කමිසය අඳින මාළුකාරයා මැසිවිලි නගන්නේ නැහැ,' කැප්ටන් කතාව ඉවර කෙරුවේ එහෙමයි.

තෘප්තියේ ප්‍රමාණය සාපේක්ෂයි. ඒක ඇත්ත. සල්ලි, යාන වාහන, ගෙවල් දොරවල්, ළමයින්ට හොඳ අධ්‍යාපනයක්, හොඳ ඉන්ෂුවරන්ස් පොලිසි එකක්, තනතුරක්, තත්ත්වයක්, පිළිගැනීමක්...මේවා අවශ්‍යයි හැමෝටම අඩු වැඩි වශයෙන්. 'වැඩි වශයෙන්' කිව්වොත් වඩා නිවැරදියි කියලත් හිතෙනවා. වටිනාම දේවල් වලට මිලක් නියම කරන්න බෑ කියලත් අහල තියෙනවා. ජීවත් විය යුත්තේ මෙහෙමයි කියල නිර්දේශ කරන්න අමාරුයි.

කැප්ටන් ලෝකේ වටේ මිනිසුන් සමග තමන්ගේ දැනුම බෙදනවා. එහෙම කරනවට කැප්ටන්ට වේතනයක් ලැබෙනවා. කැප්ටන් වැඩිය සතුටු වෙන්නේ නොමිලේ කරන දේවල් වලට. ඒ බව මම හොඳින් දන්නවා. හමුවෙන හැමෝගෙන්ම මොකක් හරි ඉගෙනගන්න ජාතියේ මනුස්සයෙක් කැප්ටන්. ඉගෙනගන්න හැම දෙයක්ම විකුණන්න බැරි බවත්, විකුණන්න බැරි බොහෝ ලොකු වටිනාකමක් තියෙන බවත් කැප්ටන් දන්නවා කියලයි මට හිතෙන්නේ.

කැප්ටන්ගේ ගෙදර ඉඳල බලනකොට බොල්ගොඩ වැව ලස්සනයි. දන්න හැම රහසක්ම වැව හැමෝටම කිය කිය යන්නේ නෑ. වැව දන්නේ වැව ගැන විතරක් නෙවෙයි. ජීවිතය ගැනත්, වටිනාකම ගැනත්, වටිනාකම් ගැනත් වැව බොහෝ දේ දන්නවා කියලයි මට හිතෙන්නේ.

කැප්ටන් පරිත්‍යාගශීලී මනුස්සයෙක්. කළු කමිසය අඳින මාළුකාරයත් පරිත්‍යාගශීලී මනුස්සයෙක්. දෙන්නා පරිත්‍යාග කරන්නේ දෙවිදිහකට. දෙන්නේ එකම දේම නෙවෙයි. ජීවිත පාඩම් මේ දෙන්නා ඉගෙනගත්තේ කොහෙන්ද කියලා කියන්න දන්නේ නැති වුණත්, හැමතැනම තියෙන නමුත් ඇහැට අහු නොවෙන සියුම් දේවල් මේ දෙන්නම දන්න බව නම් පැහැදිලියි. සරලම විදිහට කිව්වොත්, කමිස නම් බොහොම වැඩියි.
"මගේ ඇස අග" තීරුවේ තවත් ලිපි
විප්ලවයේ ආරම්භය සහ අවසානය 
ගම සුජීලගේ, ගම හදන්නෙත් සුජීලා හොඳේ?
ලාස්ට් මෑන් හැව් චාන්ස්
සඳට නොලියූ කවියක් 
අහඹු පොතක අහඹු පිටුවක හමුවිය කවියක් අහඹුම නොවන'
මේවා මොන ජීවිත ද බං?' 

03 July 2018

Chamara Lakshan’s ‘long rest’ is a different and difficult experience

On the 16th of June, 2018, Chamara Lakshan Perera, posted the following Facebook status update: ‘Bed rest. A different and difficult experience. anyway waiting eagerly to watch lio messi’s magic. 4 and a half hours more.’

That little note says a lot about the man. He was at the time the Chief Editor of two Lake House newspapers, the daily ‘Resa’ and the institution’s flagship publication, ‘Silumina’.  That makes for a lot of hard work, but then again Chamara always worked, always worked hard.  Forget ‘bed rest,’ it was as though he never rested. Rest, as he said was a different experience and in fact, more tellingly, a ‘difficult’ experience for him. It was, apparently, something alien.

And yet, according to his friends, in his early days as a journalist, especially when he was at Rivira and Irudina, Chamara was always out of office by 4 pm, perhaps because he traveled from Matugama but maybe that was his way of carving out personal space in an unforgiving vocation. Things must have changed after he was handed more responsibilities.

I don’t know why he had to bed-rest, but Chamara certainly made light of such things. The excitement of a Soccer World Cup game clearly made his ailment, whatever it was, small. I have never discussed soccer with him, so I don’t know if that note was about him being a fan of Argentine soccer or just Lionel Messi, the iconic player of that team. All I know is that Chamara loved sports and he knew a lot of stuff about lots of sports. 

The truth is that he was interested in a wide range of things. He wrote about them all. As a journalist, he could handle news, politics, sports or any other subject if called upon to do so. He was really good at all these things, but particularly so when it came to interviews, especially politicians. 

When Chamara launched a collection of interviews in late 2014 titled ‘Sanlaapa’ one of the speakers, Lalkantha of the JVP, remarked that it was impossible to figure out Chamara’s political leanings from the questions he asked and from what he wrote. Chamara, towards the end of the event, remarked that he does have a political position but that this was not very relevant to the work he did.  

It was probably in 2004 that I first met Chamara. He was a student at the University of Colombo at the time and was working as a freelance writer for the ‘Lakbima’.  It was not a paper I read frequently so his name was not familiar. He said he wanted to interview me for a page he did, Ahasgawwa. We met at Phoenix-Ogilvy where I was doing some part time work. We discussed Buddhism, nationalism, creative writing and advertising. I remember being impressed by the probing questions he asked to obtain detailed and comprehensive answers.  We became friends.

I remember him calling me about a year later to tell me that he would like to join Rivira, a newspaper that was about to be launched. I remember him saying ‘I would like to work with you.’ This morning however, I came across a note he had written on the third anniversary of ‘Rivira’, where he says that I had urged him to join and had arranged interview with the then CEO Krishantha Cooray and the then editor Upali Tennekoon.  

I knew he would be an asset. Later, when I left that company I wrote to Krishantha saying that the future of Rivira was in the hands of two young journalists, one of whom was Chamara and the other Rasika Jayakody.  When I returned in 2011, Rasika had left but Chamara was there, versatile and productive as ever.  Until he left Rivira to join ‘Irudina’ Chamara was a great source of strength although we worked in two different newspapers.

He told me he was going to another newspaper. I remember telling him he would do well wherever he goes. I wished him well.  When he joined Lake House in 2015, I felt that it was not the best place for him, but then again it was better that people like Chamara were there rather than party loyalists. 

When he was appointed Chief Editor of a new daily paper, he called me and ran the proposed names through me. He insisted that I should write. It was a privilege to write for Chamara. The space he provided was payment enough, I told him. When he was put in charge of Silumina a few weeks ago, he called and asked me to check out the new-look Silumina and tell him what I thought. Time had passed and the time for me to offer any advice to Chamara had also passed. It was kind of him to ask for my opinion for he knew much more about newspapers than I did. That’s how he was. Respectful and kind.  In fact I cannot think of any journalist his age loved, admired and respected by peers, senior journalists and juniors as much as he was.  

Kasun Pussawella, a younger journalist and one of the best of his generation, told me that he had tendered his resignation over some matter of principle. Apparently Chamara had simply said ‘I respect your decision, but malli, if people like you also leave, who will remain to make this industry thrive?’  Ironically, he’s gone too, this kind, capable and energetic man who was always with a smile.

Chamara didn’t have a strong social media presence. He was fully engaged with two newspapers. He had to work seven days a week. He must have watched Iceland hold Argentina to a 1-1 draw. He must have been disappointed with Lionel Messi’s ‘no-show’ performance that day. We don’t know if he watched Argentina lose 0-3 to Croatia on the 21st and beat Nigeria 2-1 on the 26th. He would have known that they made it to the knockouts. We know that he didn’t see France beat Argentina 4-3 on the 30th, because he suffered a sudden illness on the 26th which rendered him unconscious and from which he never recovered. 

Our tribe is not endowed with a lot of riches. Chamara Lakshan Perera was a giant and a gentle one too who enriched all of us. His exit has made us acutely aware of the extent of our poverty.   

He’s gone. That’s a long rest. A different and difficult experience.