19 October 2014

Trivialities that trip

In the early 1990s a director of a state institution was at the receiving end of efforts to remove him orchestrated by the particular subject minister who used the institute’s trade union.  His detractors produced a series of scurrilous pamphlets about the man full of invective and unsubstantiated allegations laced with foul language.  The director, each time he came across one of these ‘research documents’ would promptly post it on the institute’s general notice board.

During the heady days of the Ceasefire Agreement between the then Government and the LTTE, the advertising agency Phoenix O&M organized an exhibition titled ‘The Other Side,’ featuring the creative work of its staff outside of advertising briefs.  Harith Gunawardena, a Creative Director, came up with a simple cardboard box carrying the legend ‘නොර්වේ රාජ්‍යයෙන් මිලින්ද මොරගොඩ තෑග්ගක්(A gift to Milinda Moragoda from the Norwegian Government).  There was an invitation to open the box and take a look inside.  It contained some ropes, all of them old and frayed. ‘Dead ropes’ or as is said in Sinhala ‘dirachcha (decayed) lanu’. 

This was when Norway played a ‘facilitating’ role between the Government and the LTTE.  It didn’t take long thereafter for everyone, including the most ardent (if naïve) supporters of the CFA to realize that the CFA was a road to nowhere, that it was a flawed, in word and in operation and most importantly that the LTTE (as those who had been vilified as ‘war mongers’ argued) was never interested in negotiations. The exhibit, therefore, also had prophetic value. 

Milinda, at the time and as pointed above, was a key player in Government-LTTE negotiations.  Harith knew that Milinda would come.  It was therefore an in-your-face objection.  He came. He saw.  He offered to buy the exhibit. Whereas others may have kicked the box, assaulted box-maker or tied him to a tree using the very same rope, Milinda was amused.

The lesson is that there are many ways to respond to critique, well-argued and cogent, pedestrian, caustic or vulgar.  Mahinda Rajapaksa, for example, is well-known as a person who can take a cartoon-hit and laugh.  Indeed, much like Milinda, he would probably pat the cartoonist on the back if he were to meet him.  Wins respect of critic.  Dilutes critique. 

But not everyone is like that much harassed director, Milinda Moragoda or Mahinda Rajapaksa.  Not everyone can laugh it off.  Just the other day, an official of the Ministry of External Affairs was suspended for the ‘unconscionable act’ of reciting vas-kavi (‘curse-verse’ if you will: ‘hex’ or ‘a magical spell, usually with malevolent purposes such as a curse’).  As of now it is unclear if the person was reciting curse-verse during office hours.  If not, the suspension is not only unwarranted but illegal (as per the statutes in the Establishments Code).  Everyone is free to curse or bless, seek divine intervention to shower goodies or bring down with lightning. 

The legality of the matter notwithstanding the reaction is silly but damaging to the ‘intended recipient’.  It simply means that a simple vas-kaviya is potent enough to slip under the skins of whoever got upset by all this.

Now politicians, for all their bravado and braggadocio are mostly fragile and insecure creatures.  They are among the firmest believers in the occult.  They, probably more than any other tribe, are fervent worshippers at the temple of the particular choice.  They are fascinated by charms, amulets, talismans, fetishes, mascots and other such ‘protective gear’. They regularly visit astrologers, crystal-gazers and other ‘readers’ of past, present and future.  They are firm believers in horoscopes.  Nothing illegal in all this of course and moreover there’s nothing to say it’s all bunkum, especially in a world where millions believe in gods, devils and other fantastic entities as well as miracles.  ‘Anything goes’ stays if we go for the beliefs of the majority, we must conclude. 

For our purposes it is not the truth or otherwise of these things that count, but the reaction or rather the overreaction.  Don’t these people (those who recite and those who react) have other things to do, for example getting our foreign policy right, ensuring that there are no major slip-ups, putting in place systems that ensure that those in the service are so competent that political appointments can no longer be justified and so on? 

The Buddha once listened in silence to someone who went on and on insulting him.  After the man left, some of the bhikkus asked him why he did not respond.  The Buddha said that since he had not taken what was said, the man would have to carry all of it back with him. 

Those who have got upset, even at this late stage, would do well to calm down and recover perspective.  They could learn a lesson or two from President Mahinda Rajapaksa.  He, more than most, knows how to turn around a bad situation.  He does it with ease.  A pat on the back or a smile is what it takes most times.  In his case, a spontaneous guffaw would do the trick – that’s how much ‘ease’ has got ingrained into his overall system.  Indeed, one can’t help wondering if the President, upon hearing of these things didn’t have a good laugh over it.  His best-men and best-women could take a cue.