28 May 2016

Let’s be a Weird Nation

We all have favourite columns and columnists.  There was a time when access to columnists such as Art Buchwald was limited and so, when I saw what was as close to a ‘complete works’ of the man at a used-books fair in Ithaca, New York, I was thrilled to bits.  This was 15 years ago.  I devoured those collections.  They contained some pieces which were time and place specific but then again someone who was not aware of something like, say, Watergate could still appreciate the wit and verve of commentary pertaining to an event/process that took place fifteen years before and in a country at the other end of the world. 

There were ‘timeless’ and ‘space-less’ pieces too in those collections. One enjoyed the political humour, the literary skill and philosophical insights.  Great reading. 

In recent times I’ve been reading Nury Vittachi, courtesy The Island.  He has this amazing ability to pick the most ‘uninteresting’ thing and make a delicious literary desert out of it.  He makes me laugh, sometimes at myself.  He informs. Educates.  Cleanses.  And, in an unobtrusive, delicate and almost imperceptible way, he is far more political than those who write political commentary.    

This morning I read Nury Vittachi in The Island. The title was alluring: ‘The World’s worst tourism slogans’.   Cracked me up.  After rubbishing several slogans, he gets to the fundamentals, which has nothing to do with tourism or slogans or which, at best would feed a particular kind of tourism (and of course sloganeering):

The best "regional" slogan ever, in my book, is "Keep Austin Weird" from a town of that name in Texas. A librarian named Red Wassenich came out with that phrase spontaneously in a phone call to the local radio station. What he meant was that his town, which is full of small, independent businesses, differed from other towns, which were full of boring chain-stores like 7-Eleven and McDonalds and Starbucks. The town promptly adopted it as its official slogan.

Made me think of thambili.  I think the King Coconut is a far superior ‘soft drink’ than Coca Cola or Pepsi Cola or any of the sodas that come in bottles or cans, in different colours and flavours and advertising gimmicks.  Smak and Joy gave us a range of fruit drinks and this is good.  Far better than the soda range, wouldn’t you agree?  Still, there’s nothing to beat fresh, home-made fruit juice.  If ‘convenience’ is what you are looking for, then the cordials are still better than the sodas, in my opinion.  Beli, Nelli, Mango, Guava, Watermelon, Jambu, Avacado, Lime, Lemon, Papaya, Banana.  Fruits? Drinks! 

I was told that the children of an international school were asked to observe the effect of colas on human teeth.  Some teeth were placed in a glass of Coca Cola and some in a glass of water. After a period of time the ‘Cola-Teeth’ got discoloured and began to decay.  I haven’t tried this out, but the literature on cola drinks does make one scary.  Nothing to beat water, they say.  I would add, ‘except thambili’, although it is not recommended if a person is suffering from certain ailments.  Still, it has curative powers that water lacks and which are totally absent in sodas. 

There are other ‘weird’ drinks. Osu pan. Kola Kenda.  The health benefits, however, are hardly weird.  Difficult to make?  It’s all in the mind.  All one has to do is to take 15 minutes, a pen/pencil and a piece of paper and jot down the amount of time spent idling or in pursuits that one can easily abandon without feeling sad/bad.  There’s enough and more time to make a fruit drink. 

Of course one can’t really carry one flask of gotukola kenda, one of beli mal and a third with jambu juice on one’s person all the time.  This is when thambili becomes an option. Sure, sometimes we do want a particular flavour.  By all means. Go buy that coke.  Gulp that bottled fruit drink.  Just remember that thambili is cheaper, more refreshing, has no additives, no colouring and is not going to discolour your teeth. It’s local too. The money you spend stays in the island.  The person benefiting is a fellow citizen. 

Nury applauds Austin’s way of thinking, because he lives in Asia, ‘a place where small, independent businesses are being driven out of business at astonishing speed by boring chain-stores such as 7-Eleven and McDonalds and Starbucks’.  He recommends we ‘skip the franchise stores and buy a rice lunchbox at (your) local café today’ and thereby help ‘keep Asia weird’.  That’s an api wenuwen api (we, for us) proposal. A truly jathika (national/local) kind of chinthanaya (philosophy). 

I won’t say ‘Skip Coke’.  I simply ask, ‘Do you know that when you skip thambili, you are skipping a lot of things and saying “yes” to a lot of rubbish?’

I am going to try ‘weird’.  I mean, I will try to be weirder than I am right now.  ‘Weird’ is good for my health. I believe it is good for our nation too.  Indeed, it might be the one way of making Sri Lanka the Asian Miracle (aasiyawe aascharyaya) that the Government has set its mind to create. 

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Email: malindasenevi@gmail.com. Twitter: malindasene


Banda said...

We will have to anyway go to small businesses rather than to supermarkets, with the VAT on large businesses as Supers. We now see manufacturers making different MRP labels for Supermarkets and small businesses. You are correct, while supermarket super profits would land in Panama, others will stay here (to be taxed more?)!

Anonymous said...

The morning Inspection -So as by you , made us laugh ,laugh to ourselves, smile and secret tears too.Thanks for bringing something nice to this corner .

Anonymous said...

I used to have a superior officer who carried a flask of Kola Kenda. So even carrying a flask of one item is better than carrying nothing.