Facing extinction in Sri Lanka – discipline!


Old Parliament

Way back in 1965, I was in the GCE O/L Commerce section at St Benedict’s and Samson Mendis happened to be in my class. Dudley had just won elections and Samson’s brother, Wijepala was the elected MP for Katana. At class teacher’s request Samson, through his brother, arranged for our class to visit Parliament during sittings. It cost us five cents each to go by bus from Kotahena to Fort and our entire class went.

A few of us had heard about Sir Albert Peiris, the Speaker, but none of us were prepared for the ceremonial entrance. A piece of wood intrinsically carved and woven into a solemn and traditional ritual took me some time to understand. Maze I knew, but Mace was new. The symbolism, the Sergeant-at-Arms and the acquiescing of the MPs to procedure is something I will never forget. Pomp and pageantry in those days were something we saw pictures of in newspapers, or in movies (Pathe News clips); more often with ‘imperial’ and the ‘monarchial’ connotations. Decorum entered my vocabulary that day with a pointed Mace!

Today, on BBC, CNN, AL JAZEERA, I watch the proceedings of the British House of Commons, the US House Of Representatives and Senate and say to myself "Shit, we were there fifty years ago"! We have progressed – YES! Down the dengue-filled drain! Filled with burning of draft constitutions, fiery retorts that cannot be printed in any self-respecting newspaper and where loyalty is about party, with connotations and/or leanings subject to change without notice. And Opposition is about opposing and obstructing – everything! That’s just talking about our parliament. We now have devolution and Pradeshiya Sabhas, Nagara Sahbas; powers were devolved and a new breed evolved. Someone said he’d take the "man from the pavement to parliament". Second Cross Street in Pettah is as noisy, but I have absolutely no compunction in saying that Pettah is safe for children.

A few years ago, my niece invited us to the US. Los Angeles to San Francisco was a nice drive – some 550 km compared with 520 odd from Dondra Head to Point Pedro. To take a break for a meal, we get off the highway, move to subways, byways and there’s a painted sign at almost every junction on the road STOP. Around 11:00 or 11:30 in the night and no vehicles in sight, my niece stops – a complete, total halt. Tired I was and I tell her there’s nothing either side of the roadway and she tells me, "Uncle, this is the law". Similar laws exist in Sri Lanka – abiding in its abdication is of interest.

Go to a supermarket, pick your requirements and come to check out. Seven times out of ten, you’ll find someone trying to ‘jump-the-queue’. A mother with a child or a person with a handicap, we care and give way. Ego is not a handicap. Come out and you find you have another ten to fifteen minutes twiddling your thumbs until a couple of vehicles make way for you to drive out. Driving back home, you’re overtaken left, right and center – right of way or right is beyond comprehension.

Getting back to the pavement – grammatically, theoretically it is "a raised, paved or asphalted path for pedestrians at the side of the road". Hawking favours is what politics is all about. Win some who can handle the whining of the losers. Pedestrian is what we end up being.

I’m not a regular church-goer. A couple of months back, we stopped at the side entrance our local church. (By the way, we are mainstream, Main Door Catholic and this was about convenience). There was a motorbike parked right along this three foot entrance and I waited for the owner to come back. He did come kissing a Rosary and I asked him if he prayed. Faithfully, he said yes. And declares that he also lit candles. I told him that, waiting for him I cursed. When he got objective, I got subjective. "Love thy neighbour" is script, inscription of morals takes more than a Holy Book.

I was crossing the street on a Yellow Line (the lines were drawn but they were White). An SLTB bus stops and I walk, poking my nose to see what is approaching behind this colossus. Bang! Something hits my head and I see a motorcycle and rider sliding horizontally. Bruised and bleeding from his knees, elbows and I don’t know where else. He berates me in raw filth demanding I take him to hospital and repair his bike. A policeman happened to make an appearance. The guy apologizes.

Try getting in or out of a train, it takes some effort - the footboard is monopolized by a few ‘regulars’. Squeeze your way through and there’s sometimes enough to park a Nano. The next ‘community’ you encounter are the ‘back-packers’ – those with knapsacks slung over their shoulder and protruding a mile and a half behind their backs. I got to wearing plastic lenses for my glasses after one of these ‘back-packers’ ‘turned’ and his bag hit me and splinters of my spectacles cut my face. In passing, I got a "Sorry". Two sutures and follow-up dressing was not included in the "Sorry". Neither were the plastic lenses.

Get into a bus and there are stickers that say "travelling without a ticket is a punishable offense". You pay your fare, how often do you get a ticket? At some halts they stop for 5, 10 or more minutes with the conductor hailing would-be commuters. You do get ticked off. Complaining entitles you to another ticking off.

A child is born of labour – from conception to delivery. Bringing them up is laborious. Don’t we all love to produce an Einstein or a Darwin? Maybe a Bill Gates or Zuckerburg or Steve Jobs. Success is a drive. A Discipline is chosen and rupees tend to lose sense. We send them to universities that are traditionally institutes of learning. Learning education is a lot more than books. Reading Dhammapada or the Bible, or the Quran, or the Torah or the Bhagwat Geetha is educative. Learning is the practice of understanding values. The book costs rupees. Common sense is a derivation. Deviation occurs.


E-mail: ggponnah@gmail.com

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