From grease poles to greasy demons


Climbing the grease pole is a game that is an essential part of the traditional New Year or Avurudu celebrations in Sri Lanka.  The crowds enjoy the  sight of those who try  their best to climb to the top of  a slippery pole, with loud cheers and much applause for every heave up, and  great excitement as the climber  nears the top, very often  to come slithering down, again to  the  cheers of the well entertained crowd.

Seeking to the reach the top of the grease pole is not confined to Avurudu festivities. It is quite a common practice in the world of politics, where  aspirants to  better political position, ministerial posts,  mayoral office, and also to leadership roles  within their political parties, rarely hesitate to begin  climbing  on what is clearly a  political grease pole, that  leads to most of those climbing  to come crashing down.

 The jockeying for position and nominations, as well as being named to head the various local bodies that will soon go to the polls has seen a great deal of grease pole climbing in the past few weeks. Many who tried the climb could not go up very much due to lack of supporters to give them a hearty push up and also for lack of funds to get the grease layer on the pole thinned enough to make the climb easier.

 Just now there must be great excitement in the UNP with the grease pole climbers in green who are trying to get above Ranil Wickremasinghe, who somehow remains perched atop, giving the impression that he feels very uncomfortable  in that slippery position.  The past few months have seen many tactical skills and oily strategies being employed, with legal thinner too, as those in the Green Camp made repeated challenges to bring Ranil slithering down from his perch above.  But he seems to have an uncanny skill in dealing with grease.

 Sajith tries hard to climb, pushed up by his supporters, with Talatha and  Rosie leading the cheering, but he has never got more than half way up, before he began slipping down, for the lack of enough grease proof supporters to give him the great push up.  If he was expecting Ranil who is sitting high on a mass of slippery grease to throw him a line to pull himself up, he would have been mistaken.

 When it was clear that Sajith would never be able to reach the top of the green grease pole, with so much grease on his own body that adds to the speed of slipping down, the Sajith strategists decided on a proxy option. Their choice was Karu Jayasuriya to climb the grease pole to push Ranil down. But, little did they calculate that Karu J, for all his willingness to be atop the green pole,   was also a person with much political grease on his body and was therefore no good climber on this slippery pole. What made it even worse for those who were pushing Karu up that slimy pole, was that all of Karu J’s joints were  oiled with Ranil lubricants, which made him keep Ranil W  well informed ahead of every move and shove of those who were trying to push him up to Ranil’s perch of discomfort.  

 The greasy work in the green camp seems to have been suspended for the  current local government elections, although there are informed whispers that those in the rival camps of the green grease climbers are engaged in secret moves to prevent the UNP from getting back to the top at least in Colombo and Kandy, which would make Ranil’s position on top of the grease pole even more uncomfortable.

 It is important to know that grease pole climbing is not a game that is confined to politicians today. Administrators and bureaucrats are also now well into the game of grease pole climbing, as often as politicians or even more.  It is the growing belief that promotions and the best sinecures in government postings go to those who are best at climbing the political-cum-bureaucratic grease pole. Of course success in this climb in officialdom only comes to those who get the best push up from those who have already climbed high  in politics. So it is that we are fast developing a new breed of politico-administrators, whose main claim to success is their ability to climb the grease pole of political opportunism.

My thoughts on grease and grease poles came with the very frequent references to the "grease yakaa" or grease demon that  reports say haunts  people in various parts of the country. Being a person who does not believe ghosts or demons,  I think there must be a better  explanation  for this phenomenon if indeed it is one. However, one is reminded that there are grease demons other than those said to be lurking where women gather but are more frequent in the various corridors of crooked business.

 I have identified two grease demons in recent months that are yet to be exorcised. One is the grease demon of poor quality cement that came to the market without the required SLS stamp of approval. It will be interesting to know who let this greasy demon into the country, and how it will be kept under control. The other grease demon that I have observed is that found in the adulterated petrol that was distributed freely to hundreds of sheds in the county and put so many motorists is deep trouble. Now this must be a real grease demon, with very good political lubrication to have spread itself so fast without any clue that it was haunting our oil storage facilities.

 It will certainly be interesting to see whether and when we can find an exorcist or kattadiya who can nail down these two grease  demons and tell the people the truth of their origin, their path of entry to the county and what will be done to these demons when they are found out. Will they be put into two bottles and thrown far off into the sea as told in ancient fables, or will they be allowed to freely haunt other areas of commerce and trade in the country in the coming months? That is indeed a very greasy question.

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