Friday, December 31, 2010

The light at the end of the road

It was like stepping into a warm embrace of a loved one after a long and tiring journey… that’s how I would describe what it felt like when I stepped into Lux e toile – our digs for the night – after our arduous journey of nearly twelve hours. The title of this post seems even more fitting because the name of this place means Star in French. The last time we were in Jaffna this place was full and we only came in for meals. But this time around we were lucky enough to get rooms and what a marked change it was from the hell hole I was staying in during my previous visit.

Firstly the rooms were large and the beds were comfortable had clean sheets and there were decent towels laid out. The air conditioner worked properly. The toilet was clean it had hot water and ohhh god a pressure pump which assaulted you with a heavenly gush of water when in the shower. And all this for just 6500/- per double. Now in terms of design this was not the four seasons but for me it sure felt like it.

What really surprised me was the enthusiastic welcome we got even though it was 11.30 in the night when we stepped in. If it was any other hotel everyone would have been surly and would have wanted us to get to our rooms and sleep instead of even offering us a decent meal. Instead these people were willing to wait up till we had a drink. Made us bite and then made sure our dinner was warmed and served at 1.30 in the morning. Now that is what I call service from the heart.

And of course the highlight of the journey can be summarized in two words. Foood and drink!!!

Firstly I had the opportunity to drink Palmyra arrack which was awesome. I found the liquor absolutely smooth and delightful to the palette. I drank it with Coke but I was told the ideal way to drink it is with a little bit of Soda in it. That way you can enjoy the natural sweetness of the liquor itself.

They made us these bites past 12 mid night and it was delicious...

Breakfast with vege Maturai curry

Once again we had the Maturai curries in green and red. But piece de resistance was the crab curry we had for lunch the next day. Out of this world! Heavenly experience! These are some of the phrases we could use to describe what a good traditional spicey Jaffna Tasted like. After eating and eating till we could not breathe we begged Vetri the jovial owner of the place if he would be kind enough to pack the left over gravy for us because we wanted to take it with us and eat it with bread in Puttlam looking at the Lagoon. I think he was delighted by our request and packed everything for us which we ended up eating the next day at office with bread. And I heard it was awesome. Sadly my colleagues did not think it was fitting to call me to share in the leftovers. Urgh when I think of that I can wring a neck or two. So they say every dark cloud has a silver lining and it was the same in this case. No I would not do this kind of journey again but I must say in the long run it was worth it just for the crab curry.

P.s. For those of you who want a decent place to stay in Jaffna Lux etoiles can be contacted on 02102223966

Green pol sambol another Jaffna speciality

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Groan Rattle and Shake (aka the road to hell).

Thud! Thump!!!! Groan thud rattle thud thump! Bigger Groan!

This is how I would describe the last 300 kilometers of my journey up and down from Jaffna to Omanthai.

If you (like me) are thinking that a quick drive to Jaffna and back in two days might be a nice idea. Think again. It was one of the worst decisions I have ever made.

The last time I went to Jaffna was in February and roads were far better than what I experienced ten months after. And I thought it would have improved by leaps and bounds. Guess I too swallowed the PR blitz about Uthuru Wasanthaya hook line and sinker. We left Colombo at 12 in the afternoon which in hindsight was not a good thing to do, as we were stuck in traffic and had progressed only 16 kilo meters in the first hour. It was 7 by the time we hit Vavuniya to refuel. From this point on the journey could be described as nightmarish. Not only because of the pot holes but also thanks to the pelting rain. Driving through elephant pass was scary in pitch black as thick sheets of rain kept visibility low; the fact that the rains loosened land mines and made them float did not help to reassure us too.

We finally arrived at our destination at 11.30 in the night and left for Colombo at 3 the next day to arrive 10 hours later as we were driving against the traffic. It seems the best way to get to Jaffna these days is in one of those Luxury Buses which charge you only 900 bucks one way. And you sleep or watch some tamil movies without having to worry about the condition of the road. And once you get there you can always hire some kind of van or tuk-tuk. Well at least next time I will know better.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The 4th floor

Generally in the local context when someone says 4th floor one is bound to tremble as it means we are talking about the fourth floor of the CID where many atrocities have been committed. But fortunately for me this post is about something which completely the opposite. This is a place I stepped into completely by accident because I pressed the wrong button on the lift at the Sarasavi Book Store in Nugegoda. Not many would notice it as it is away from the public eye in a side lane. But its actually five floors packed to the cieling with books. And on the fourth floor I found a treasure trove of local and regional authors. I have never seen such a wide range of books and authors till I stepped in here. For the first time in my life I found two other books on writings of Arundathi Roy. Plus there were books by local authors I had never heard of who held a lot of promise. Of course there were also all the books by the more popular local authors as well. And there were also two comfortable sofas strategically placed inviting you to sit and browse through all this amazing material for hours. Sadly I was not able to spend sufficient time at the place as I was called away. I can't wait till I can go there again. Even though the parking facilities are horrendous. It is still worth it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Probably the most unappreciated singer in history – Sixto Rodriguez

Someone referred to him as the man the wood stock generation forgot and a truer word could not have been said about this talented american of Mexican descent.
The sweet strains of Sugar Man assaulted my ears when I visited “D”s blog and from the first time I heard it I was hooked. I had not heard of Rodriguez before and was overwhelmed by the amazing talent I saw in all of his other work on youtube. The amazing thing is that even though "Sugar Man" was not familiar to me I was sharing it with a friend from South Africa and I was told that it was very popular over in that country. This made me search for more about this artist and it was amazing to realize that I had stumbled across an unsung hero who was only popular in South Africa New Zealand and Australia. If you want to find out more about Rodriguez then you could do so here. There is also a far better written blog post on Rodriguez here. All in all I think he can be and should be equated with the greats in music including Dylan and Hendrix. What do you think?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Simple American who loves to sing - Don Moen

This post has been a long time in the making and guess it is well past is sell by date. But still I want to post it in appreciation of one of the nicest Americans I have ever met. Don Moen to those of you who don't know him is to "praise and worship" christian music what Brian Adams is to pop. I was happy to be involved doing the communication for his concert which happened a couple of weeks back. Now I must confess I did have the opportunity to say hello to him in passing at a pre concert dinner function.

What I found amazing was that even though he was a celebrity I have never met a more down to earth and simple person in my life. He just kept mingling, posing for photographs and shaking hands with everyone. Even at another workshop with local youth he had given everyone his own personal email. Now I never heard of a star do that till now.

I really felt sorry for him at the actual concert. To be able to pack 4000 people into an arena made for 3500 people they had to remove most of the self standing fans. So it was hot. Really hot. So much so that it was like a sauna. Even I was feeling faintish and dehydrated. But he came on stage and sang his heart out for two whole hours though he had a flight at four in the morning to Chennai and then to delhi and then a 12 hour bus ride to their next concert performance.

I sometimes wish I had this guy’s humility and humbleness.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

An Enlightening Read: A new earth by Eckhart Tolle

I am so thankful to my beloved friend RC for suggesting I read this book in one of her long conversations with me. She did not know what a life line this book would turn out to be for me. Sometimes a little speck of dust could put an entire engine out of synch and that is what happened to me a few weeks back. It was an emotional crisis I did not see coming and I was completely devastated. I could not share this situation with anyone and had to put on a happy face to everyone around me. It was only the words in this book which helped me to be sane and to get a new perspective of myself and my mind. By no means is it easy reading and one needs to read it twice or thrice to grasp what is being said but I would recommend it to anyone to get a whole new grasp of humanity and humanness. From this book I heard the quote by Krishnamurthi to everlasting peace which was the simple words “I don’t mind what happens”. Believe it or not the words in this book have helped even to be in control of my eating habits what is in it has had such a transforming effect on me. If you would like a pdf copy of this publication its available with me just drop me a mail. I thought of leaving you with a sequence from the book which I found fascinating.
"The Zen Master Hakuin lived in a town in Japan. He was held in high
regard and many people came to him for spiritual teaching. Then it happened that the teenage daughter of his next door neighbor became pregnant. When being questioned by her angry and scolding parents as to the identity of the father, she finally told them that he was Hakuin, the Zen Master. In great anger the parents rushed over to Hakuin and told him with much shouting and accusing that their daughter had confessed that he was the father. All he replied was, “Is that so?”
News of the scandal spread throughout the town and beyond. The
Master lost his reputation. This did not trouble him. Nobody came to see him anymore. He remained unmoved. When the child was born, the parents brought the baby to Hakuin. “You are the father, so you look after him.” The Master took loving care of the child. A year later, the mother remorsefully confessed to her parents that the real father of the child was the young man who worked at the butcher shop. In great distress they went to see Hakuin to apologize and ask for forgiveness. “We are really sorry. We have come to take the baby back. Our daughter confessed that you are not the father.” “Is that so?” is all he would may as he handed the baby over to them.
The Master responds to falsehood and truth, bad news and good news, in exactly the same way: “Is that so?” He allows the form of the moment, good or bad, to be as it is and so does not become a participant in human drama. To him there is only this moment, and this moment is as it is. Events are not personalized. He is nobody's victim. He is so completely at one with what happens that what happens has no power over him anymore. Only if you resist what happens are you at the mercy of what happens, and the world will determine your happiness and unhappiness."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The princess and the alarm clock.

The alarm clock screams in pain as it smashes its head against the glass pane of its surface. He sees the princess sleeping he wants to reach out and wrap his arms around her. To feel her warmth the softness of her skin. To smell her hair. But every time he reaches out the damned glass obstructs his way. All he can do is look at the princess lovingly. As she sleeps... her hair fanned around her like a halo. Like an angel he says to himself and wonders why he has been given a heart. Machines are not supposed to have feelings.He remembers the story about the tin man who wanted a heart and wondered if some higher power out there thought it was him by mistake. Cursing him with the gift of a heart making him feel and want and reach for what he could not have.
He is glad he can be near the princess to wake her up in the morning to watch as she falls asleep. The clock knows the princess finds the presence of the constant ticking in her life reassuring. He wallows in joy at that fact like a fish feeling happy and joyful because he can feel the rays of the sun shining on his body through the water oblivious to the fact that the only reason this is so is because the water is rapidly shrinking.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Of justice, retribution and the wave…

Well the book club met once more and had another enjoyable session which lasted for over five hours and no one realized the time pass. Actually calling it a book club is a misnomer because we were discussing a film from the 80s. A short movie called the wave about a teacher who carried out a unique experiment when his students asked him how the people of Germany stood without doing anything while the Nazis who were just 10% of the population committed the atrocities which shocked the world. He created a similar situation in the class room and the results were mind boggling because all the students began to behave like the very people they were ridiculing.

But this led to an interesting discussion and one of the points which surfaced was that did the Nazis (Germans) get just retribution from the Jews for all what they have done. According to conventional an eye for eye wisdom no they have not. But one of the participants brought out a completely new dimension. He said that the Germans were being punished in an indirect manner to this very day via Hollywood. As you know most of the big movie production houses in Hollywood are of Jewish origin and his point was every year there is always a couple of holocaust movies which equals Germans to Nazis. After reflecting on this for a while I realized that it’s absolutely true.Don't you agree?

The best bookmark I have ever found!!!

Some say necessity is the mother of innovation. And most of the time that is correct but I just discovered that being lazy too could also help you to innovate. My wife and I were reading in bed and I asked her if she could give me something to use as a bookmark. Since she was feeling too lazy to get up or reach for some paper she just took off a hair clip which was on her head and put it into my book. Now of course she did this for a laugh but hell I suddenly realized I had just discovered the perfect bookmark. I read a lot of books and hate to dog ear pages. And have been frustrated about the choice of book marks available till now. The conventional card board ones fall out and the clip on types are kind of chubby so they obscure the reading surface. But the hair clip was perfect. It easily slipped in and was thin enough not to muck up your reading experience. And it is so cheap as well. Plus it has alternate uses. Who said being lazy was bad?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sadly Happy

I have been preparing for this day for a long time

when we might have to say good bye…

Thought it would be the summer…

but summer passed

sadly before winter my fear comes to pass…

I do understand

that you would want something more tangible

And I am happy for you

But Sad….. for me.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Selfish and selfless - a true story

They were two sisters. Selfless was older. She had always been looking after selfish since they were kids, while their mom went bar hopping every night trying to drown her disillusionment of a broken marriage. Four decades after nothing has changed. Selfless still looks after her sister’s kids whilst she imitates her mother. Selfish steals her money steals stuff from her home scolds her like a criminal but selfless carries on patiently like a parent ignoring the tantrums of a badly brought up child.

One day Selfish had an medical emergency her lungs collapsed for some unknown reason. Fortunately selfless was close by. She carried her sister who was much larger and heavier than she was to her house which was 5 minutes away. She had a cylinder of oxygen for emergencies which she used on her sister and along brought her back to life by administering CPR. Yet, by the time selfish was taken to hospital and put on a ventilator she had been pronounced clinically dead twice. Selfless was tired and grief stricken. Her body was sore as her muscles had got strained by carrying her much heavier sister single handedly. She still does not know how she got the strength to do that. Yet she had to look after the off spring of selfish as well as go to hospital and check on her sister.

By the next day evening selfish came out of her coma and was taken off the ventilator. The first thing she did was to ask for a phone so she could communicate with all her boyfriends who had not noticed that she was missing. And of course she scolded her sister for being in pain whilst she was in hospital because there was so much to be done on her behalf now that she was indisposed. Selfless did not utter a word that the only reason she was in pain was because she had to carry selfish. Instead she smiled with Joy her sister was alive. Her life had purpose and meaning once more.

Racism at Liberty Plaza

"I rushed into Liberty Plaza to grab a quick bite… when I noticed some individuals smoking in the mini food court area..... I decided to light up as well but was flatly told by the security guard and the cashier of the food joint that "the management states that ONLY foreigners are permitted to smoke on the ground floor"......

This was the post I saw on facebook which left me fuming.

I cannot believe that the management of LP a place where I go to quite often would stoop so low. I wonder if anyone knows anyone else who has a similar experience. I just wish there was something I could do. Someone I could protest to? What is worse is that this is a semi government institution.

Of course for all we know it could be the LP management trying to protect locals from lung cancer (who gives a shit about foreigners) but I sincerely doubt it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Warning: Laughter Hazard - Be careful when reading.

Whoever said laughter was the best medicine had not read “Chilli Chicks & Heart Attacks” by Sanjaya Mendis. It can cause grievous bodily harm and trust me when I tell you I learnt it the hard way. First I nearly died through choking because I was trying to stifle the laughter which was threatening to break through. It was late into the night and I did not want to wake my wife up. But oh the book was too funny and I could not hold back and suddenly like a volcano erupting I was laughing my butt off in my bed and facing a very angry and disgruntled wife who was wondering why I was shrieking like a banshee? Fortunately her clout missed me as she was sleepy. But seriously guys this book is so funny it is not funny. It is about a young Sri Lankan Doctor who is interning in a hospital in Australia. Guess it is like a Sri Lankan version of Kumars at 41 and Carry on Doctor combined. Someone said Grays Anotomy but I have not seen it so I wouldn’t know if it was apt or not. Right from page one it takes you surfing through wave after wave of laughter. But amidst the pages of laughter there is a real intriguing story with bad guys and good guys and true love. In fact some of the situations at the end brought a tear to my eye. I am so glad to see that there are so many talented Sri Lankan writers. I recommend this book highly. But I must confess there is one blot in this beautiful picture. The inner pages are printed on such low quality paper that it’s virtually transparent resulting in letters of the previous page being partly visible. Which really messes up your reading experience. It is like trying to eat the most delicious rice and curry from one of those polythene bath sheets. What a shame but guess you can’t have everything.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

City Island: So easy to miss…

But then you would be missing out on quite a charming dramatic comedy. I know this is the first time you might have heard of a dramatic comedy but that’s exactly what this is. This is one of those low profile movies which do not merit a second glance at the video store. The only reason I picked it up is because I keep an eye open for these nondescript movies as sometimes I end up finding absolute gems. Of course another reason why I picked this up was because Andy Garcia was in it and I have not seen a recent movie of his for a long time. Even reading the cover one would assume it is a boring piece of shit. And to be honest it is boring but in a funny way. Cos it starts out slow like sometimes laughter does and towards the end you just can’t stop because it is so absurd. Well this is not a review but just a little flag about the movie to see if it piques your attention. I loved it and would have hated to miss it. I think you might feel the same way too.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

When does No Know mean No No?

Never as far as I know. But then we live in strange times and sometimes us Sri Lankans prefer to hide our heads in the sands rather than face reality.
There were two articles today which appeared in the Sunday Times today which distressed me. One was the picture of the head of the ICRC crying because the tractors which were to be given to poor people in the North were given to the supporters of some politician. The other was this article which appeared about a sex book which was given out to students at CIS. Apparently a parent is revolted about the fact that his child of twelve should learn about making love, birth control and abortion. He alleges that it’s a book given to 15 year olds in the UK and since his request was refused has reported it to the media and the Child Prevention Authority.

To me this is a classic case of sensationalisation. Sometimes I wonder why a respected paper like the Sunday Times does not check the facts. A simple google search would have shed so much light on this issue. That’s what I did and this is what I found.

First of all it’s not a sex book. It is a book titled “Moral Issues” and a very good one at that. I did find it on google books and did skim through some of the pages. All I found was a publication which takes some of the situations young people face head on and provide honest and clear views about them. On the other hand what I found most revolting was the way the chairman of the NCPA reacted. One would think the school has been found guilty of distributing hardcore pornography amongst the kids. Take a look at some of the screen captures I have published and decide for yourself if someone is being overly puritan or not.

I think she and this parent believes that by educating the children about birth control, sex and abortion will encourage them to go out and procreate like rabbits. In other words prevention breeds practice. Also the fact that this book is only given to students is also false. In fact this book is introduced to students in Key Stage 3 which is years 7-9 (11-14 year olds) in the British Education system.

Sadly this kind of view it seems is more prevalent in Sri Lanka than I thought. And I was surprised when I was confronted with it in my own home whilst my wife and I were having a chat about a neighbor’s daughter. Now don’t get me wrong we were not gossiping. This girl is like an extended daughter to us. She has just turned 18 and found a job. She had a very rigid and closed upbringing when she was young. And now she is enjoying the new found freedom adulthood and work has brought her. However this has caused great agony to her mom and grandmother. Sadly they don’t have the patience or the tact to handle this kind of situation. Since this girl was experimenting with boys I was telling my wife I think it was wise if she told her a little bit about birth control and other adult stuff which her mom would be too shy to do. They are quite old fashioned and conventional. Sadly my wife too was of the same opinion that if she was to give her some basic sex education it would encourage her to be promiscuous. I nearly fell off my chair when I heard this but there was nothing I could say or do because I had hit a wall of moral objection.

This is the same attitude taken up by the Catholic Church about contraceptives. Sadly the world does not work the way we would want it to. If so there would be far less teenage pregnancies and less aids.

No one taught me about sex when I was young. I had to find out all I know from my friends. Fortunately I was not negatively affected by this. But today girls are attaining age at a very young age. I know this for a fact. I have two daughters and one has already become a woman though she is not even in her teens. And I would like her to be informed about what could happen to her and what options are available to her than suffer the consequences of my false sense of pious morality.

‘Land Of My Forefathers Has Descended From Paradise Deep Into Hell’

Welcome Speech In Houston By Tamil Attorney George R. Willy published in this weeks Sunday Leader.
Your Excellency; Mrs. Rajapaksa; Hon. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee; Hon. Consul General Arora; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen.
Welcome your Excellency to this great city. If you can ignore the oak trees and the mockingbirds, you could easily mistake this for Sri Lanka. It is in Sri Lanka that I was born, and my mother and the parents of my wife Shanti, our grandfathers and our grandmothers are all buried under the sacred soil of my motherland. I grew up, your Excellency, in Jaffna and moved to Colombo when I was only 10 years old. My wife is from Badulla and grew up in Diyathalawa, where her father was a well respected Captain.
I have smelt the sweetness of margosa trees in Jaffna and tasted the red jambu fruits that left red stains on my white shirts as I walked to school in Colombo. I know the lure of jack fruits ripening on the tree as the crows begin to break them open. I have seen the bright colored pandals during Vesak and shamelessly eaten the food at the dansalas meant for the poor and I have heard the chanting in the kovils and inhaled the smell of jasmines and the josticks.
I have heard the bells of All Saints’ Church as I assisted Father Herath during mass. But since I left Sri Lanka in 1975, there has been such pain, such sorrow and such agony. The mighty Mahaweli Ganga that usually brings its sacred waters to the paddy fields spat out blood, both Sinhalese and Tamil. From up here in the United States, I have watched the land of my forefathers descend from Paradise deep into Hell. No one can say with any certainty who is to blame. But the time for blaming is long gone.
Your Excellency, you are descended from Duttu Gemunu and my people from Elara. Remember how Duttu Gemunu fought Elara on his elephant Kandula and killed Elara. Duttu Gemunu, of course, is still remembered for uniting Sri Lanka for the first time. But he is also remembered for something else. After defeating and killing Elara, he built a monument for Elara out of respect for his worthy opponent. He ordered all citizens of the land to stop, dismount, and pay respect to Elara. In so doing, he not only showed what a great nobleman he was but also proved to be a great politician. He knew that he had to rule the Tamil people too after the defeat of Elara.
Your Excellency, fate and fortune and your great political skills have placed you at a unique point in history. Children, in years to come, will read in their history books that a great leader, a great warrior by the name of Mahinda Rajapaksa finally defeated the rebellion after nearly 25 years when several before him failed. They may even say that you are the Duttu Gemunu of the 21st Century. But if you want to wear Gemunu’s mantle, your Excellency, then you will have to build a monument too. That monument does not have to be a dagoba or a building. It will have to be new policy backed by law with teeth to enforce.
Do not make the mistake that sparked the ‘58 riots. Do not hold back Tamil youth who want to get into universities. Do not make the Tamils feel as though they are second class citizens. Respect their religions and respect their language. There is something about the Tamil people you need to know, Your Excellency. To them their language is God. There are only a few cultures in the world that have such devotion to their language.
You were trained as a lawyer, and in your early career you were a formidable defender of human rights. Now, you have the popularity; you have the power of a hero like Julius Caesar returning to Rome from his conquests. No one can deny you what you ask. Ask the parliament to pass some of the entrenched clauses you and I read in law school when we had to study the Soulbury Constitution. If you need my help, I will give it free as many in this audience would. The Tamil people are naked and hungry looking for you to assure them that there is a place for them. Make sure they have one. You killed one Prabhakaran, but do not let another one grow. You cannot prevent another one with swords and guns. You can only do that with your heart and wisdom. The compassion, truth, and justice you learned from the Buddha are the only weapons you will need.
According to Dhammapada, Buddha said: “Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an old rule.”
Your Excellency, as you leave this fair city and return to Sri Lanka, promise me that the ten-year-old boy walking to school tomorrow in his white shirt will have no other red stain than from the jambu fruit, the morning crow will not open anything other than the jack fruit, that there will be nothing else hanging from the margosa tree than the fruits I smelt. Your Excellency, return us to Paradise! Return us to Paradise!