Thursday, May 31, 2012

Namal Babata Kiyanawa

This is a story told by a Sri Lankan airlines cabin crew member to one of my close friends. It is too good not to be shared.
Apparently thanks to the current regime in power the Sri Lankan airlines flight crew now have large amounts of young stewards and stewardesses from the Hambantota district joining the carders as juniors. Not only are they under qualified for this job it also seems that they all come with a chip on their shoulders. Most seniors are wary of ordering the juniors around from Hambantota to carry out tasks as there have been instances where they have refused to do so saying “Namal Babata Kiyanawa”.  In fact one junior stewardess has been boasting to a senior that if she (the senior) wants a transfer that she (the junior stewardess) could arrange it by talking to Namal, Baba.
What a sad state of affairs this is. 

Copy and Paste: A Beautiful Inspirational story

Once upon a time, there was an island where all the feelings lived: Happiness, Sadness, Knowledge, and all of the others, including Love. One day it was announced to the feelings that the island would sink, so all constructed boats and left. Except for Love.

Love was the only one who stayed. Love wanted to hold out until the last possible moment.

When the island had almost sunk, Love decided to ask for help.

Richness was passing by Love in a grand boat. Love said,
"Richness, can you take me with you?"
Richness answered, "No, I can't. There is a lot of gold and silver in my boat. There is no place here for you."

Love decided to ask Vanity who was also passing by in a beautiful vessel. "Vanity, please help me!"
"I can't help you, Love. You are all wet and might damage my boat," Vanity answered.

Sadness was close by so Love asked, "Sadness, let me go with you."
"Oh . . . Love, I am so sad that I need to be by myself!"

Happiness passed by Love, too, but she was so happy that she did not even hear when Love called her.

Suddenly, there was a voice, "Come, Love, I will take you." It was an elder. So blessed and overjoyed, Love even forgot to ask the elder where they were going. When they arrived at dry land, the elder went her own way. Realizing how much was owed the elder,

Love asked Knowledge, another elder, "Who Helped me?"
"It was Time," Knowledge answered.
"Time?" asked Love. "But why did Time help me?"
Knowledge smiled with deep wisdom and answered, "Because only Time is capable of understanding how valuable Love is." —

Yes I admit sometimes I can be a sentimental fool but I don't make any apologies for it.

Copy and Paste: Brave Words by Namini Wijedsa

 Keynote speech delivered by journalist Namini Wijedasa at the Annual General Meeting of the Citizens Movement for Good Governance today, held in the auditorium of the Organisation of Professional Associations, Colombo.                                                                  
  Members of the Citizens Movement for Good Governance and friends, This is an honour indeed. And yet, I am more than a little daunted at having to speak before an audience whose experience and memories stretch so back into the past. When Dr. Visvalingam invited me to address you, I  was delighted. But as the days flew by, I became more and more uncertain  of what I could say to people who already knew so much more than I do. And who have lived much longer than I have.                               
So I stand before you as an ordinary journalist who makes no pretense about the depth and extent of my knowledge or insight. I present to you my views based on what I have learnt of my country through the exercise of my profession.                                                         
It is the practice today that when somebody presents a view contrary to that which is held by the government and its henchmen, that person and his opinions are loudly denigrated. He must have an agenda, they say. And the word ‘agenda’ is almost always used negatively.                       
If you criticise the way foreign relations are conducted, you’re being bribed by the West. If you speak about human rights abuses, you are a grasping NGO agent. Either way, you are embroiled in a certain conspiracy to topple the government. If you oppose the mass ordination of Buddhist children because you think it is not the healthiest way to alleviate poverty or to protect the Buddha Sasana, you’re part of an international religious plot to destroy  Buddhism in Sri Lanka. If you eat bread or noodles, you’re a slave to those evil multinational companies—despite the fact that the person making this claim is a noodle himself.                         If you criticise your rulers, you’re just downright ungrateful because  they won the war—and that should suffice for the next several decades. Indeed, “if you are not with us, you are against us”. Still. Three years after the war ended. This bigotry and intolerance is untenable. It is wholly detrimental to the free thought, free speech and the advancement of society. Why in this  day and age is a government afraid of a diversity of views? Why do they feel so threatened by detractors and critics that they feel it necessary to classify them as conspirators or traitors?                             
 As journalists, we have to avoid all these labels. And yet, you could still be sold out by colleagues who have aligned themselves so closely with this government that they are irreversibly indebted to them. If there are stooges in all other sectors, so it is also with the media. 
Carrots are certainly more powerful than the stick. This is not a phenomenon unique to the prevailing regime. Ranil Wickremesinghe had media lackeys who treated as heretics those colleagues who did not blindly follow the leader. So did Chandrika Kumaratunga and no doubt those before her. I may be mistaken but it feels so much worse now. If there is one change I would like to see in the media industry, it is that we do not let our political preferences erode relations among ourselves to the extent that we are unable to tolerate each other in a room.             I have an agenda. That agenda is set by me, based on certain principles, and is not financed by anybody. It comes from wanting a better life for my children. It comes from having made a choice to stay in Sri Lanka when leaving was an attractive option. As with any journalist, I have had access to many policy and decision makers over the years. I have observed how politicians think, how they work and the difference between the two. I have been able to compare how    systems, and the attitudes of those that run them, have changed. I have witnessed half-baked attempts to introduce some semblance of independence to our public institutions through the 17th amendment. Then I saw how easily, and flippantly, even these efforts were reversed through the  passing of the 18th amendment. Having covered the story from the day the law was passed, I will be the first to admit that the 17th amendment was flawed. I remember writing that the law was riddled with more holes than a string-hopper. But it could have been improved for the greater benefit of this country’s citizens and its public officials. Instead, the opposite was done. Our  public institutions have lost every semblance of independence and are completely and wholly controlled by the executive. And this includes the judiciary.                                                 When the judiciary depends on the executive for survival and career advancement, and the executive is of the type that expects complete subservience, what hope does this country have?     I don’t have to go into detail here about just how politicised our   institutions are. My audience knows it. What is despairing is that it appears to be a bottomless pit. You keep falling, and falling, and falling. The level of submission required is suffocating and even extends to the arts, particularly to the world of film. Since the war ended, Sri Lankans have been allowed to view the conflict only through the eyes of  the Sinhalese or through the eyes of the military. Their story of loss, grief and victory must be told. But what of the  others who died, who suffered, who grieve? What about the Tamils? What about the LTTE fighters, many of whom even the government says were conscripted by force? They have a story to tell too. If we don’t tell it a foreigner will. And then we won’t like it. Then we will whine about it. And somebody out there will join the growing ranks of traitor, of  conspirator, of enemy.                                                   
I remember visiting a Tiger cemetery once, during the ceasefire. It was  for a story. Back then we were encouraged to report these things. A mother and her daughter were laying flowers out on a grave. The woman said her son was buried there. He had been 16 at the time of his death. I  saw the same pain in her eyes that I have seen in the eyes of other mothers, Sinhalese mothers, Muslim mothers. Sorrow has no ethnicity, no bias, no race or political preference. So why do we give it these attributes?                                                               
Everyone is doing politics everywhere now. The end result is that we don’t get our services. It’s politics at the municipal council, at the police station, in schools, universities and in the health sector. Sportsmen do politics, actors do politics, soldiers, even very senior ones, do politics on behalf of politicians. Politics, politics, everywhere. To prep up a regime, or to topple it. Nothing in between, where the people are. Then there is this business of how people have come to accept the unacceptable. Some months ago, I walked to the top of our lane with our five-year-old daughter, Anshula. We were heading to the little bookshop near Jubilee Post junction. When we got there, there was police tape around the shop and policemen outside. So we turned back.  I asked some three-wheeler drivers parked at the stand nearby what had happened. As my daughter listened open-mouthed, they described how some men had come the previous evening—not too late—shoved the owner of the bookshop into the inevitable white van and taken him away. They had guns these drivers said, with great relish. Don’t know where they took him.  “Oh well,” I told my daughter, “let’s come some other time”. “Will they find that uncle?” she asked. “I don’t know darling,” I replied, noncommittally. “But there are other bookshops.”     
It was only at night that it hit me. My reaction was not normal. It was not normal for me to have accepted the abduction of this man. I don’t know if guns were actually used, but it was also not normal for me to have accepted that a bunch of guys could turn up with guns at the local   
bookshop. What had happened to me?                                       
But this how it goes. We Sri Lankans are getting so used to things being done wrongly that we forget what the right way is. Does it make me an NGO  puppet when I say all this? A traitor? A conspirator? A misguided fool? A plant of the West? An anti-Rajapaksa ingrate? Of course. To some people. But I’m none of those things to me. And that is what matters.             
So… how do we reverse the rot? Heck, I don’t know. If the whole distinguished lot of you failed to get it done over the years, what chance do I have of prescribing or enforcing solutions? Most times, the situation seems so hopeless that the worst option seems to be the best  option: That is, if you can’t beat them, join them.
But there has to be a way. And here is a little of what I figured out through my interactions as a journalist. First and foremost, we must fight on behalf of institutions and systems while separating personalities and politicians from the same. Politicians, regardless of their parties, have taken ownership of institutions and systems that do not belong to them. The public must bear on politicians to run them in a  manner that benefits us.                                                 
So often, since the war ended, we have heard that we must be grateful to  the government. Yes, we must. But this notion of gratitude has been taken too far. Today, we are expected to be grateful for everything, particularly services that are our entitlement. And those services, too, 
are delivered so grudgingly, so lackadaisically and so incompetently that it makes you cringe. This is a country that can’t conduct an advanced level examination without a breakdown. Need we look further? I say that now, three years after the military victory, it is time to stop focusing solely on gratitude. It is time to demand good governance. The regime must be grateful to the people for tolerating its inefficiency thus far. All the international conspiracies in the world    can’t mask the fact that things are not right here.                       
So how does the public know that they are being poorly governed, that politicisation is eating way at the very heart of our systems? The message must go to the grassroots, to the members of local government and provincial councils, of village societies and women’s groups. Teachers, clergy, business people, professionals, agricultural workers, everyone, must be made aware of their rights and entitlements. People must be educated about how proper systems work because we are so entrenched in what we have now that we cannot see or remember a better time.           
As a journalist, I have found the public eager to learn about alternatives. I recall a discussion I had with a group of law students at the Colombo High Court last November. It was a vibrant dialogue about the importance of separating the judiciary from the executive. It seemed all the more relevant because we were waiting for the judgement in Sarath Fonseka’s ‘white flag’ case. They, and I, went away more enlightened than when we came in. And I wondered whether the legal education system was today independent enough for similar debates to take place at student level. My guess is, no. When the message goes to the grassroots, stuff happens. Changes occur. We may not see them now, but things start moving. Politicians get nervous and feel more accountable. If the voices circulate only in the capitals, nothing will change. I had a scheduled interview with a senior VIP government minister recently. I was to meet him at 2 pm. At 1.30 pm, his aide called me and said the minister would be delayed because he was in meetings at Anuradhapura. Two o’clock came and went. I waited because the interview was an important one. We have waited a lifetime for Chandrika to get to places so this was nothing.                          At 3.30 pm, I called the aide. So sorry miss, he said. The minister was still at meetings and hasn’t even had his lunch yet. What’s the problem, I asked. “Big problem, miss,” he said. “All the local politicians are fighting with him about so many things and he can’t get away. He’s been stuck since morning.” The minister did not return till late that day. He had been given a tough time by the people that matter.          
This pattern needs to be repeated. People from the bottom have to get their rulers to listen. They have to cut through the rhetoric about international and local conspiracies and get to the root of the problem. 
But the objective, in my personal view, should not be to topple governments. Any fool can see that the alternatives are not viable. And if the systems remain the same what’s the point in changing a government  anyway? Besides, that objective will defeat the purpose. The fight will   
once again be about personalities and not about systems.  I don’t know whether we can achieve this. I do know that the job can’t be left to journalists alone or to civil society alone or to anybody else alone. Everyone who has the knowledge and the exposure must encourage  people at the grassroots to demand more from our rulers. Governing, after all, isn’t the sole prerogative or business of governments, and of particular political parties. The agenda has to be set by us. If we can’t get the people we elected to do their job, then we are responsible for  the rot we so despise.          

I had to share this because I think this was a great speech. Something I have not heard in a long time.  I do not know who this lady is but I am giving her a standing ovation shouting Bravo! Bravo!                                          

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Life is so... Unpredictable

Uncertainty - Isn’t that the only certainty in life?
Did someone say that? 
Is it a quote? If not, it should be.
During the past few weeks I came across two situations which made me think truer words have never been spoken.
The first was about a father in Moratuwa who accidentally ran over his wife and daughter. He was using a new vehicle which had automatic acceleration which he was unfamiliar with.  He ended up crashing on to a wall of his house. Sadly his wife and daughter were behind that wall and both of them got crushed. The father who was unaware who was behind the wall  only saw the mother injured mother and rushed her to hospital without realizing that there was another wounded person he was leaving behind. It was only a neighbor who discovered the daughter and rushed her to hospital after pulling her out. But it was too late as the girl was suffering from internal bleeding and she died a couple of days later.  Even though the daughter was unconscious most of the time she had her consciousness for a few minutes and told the father that she was not angry with him. The wife survived the ordeal and is out of hospital.
The last time I heard of them things were not too good between the husband and wife. And the father was going crazy with grief and blame and trying to commit suicide. Who can blame him? I would do the same if I were him. I would rather be dead than live the rest of my life knowing that the responsibility of my daughter’s death is in my hand.
The second situation was a trainer from the gym I go to. He and his wife were coming to Colombo from the girls parent’s house in Gampaha at 3.30 in the morning on a motor cycle. And they ended up being involved in some kind of motor cycling accident - of which I don’t know the 100% accurate details – and she died on the spot.
They were married for less than a year and were a beautiful couple. They had lots of hopes about the future. And all of that just vanished into thin air in just a few seconds.
I met her husband today and all I saw was an empty and broken man with a faraway look in his eyes. The worst part was there was nothing I could say to him to make him feel better. To give him a little comfort. Can I say everything will be alright? That she is better off now that she is dead like I would to someone who had lost someone who was extremely sick. Or could I make some kind of insensitive joke like I usually do even though it is not appropriate? In the end I  ended up doing none of the above. Just gave him a silent look of empathy and a tap on the shoulder. And we both knew there was nothing else to be said.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cioconat lounge: A paradise for drinking chocolate lovers!

Chocolate! Chocolate!  Chocolate! Drinking chocolate to be precise!
 Finally my quest to find that perfect cup of drinking chocolate has come to an end. A quest which has been going on for a good 15 years I might add.  I have tried all the usual haunts from Barista to the Hilton to the Gallery CafĂ© and none of them came up to scratch. Untill now.  What makes me shudder is to think that I might have missed out on this place for quite a long time if not for providence  making me step into it completely by accident.
I have been passing Ciconat lounge – where Barnes Place connects to Kinsey Road - for a couple of weeks now. My first response was “Oh no! Not yet another coffee shop! Yawn!  
It did look nice and inviting from the outside. But then so do others. And nothing motivated me to step in till I was looking for a quiet place for a lengthy conversation.
And it is only then I found out that the main offering of Cioconat lounge is hot chocolate. Warm, gooey thick delicious chocolaty hot chocolate. 32 flavors of it. And it tastes so damn good too!  I was oohing and ahing writhing and moaning with pleasure as this heavenly liquid slid down my throat some might have thought I was caught in the throes of an orgasm. I must confess it did feel orgasmic but guess the pleasure of drinking chocolate can be enjoyed for longer.
Cioconat lounge also serves coffee and some other delicious cold beverages which are very nice. I found the staff quite nice and friendly and quick to offer you a free sample of any sample you inquire about. And the sample servings are quite generous. They have the usual range of sweets and savories as well as serve breakfast lunch and dinner. Everything is cooked in house by an Italian trained chef. They also have a little section which sells sweets and other interesting stuff including fresh dates from various countries in the middle east.
It was only after googling that I realized that the Cioconat lounge is an international franchise of Middle Eastern origin promoting “Italian hot chocolate culture”. Ha ha sounds convoluted doesn’t it.
I am surprised that not many people have discovered this place yet. In fact I would have expected people to throng to it since it offers such a unique offering. Guess many make the mistake I did and think of it as just another coffee shop. 

The Drought is over… I hope!

Gosh! I just realized that I have not made a blog post on here since April. What a shame. My original intention was to make a post day but sometimes the best of intentions fall by the wayside in the face of adversity.
Ok I am being over dramatic here. The adversity I am talking about is a mega sized dose of lethargy and maybe a sprinkling of writers block. Not the other way round.
 It is not that I have not had anything to say. In fact it is completely the opposite. My life has been a blur of activity. More highs than lows thank goodness. But the lows though few have been pretty darn low contributing to the lethargy.
 I had so much to say, to write, to get off my chest.
But the words seemed to be suppressed. Even though I spent many moments staring at an empty word document on screen, my fingers poised to start clattering away the moment inspiration strikes.
But inspiration has been avoiding me. It has gone into hiding along with my muse.  And the drought of words took control of my life. Till now!
Well hopefully these words which are trickling out at the moment will transform into a torrent and I will be able to get back to my normal pace of writing one or two posts a week.
So let us begin. Writers block be gone I don’t want to see you in my vicinity ever again.