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Do you remember those email forwards that used to make the rounds ‘those days’? You know the ones that showed you how apples were actually painted red and then waxed to maintain freshness? And also that bananas were the advance force in an alien invasion aiming to take over the world in succulent fleshy goodness? No? Well, me neither until I came across this apple in a leading supermarket chain in Colombo. 

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I call it….. General SOD!

A Buddhist Monk, Ven. Bowatte Indraratna Thera, set himself on fire a few days ago allegedly because of cattle slaughter and forced conversion. It kind of confused me. 

Sri Lanka pretty much lives on a steady diet of meat. It’s not that Sri Lankans are huge consumers of meat, but there is pretty much something in every meal. Enough that it makes it hard to be a vegetarian in Sri Lanka. Per capita consumption of meat was around 6.6 kg per person in 2002. That is higher than 3kg consumed in Bhutan which is a primarily Buddhist country. Even monks eat a bit of meat and fish here. It is only on Poyas that meat (and alcohol) is not served. So why all the sudden fuss? Are all Sri Lankans suddenly going to become vegetarian? 

Also, why would he set himself on fire near the Maligawa? Women are not allowed to show their legs or shoulders in the temple. I would hope that a self-immolation is worse than that. 

The Thera was a former Pradeshiya Sabha member who lost his seat and was expelled from the party after disciplinary action. But now he is being hailed as a martyr who did not commit suicide but rather sacrificed himself for the greater good. There is much talk about carrying on his legacy. Do they mean the self immolation? The actions that lead to him being expelled? 

Colour me confused.  

Ok, while I might not be the most metro of metrosexuals I do try to at least nick (if not cut) a dashing figure, but recently I feel like an entire fashion generation has passed me by while my head was turned. I am now seeing buzz cuts and some strange tapered cuts and mohawks and faux mohawks (which are a bit silly, as if one wants to be radical but gave up half way) and braids and spikes and mullets and this strange emo-sheepdog look. 

When I was young I would get a haircut for Rs. 30 (plus Rs5 for a blade) and I would be glad my mom didn’t try to cut it. Now it’s all about styling and ironing and product and god knows what secret-society etiquette that governs it all. 

But now I want a good haircut, so, somebody please fill me in. Where do men get good haircuts in Colombo? How much do the darn things cost? Do you tip the hair dressers? How much do you tip them?

And no, I haven’t been living on a desert island (no pun intended), I just walk in to a place close-by and walk out minus some hair. 

So, have some mercy. Update me before I am arrested by the fashion police. 

 

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Yesterday, I watched MTV’s The Debater finals. I was pretty impressed watching it. When I was back in school, debating tournaments were relegated to libraries or small auditoriums. It was the rugby matches and cricket matches that drew the crowds. Debating was for those small groups of intellectuals who could string a few words together coherently (mostly at least). But MTV Sports took it, spiced it up a bit and made it a big event. The final was more like a big match than a genteel verbal sparring, with flags waving and kids yelling and both school bands making a heck of a racket. 

The finals were between Lyceum and Ananda College and the standard of the debaters were pretty acceptable. The kids were confident and aggressive and the content was fairly well researched. The topic was on a global body being created to govern the internet, and Ananda was the proposition. 

I was fairly surprised to see an international school reaching the finals, because they usually don’t show up in the big events. But Lyceum practically creamed Ananda. Their points were cogent, they were aggressive, confident, and their rebuttals stinging. Perhaps they were more comfortable with the language, but Ananda made it to the finals, so on that point it should have been even. The teams were evenly matched at the beginning, but Lyceum was great in the middle rounds and sadly, Ananda’s closing speech was embarrassing. The kid contradicted himself every other sentence. It was a good match, but by any standard of judgement, Lyceum had won. 

Except they didn’t. 

They got the best speaker award, but Ananda was given the victory. 

I should have realized that there was no way an international school was going to be given the victory. The panel of judges were a set of lawyers and supreme court judges. No way was Ananda College, with their long history and significant ‘old boy’ support, going to lose to an international school. It was a little sickening. If the match was closer, I would have given them the benefit of the doubt, but the winner was pretty obvious. 

I wish I could say otherwise, but this is pretty much how Sri Lanka works. It really isn’t what you do that matters, but whom you know. And this is being taught to the next generation of kids in our country. Bravo. 

 

 

Are annoying little things. They seem completely arbitrary and if you haven to get one of them wrong people look at you as if you are socially maladjusted, mad at them, or just some crazy foreigner. Crazy foreigners can get away with a lot of things by the way.

It’s not like I have Aspergers or anything, (at least I hope I don’t have Aspergers), but I just can’t figure some things out. The guy has to sit in the front passenger seat of a car for example. Or if you are taking a cab solo, you gotta sit up front. What if I like sitting at the back? The seats are wider and I am paying for it. Or when you meet people, whom do you kiss and whom do you shake hands with? And is it one kiss on the cheek or that double kiss thing that makes me feel I am an Arab, or at least a Sicilian mafioso. I usually stay at the back and wave a polite ‘hi’, or at most shake a hand. 

In Sri Lanka you have to ask a person if they want something a gazillion times to be polite. If you don’t ask them to ‘serve some more, no please go ahead, no eat more‘ at least ten times then you don’t really like them. And is it ten times, or twelve? 

Someone should write a manual. I am sure it will be a best-seller, either in the self-help category or in the comedies. 

It is quite amazing the things you can hear from Three Wheel Drivers if you just listen to what they have to say. All they need is a sympathetic ear and it is nearly impossible to get them to stop talking. I have had quite a few conversations with them over the years, and while I usually prefer a nice quite ride (yes I see the irony) sometimes I get stories. I decided to write this one down because first, it is interesting, and second, you can often tell the pulse of the city by talking to Three Wheel Drivers. They are the corpuscles that carry the oxygen the city needs to survive. Now there’s a metaphor for you.

This is what he told me, paraphrased and translated to English:

“Sir, this is a Buddhist country, but I tell you the things that happen here are not Buddhist at all. Whether you are Buddhist or Christian or Muslim hanging a board around your neck that says what religion you are is useless. You need to have it in your heart. In your heart!

 

“If you travel down this road during Poya you will see a hundred Dansals. But what use is that if you don’t do anything good on other days? If I see a beggar I will give him 10rs. Whatever he does with it is not my business. I do it for merit. I keep the Dhamma in my heart.

 

“One day I was taking a hire into Kellaniya. There were 8 police men on 4 motorbikes. They had a row of Three Wheelers stopped. My light was not working properly so they stopped me and were writing me a ticket. Then a big vehicle (SUV) sped down the road and the police man tried to stop it. It swerved around him and stopped. The window was rolled down and a man asked why they were stopped. The policeman showed them the speedgun; they were speeding. The men in the vehicle were drunk. The driver said to the policeman: “You f**k. Do you know who I am? Do you think you can do anything? Do whatever the f**k you want and let’s see what will happen.” Then he sped off. Now there were 8 policeman and 4 bikes. I expected them to call it in or race after them but nothing. Sir, there are 2 laws, one for politicians and their friends and one for other people. What can we do? You know now policeman get commissions for traffic fines. They get 20% per fine, and they fine about 100 vehicles per day. They only stop bikes and three wheelers because they can’t stop the big business men. What is the point? They don’t have Buddhism in their hearts. What can the rest of us do?

 

“Sir, you work in an office. You associate with the same group of people, but me? I meet people from the highest to the lowest level. I used to work in Dubai, but you know, I learned so much more about life after running this three wheeler. You won’t believe the type of people I meet. Especially the women.

 

“One day I got a call to a residential area. It was a very rich place. The lady was nice and polite on the phone. When I came into their driveway she was carrying a Pomeranian and wearing tiny shorts and a strappy top that hid almost nothing. Now what am I supposed to do sir? She said to wait for her while she gets dressed and she came back down in a skirt that was too high and a top that was too low. She then lifted her leg and put it on the bar in front. What am I supposed to do sir? I am married and I have a kid but I am still a man. Every time I look in the side mirror I see her leg raised up and I miss the traffic. People in buses are craning their necks to look. People are overtaking the vehicle and slowing down to take a look. She really was very beautiful. So I stopped the three wheeler and told her: “Miss, would you mind putting your leg down and sitting in the middle please?” She then started shouting at me sir. In the middle of the road! She said even her mommy and daddy don’t tell her what to wear. Who am I to tell her these things? Now what can I do sir, I am also a man. I told her I can see her lifted leg in the mirror and have trouble seeing the road. You know what she said sir? She said “Never mind Uncle, you can look as much as you want” Sir, she was about twenty two. If it was someone bad driving her she would be kidnapped and never seen again. This world is changing sir. Even this country is becoming very bad.

 

“The older women are worse. They are about 45. They leave their homes in the morning and go meet younger men, like van drivers and such. They drive around and meet them at hotels and have fun. Later they fix their hair and makeup and ask me to drop them at some place. They then get picked up by their husbands in their cars and kiss the man and the kids and drive off. But they treat me well. Sometimes they give me an extra 100rs or buy me food. For some of them I write down their phone numbers and times that I drop them. You never know when you might need it.

 

“Anyway sir, I can’t tell some people these things because they won’t believe me, but this is how the country is. I will tell you more stories if we meet again. Call me when you need me to drop you and I will come. Alright sir, goodbye sir. Goodbye” 

I overheard a conversation today while sitting at my desk. A couple of guys were casually discussing a random girl’s looks. One chap stated that the girl looked nice, that she was not sexy, but was decent. So I asked them a question, can a sexy person not be decent as well?

Working in some of the offices in Colombo is a supremely trying experience. Besides the usual hassle that comes with working in any office is the unending series of affairs that seem to be going on at any given time. The other (and probably connected issue) is the attitude displayed to women in the office. If she happens to dress interestingly then she is deemed sexy, but also a target for male attention. If she looks good but dresses more modestly then she is decent. (I do not understand what the standard is here but I assume it varies depending on the office.)

Now why on earth can’t someone be both sexy and decent? (whatever the relative meanings of those words are)