SAARC: KAAK-KAAK, eat, drink and BARK-BARK!

by Gamini Weerakoon

(August 03, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Readers would have presumed on reading this column last week on 'SAARC-SAARC- KAAK-KAAK' that we are not devoted enthusiasts of the political jamboree now on in Colombo despite the headlines of government and pro-government newspapers saying that 'paradise now' will soon dawn on the South Asian region - food and energy crises will be resolved, terrorism eliminated, poverty alleviated, South Asia will be sans borders, visas and much more.

Why the Rajapakse government did not hold this jamboree before and achieve all this earlier, we leave it to our readers to guess.

Our main complaint is that we are almost barricaded at home with most highways declared 'high security roads' and whole areas declared 'high security zones.'

We are regular users of the Parliament Road grandiosely described as the state drive - despite it being pot-holed for a greater part of the year. These days we can't even approach it.

Pity FDPs

Fortunately we will not starve or hopefully not die as a result of this incarceration but our thoughts went out to an old couple who we see day in and day out, sprawled on the pavement outside the Jayewardenepura Municipal Council on Parliament Road.

Some years ago this couple appeared on the front pages of some newspapers when they were seen going about in a hand-powered wheel chair, but with years, the wheelchair had been disabled and they have been on the pavement sprawled out with their faithful dog by their side for many months. They live on the generosity of motorists who stop and hand over a little cash or even food packets. It is obvious that the couple would have to move out from the pavement and our thoughts were on how they would eke out their living during these festivities.

Reports said that all 'beggars' (sorry, FDPs - Financially Disabled Persons - in keeping with current sociological trends) will be removed by the police to special camps when the gracious heads of state sit down to deliberations. It is simply not done to present such an ugly sight of FDPs to South Asian heads of state. Have they seen them in their own countries such as India and Bangladesh?

We are told that these ladies and gentlemen have been removed to a far away camp at Ridiyagama down south so that foreign dignitaries may not set their sights on them till their departure. We do hope that these people will be able to enjoy themselves in their holiday camp and satisfactory accommodation and food will be provided free, in addition to a per diem allowance which they would have otherwise earned had they been on the streets.

Heads of state, ministers and other delegates of all participating countries too, we presume, are entitled to such allowances and much more. So why not the FDPs who had been forcibly displaced from their traditional homes - the streets, for no fault of their own?

Dogs too

Dogs too, Colombo 7 dogs at that, have been made to suffer a similar plight. These dogs have been traditional inhabitants of Colombo 7 - in and around the BMICH, Longdon Place, Baudhaloka Mawatha, Torrington Place, Vihara Maha Devi Park and the Town Hall, for generations. Now, our Sri Lankan panjandrums from the Foreign Ministry and possibly intelligence services and the like did not want this unseemly sight of stray dogs offending the heads of state as they drive through in their bullet proof, luxury BMWs.

What would they think? Colombo city abounds with stray dogs or that the country has gone to the dogs? Mercifully, the dogs have not been killed. In accordance to the gracious philosophy, the Mahinda Chinthana, no dog should be gassed. This is according to the teaching of the Buddha: Sabbe Sattha Bhavantu Sukhi.. (May all beings be well and happy).

Whether our canine friends who were romping on the green lawns of the VMD Park and leafy roads around the BMICH will be 'well and happy' in the undisclosed premises they are locked up in, in Borella, we are not too sure. And how about their food?

These canines are fed well on the high protein, high calorie rich, garbage dumps of Colombo 7. Those around VMD Park - we have seen them wolfing away packets of food given to beggars (sorry FDPs) which the overfed FDPs had thrown away. They shouldn't be made to suffer a drop in their quality of food.

An alternate way

In this regard we wish to suggest an alternative way of feeding the FDPs and IDAs (Internally Displaced Animals). It has been reported that Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama (Boggles) is going ahead with another mind boggling act of hosting a banquet for 400 guests at the Sirima Bandaranaike Exhibition Centre at Rs.10,000 per head and President Mahinda Rajapakse is hosting a dinner for 200 guests at Rs.4000 per guest. Further to the dinner Rs.2.5 million is to be spent for floral d‚cor and lighting while cocktails are estimated at Rs.1 million. Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona is not to be outdone. He is hosting his own banquet at a cost of Rs.5000 per head.

We are not suggesting that these banquets be cancelled and the money channelled to feed beggars and dogs, even though the funds would be sufficient for such a purpose for decades to come.

It can be safely presumed that foreign dignitaries will not be wolfing down all these fine dinners dished out to them by chefs of five star hotels. We suggest that some of the left-overs be parcelled and given to beggars and dogs so that they too may know what banquets and fine dining is all about. The dogs we are certain will strike the refrain: SAARC-SAARC-BARK- BARK all night.

Meanwhile our yakkos and other hoi polloi should not be envious of our privileged few. The Portuguese, when they wined and dined on the night before battle, sang (which translated into Sinhala) sounded: Kaapalla, beepalla, jolly karapalla, Heta marunath sithata sapai, adha jolly karala (Eat drink and be merry. Even if we die tomorrow it will be better to be jolly today).

Which are the battles that our heroes will be fighting the next day?
- Sri Lanka Guardian