Hey buddy, what’s your other-side?

Everyone has another side, an away-from-the-public side, an underside, a dark side or in some cases even a light side, a black side, a secret side, an only-when-I-am-alone side. Some people think that these ‘sides’ in fact constitute the ‘real’ character with the ‘visible’ elements being essentially eyewash. I don’t know if this is true

by Malinda Seneviratne

(August 26, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) I do know, however, that people are not always who they appear to be and believe that life has a way of rubbing the two elements long and hard enough to produce distinction melting heat. I believe people trip over themselves or their many selves sooner or later and as they fall flat on their faces there is an unceremonious stripping of facade.

What got me thinking about these other, more hidden and (let’s say) dodgy elements of an individual (self included of course) is a text message I received yesterday from my part-time colleague Ranil Amirthaiah. It was not a ‘short message’, though. It was about ‘The Other Side’.

Now Ranil works for Phoenix Advertising. I am not a staffer there. I am an odd-job man at Phoenix.

A former employee, Vajira Mahakanumulla, described me as a trainee translator. Irvin Weerakkody, ‘boss’ to those at Phoenix, once observed that even in my aniyam (casual, not ‘illegal’ in the sense of an aniyam swaamiya or ‘illicit lover’) condition, it has been the most secure job I’ve ever held. True. I’ve been a permanent ‘part time’ employee there. That’s a nice place to be; one is neither in nor out and gets to see the insides and the out consequently; i.e, the ‘this side’ of things and the ‘that’, the ‘other side’, I like to think.
Creative Department

‘The Other Side’ is the title of a show put together by those at Phoenix. It’s an exhibition that showcases the lives of employees (not just those in the Creative Department) outside of their working day. Ranil was talking about another ‘other side’.

“Phoenix O & M is currently hard at work with a concept called the ‘Other Side’. This is an exhibition of the OTHER side of the staff besides their designated field of work. They say that it’s a unique concept and this apparently is the 4th such show. Ironically...they are wrong! For the past 10 years or so...the SL Parliament exhibits this Other Side on a daily basis!! The first thing on most politicos’ minds as they step into the Parliament is ‘what is my side today?’ ‘Other Side’, pronounced in Sinhala is ‘ADA SIDE’ (write it in Sinhala and you’ll know).”

Yes, Ada Side would mean ‘today’s side’. The reference is to people crossing sides, being on this side today and that side tomorrow. It wasn’t always like that though.

There was a time when crossing over to the other side could result in loss of party membership, an expulsion which results in an un-seating. Then there was a determination from the Supreme Court that permitted ‘other-siding’. In one direction, let me hasten to add. That’s a different issue which I have addressed elsewhere. Ranil points to a condition that is larger than crossing party lines.

If MPs are not sure of where they stand, i.e, if we are in a situation where a given MP is in a ‘here today, there tomorrow’ frame of ideological-shift, then the notion of trust that is so crucial to representative democracy is severely compromised.

I am not saying of course that an individual must state position and stick with it from moment of election until the moment Parliament is dissolved. People can change; they can shift position when they are confronted with additional information that makes previous position untenable, for example. However, if MPs are fickle enough for us to talk about an ada-side, heta-side’ kind of political culture, then we are in pretty bad shape.
Election outcome

Ranil was caricaturing, obviously. Still, there is something disturbing about political convictions and loyalties, isn’t there? I think the key to this ‘siding’ business is the lack of ideological coherence, or worse, the reduction of ‘ideology’ to party-preference or gambling on probable election outcome.

Ranil’s text message conjured in my mind a magical parliamentary door. An individual walks through it wearing the colour green, let’s say. Come evening, the same individual walks out. He/she is now decked in blue.

A man walks in with a sheaf of betal. He comes out on an elephant. Someone walks in with bell in hand and comes out with a conch-shell.

An MP takes his seat. He is in a bulath kolaya frame of mind. He dozes off. He wakes up when one of the many nutcases in Parliament starts spitting filth. Will he still be thinking bulath kolaya?

It could be worse, actually. Someone might be thinking ‘elephant’ and doing ‘betal leaf’. Should MPs be asked everyday, ‘what’s your ada-side’? Will that reveal to us their ‘OTHER side’? Will be realize that what we thought was the ‘OTHER-SIDE’ is really the ‘REAL SIDE’? Are we looking at them from the right angle? Should we stand on our heads, or bend down and look backwards through our legs to figure out the REAL SIDE of our politicians? Is the ‘under-side’ the ‘real side’? Is everything turned upside-down in these dark, confusing and incoherent days of the Kali Yugaya?

How about something to really put perspective on this scary situation described in a simple text message? Here goes:

Maybe it is you and I and not our worthies in Parliament who have got it all wrong. Do we know what our ‘ada-side’ is? I mean, are we any more (in) consistent than our representatives? Are we the herd or are they the herd? Who is giving the poorvaadarshaya (the ‘example’ to follow)?

I have a sneaky feeling that we are to blame and that they (the politicians) are but being who they are required to be, our REPRESENTATIVES. They are more like us than we like to admit. What say you, Ranil?