by Gamini Weerakoon


(November 08, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The waiter pouring the chilled water of Nuwara Eliya into our mug had a wry smile on him. On completing his duties satisfactorily — half an inch of foam on top and not a drop spilt — he claimed: Sir, our side has kept to its promise — bread at Rs 3.50.

As we pushed the chair back and sprang to our feet, to vent our feelings, the fellow with a straight face explained: Ai, sir paang petthak thunai panahai ne? (Why sir, isn’t a slice of bread Rs 3.50 ?) and flip- flopped out in his rubber sandals before we could bawl that even if a slice was Rs 3.50 we would need more than 16 slices from a loaf.

Lanka targeted

Despite his mulish loyalty, the sense of humour of this ‘raban’ thumper of the Rajapaksa clan had to be appreciated. It is much better than the idiotic raving and ranting of the defenders of the faith like comrade Weerawansa who had re-discovered a new form of terrorism — American piti thrasthavadaya (Terrorism of American wheat flour). According to him and his fellow travellers, the rise in the price of flour has resulted not because of the world financial crisis, crop failure or raging forest fires. It was a deliberate attempt by the United States and its Western allies against the sovereign and independent republic of Sri Lanka.

We say Weerawansa ‘re-discovered’ this ‘wheat flour terrorism’ because many a time when the price of wheat flour shot up in international markets such as in the ‘70s and governments jacked up the price of wheat flour or cut down the quantity imported thereby compelling bakers to raise the price of bread or resort to various practices to meet increased costs of production, it was considered a deliberate action by Western powers aimed against this little country.

The rise in the price of flour results in expression of an insane vehement hatred for ‘American Piti’ — that is what it is called from wherever it is imported — and a patriotic call to eat rice. It is claimed that Sri Lanka was known as the Granary of the East although there is little evidence for the claim. Sinhala orators in full flow will claim that our ancestors were able to build the ‘dagobas as large as pyramids’ and ‘reservoirs as big as oceans’ by eating rice. We fell into sloth and torpor after the imperialists introduced this ‘American piti’ into our diet.

Despite the wondrous properties of rice, we wonder how inhabitants of temperate climates whose staple food was wheat flour and not rice were able to conquer and colonise the world.

Is this patriotic upsurge and love for rice genuine? How come when the price of flour in the world comes down we are back to the paang gediya? All this froth and foam against wheat flour is poppycock. Politicians promise to bring down the price of bread before elections and when it goes up some excuse has to be found. It’s a case of sour grapes.

Junk Food

Nevertheless, the exorcism of the paang gediya is on the upbeat. Now ‘junk food’ presumably those made of wheat flour are banned from school canteens and hospitals. Soon they will be banned everywhere if the tempo is kept up. Are our kids now being fed with Thalapa, Hallape, Kavun and Kokkis — the local delicacies and is there enough of them to go round the country? The question also arises what exactly is junk food? Naturally Hamburgers and Coca Cola, the American inventions, would come on top of the list. But there are doubts about locally manufactured foods as well.

The other day one of those eternal school boys — those who never leave their old school and keep attending for years after, even house meets and a lower school prize giving — came into our water hole carrying pol rotti in a sili-sili bag — a product of his school canteen he boasted offering samples of what is supposed to have displaced the despised junk food. It’s Right Royal rotti, he proclaimed not Thora parripu, taking a snide shot at some of those present. But having tasted this Right Royal Pol Rotti we declared that it was made of American piti quite contrary to the Mahinda Chintanaya and the canteen contractor to the school principal were likely to feel the wrath of the Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena for violating the sacred Chintanaya.

Whoever who advocated junk food has raised a question of dietary and sociological significance. What is junk food? What of godamabara, parata, kottu rotti, seeni sambol rolls and the whole works? The answer could be that they are OK if made of rice flour (haal piti) but the problem is that our scientists — no doubt the best in the world as our public speakers say — find making bread out of rice flour as difficult as squaring the circle. Not as easy as making Uranium from Thorium as our Minister of Power appears to make out.

Ban Mode

Nonetheless, we are on the Ban mode and have banned junk food even though our kids may not have enough ‘good healthy nutritious food’ made of our haal piti. A wag points out that we have even banned Ban Ki-Moon. Ban cigarette and booze ads, ban junk foods, ban wheat flour, ban NGOs, ban missionaries and ban everything in sight.

The latest is that school principals have banned mothers from wearing jeans when they turn up to fetch their children from school. Kindergarten mothers in jeans outside school gates are quite a pretty sight and we wonder why the prissy principals decided on the ban; maybe they are compelled into strait jackets and the saree by decree of the Education Department commissars but a saree does not necessarily make a teacher look prim, proper and virtuous because some of the plunging necklines of the teachers could take the breath away from the teenage kids, their fathers and even their grandfathers.

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