Published On:Thursday, December 23, 2010
Posted by Sri Lanka Guardian
|" If the government wants to stamp out corruption it can start at its own doorstep. Bring those politicians and government officials who do not pay utility bills for years, avoid taxes and take bribes to book..."|
by Pearl Thevanayagam
(December 23, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) I have a fondness for pavement shopping. I bought an Oxford English Dictionary for 50 cents outside Cargills in Fort. Water Babies by Charles Kingsley 1932 edition, Birds of Sri Lanka, Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence and Complete Works of Shakespeare; these are among the many treasures I found on Colombo’s pavements for less than two rupees each in the ‘90s.
Imagine my horror when I heard pavement hawkers are being banned since they spoil the environs and beauty of the City of Colombo. I had many a satisfactory repair of my sandals and shoes time and time again for the price of two Chocomalts. That cobbler down Mudalige Mawatha with an umbrella over his head and a ball of twine, chisel, leather bits and nails spread on a tarpaulin is my redeemer when the heels of my shoes fall off or the straps of my sandals give way.
While I hobble on one foot my cobbler repairs my footwear in minutes whereas at Sunil’s in Colpetty I need to wait two weeks or more and pay through my nose for the same job. After all I preferred walking to taking a bus whenever possible where I am harassed by lecherous men in buses who seem to think that press freedom is when you press against a female and reach a climax in doing so.
These sad creatures aside I am in ecstasy when I buy cut pieces of cloths, needles and assorted colours of threads, hiramana (coconut scraper), various gadgets such as screw-driver, pliers, calculators, Christmas lights and of course other gift items which I package in expensive wrappers as Christmas gifts and birthday presents. I also moan that items at Crescat and Majestic City are beyond my means but that when one has to buy presents one buys only the best and none of those pavement rubbish.
Walking in the mid-day sun scorching the skin and layering the already brown complexion to a dark chocolate one I am relieved to bite into pineapple wedges liberally coated with chilli powder and salt although I stop short of buying those luminous drinks in rainbow colours. I also gulp down a delicious thambili outside Pettah pavement before I face the grinding task of entering the editorial at Lake House where I am made to stand stock still for the national anthem which invariably plays as I climb the steps, an order which came from Premadasa to show our national pride.
Colombo’s economy would grind to a halt if the government cracks down on our humble pavement hawkers. Okay, they do not pay taxes on their earnings and they can be bastards who sell fake Levis, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana handbags and Yves St Laurent perfumes. But at least they provide the ordinary citizen with the dream of possessing a designer product. From a distance you are wearing a designer label or the T-shirt with NYC or Harvard University logo and in those moments you are actually sporting a designer label. You are not under scrutiny whether they are genuine or not.
Even if you have never ventured abroad you are given the opportunity to dream of some day going to NewYork or Rome thanks to these pavement hawkers who whet your appetite for rata poreign. What do you expect for 100 rupees?
If the government wants to stamp out corruption it can start at its own doorstep. Bring those politicians and government officials who do not pay utility bills for years, avoid taxes and take bribes to book. Leave our pavement hawkers alone. Better still provide them with decent shelter so that they can continue to bring joy to us ordinary citizens this festive season and in the years to come.