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Towards a fruitier and nuttier 2011

by Gamini Weerakoon

(January 10, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Whether a coconut is considered a fruit or nut, with a coconut being priced at around Rs 75 — the highest ever — a cynical political pundit predicts that the year 2011 will be fruitier and nuttier than in the years before.

No reason has been offered why the biggest of nuts should reach such an astronomical price but it does appear that things are getting fruitier and nuttier in this resplendent isle.

Anti Ceylon

As the year opens, for no stated reason an anti English frenzy had gripped some ruling political leaders. Under a new law, it is to be decreed that if the word ‘Ceylon’ is used in government institutions, it should be erased and replaced with Sri Lanka. Indeed it happened in 1972 to names of most state institutions with the Dominion of Ceylon being declared as the Republic of Sri Lanka but those legally designated as being of ‘Ceylon’ retained such names such as the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and Ceylon Electricity Board. Why this sudden anti Ceylon frenzy after 38 years is yet to be explained.

The only possible explanation is that some leaders appear to have gone nuts. If this change in nomenclature will help these white elephants such as the two corporations mentioned to stop losing billions of rupees each year, the change can be appreciated but no such miracle of the elimination of losses can be expected to materialise even if the ‘Miracle of Asia’ that has been projected manifests itself.

Pro Rajapaksa Patriotism

Perhaps this is a move to whip up the patriotic pro-Sinhala sentiment among the gullible masses at the forthcoming local government elections as it happened in the two previous elections — the presidential and parliamentary elections. But on those two occasions the victory in the war against terrorism was there to be exploited to the hilt.

If the thinking is that the change of name can be exploited, it is a sign of desperation on the part of the ruling party for it will be like flogging a dead horse. Renaming of public institutions which have burdened the public with constant price hikes is unlikely to generate any public enthusiasm.

No foreign names?

Will this anti-English and perhaps anti-foreign sentiment be extended to other spheres as well? We have a multitude of Western foreign names bequeathed to us by the Portuguese, Dutch and British conquerors. What happens to names such as Peiris, Perera, Cabraal, Dulles and Silva that fill up the pages of the telephone directory? Some are pure English; others names combined with names of Portuguese such as Mervyn Silva. Will they be taboo?

Foreign poultry OK

This ‘patriotic’ sentiment, however does not seem to manifest itself in other spheres such as in agricultural production. It was not many moons ago that ‘Api Wawamu’ (Let’s cultivate) was in full cry.

Now the Johnny Come Lately from the UNP to the Cabinet is in full cry importing millions of eggs from India and thousands of pounds of chicken from Tamil Nadu. Johnny’s eggs have the date of laying and the date it will begin to rot stamped on them we are told and millions have been imported. Johnny wants to import vast quantities of chicken although local poultry producers are saying there is enough in local production to meet the demand. The idea is to bring prices down says Johnny but on Thursday the price of an egg was Rs 19 in the Nawala Koswatte Bazaar.

Last week it appeared that the full stock of Johnny’s eggs or chicken had not arrived in the market. But then the festive season has come to a close and the season of the ‘bottle month’ (selling empty bottles) has arrived. Maybe Johnny is targeting Thai Pongal and even the Sinhala New Year!

Going Nuts

And what of the celebrated coconuts from Kerala? Now we are told that there will be no coconuts from Kerala as promised. UNP’s young economist, Harsha de Silva has thrown a spanner in to the works by pointing out that the import of coconuts is illegal because of the threat of plant diseases being transmitted.

In the ‘70s almost the entirety of Lanka’s coconut plantations were devastated by an insect pest Cuminji transmitted through orchids that were imported. Even a baila was dedicated to this Cuminjiya. How a regulation under the Coconut Rehabilitation Act could prevent such a government decision to rush an essential commodity to the market when government kicks around constitutional provisions such as the 13th Amendment and 17th Amendment would defy understanding by legal minds but perhaps the Fruitier and Nuttier principle may explain it all.

Finally, comes the nuttiest of them all. Getting people (particularly children) to sing the National Anthem in a language they do not know at all! The National Anthem has been sung in the Tamil language all the time but suddenly last year some cranky ‘patriots’ decided that it should be sung in Sinhala only even though the minorities may not know Sinhala at all.

This is quite in contrast to Mahinda Rajapaksa during and after the election campaigns addressing Tamil audiences in Tamil with the aid of a teleprompter reading phonetic Sinhala in Tamil and addressing Tamil audiences.

The wily northerners would not have been fooled but they appreciated the efforts made. After all those attempts to bridge the gap between the two communities the ‘Sinhala Only’ anthem can only be explained in terms of the Fruitier and Nuttier principle. Are we heading for a fruitier and nuttier 2011?

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