Severe Sri Lankan malaise


Last Friday Cassandra bemoaned the fact of rampant corruption prevalent across most boards, particularly those composed of politicians and high bureaucrats. Bribe taking, which was a sly and rather confined craft, is indulged in freely and fearlessly. Only the haalmessas and kunissas get caught and punished; poor guys like a clerk or gals like small time school principals. Remember that little girl who stole two coconuts to get money for a payment demanded by her school? The huge sharks and whales (insult to these two animal species) who swallow millions get away with their crimes. At the moment two big timers are in remand prison: one who flew high and the other arrested on arrival after roaming the world free and well heeled. But the prognosis of most is they will get off Scot free.

Rampant laziness and indifference

A second disease more catching than the latest crown shaped virus and more chronic than a persistent cough is laziness which is a mixed bag of indolence, slothfulness, shiftlessness, lethargy, enervation, being lackadaisical and much more.

Justifications are presented by defenders of this national trait. The heat and the high humidity which drain a person of energy. Also, why kill yourself with hard work when harvest is yours just planting a seedling which grows and your belly then is full. Some even surmise that the island of Lotus Eaters that Odysseus rested in was Lanka with its abundant lotus plants. Odysseus was storm tossed and roamed the high seas for ten years meeting misadventure after misadventure when returning home to Ithaca after the ten year Trojan War. He nearly binna bessa-ed in the land of the Lotus Eaters, so enchanted and drugged were his sailors, as narrated by Homer in his Oddyssey, and though off the route among the Grecian isles, our ancestors could very well have been those charming layabouts who infected Odysseus’ men. It is said that the lotus fruits and flowers eaten were a narcotic, causing sleep and apathy. There must be something in the food we eat or air we breathe that makes us so plain indolent.

Cassandra makes bold to say this characteristic of being lazy is more within the Sinhala people. Mixed with this trait is pride: sit back on a heritage of more than 2500 years and don’t deign to denigrate it by working. That immediately brings to mind the vast wewas and irrigation systems, the dagobas and fortresses reaching the sky which were built by Sinhala people under Sinhalese kings. So you just cannot brand the Sinhala race as indolent. Maybe we became thus.

The Tamils were made to be hardworking if born in Jaffna; its peninsular perched on a bedrock of infertile limestone. If a descended tea country Tamil, his ancestors were driven to hard labour by the kanganis who brought them over from South India and supervised their work under British taskmasters. So the Tamils are hardworking, these being inherited genes. The Muslims came as indefatigable traders and braving seas they travelled and continued being hardworking businessmen.

Sri Lankans certainly have brain power and when called for, brawn power too. So why this indifference and lethargy met with so often in all walks of life? Inexplicable!

This indifference confronts you all over the place. Phone a government office and a lazy voice answers and inattention, non-assistance, indolence and the impression you are being a nuisance come subtly through the telephone connection. However, it must be admitted things are better now. Sinhalese owned private enterprises also work at their own slow pace. Cass rings an accountant of such an establishment. The female voice at the other end gives out an Ayih, Mokada? As if ennui throttled her, and you were a pest. Cass says the girl deserves a kané but of course to herself. You ask where a certain shop is in a complex of stores and the person asked hasn’t a clue. Not bothered enough to get to know the layout of even the floor s/he works in.

Recently Cass met three white Americans come over to do a job of work. They landed after a very long journey and had breakfast. Conversation soon turned to the job in hand and preparations were discussed earnestly. Cass thought to herself that if the whites were brown Sinhalayas, the food would have been dawdled over, savouring and commenting; then would follow small talk and then perhaps plan desultorily or just blunder into the job at hand.

Cassandra worked in a foreign managed establishment with both local and overseas employees. It was walk fast, sit straight, work hard all through the week and then relax for an hour or two on TGIF Friday afternoons with plenty beer, crunchy munchies and camaraderie. That group of people worked hard when work had to be done and relaxed when free time was available.

Cass liked this quote she came across: "We often miss opportunity because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work." So true about us Sri Lankans and thus our remaining a developing Third World country and sinking deeper into underdevelopment.

Hope glimmers that sloth will be shaken off

We elected in a President who is reputed to be a committed hard worker and a pusher of people to work. Prez Premadasa was such a man but he could not really reduce poverty nor even give every family a roof over their heads. More than inducing people to work harder he caused fear in them. Maybe President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will succeed in getting people out of their apathy and onto work, whether it be overlooking a large factory or keeping clean a drain.

Travel and then deny

It happened again. Mahinda Rajapaksa, PM this time, had a large number of persons accompanying him to India. TV news did not show any but the PM leaving and arriving. He fills the frame! Then came denials from his second son that they spent their money on air travel. Accommodation, food, getting about over there – at whose expense?

A story I could not believe but one has to give credence to the fact that even the slightest swirl of smoke is indicative of a fire. One politico taken (he was identified by the gossip-giver with chillie powder) was in raptures after meeting Rahul Gandhi. "Aney I met Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson and even shook his hand!" Who would spin faster in their graves, however saintly or hero-worshipped? And wouldn’t Sonia G blush?

Note of the week

Cass hopes very many followed TVI Face the Nation programme on Monday 17 night. A superb panel, with Faraz Shaukatali moderating and journalists John Fernando and another questioning, delved into the Airbus scandal viz-a-viz Sri Lankan Airlines. Panelists were spot on in their aptness to the subject in hand: Ex Minster – Eran Wickremaratne, Attorney at Law and ex Air Lanka – Chrishmal Warnasuriya, Transparency Intl. Director – Asoka Obeysekera and President/ Pilots Association, Captain Gihan Fernando. One point made by Eran W stood out among all the intelligent spot-on opinions and prognoses. He said the world had moved on; Sri Lanka had advanced; the general public is more aware and vociferous too; and thus no one can get away with crimes committed, more especially corruption as in money terms. Thus it is left to be seen whether his word would hold good or the general disillusioned opinion – that this huge fraud too will be obliterated after a bit of shouting and arrests to remand jail. Let’s wait and see!

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