A good laugh overcomes more difficulties and dissipates more dark clouds than any other one thing. Laura Ingalls Wilder
The cliche-tic saying that every dark cloud has a silver lining has a side meaning to its direct one that it is never all dark; hope and joy will come forth. The indirect connotation is that something bright and beneficial will arise at the most dreadful of times. Spot on as regards the Covid 19 pandemic. With the raging infection and resultant several deaths and fear was a deeper bonding felt by people, whether of blood relatives or friends. Good health was appreciated more; doctors and health workers who fronted the battle and the army that assisted in vaccination were appreciated and thanked; metta and karuna arose in people’s hearts; and the incidence of flu and the common cold decreased.
Sombre, threatening clouds
The world, Ukraine particularly, and EU countries flooded by refugees made welcome this time around, are suffering greatly as a war of invasion rages quite ferociously in Ukraine. We in Sri Lanka are going through, as those who know say, the worst time in our post independence 74 years. That is obvious to even toddlers, some of whom are carried on mothers’ hips as they wait in line for bare necessities. Queues are formed in all parts of the country and for multiple needs. Many have admirably come forward from their comfortable homes to hold candlelit vigils in sympathy with their less privileged brethren.
Thrown up positives
Ukraine has thrown up some admirable persons and much endurance. Their President – Volodymyr Zelenskyy – a former actor, singer and comedian, has straddled the war-torn nation with his positive presence and addressed the nation about resisting invasion and fighting on as Ukranian David-like against Russian Goliath. He was advised to leave Kyiv by his people. Not I said he. And others followed: young women making Molotov cocktails in threatened cities and men kissing their wives and kids goodbye as they migrated to safe havens in neighbouring countries; the men opting to stay back to fight the invaders. Hence the admirably indomitable human spirit came to the fore. Ukraine not slinking away nor giving way to Russia has won the admiration of the world.
I wrote we Sri Lankans suffer greatly now. Is there a single benefit, sighted even as far away as the horizon? Yes – more than one. People have felt more empathy and sympathy for each other. Not advertised nor even made known but people have helped the poor, some of whom cannot afford one full meal a day, in contrast to a government that appears callous. Printing money to give handouts is in the short run more injurious that rumbling stomachs – resulting in all affecting inflation. Also many who spent on themselves to have good times as they earned enough through hard work, are cutting down on such.
The brightest silver lining to our dismal dark cloud of economic disaster and lack of essentials, milk for kids and medicines included, is that citizens have hopefully been taught to use their vote wisely. Sycophants will become rarer as the eyes of many will be opened. And perchance with the blessings of Almighty God or the Devas or the Hindu Pantheon, a better government of educated, wise legislators will be voted in. Families and grand groups holding mighty power will be disbanded if not destroyed.
Laugh when cornered; smile when deprived and despondent.
It happens invariably. Humour comes rising forth and laughter bubbles over. Worry lines and deep troubled facial furrows give way to relaxed smiling. People gather together, mostly in secret and while enjoying fellowship, make laughter at the expense of dictatorial leaders.
Two or three hilarious stories have emerged from threatened Ukraine. No wonder these are encouraged with an ex-comedian heading the country. Which fact brought on a sigh of sadness for incarcerated Ranjan Ramanayake who fought many a battle for the discriminated against, like maids unjustly punished in Saudi.
One Ukrainian story read about in a foreign paper was how their border guards defiantly stood against a Russian warship. This happened at the beginning of the expected invasion when a dozen soldiers stood up straight and shouted in stentorian unison: “Russian warship, go f…k yourself!” on Snake Island in the Black Sea. They gave those on board the third finger sign too. The audio of the audacious incident soon went viral and became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance. The guards were thought to have been killed but were reported captured and alive.
The matter did not end there. Ukrposta, the country’s postal service, printed a new stamp commemorating the incident of defiance. It was created by artist Boris Groh and shows one border guard facing a warship, holding a rifle in one hand and the middle finger of the other stretched upward. Sewn in is the ‘order’ the guards gave the mighty warship. The humour here is heartbreaking, showing futile, pugnacious defiance but laced with earthiness – OK, obscenity.
Local bad times’ humour
I burst out with a loud guffaw when up came A WhatsApp message which I retail as remembered: “Henceforth the Finance Ministry will compute the Per Kaputa Income.
Another that popped up was a picture of supposedly our local James Bond, black bow tied and smart, with the accompanying wording
They call me 007
0 = oil reserves
0 = economic development
7 hour power cuts
These jibes and very many more, direct and dire, must be accepted for what they are: erupting anger and frustration diverted to humour, however black but causing a smile, a chuckle or an outright guffaw. One hazard of reaching top positions, it must be accepted by even the most staid and humourless leader, is being the target of criticism and jokes.
The appointment after the sacking of the two ministers recently of Pavithradevi as Minister of Power had a picture floating around of her throwing a generator, not a charmed pot, into water!
Sinhalese wits are particularly brilliant at wrenching humour from dire situations. The Sinhala language too lends itself to clever manipulation, twists, turns and abbreviations. Remember the TV series Always Breakdown parodying Prez CBK and PM – RW. It was said, Ranil W particularly, enjoyed the series and never missed an episode.
The British are known for their subtly clever wit. Example: the clever politically slanted 1980s TV series Yes Minister followed by Yes Prime Minister with a bumbling Cabinet Minister/PM – James Hacker (Paul Eddington), his sardonic Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne) and foolish behaving personal secretary, Bernard Woolley (Derek Fowlds)..
During the presidency of Donald Trump in the USA many a woman over there woke up with dread gnawing her insides as to what evil or stupidity the Trump would indulge in that day. Hence the jibes and jokes with him as target that sped around, even to far distant countries like ours.
BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7
It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.
The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’
It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.
At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.
However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.
The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.
There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”
The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.
Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.
What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.
In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.
However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.
Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.
Queen of Hearts
She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.
Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’
When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”
Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.
The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’
She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.
“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”
A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.
“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”
Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.
“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.
“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”
What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.
“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”
The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.
Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.
And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.
We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.
Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue
KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1
by Harshana Rambukwella
In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.
This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.
However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.
Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.
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