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Our ‘In’s’ and ‘Out’s’ in the English language



by S. N. Arseculeratne

The English language has spread world-wide like the pandemic of Covid. In Sri Lanka the English language has become our lingua franca.

We vintage colonials, use English in conversations at home but when my friends cross-swords with me, they use Sinhala occasionally which is more expressive. We Lankan locals have expressive repartees, “Ado” for look here, “Bambuwa” for nonsense, yako”’ for you devil, and “tho”, “thopi” and “pissa” for inccorrigibles. And bravo, the Oxford English Dictionary has now included the Sinhala word ‘Aiyo’, so why not enrich the English language with these other words also? Though English is often our Lingua domestica, it continues to plague me. Here’s why.

At a recent party, the comperè invited “men and their spouses” for a game. Look, the plural of mouse is not mouses but mice, so why shouldn’t he have asked men and their spice to join? That’s more spicy and s-exciting. Many from Portugal are Portuguese but one chap should be a Portugoose, as with goose and geese, but not so, why? I like being outspoken, but I cannot be inspoken. The pragmatic Americans who invented the atomic bomb also made reparations to the English language. They dispensed with unnecessary prefixes that fix me, but we in school were taught English-English which had these prefixes. I was driving behind a petrol bowser which admitted being ‘Highly Inflammable’. Being a literal man, taking it as English-English, I lit my pipe but my passenger threw it out of the window. He was an American to whom petrol is flammable, and in America I wouldn’t have lost my pipe.

Cricket is thoroughly English, but we former British colonials won the Cricket World Cup in the 1990s. We spend five days in the hot sun (when is the sun not hot?) playing it, and when an American wanted to know what this game is all about, he was told by his English friend: “You see, you have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man who’s in the side that’s in, goes out and when he’s out, he comes in, and bats until he’s out. When they are all out, the side that’s been out comes in and the side that’s been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out. When both sides have been in and out, including the not out’s, that’s the end of the game”. Having won a World Cup in cricket we Lankans are not bowled-out by that explanation but the pragmatic Americans called it a day as they found English cricket is confusing and settled for baseball instead; all’s well as it lasts only a few hours. But we intrepid Lankans still play cricket and not our traditional game of gudu.

There are other hiccups in the English language; these relate to the prefixes ‘ex’ and ‘in’; We have an exhaust but no inhaust. Amogst other former colonials, the Malaysians are reasonable people and so, despite their British colonialism, they have simplified English with exhaust and term it egzos; Ice cream, to them has become simply aiskrim. Other outlandish folk also use English as when a Thai lab-lady told me, on seeing me enjoying music “Buchy, you are so enjoyable”. I dared not relate that to my wife.


And we simple ex-colonials are sometimes just as blunt; a restaurant in Kandy has the name “Eat me“, and another advertises its ware as being of “Purity, quality and tasty”. But when a grocery store in Kandy advertised that it sells “Cow Pee” my wife asked me whether they also sell “Bull shit“. There are other quandaries. There are in-things but not out-things. I have met insufferable people but never a sufferable one. We then have in-laws and sometimes they are outlaws.

Kids find this in-out matter amusing, with the following story. Two skunks that are known to stink, In and Out went out for a walk. In got lost but Out located him. When asked how he did it, he replied “In stinked”; it could also have been because of Out’s instinct. Animals display instinct but seldom outstinct; species sometimes get biologically extinct. The only animal that displays out-stinks are skunks. The remedy for this in-out imbroglio is what we had in junior school, Practical English, but I think this has now disappeared from school curricula; it should be restored. I’ll stop wearing decrepit clothes and shoes and wear only crepit ones but shops do not sell crepit footwear. I prefer to doctrinate folk to be good, not merely indoctrinate them. So it’s no wonder that some wise guy said that the English language takes the cake for blatant inconsistency, and I’ll vote for him for the Pulitzer Prize for Archaeo-Linguistics. The late Professor S. R. Kottegoda, who was the Founding President of the Society for the restoration of the Lost Positives in the English language, would have been happy to read this, but the old bard at Stratford-upon-Avon might not have been amused.

Humour is what keeps me going. As a youth I enjoyed reading Stephen Leacock, James Thurber, Damon Runyon, Bill Bryson, PG Wodehouse, Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to his son, and our own Tarzie Vitachchi of yesteryear, and last Sunday, I read an ad for the fare in a guest house “up-country” (note-we have no down country but only low country). “Newly Tourist Hotel, Working distance from the city, beautiful cold, mist windy, Buffet and Ala Cart“.

However insufferable English-English is, and despite these hiccups in I will not use a sufferable lingo such as Urdu or Esperanto, I’ll continue to hiccup in Singlish, the local dialect of the Queen’s English. However we Lankans are claimed to be high on English literacy scale, and our debt to papa Shakespeare must be acknowledged. And now that our word “Aiyo is in the Oxford English Dictionary, I might be permitted to greet the old Bard Bill Shakespeare with another common Sinhala word “Ado” and say to Bill patting him on his back, “Ado Bill, Sinhala is now in the world’s English”.

Despite our massacre of the English language, we owe a huge debt to old Bill Shakespeare the father of the language. He is so great, several compatriots claim him to be of their own kind. Many articles have appeared on him, but I want to know who Shakespeare really was. He is so famous that diverse people claim him as their own. The Sinhalese think he was Shakes Perra of Bambalapitiya, the Burghers think he was Shakes Pereira a Burgher from Kotahena, those of Portuguese origin think he was Shakes Fereira from Lisbon, the Tamils think he was Shekar Periar from Killinochchi, the Muslims swear that he was Sheik Shapir from Kattankudy, The hiccups in our use of English could have originated from the diverse ancestry of the olde Bard. But Ann Hathaway had the last word and hath her way; she knew that he was really an Englshman from Stratford Upon Avon, and she married him as women always have the last word. But dear reader, you can have it As you like it, as Bill himself wrote as the title of as his play.

Bill was a great writer and philosopher who wrote All the world’s a stage and the men and women merely players. And as we age we get sans eyes, sans ears, sans hair and sans everything. So naturally I was scared about my being sans hair but my barber reassured me that being a thinker I am bald in front; sexy people are bald behind and people who think they are sexy are totally bald which I am not. My optimist doctor reassured me that my eyes are OK, as I can see through people, and with both eyes through one keyhole.



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Rise of Dual Power amidst Covid 



We had so many kings in our Sinhala Balaya of many centuries. There were many questionable deals on succession by members of this royalty, and others who came to those realms. But we have yet to hear of any brother of a ruling monarch rushing abroad in the midst of what may have been a national crisis, moving to a disaster.This is the stuff of Sinhala Power in the 21st Century. It is a show of the Raja Keliya – the power game, where dual citizenship is the dominant factor. The Sri Lanka, Mawbima home, is of lesser importance than the Videsha mawbima, especially if one’s health has to be handled by foreign medical sources; even if the Videsha Mawbima is the biggest affected by the Covid pandemic.

The appointment of Task Forces to deal with important issues facing the country and the people is the substance of the current Saubhagyaye Dekma – Vision of Prosperity and Splendour. Appointing a brother to head task forces of key importance is the show of dominant family power that prevails in this country today. But brotherly feelings are certainly not important when a dual citizen thinks of the greater importance of the Videsha Mawbima. The tasks of Economic Growth, Eradicating Poverty and Assuring Food Supply, as well as the more recent Green Socio-Economy must all be pushed aside, when the call of the Videsha Mawbima for healthcare is the stuff that matters.

This is the brotherly Vision of Prosperity and Splendour, or the Sahodara Saubhabyaye Dekma.

The Covid pandemic has certainly brought much contradictory thinking, especially in the government, on how the health of the people in this country, non-dual citizens, could be assured. Minister Udaya Gammanpila, a Cabinet spokesman too, is certain that mixed vaccinations of different brands and qualities, is the means to protect the people. 

Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, State Minister on the subject, thinks differently, on the lines of the WHO specialists, who have stressed there is no evidence so far to authorize mixed vaccinations. The other minister of health and vaccination issues is somewhat silent on this confusion in official thinking. Is a new pandemic syrup to be promoted by the power handlers?

Thank heavens that the Cabinet Minister of Health, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, is so far silent on this matter. She could come up with a new Sri Lankan Deshamanya scientific solution, such as throwing some of the Sinopharm and Sputnik (Chinese and Russian) into the nearby river, and using the mixed and river blended vaccine for people of the related province. She is sure to obtain the support of Ministers Udaya Gammanpila and Prasanna Ranatunga for such a crafty thinking of science, just as they shared her belief in the Charmed Pot Game or Mantara Kala Keliya to fight the Covid-19.

  We are now in the midst of what is known as a Lockdown. It is not a “Vasaa thabeema” in Sinhala, but a limit on travel – a ‘Sancharana Seemava’. The Police are very clear that anyone who breaks the lockdown rules will be arrested and brought to justice. We have seen the great joy that policemen showed in carrying non-mask wearers and other violaters of Covid safety guidelines, to be shoved into buses. How much more of such delights would follow when Covid increases its hold on Sri Lanka? What was the related Task Force, and its ceremonial uniformed head doing, when Indians were brought to Sri Lankan hotels for quarantine before travel to some Middle Easter countries? What foreigner from the Covid battered India was carried or courteously conducted to a place where lawbreakers are detained?

As we keep wearing our masks and distancing ourselves from others, there is much cause for concern, even beyond the Covid pandemic, on how persons arrested and detained by the police are killed by or in the presence of the  police. Two suspected and arrested persons have been killed while in police custody this week.  They are Melon Mabula or ‘Uru Juva’ and Tharaka Perera Wijesekera or ‘Kosgoda Tharaka’ These are persons with records of major crimes, possibly with much strong evidence, but not presented in court and any punishment order through the judicial process.

The police spokesperson, a person with a legal background, too, tells the people the details of all the terrible crimes these persons are supposed to be guilty of. It is a contemptible move to get public support for the killings. The Bar Association has raised concerns about these departures from justice. There must be much more protests, even with the Covid dangers.

One gets the impression that the prevailing dangerous situation due to Covid, is being used to carry out increasing violations of the law and the judicial process. This is certainly a major step back to the earlier years of Rajapaksa Power, when many such suspects were killed in Colombo and elsewhere, showing off police escape power. It also brings back memories of the killing and attacks on journalists by similar police and official forces of crooked power.

Are we moving to a new sense of Dual Power — where the judiciary is ignored and official power is the Rule of the Day? Is the power of Dual Citizenry to be the dominant force once Covid puts down the people’s power?

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Should ASEAN Free Trade Area be considered model for SAFTA?



By Dr. Srimal Fernando

Economic integration is more important today than it has ever been for South Asia’s development. When comparing the impact of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)s South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ) Free Trade Area (AFTA) in promoting trade amongst its member states, AFTA has been more effective in integrating the economies of its member states. SAFTA , on the other hand, has yet to make significant contributions to the integration of the economies of SAARC member states. The Success of ASEAN’s economic integration can be attributed to the willingness of Southeast Asian countries to embrace the tenets of regional integration. In contrast, SAARC’s model has failed to create a secure regional environment that is conducive for economic growth since its formation.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ) member states signed the AFTA agreement on 28 January 1992. After the establishment of AFTA, the member states of ASEAN succeeded in signing trading protocols within the organization. The ASEAN model succeeded in creating one of the most successful free trade areas in Asia as well as globally. The establishment of AFTA has been an important milestone in Southeast Asia as a factor that facilitated the economic integration of ASEAN member states.

In the case of the SAARC, the signing of free trade protocols under the SAFTA agreement has been faced with several tariff and non-tariff barriers. Although both SASRC and ASEAN member states face unique challenges that affect trading within these organizations, it can be said that, unlike the SAARC, the ASEAN economic integration model has been far successful in promoting trade amongst its member states. For the SAARC, the liberalization of the economies of SAFTA signatories has been a crucial challenge. On the other hand, ASEAN has made notable progress with regards to trade liberalization, policy alignments, and intra-regional trade among Southeast Asian nations.

The specific trade liberalization challenges faced by the SAARC member states include concerns over SAFTA revenue allocation from member states, restrictive rules of origin, and negative sensitive lists. The sensitive lists adopted by SAARC member states have proven to be a significant hurdle to exportation amongst SAARC member states. This has particularly made it difficult for exports from small member states of the SAARC to enter into large markets such as India and Pakistan. Having failed to grant the application of  most favored nation (MFN) status that would have seen a significant reduction in the sensitive lists maintained by both countries, trade between these two regional powers has been problematic over the years. Notably, the trading commodities that are in the sensitive lists of a majority of the SAFTA member states have high export potential. Despite the various commitments made by SAFTA member states, countries continue to maintain long sensitive lists hence the dismal performance of SAFTA. 

In the case of ASEAN, the establishment of the AFTA agreement has provided ASEAN member states with a platform to exploit their export potential. The AFTA agreement has boosted the economies of ASEAN countries through its trade liberalization policies. AFTA has also entered into several free trade agreements with regional powers such as Australia, China, South Korea, India, and Japan. The ASEAN countries are now focused on creating an Economic Community for their member states. Notably, several countries have shown interest in being a part of the proposed ASEAN Economic Community.

It should however be noted that the massive success achieved by ASEAN’S AFTA as opposed to SAARC’s SAFTA is not flawless. For example, although ASEAN has made significant steps in eliminating tariff barriers amongst AFTA member states, Non-tariff barriers are still a key challenge to the AFTA agreement. However, when analyzing the progress made by ASEAN’s AFTA since its formation, the achievements and evolution are undeniable. ASEAN was formed in an era when interstate relations amongst Southeast Asian countries were characterized by political mistrust and strained interstate relations. Years later, the organization has succeeded in unifying its member states for a common course, an aspect that the SAARC still struggles with. 

Way Forward

If SAFTA is to become more effective and emulate AFTA’s success, the myriad of issues mentioned above needs to be addressed. First, downsizing the sensitive lists of countries in a time-bound manner will be necessary. Secondly, the issue of para tariffs needs to be squarely addressed. A starting point could be to reduce and accelerate the elimination of para tariffs on items not on sensitive lists and include para tariffs in SAFTA negotiations. Also, the non-tariff barriers to trade facing SAFTA member states need to be equally addressed like the tariff barriers. Finally, strengthening economic relations can be used to reinforce improving political relations in the region, particularly between India and Pakistan. To an extent, the success of ASEAN in achieving effective economic integration and its experience can be used as an external driver of SAARC and its SAFTA agreement.

About the author:

Dr. Srimal Fernando received his PhD in the area of International Affairs. He was the recipient of the prestigious O.P. Jindal Doctoral Fellowship and SAU Scholarship under the SAARC umbrella. He is also an Advisor/Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa in partnership with Diplomatic World Institute (Brussels). He has received accolades such as 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ in South Africa, (GCA) Media Award for 2016 and the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) accolade. He is the author of ‘Politics, Economics and Connectivity: In Search of South Asian Union’

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Ramazan spirit endures amid pandemic



This will be a sombre Ramazan, indeed, with the country under a lockdown. But the spirit of Ramazan lives on in all Muslims. Ramadan, also referred to as Ramazan, Ramzan, or Ramadhan, in some countries, is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and Muslims the world over dedicate this holy month for fasting, prayer, reflection and community.

Although most non-Muslims associate Ramazan, solely with fasting, it is believed to bring Muslims closer to God and inculcate in them qualities such as patience, spirituality, and humility. Those of the Islamic faith believe that fasting redirects one away from worldly activities, cleanses the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate and encourage actions of generosity and charity. It is a time of self-examination and increased religious devotion.

Ramazan is a commemoration of Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation, and the annual observance of Ramazan is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars are basic acts, considered mandatory by Muslims, namely Muslim life, prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification, and the pilgrimage. Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation is believed to have taken place in 610 AD, in a cave called Hira, located near Mecca, where Muhammad was visited by the angel Jibrīl, who revealed to him the beginnings of what would later become the Qur’an. The visitation occurred on Ramazan.

Ramazan lasts from one sighting of the crescent moon to the next and the local religious authority is tasked with announcing the date. The Colombo Grand Mosque announced on Wednesday (12) that Sri Lankan Muslims will celebrate Ramazan on Friday (14). Because the Muslims follow a lunar calendar, the start of Ramazan moves backwards by about 11 days, each year, in the Gregorian calendar. Fasting from dawn to sunset is considered fard (obligatory) for all adult Muslims who are not acutely, or chronically, ill, travelling, elderly, breastfeeding, diabetic, or menstruating.

During this month, Muslims refrain not only from partaking of meals, but also tobacco products, sexual relations, and sinful behaviour, devoting themselves to prayer or salat and recitation of the Quran. The pre-dawn meal is referred to as suhur, and the nightly feast that breaks fast is referred to as iftar. During Ramazan, Muslims wake up well before dawn to eat the pre-dawn meal. This is considered the most important meal, during Ramazan, since it has to sustain one until sunset. This means eating lots of high-protein food and drinking as much water as possible, right up until dawn, after which one cannot eat or drink anything. The day of fasting ends at sunset, the exact minute of which is signalled by the fourth call to prayer, at dusk.

It is believed that spiritual rewards, or thawab, of fasting multiply during Ramazan. Muslims do not Fast on Eid, but Sri Lankan Muslims believe that observing the six days of optional fasting, that follows Eid, multiplies spiritual rewards.

Eid-Ul-Fitr is the Festival of Breaking the Fast, also simply referred to as Eid, and marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan, as well as the return to a more natural disposition of eating, drinking, and marital intimacy. In Sri Lanka, this Festival of Breaking the Fast is also referred to, colloquially, as Ramazan. Eid begins at sunset, on the night of the first sighting of the crescent moon. Muslims hand out money, to the poor and needy, as an obligatory act of charity, before performing the Eid prayer.

Globally, the Eid prayer is generally performed in open areas, like fields, community centres, or mosques in congregation. In Sri Lanka, the prayer is performed annually in Galle Face Green and mosques. The Eid prayer is followed by the sermon and then a supplication asking for Allah’s forgiveness, mercy, peace and blessings for all living beings across the world. The sermon encourages Muslims to engage in the rituals of Eid, such as zakat, almsgiving to other fellow Muslims. After the prayers, Muslims visit relatives, friends, and acquaintances, or hold large communal celebrations.

After prayer, Muslims celebrate Eid, with food being the central theme. Sri Lankans celebrate Ramazan with watalappam, falooda, samosa, gulab jamun and other national and regional dishes. The festivals were said to have initiated in Medina, after the migration of Muhammad from Mecca.

This year, as well as last year, Sri Lankan Muslims will have to forgo the custom of communal prayers, and celebrations, due to the ongoing pandemic, and will have to settle for private prayers and celebrations of Ramazan during this period of curfew. While these preventive measures are in place, during this year’s Ramazan, the principles of this holy month remain the same. Devout Muslims all over the world, will still be honouring this pillar of Islam, albeit from the security of their homes.

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