The headline and two articles of four in the front page of The Sunday Leader of last week was on money. The lead article screamed “UNP Leader Got Rs. 48 mn From One ‘Donor’” . The other two titles were: “One Billion Rupees For IIFA”; “Sumal Wants Rs. 19 bn For Waters Edge”.
With pulse racing and heart thumping at the sheer magnitude of the amounts mentioned, Menika read on. She is still used to only thousands and lakhs at a stretch, hence millions and billions are somewhat beyond her comprehension. Worse, when she sees the figures in digits, she gets bowled over by the number of zeros and interspersed commas. It’s not that she did not have a mind for math when in school. She was a wizard at getting the value of x in an equation, simultaneous or otherwise, and she knew exactly when to add speeds in ‘mphs’ and subtract one from the other when she was told to calculate how long it would take one traveling train to pass another or overtake the other as the problem demanded.
Her being stumped was wondering what significance these passing trains had on her, with her mind constantly preoccupied by cycling Trinity lions or hockey playing Kingswoodians. Furthermore, she was never going to be a station master or even the guard who bravely handed over that thing misnamed a tablet to the driver of an approaching train. So the effect these figures in The Sunday Leader had on poor ol’ Menika was to stun, stump and startle her – their sheer bulk and to think one person and his confidant got the millions and another imported businessman demands the billions.
Menika knows full well, Ranil the genteelman will wiggle out of his predicament. But the billion spent by the government to get a handful of Indian stars over — many not brilliant in the firmament — and host a Bollywood Oscars night and cricket match and fashion show, sent her spirits spiraling down. Her one question is: with tourism definitely on the mend as proven by near full occupation in hotels in the traditional resorts and elsewhere, why spend such a colossal amount to boost tourism and tempt tourists to come see us and our island? They are already doing that. They know the war is over. Is it only the word of an Indian that can be taken as true that the country is safe for visitors? Wouldn’t it have been much better to feed the hungry, at least eight million of our people who barely can have one nutritious meal a day, and give the foreign visitors better faces than half starved and bodies that don’t show signs of malnutrition, to look on.
Tourists feel uncomfortable when they see poverty around and would pack up and depart to the Maldives where they are segregated from the home population. This is because abject poverty is very visible now in both urban and rural areas in this paradise island of ours. Happy faces and fat physiques are seen by the Diyawanna Oya. No wonder with luxury cars to buy cheap and a salary hike given or to be given. No need to mention the sumptuous issaraha kemas available for less than the price you and I pay for an ordinary buth packet.
The last straw will be if provincial council hordes who hardly earn their wages, are in for pensions. If Anarkali and her brethren and sisters in provincial politics get pensions, Menika who slaved for 40 years to get her monthly pension of Rs. 15,000 will immolate herself. Only thing is – NO ONE, no one at all will care!
Apologists for the government and ministers of the government have been quick to point out that infrastructure in Colombo has been improved. But hasty improvement never holds good, like quick cleaning up at the announcement of the arrival of visitors is no substitute in a house for a thorough spring cleaning – planned, executed with care and spread over a period of time that such a job requires. Anyway, what’s done is done and at least a minute minority of Sri Lankans had a ball; the first son was hugged by a Khan on the cricket grounds and food was left over for others to enjoy at a brunch that failed to attract the revelers who slept late in their given free hotel suites.
Now the Waters Edge matter is an entirely different kettle of stinking fish. The government of Sri Lanka and some middle class property owners in the area were scrounged upon, when first Waters Edge was conceived and birthed. Now a bigger scrounging is in the offing with Singapore lawyers fighting the case. Where does the lady who facilitated it all fit in? Or is there no need for her to fit in since if the 19 billion is awarded, or even a fraction of it, the petitioner as they call these askers, may drop more than a crumb in her lap. I’ll scratch your behind and you do mine; one good turn deserves another sort of business.
Menika never had friends in high places, neither in low, so no crumbs ever for her. Karume! She consoles herself however with a big gulp of philosophy with her G&T. Handouts are never free; they demand favours apart from tearing your conscience to bits. Here again there is a difference in the likes of Menika and the inherited rich or grabbed-rich. They hardly have those twin virtues of lajja – baya.
Three hearty cheers for His Honour the Speaker. Mr. Chamal Rajapaksa (no doctorate there?) “approves Fonseka’s tour of Kenya” reports a daily on Thursday, 10th.
At least the new JVP — the DNA — exhibits the good qualities of gratitude and giving he who deserves the job, by nominating General Sarath Fonseka to attend the Commonwealth Parliamentary Union in Kenya in September. But that last bit brought Menika up short. September? Many a monsoonal moon for that day. There is a brother of the speaker who in Hard Talk with the BBC said in no uncertain terms, that the said General would be hanged if found guilty of treason. So much can happen between mid June and September, though the General’s defence lawyers are finding loopholes.
Of course government or the highest and second highest can loop these loopholes and render them useless. Let’s hope, pray and keep our fingers crossed that the incarcerated one of the triumvirate that won the war, will be given a mite of respite through a foreign trip and more, that no noose will go around his beleaguered neck. May he soon be out of his ‘luxury’ prison and free.