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Today’s LIRNEasia’s post informs us as follows: “Free media Movement – Sri Lanka Press Release 30 January 2007 – Internet facilities and 8,000 telephones cut off in Jaffna Peninsula. The Free Media Movement (FMM) is deeply disturbed to learn that basic communications facilities to the Jaffna Peninsula have been blocked from 28th January 2007. Internet facilities and around 8,000 landline telephones of Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) are dysfunctional to date”. This, in turn, had Sittingnut respond with an appropriate comment questioning the veracity of the claim.

Which got us to thinking about Leon. Remember him from ‘Java’s Secret Agent Man’ in our ‘Secret Agent’ trilogy some weeks earlier on kottu? Well, it occurred to us of the possibility that this may be some of that ‘Spam & Jam Co. Ltd., Dealers in Spread for Bread’ organization’s handiwork.

The Free Media Movement also informs us in its blog via kottu that it “…is deeply disturbed to learn that basic communications facilities to the Jaffna Peninsula have been blocked from 28th January 2007. Internet facilities and around 8,000 landline telephones of Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) are dysfunctional to date. SLT, jointly owned by the Sri Lankan Government and Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corporation (NTT) of Japan, is the sole Internet provider in Jaffna Peninsula with a population of around 600,000 according to official statistics”. The FMM were also told that “..there is no official decision by the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority to block communications in this manner in the Peninsula”. Apparently many citizens as well as journalists confirm this and the SLT Jaffna office has told FMM that “…for security reasons SLT link to Jaffna has been disconnected from Anuradhapura, a north central city”.

Thinking of the possibility of Leon’s involvement we wondered if any ‘spamming’ (which Leon referred to as ‘disinformation’) had preceded this and made a mental note to do some research on the matter, although there is every likelihood of the ‘spam’ following the ‘jam’ and not following the sequence on Leon’s visiting card. The ‘jamming’ aspect seems to be pretty much ‘in your face’ and isn’t something new, as a couple of weeks ago the same thing occurred in some of the areas we visited in the Amparai district – soon after the capture of a LTTE camp in the area. The obvious reason for this is to ‘inhibit communications’ (as Leon put it) between interested parties and this is reasonably logical for a state at war – an “all is fair in love and war” kinda thing. However, the FMM’s take on this appears to be that the rights of the individual should not be compromised – and rightly so. Be that as it may, the questions remain – is anything permissible in order for the state to combat the ‘enemy’? How far are you willing to give up your ‘rights’ for the defeat of the LTTE? And for how long? Will the ‘hawks’ give up their ‘rights’ indefinitely – not just in times such as the present, but also in the ‘national interest’ during times that other circumstances, not necessarily involving the LTTE, prevail? And would there be other circumstances that would receive the nod from the FMM and other ‘Liberal’ folk for the state to deny the people their ‘rights’? Or is this like the irresistible force and the immovable object?

Perhaps it may not be possible for us to even imagine, leave alone understand, the plight of those in Jaffna who, with all the impossible difficulties imposed on them for the past twenty years and more, find these compounded by the denial of communicating with whoever they want when they choose to. How would we react? Not that it would make any difference to those affected, given the prevailing conditions. It probably boils down to a question of values in the end – to answer the question of should or should we not question the ‘right’ of the state to impose a denial on the ‘rights’ of the individual?

How would you feel?

In the meantime Leon, no doubt, is spamming and jamming his way to receiving more bread to spread – and not the other way around.

He said he had been kissed by a witch in a previous birth and spawned by a bitch in this one, waking to the grim reality of a brand new day and wringing the changes from shadows of the setting sun. He was everyman and he was none. Left alone to his thoughts of yesterday’s dreams, he waxed melancholy until the screams from his dubious nightmares roused him from that splendid solitude and he deigned to step into this reality that enveloped him in its womb-like comfort zone. And that was good enough for him – for now – this home.

Java didn’t really know him all that well, but there was that communication in bits and bytes and the weird thing about it was that a kind of a telepathic empathy evolved over time and through space and the bond was forged. When he finally materialized Java didn’t realize who exactly it was, but thought it must be the delivery man with the special resin that he ordered an hour before, but it wasn’t. It was The Hierophant. At least that was how Java said he introduced himself.

Thaaz right maan, he just walk up to me an say:

Hey Mister Jones, I’m the one.

I take a look at dis dude – he be wearin dis peaked cap, he got dis thang in his left hand, kinda look like a cross wit two extra horizontal bars. He make dis geschure to me wit his odder hand – kinda remind me of dat old hippy peace sign an he got dis chain round his waist wit two crossed keys hangin at de end of it. I don remember seein him before, so I wonder how he be knowin my ass:

Say maaan, have we met before?

Sure we have – if not in the flesh, at least in the spirit – if you see what I’m saying.

He pulls up a chair. We are at the Bambla Restaurant, which aint really a restauran, but more of a Bar dan anyting else. It be frequented mosly by da workin class – govermen clerks after work, som truck drivers, college students, construcshun workers – full of dat workin class ambience. It have dese freaky ol marble-top wrought iron tables – full blown antiques, wit dese ol style chairs an all. No one be payin attenshun to no one else in dis place – reeeal cool it be. Now dat he be at my table an he know who I am, I tell da waiter to get him a drink. He aks fo red wine an want somting sweet – like sacramental wine, he say. Dat waiter don know nuttin bout sacramental wine an tell da man dat all he have be beer, stout, arrack, gin, rum or vodka – all local. So he settle fo water. Da waiter know he mus be som weirdo, wit his triple-cross sceptre type thang in his hand an his straaange lookin cap – like a bishop’s number. Know what I mean? Anyway, he bring da water an leave. So I’m lookin at dis dude wonderin jus what sheet I be getting myself into now, when he tell me who he is:

I’m The Hierophant – the one who has been communicating with you.

The High –ro who??? Communicatin wit me?? When?

That’s right, mine is the voice in your head – the one that guides you. Hi-er-o-fant – the ‘solver of mysteries’. When? You know how when you are ‘thinking’ and you say something to yourself in your head? Yes? Well I am the ‘other’ voice – the one that you have the dialogue with. The one that points you in the right direction, sometimes against your better judgement – your guardian angel, in a manner of speaking.

Now I be shurre dis dude is on somting heavy an be on som kinda head-trip, eider dat or he be stark starin – but den how did he know my name? An how did he find me here at Bambla? Dese be da queschuns dat I be grappling wit. But I be decidin to play it cool, so I take anodder gulp of brew and get a roll-up goin. He refuse to smoke, but gets anodder glass of water. Den, not bein able to bear it no more, I aks:

Saay maan, I be wonderin how is it yo find me here?

He say nuttin, but pull out dis lil ol pack of cards out of his pocket an get me to shuffle dem. One look an I see dey be a pack of well-worn Tarot cards – da ‘Case’ deck, not da one done by ‘Waite’ like yo have. I pass him back dat deck an he fust wipe dat marble top wit dis sash type ting he wear aroun his neck  an den he lay dose cards. He tell me dat he be usin dat ‘Celtic’ method of divinin an den he tell me to tink of any queschun dat I be curious bout. Now yo know me, right? I be leavin allowances for straange happenins but I don give much count to dis mystical sheet cos I never seen it happen maself to be beyond doubt. Anyways, I decide to humor da Hiero-man. So I tink to maself – I be tinkin who dis dude be an how he get to me. So he lays dem cards out an chooses da King of Cups to be what he call ‘Da Significator’ da card dat represents da subjec – me. Anyways, to make a long story shorter, he do dat readin an he tell me a whole load of sheet – lot of it bein appropriate, but not reealy answerin my queschun – until da very end, dat is. He start to laugh an he put out his hand an introduce hisself – an den he answer dat queschun I have in ma head.

Java had been in communication with this guy in Florida who had been responding to the blog – a pretty far-out cat who was into the esoteric – the Tarot, Mysticism, the Quabalah, Magic, Astrology, Crowley, Theosophy, Krishnamurthi – you name it. And as the cyber-relationship developed, Eric had been fascinated by Java’s pieces on the country (this one) and the characters he described and had decided to visit and check it all out. Of course the first place he visited was The Café on Bareass Boulevard. Then he met Mo. One thing led to another until he located Java at Bambla and decided to play with him a bit before blowing him away. It ended up with the two of them heading back to the Boulevard and finishing a couple of bottles of Bristol Crème they picked up on the way there – the closest they could get to the taste of that sacramental wine that Eric craved in his role of The Hierophant – synonymous with the ecclesiastical function assigned to the card as described by Waite.

Truth is surely stranger, isn’t it? Or…?

The sound of light – the night beyond the eye.

It was at that crepuscular time of day, the sky had a hazy shade of the monsoon about it and the slowly setting sun’s shafts of orange transformed the undulating ocean into a giant strobe flashing metallic shades of molten fire. I was standing on the beach watching some fishermen sort out their catch as the crows keep their beady eyes on what was going down, waiting for the first opportunity to snag a final meal before flying off to nest for the night. Their competitors were a few stray cats and dogs – also waiting in hope. As I looked down the long stretch of beach towards the spit at the southern end where the beach curves to form the surfers’ haven and where Mambo’s is located, I saw two figures in the distance, walking slowly towards us and as they approached I saw that it was an elderly couple – out for their evening stroll no doubt. They got to where we were and stopped to take in the fisherman’s catch, when ‘just like that’ a buxom woman ran up. She looked the epitome of the local ‘fisherwoman’ – stout and tough looking, her blouse undone except for the safety-pin that held the middle bit together, breasts straining for freedom, her bulgy midriff barely restrained. As she got to the boat she let out a string of expletives, her raucous voice raised to what could well have been her loudest. She vented her wrath on one of the men working the net – something to do with infidelity and then describing his questionable genealogy – all in the choicest vernacular of unparalleled profane, descriptive, artistry.

The elderly couple was undoubtedly astounded – the old lady quivering noticeably. The fisherman at the receiving end of the diatribe made a useless attempt to halt the virago – to no avail. The crows, quick to seize the opportunity of the man’s break in concentration, swoop on assorted fish and take off. The cats and dogs follow suit – all their patience finally rewarded. The elderly man turned to me and with a questioning look:

Did you hear that language? What a foul mouth! Should be a law against using this type of language in public, don’t you think?

I hadn’t realized that Java had materialized until I heard his chuckle and then:

Yeah, fo shuurre most folks would find it obscene, profane, tasteless, filthy an all dat, but as dat children’s adage go, ‘sticks an stones can break yo bones, but words will never hurt you’ – physically, dat is. Fo shure words can hurt sometimes, mo dan sticks an stones even, but dat jus depend on how yo ‘see’ dem words. Sometimes what some folk take for ‘profane’, be nuttin but a means of aiding dere descriptive prowess and could be looked on as ‘creative’ an ‘humorous’ even – if yo know where I’m comin from.

The old couple was obviously not about to appreciate Java’s objectivity or philosophizing on semantics, nor did they appear to feel the need to continue the discussion. The old lady quickly took the old man’s hand and urged him to return to their hotel. The light was fast fading and soon it would be dark. The couple walked back in the direction of Mambo’s.

The fisherman’s initial reaction of surprise at the attack was quickly replaced with one of resignation as he returned to his task of sorting out his catch with the others, none of who even reacted to the drama. However, the virago was not about to be distracted from her vicious verbal barrage and kept it up, vividly describing her husband’s numerous dalliances along with a string of other accusations. She kept this going until, what we guessed was more an act of desperation rather than one of anger, the fisherman calmly picked up an oar, walked the few feet that separated them and gave the woman a thunderous whack with the blade end of it – right across her ample midriff. The decisive blow knocked all the air out of the woman as she doubled up and then fell to her knees. The crows, as astute as ever, made their lightening observation count and grabbed more fish, as did the cats and dogs. The woman, now recovering from the initial shock of the attack, was gasping to get some oxygen back into her lungs – all the aggression and violence now a thing of the past – dissipated by the whack. The fisherman started to light a couple of lamps – it was nearly dark by this time and we thought it best to get back to the house we use as a base for the work in the east.

It was dark by the time we returned. Java set up the I-pod with the Bose dock while I headed for the shower. By the time I returned there was music courtesy of Jan Garbarek with the Hilliard Ensemble (a fabulous combination of Garbarek’s tenor and soprano saxes combining with the male voices of the Ensemble) filling the room, together with the fragrant aroma of what seemed to be excellent Sinsemilla – and strange as it may sound, whilst looking at liner notes that accompanied the record was this line:

Birds that feed on fish; their excrement will form the beginning of an oasis in which human beings can live, until the next stream of lava smothers it all.

Those of us here in Colombo who dig jazz, blues and rock ‘n roll will no doubt know who we are referring to, for Glen has been a major force in the local music scene over the past couple of years. Unfortunately for us he had to return to Oz with his family towards the end of last year, so when news of his return reached us, the next concert was eagerly anticipated – not just for the performance, but also for the kind of spark it generates at the venue – the incomparable Barefoot Garden Café.

The place was buzzing when Nahorp, the lovely Gowers and I got there – the Dancer had a couple of other commitments, one being to meet the members of the Erik Truffaz Quartet – the French jazz group – at the French Ambassador’s residence. I cried off that one, as I would be up in the hills when the concert happens for one thing and the function we were supposed to attend before the French Ambassador’s party is one of the most boring and tediously dull affairs that we are obliged to attend each year. Anyway, the first set was already underway when we arrived, so we quickly got our beverages together with the other stuff, and settled in to get into the music. And so it went – the music, interspersed with meeting up with friends, (which included the pleasant surprise meeting up with Mala, who until then was just a ‘voice’ from cyberspace) getting into the mood to set off the rest of the night and generally having the good old time we usually do at these gigs.

Heeey maan, yo know what blew me away most of all at Glen’s gig? Dat lil girl wit dat big voice, dat easy manner an assured stage presence – Natalia. Woweee-zowee! She did dose tree numbers an she steal dat audience – had dem in da palm of her lil old hand – right?

Right! Natalia is the daughter of The Southpaw and Sweet Sam – all of thirteen years old, with, as Java astutely observed, the assured stage presence of an old pro. But what was most impressive was her voice, style and control, which could have taught many professionals more than a thing or two about performing. In short, she stole the show and the audience loved it.

Know what maan? When I be aksing Soutpaw bout if she be learin dis stuff an how she practices an if she tells dat band da key she be singin in an all dat kinda stuff, know what he tell me? He say he don know, dat all she do is listen to his ol collection of jazz standards an she jus do her thang. Can yo dig dat sheet?

The other highlight of the concert was the surprise appearance of the very group that I had missed out on meeting! The Eric Truffaz Quartet did a guest spot and they were outstanding. Ray Gomez joined them on electric guitar for a couple of numbers, as did Nesan on his variety of drums and percussion and the place rocked!

Getting back to Glen and his band – Kumar, dazzling on keyboards, Upula on bass – getting some of those tabla rhythms booming off those strings, Shiraz playing a mean set on his drums – as sensitively as ever, Nesan conjuring up his percussive brilliance and The Man himself, doing his thing in his inimitable style. Glen did his number and gave everyone another evening of good music and the chance to get into it – and that we did, in no small measure!

The night ended at ‘Blues’ – packed, with a lot of the folk from the concert as well and when Nahorp (Gowers had left earlier), Estev, Mr. Zippy, Cici and I finally made it back home it was dawning. And not too long after that Java and I were on our way back to the hills – a most welcome respite from the heavy activities of the past two weeks!

I guess this must be a milestone of sorts – the one-hundredth blog since starting this in the third week of September 2006. Who would have thought it?!! Certainly not Java and yours truly, for what began as a ‘trip’ into that unknown realm of cyberspace and encountering those unfamiliar energies zapping around the blogosphere, has progressed to a state of near compulsive regurgitating of ideas that speed across the mindspace, captured occasionally and expressed as best possible under whatever circumstances prevailed at the time. The content has been a kind of a mixed bag to be sure – whatever happened in that internal universe at the time was put down and zapped off to kottu. And the whole caboodle has been surprising as well – for innumerable reasons – best left alone for now.

It aint bin one little ol bit surprisin to me maaan. I tol yo ass when you set off on dis trip – remember what I done say? I tol yo dat yo doin dis sheet caus yo could be tellin it like it is fo you, an yo could be flowin down dem streams of consciousness an tellin folk bout it, bout dat music dat sometime turn on dat stream, bout movies dat inspire, an also what to avoid so dose waters don get muddy – remember? An also all dose turn-ons like Flower Book, dem dogs, all dat fauna an flora we be observin – jus cast dat mind of yo’s back an check it out.

Right! Java did have his moment of intuitive ‘whatever’ and I do suppose things have turned out pretty much that way. The thing of it is that the trip has stirred up some of those creative juices that otherwise could possibly have been left dormant – mind exercises – good for the soul! And then there’s those like-minded folk that have responded – some of who have got kinda close through all that communicating, which could enable the possibility of these kinds of ‘relationships’ enriching the whole. There’s other ‘stuurrff’ too that has added to the experience. Some of the blogs encountered because of this adventure in cyberspace have revealed minds that are sharp, incisive, even brilliant in their expositions of whatever it is that they are on about. Some are excruciatingly banal, whilst others expose their weaknesses and prejudices to a greater extent than the average – I guess we are all in this boat, to some degree or the other!

What else? Anonymity was something we thought about whilst realizing of course that in a ‘village’ such as we are in, where ‘everybody’ knows just about ‘everybody else’, or someone who knows someone who knows someone…. This could get to be a drag – although I suppose it depends on where one’s head is at – if you don’t want others to know that you are really this blogger with that attitude or the other mindset, it would be difficult. Those cyber-tecs out there with their penchant for surveillance and their brilliance at using and/or adapting software to suit their ends will, without doubt, find the man or woman behind the blog. Oh well – such is life I guess, so if blogging is all that important for the purpose of being seen, read or whatever else, then on we go and the hell with the consequences – right?

Can’t think of much more to add, except to say that it is a real mind-blower to have got this far – and hopefully what has gone down has been at least mildly interesting, amusing, thought-provoking or something else that may have added some value somewhere, sometime, somehow. And if not?

So be it!

Before any untoward inferences are made – let me just ease into this by indicating that this is by no means a critical evaluation of the recently concluded Literary Festival at Galle, but is merely an effort to figure out what it was all about and how effectively it worked in relation to what was intended. Hopefully the contents will help answer questions, raise more and initiate what is required in order to make the next one as good as it can get.

So, as intended anyway, I did the investigative thing – or rather, Java did. He’s much more into this sort of stuff than I am. The first one he asked happened to be a ‘participant’ (as opposed to ‘writer’ or ‘organizer’, or ‘attendee’ that is), who was just leaving the place (this was by telephone). The reaction was unadulterated candour and the description included the following phrases:

Particiant: serious writers would puke: for the elite – mostly expats were there: like a private party: almost unreal: ‘beautiful people’ – but not really beautiful: have to do it differently next time: must bring the public in: around 50 were in the audience for my thing:

I also got some views from one of the organizers:

Organizer: It went really, really well: exceeded all expectations: people who had been to the UBUD Festival (running for 6 to 7 years) said there were way more people at this one: the Children’s Day programme had some problems with transport and directions – a bit confusing for some: the upside is that Salman Rushdee, Vickram Seth, Rohinton Mistry and Shyam Selvadurai want to come to next year’s Festival: 

Got us to thinking…

Saaay maaan, are yo hip to jus what dese odder well known Lit-er-rary Festivals be like? Do dey be targettin a pecific demographic, or do dey be tryin to promote literachure, or promote writers, or to encourage new writers maybe, or yo tink it be bout book sales, or exposin dem authors to dere fans, or allowing dose critics to debate dose writers, or any odder reason? Yo tink it be any or more of dose and also be good fo dat tourist trade, an da surroundin community? Fringe benefits like, yo know! Is dis a ‘prestige’ number or is it kinda ‘loose’? An in de end maaan, jus what is da inteshun?

I sure as hell don’t know how better known Literature Festivals are organized, what the process is and what sort of audience attends, so we checked the net – what else?! The first one we checked was ‘UK Festivals’ and this is what it said:

“Visit a literary festival and you can enjoy listening to your favourite author read from their latest book, ask them questions, learn the tricks of the trade from published authors, attend workshops and network with other like-minded people exchanging views on books and authors you have read and tips on how to get published. It is also a chance to broaden your horizons and develop an interest in new genres and authors. Hearing an author talk about their work or read an extract can open new avenues for you.

The main literary festival seasons are Spring to early Summer and the Autumn. Some general arts festivals have lively and interesting literary sections, such as the Charleston festival, part of the Brighton Festival (May) or Belfast Festival at Queen’s (October/November). There are some large very well-known purely literary festivals such as The Guardian Hay Festival (May – June), the Cheltenham Festival (with a Spring and an Autumn season in April/May and October), the Edinburgh International Book Festival (August /September), the Bath Literature Festival (March) and Swindon Festival of Literature (May). These festivals always have many famous authors reading, in discussion, and giving workshops. They are often themed each year with a particular emphasis, for example, the Autumn Cheltenham Festival centres around The Human Condition.”

Heeey, dats interestin maan, ‘Da Human Condition’ – great theme fo us folk here. Fo we all know bout dat sheet in dis country don we? But lissen here, de one at Galle – did dat have som theme fo itself? Maybe ‘architechure’, seein as how many of dose numbers be included! I be checkin on dis before we post dis okay?

Java’s back to the laptop checking, while I’m thinking of what the second person we asked, said. And then, after a while:

Saay maaan, I got it bout Galle and da inteshun – here it be:

“Our objectives are to raise the awareness of the increasing depth and diversity of Sri Lankan writings in English, to give Sri Lankan writers an equal platform to their international colleagues, to encourage the use of English among young people and to attract visitors from overseas to visit Galle and the Southern Province.
In the space of four days we will welcome over 60 participants to over 50 festival events including writing workshops, panel discussions, topical debates, literary lunches & dinners, poetry readings, a comprehensive children’s programme focussed on education with creative writing, art and eco workshops, debating and much more. There will also be a range of events each evening from a poetry slam, jazz evenings, late night movies, stimulating debates and art & photographic exhibitions”

Next we checked Wikipedia: A literary festival, also known as a book festival or writers’ festival, is a regular gathering of writers and readers, typically on an annual basis in a particular city. A literary festival usually features a variety of presentations and readings by authors, as well as other events, delivered over a period of several days, with the primary objectives of promoting the authors’ books and fostering a love of literature and writing (my emphasis). There are many literary festivals held around the world. Some well known examples include: Adelaide Writer’s Week, an event during the Adelaide Festival of Arts. Edinburgh International Book Festival, Prague Writers Festival, an event held in Prague. Peak Literary Festival, an event held in the Peak District of England.

So we checked ‘Edinburgh’ – same story – all about books, writers and the like. The extract ended with: One of the first journalists to cover the Book Festival was the young Ian Rankin, writing for a student newspaper. Nobel Prize winners that have appeared at the Book Festival include Toni Morrison, Seamus Heaney, Dario Fo, and Harold Pinter. Among authors who have been to the Book Festival long before they became internationally famous are Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, Kazuo Ishiguro and J. K. Rowling. 

We also checked ‘Adelaide’ and ‘Prague’ – not much different. The common factor was books, writers and the interested public that includes wannabe writers, “..with the primary objectives of promoting the authors’ books and fostering a love of literature and writing.”

Unfortunately, due to all manner of reasons, we were not able to contact any more of the ‘writers’, ‘organizers’, ‘participants’ or those that attended the Festival at Galle, so no further feedback from those quarters is available, although I did see something about it either posted with kottu or in the press.

So there we are – at least we got to the intention of a Literary Festival in general and the objectives of the one at Galle. We also got the impressions of a ‘participant’ and ‘organizer’  and who knows, we just might get some feedback to this, to round it all off. And then, any of us who are interested could make up our own minds on how this first Literary Festival in Sri Lanka fared. But the main intention of this post is, as I mentioned at the beginning, that it may just enable those concerned to ensure that they will make every effort to eliminate the negatives of the one that’s past and make the next one better, until this becomes an annual event that will be every bit as good as any of the others anywhere in the world.

Fair enough?

The trip to the north-east and down the coast to Ulle (Panama was not recommended due to the state of the road after the recent flooding) was relatively uneventful as far as the ‘situation’ was concerned as, apart from the more frequent check-points and more detailed sussing out of the vehicles and passengers by the guardians of our security, no ‘action’ was encountered. Just south of Kayankerni we did see some UN vehicles with Police escort, lights flashing and flags flying, leading a convoy of buses towards Vakarai – no doubt to transport the many refugees fleeing their homes, now probably devastated by the recent heavy exchange of artillery fire and other bombardments.

The most fascinating aspect however, was the considerable presence of Karuna cadres – mostly very young boys, armed and casual, but with pseudo-camouflage-kits manning the Karuna posts at most of the small towns we passed. In Pottuvil, the Karuna contingent was based in the middle of town, cheek by jowl with the Police and STF patrols. In fact that particular post is right opposite the Police post where applications for permits to travel out of the town and past the checkpoint are issued.

Know what maaan? Da Sheriff tol me dat when he be passin dat Karuna post, one of dose teenage looking kids raise his gun an make like he be goin to stop da vehicle, but when our maan slow down he probably realize it be a mistake an move away. So den da Sheriff aks – an quite rightly so – what do we do if som dude in civvies an arm wit dat automatic weapon try to stop him? Do he stop an let dis kid aks queschuns an sheet or what? Dis be som rotten sheet goin down and dose governmen mout-pieces be spewin out a whole lotta crap. Dere be no doubt dat dose Karuna cadres be extortin, abductin and all dat odder sheet an dat dey are bein protected. Don need no geeniasss to figure dat one out.

That’s about the way it is, so the ‘Rock Report’ can’t be too far off the mark in that we do know that Karuna’s guys are armed and are well distributed in the east (if nowhere else), that they are abducting and extorting (the Sheriff has confirmed this from personal experience at some of the tsunami-related building sites he moves around in) and they have no fear of the security forces – being pretty much ‘in your face’, as the Sheriff has found out – and as we saw on this recent trip. How then, do we deal with the government stance in response to the ‘Rock Report’ allegations of this collusion with Karuna forces regarding the abduction of children?

So what else is new???

The rest of the days spent in those parts had all to do with ‘work’ and although the few moments of respite were made use of to the best of our abilities, it felt great to finally reach home after the journey – parts of it on what could be best described as ‘excuses’ for roads, the long hours traveling and the conditions encountered en route. This wasn’t all that difficult for us guys that do this rather frequently, but for the foreign elements that have to experience this ‘other world’, it can’t be all that pleasant. Gone are the days of that east coast that some of us remember all too well.

Fortunately the ‘work’ part of it was rewarding – considering what has been accomplished during the past two years in spite of difficult and dangerous conditions. So I guess the trip was successful in that it showcased the work that had been achieved and indicated to to all concerned that the local efforts had reaped results that exceeded all expectations – and so it was all worth it in the end.

This has more to do with ‘rights’ than with ‘religion’, although religion emerges as the chief offender. I’m referring to the obnoxious practice of amplifying religious dogma at any hour of the day or night at the whims and fancies of the incumbents of the religious institutions in question. And it would appear that the chief offenders are the mosques and the temples – the Muslims and the Buddhists.

With scant regard for the rights of those who are disturbed by the high decibel cacophony – often indecipherable, the practice continues. No respite is possible, as the din invades the privacy of homes, schools, hospitals, tourist resorts, old-age homes and just about any habitation – unless of course one is fortunate to possess a sound-proof refuge from this invasive nuisance that shatters peace of mind.

The old, the young, the sick and infirm, students trying to concentrate on studies and many others that are affected have no recourse other than to curse the perpetrators of this assault on their sensibilities and wonder why their representatives in government don’t have the spine to take on these inconsiderate purveyors of sound pollution. The Environmental Authority and or the ministries in charge of environment and health must surely have this malady within the ambit of their responsibilities? Are they afraid of the mullahs and monks? And what about the learned members of the Sangha? Don’t they realize that this practice is in direct contradiction to the ‘Eight-fold Path’ and is a perversion of the beautiful philosophy that is Buddhism? And the members of the public (read ‘all of us’) who are doubtlessly affected curse and bear it. I have, on previous occasion attempted to begin a debate on this in the local dailies by writing something on these lines, but none of my letters to the editors were published – no big surprise to be sure, as I guess the ‘don’t rock the religious boat’ mindset prevails!

And so here we are – as apathetic as ever – as usual, while the perpetrators of this abuse of our fundamental rights spew their pious platitudes and pontificate on ‘religious’ matters, whilst missing the forest for the trees.

There’s more to this abuse of our fundamental rights in the name of ‘religion’, where we are disallowed from purchasing certain foods and beverages due to what some consider to be ‘holy days’. But that’s another story – perhaps better kept for later!

What do you think?

I have to dash this off before embarking on that impending trip I was telling you about the other day, so I can get this done and out of the way.

Java returned rather late after his rushing off to get The Cherry Lady to try to get that stash of cash back to where it belongs. He looked decidedly pleased with himself as he eased himself into a comfy position on the couch and got his doob going. I said nothing and continued with reading the latest copy of ‘Total Film’ that had arrived yesterday. I guess he couldn’t stand it anymore, so he gets going with the story:

Yo won believe dis sheet maan – yo ready fo dis? Shuurre? All right den. I pick up da Cherry Lady at da Bar on da Boulevard an as we be walkin to da car I decide to check out dat phone booth an dat number dat Leon give yo, so Cher an I we get to dat booth an find it be locked. I tell Cher to hang in dere an I make it to da Bar to get Mo open up dat booth an maybe aks him bout Leon too. I get dere to find ol Mo in his little ol room – he be comfortably numb wit his headset round his face, immerse in Floyd – might have been dat ‘Umma Gumma’ album. Anyways, I rouse his ass an I aks him bout Leon. Know what he tell me maan? He say dat Leon rent dat phone booth – he pay up double of what it bring in each month an he keep it fo his private use. So I aks him if he know dis cat an jus what he did, an he say dat Leon be havin som high flyin frens, all into dealin arms an sheet an also ‘odder’ stuff – mus be dat ‘spam an jam’ he be talkin bout. So I tank ol Mo an make it back to Cher.

When we get to dat cemetery it mus have bin close to five. A few folk be payin dere respecs to dere deceased love ones an dat sun be settin slow. We get to da grave – da gravestone say  all dat good stuff bout Cher’s mamma , Marguerite, an it be havin dis alabaster angel ttached to da peak of dat stone by a rusty iron rod wit dose rust-water-tricklin stains runnin down dat marble slab like a trail of dried blood. Da mound of earth coverin Marguerite be full of weeds growin over da concrete rectangle roun dat grave, an as I check it out I see dat dere’s dis spot dat has no weeds or grass, so I know dat dis is da spot! An I also know dat if I can see dis, den maybe som odder curious person also notice it an wonder why. An maybe dey check it out. I look at Cher, who is getting dat garden fork outta her bag, so she don catch ma eye. By dis time da sun has gone and it be near dark, da people also be gone. Cher give me dat fork an I start to dig.

Java stops for a moment and gets himself a beer – and one for me as well. Then he gets out an album and turns it on. It’s an old Paul Winter Consort album and I wonder why. Anyway, the music’s very pleasant and I listen while Java rolls one of his specials. He goes on:

So I’m diggin – must be more dan two feet down – I nearly be at de end of ma reach, when I feel dis hardness. Sheeet! Ma heart be racin as I get ma fingers under dat package an get it out. It’s Leon’s all right an it looks like it be intac. It’s dark now an Cher has got her penlight flash out. We get dat package in her big ol bag, da garden fork also, an we head out of dat place an back to her pad. We try dat phone booth number an I lissen to it ring – over an over an over. No one dere! Cher be countin dat bread – an dere’s a whole lot of it. She gets it done, but befor she can tell me da phone rings. She picks up:

Hello?

She makes a face at me an points at dat phone while moutin a silent LEON to me. Den she get her sweetest honey-tone voice goin an say:

Why hello Leon, how are you? Me? I’m fine, I’m just fine. No, no, I’ve been in all day, then went to visit my mum and got back and was just getting ready to step out for the evening when… What’s that? Yes, yes we did. Java went looking for you but you had disappeared. We tried calling, but the number wasn’t good and then the website wasn’t functioning. What? Oh. Okay. Uh huh, sure I understand. What’s that? When? Java? He’s right here, we were just going out. Let me ask him.

She put dat phone down on da table and look at me wit dis strange look on her face an in a low whisper:

He wants us to have dinner with him at the Café. What do I say? I told him I would ask you! He didn’t even mention the package. What do I tell him? Here, you talk to him.

She give me dat receiver and makes faces at me, gesticulatin fo me to say somting.

Heey Leon ma maan, where yo bin hidin dude? We bin lookin all over fo yo ass. How com yo jus upped an split dat day – no word of farewell or anyting? Waaas dat? Who? Big dark dude? Yeah, but he dint say nuttin to us, he jus smiled an nodded. No. Hold on lemme aks Cher.

I wait fo a few seconds an den:

Leon? No maan, da Cherry Lady don know nuttin – she dint even see dis cat an don know who yo be meanin. Yeah? Why’s dat? Oh okay den. What time? At da Café? We be seein yo ass dere at nine sharp. Later!

I hang up an wonder jus what I be getting Cher an me into by agreein to meet Leon again. An who dat big, black guy be an why Leon got all shook up bout him. Cher be lookin equally worried, but we see no alternative:

I guess we will have to meet this weirdo again! Now listen Java, let’s not get involved in any more nonsense with this guy – okay?

Shuure babe. But you know we gotta return his cash right? We both be hearin bout his connecshuns, we know he be into som straange ass sheet, so do we wanna cross dis dude’s path takin his bread wit us? No, we don! We don want our asses bein hauled outta som deep water somwhere or be food fo dem fish, so we go. We go an see where dis dude be comin from. Now gettcha pretty lil ass in gear and les make like dat shepherd an get da flock outta here.

So we do. We make it to da Café bout quarter to nine – place be not quite buzzin, but dere be a fair crowd of folk havin dinner an som at da Bar. We head over an get Dan to get us a couple of brews. I see Mo in his den – he be havin Brubeck on – ‘Take Five’ – always fine fo a good lissen. Reeal soft like, I aks Cher if she bring dat package an she nod her head – affirmativ. My eyes be on dat door off an on – more ‘on’ tho – an den, dere he was! He walked strait to us two an say:

Well hello – why, fancy meeting the two of you here!

Dat weird-ass voice of his be soundin like a needle gratin cross vinyl – reeal shrill-hard an scratchy like. He pull up a stool an order his Chilean White from Dan, den he un-slings his drum-shape manbag wit dat ‘Rhydmic’ bran name an ‘Lose Proof’ emboss an lays it on da bar. He lights up a cigarette:

How have you been, Cher?

He bin givin da Cherry Lady dat look – from tip to toe an he be smilin dat leerey-ass smile of his. An Cher, she give him dat tumbs-up sign and take a slug of brew:

Fine, Leon. Where have you been since you did that vanishing trick the other day? We were trying to locate you – like I told you – but didn’t know how. We wanted to…

I couldn’t let you two know that I had to leave the country suddenly – business, you know.

And den dat knowin wink he do:

But listen, to get back to where we were the other day – have you given much thought to my little proposition? Remember? That ‘Spam and Jam’ business I mentioned? Offer’s still good you know. Want to take a ride in a while and we can talk?

I look at Cher, but she be ignorin my stare. She draw her stool up closer to Leon an look right in dat face – wit dat weathered look, dat pencil mustache an wit dat black an greasy-slick hair comb back an she say reeal soft like:

Leon honey, you just have to know more about the people you invite to do business with. Java and I – we have known each other for donkey’s years and we don’t ever get mixed up in any business that is in any way going to hurt anyone. We also don’t want to get mixed up in anything even resembling intrigue or any stress related situations. That stack of dollar bills you left behind that day – we took it with us to return it to you, but like we told you, there was no way to do so. All your contact numbers were false – like your website. Even the number you said was a friend’s house turned out to be for that phone booth over there. Just what it is you are up to doesn’t sound all that great to us, but that’s your business. We just don’t want any part of it. So here’s your cash – it’s all there – and thanks for the offer, but really, I’m sure that there are lots of others out there who would line up for the opportunity you’re offering us.

Den she take dat package out of her big ol bag an lays it right by Leon’s drum shape manbag wit dat ‘Rhydmic’ an ‘Lose Proof’ on it. I’m lookin at ol Leon’s face durin dis whole ting an now it be a study in bewilderment. He be too fuckin stunned by our Cherry Lady’s monologue to say anyting for a few seconds – seem like minutes to us two! Den dat cracklin falsetto:

Er – ummm, I must have misjudged the two of you entirely. I’m usually a pretty good judge and my first impressions are rarely, if ever, mistaken. However, it does seem that this time I have erred and I do beg your pardon for this. Pheeewww!

He blows all dat air in his lungs out thru his mout an shakes his jet black, greasy-slick head – look like he be wonderin how to take it from dis point. Cher be lightin up one of my roll-ups and takes anodder swig of brew. I be watchin Leon.

Look, tell you what. I do appreciate your candour – and your honesty with regard to the cash as well, so why don’t we call it quits – okay? You forget you ever met me and I’ll do the same. And, as a token of my inestimable appreciation, I would be honored if you would keep this.

He slides dat package back along da bar to Cher.

There’s a whole lot more from where that came, so I will book it as ‘consultancy fees’ and let’s call it a day.

Cher says nuttin and neider do I. We be too fuckin flabbergasted to reack. Ol Leon finishes his Chilean White, squashes his cigarette in de ashtray, picks up dat manbag wit dat ‘Rhydmic’ bran and dat emboss ‘Lose Proof’ on it, puts out dat big ol hand of his and in dat unbelievable vocalese:

It was a pleasure meeting you – and if you ever do change your minds…

He shakes ma hand and kisses Cher’s and walks out. Cher and I, we look at each odder – she shrugs dose pretty shoulders and gives me da speshul ‘look’ and we don need to say anyting more. So we finish our brew, give Dan behind dat bar a fat ol tip – and split.

Java lights up and heads for the sound. He turns off the Gershwin album that replaced Paul Winter Consort and turns up the volume on Floyd doing (what else could be more appropriate?) ‘Money’! He sits back down and passes me the doob.

And that – was that!

Things look pretty grim for me for the next several days. Intense traveling up northwards and then along the east coast from just north of Kalkudah down to Panama in the south checking on stuff all along the route, meeting with visitors from overseas, handling the formal opening of a project in the boondocks, which requires the obligatory hemming and hawing with the invitees – many of who represent the local bureaucracy. And then back to the city to more of the mundane, dealing with work-related matters that includes participating in a seminar with representatives from around Asia – all of which means a probable break from the regular blogging. The risk is that once the break is taken it may be difficult to get back into the routine of the regular blog – as happens on occasion in general. And what is most depressing of all is the long absence from Flower Book and the tranquility it offers. Luckily the dogs don’t know.

Or do they??!!!

Shit!