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For those of you who haven’t had the benefit of either driving in Sri Lanka or being driven over here, the following piece (received in this morning’s mail from C), should be of interest. And even if you have, and do drive here on a regular basis, I’m sure what a Dutchman from Baan, Netherlands, experienced will provide moments of déjà vu, not to mention a chuckle or three.

Here goes:

For the benefit of every Tom, Dick and Harry visiting Sri Lanka and daring to drive on Sri Lankan roads, I am offering a few hints for survival. They are applicable to every place in Sri Lanka except in the North, where life outside a vehicle is only marginally safer.

Sri Lankan road rules broadly operate within the domain of karma where you do your best, and leave the results to your insurance company.

The hints are as follows: Do we drive on the left or right of the road? The answer is ‘both’. Basically you start on the left of the road, unless it is occupied. In that case, go to the right, unless that is also occupied. Then proceed by occupying the next available gap, as in chess. Simply trust your instincts, ascertain the direction, and proceed. Adherence to road rules leads to much misery and occasional fatality. Most drivers don’t drive, but just aim their vehicles in the generally intended direction.  Don’t you get discouraged or underestimate yourself except for a belief in reincarnation; the other drivers are not in any better position.

Don’t stop at pedestrian crossings just because some fool wants to cross the road. You may do so only if you enjoy being bumped in the back. Pedestrians have been strictly instructed to cross only when traffic is moving slowly or has come to a dead stop because some minister is in town. Still some idiot may try to wade across, but then, let us not talk ill of the dead.

Blowing your horn is not a sign of protest as in some countries. We horn to express joy, resentment, frustration, romance and bare lust (two brisk blasts), or just mobilize a dozing cow in the middle of the bazaar. Keep informative books in the glove compartment. You may read them during traffic jams, while awaiting the chief minister’s motorcade, or waiting for the rainwater to recede when over ground traffic meets underground drainage.

Occasionally you might see what looks like a UFO with blinking coloured lights and weird sounds emanating from within. This is an illuminated bus, full of happy pilgrims singing bhajans. These pilgrims go at breakneck speed, seeking contact with the Almighty, often meeting with success.

Auto Rickshaw (Baby Taxi / Tuck-tuck): The result of a collision between a rickshaw and an automobile. This three-wheeled vehicle works on an external combustion engine that runs on a mixture of kerosene oil and creosote. This triangular vehicle carries iron rods, gas cylinders or passengers three times its weight and dimension, at an unspecified fare. After careful geometric calculations, children are folded and packed into these auto rickshaws until some children in the periphery are not in contact with the vehicle at all. Then their school bags are pushed into the microscopic gaps all round so those minor collisions with other vehicles on the road cause no permanent damage. Of course, the peripheral children are charged half the fare and also learn Newton’s laws of motion en-route to school. Auto-rickshaw drivers follow the road rules depicted in the film Ben Hur, and are licensed to irritate.

Mopeds: The moped looks like an oil tin on wheels and makes noise like an electric shaver. It runs 30 miles on a teaspoon of petrol and travels at break-bottom speed. As the sides of the road are too rough for a ride, the moped drivers tend to drive in the middle of the road; they would rather drive under heavier vehicles instead of around them and are often ‘mopped’ off the tarmac.

Leaning Tower of Passes : Most bus passengers are given free passes and during rush hours, there is absolute mayhem. There are passengers hanging off other passengers, who in turn hang off the railings and the overloaded bus leans dangerously, defying laws of gravity but obeying laws of surface tension. As drivers get paid for overload (so many Rupees per kg of passenger), no questions are ever asked. Steer clear of these buses by a width of three passengers.

One-way Street: These boards are put up by traffic people to add jest in their otherwise drab lives. Don’t stick to the literal meaning and proceed in one direction. In metaphysical terms, it means that you cannot proceed in two directions at once. So drive as you like, in reverse throughout, if you are the fussy type.

Lest I sound hypercritical, I must add a positive point also. Rash and fast driving in residential areas has been prevented by providing a ‘speed breaker’; two for each house. This mound, incidentally, covers the water and drainage pipes for that residence and is left un-tarred for easy identification by the corporation authorities, should they want to recover the pipe for year-end accounting.

Night driving on Sri Lankan roads can be an exhilarating experience for those with the mental make up of Genghis Khan. In a way, it is like playing Russian roulette, because you do not know who amongst the drivers is loaded. What looks like premature dawn on the horizon turns out to be a truck attempting a speed record. On encountering it, just pull partly into the field adjoining the road until the phenomenon passes.

Our roads do not have shoulders, but occasional boulders. Do not blink your lights expecting reciprocation. The only dim thing in the truck is the driver, and with the peg of illicit arrack (alcohol) he has had at the last stop, his total cerebral functions add up to little more than a naught. Truck drivers are the James Bonds of Sri Lanka, and are licensed to kill.

Often you may encounter a single powerful beam of light about six feet above the ground. This is not a super motorbike, but a truck approaching you with a single light on, usually the left one. It could be the right one, but never get too close to investigate.  You may prove your point posthumously. Of course, all this occurs at night, on the trunk roads. During the daytime, trucks are more visible, except that the drivers will never show any signal (and you must watch for the absent signals; they are the greater threat). Only, you will often observe that the cleaner who sits next to the driver will project his hand and wave hysterically. This is definitely not to be construed as a signal for a left turn. The waving is just a statement of physical relief on a hot day.

If, after all this, you still want to drive in Sri Lanka, have your lessons between 8 pm and 11 am-when the police have gone home and – the citizen is then free to enjoy the FREEDOM OF SPEED’ enshrined in the constitution.

Happy motoring!!

A symphony in motion, maan” was how Java described the dancers of  The Nrityagram Dance Ensemble who performed at the Bishops College Auditorium last night. Presented by The Chitrasena Vajira Dance Foundation in remembrance of Chitrasena’s 88th birth anniversary, the Ensemble held the audience spellbound with a production that was as technically perfect in terms of production, as it was in terms of aesthetics. Neither Java nor I pretend to know anything about the intricacies of the Odissi dance form, but the sheer beauty and elegance of the dancers, combined with the stagecraft and superb lighting made the evening zip by so fast, we were still mesmerized and waiting for more at the time the audience rose to give the dancers a standing ovation.

Not too many of us here have even heard of Nrityagram, so here’s a brief description of its concept by the late Protima Gauri, founder of the ‘community of dancers’: “I dream of building a community of dancers in a forsaken place amidst nature. A place where nothing exists except dance. A place where you breathe, eat, sleep, dream, talk, imagine – dance. A place where dancers drop negative qualities such as jealousy, small-mindedness, greed and malice to embrace their colleagues as sisters and support each other in their journey towards becoming dancers of merit. A place called Nrityagram.”

Protima Gauri’s concept has become a reality and the Dance Ensemble has lived her dream, living together in the Dance Village (Nrityagram), practicing, working and dancing from eight to twelve hours a day. The work involves physical conditioning, dance lessons and practice, working in the vegetable garden, in the office, choreographing and attending to all other aspects of the organization without the benefit of any administrative staff.

Lynne Fernandez administers Nrityagram since the premature death of Protima Gauri in an avalanche in the Himalayas whilst on a pilgrimage to Tibet. She is the Managing Trustee and the Executive Director, who manages the Ensemble on their tours overseas, and is also the one who comes up with the brilliant lighting schemes for the productions.

Surupa Sen, Artistic Director, Choreographer and one of the two principal dancers of the Ensemble, has performed, in solo recitals and ensemble, all around India, North America, Europe, the Middle East and Far East, and has received many awards in recognition of her “Excellence in Dance”. Following the world premier of ‘Pratima-Reflection’ at the prestigious Joyce Theatre in New York, during the Ensemble’s most recent tour of the USA this year, Surupa’s creation ‘Vibhakta’ was listed in “The 10 best dance performances of 2008” by dance critic Joan Acocella of The New Yorker. And this is one of the pieces that audiences at tonight’s performance will be privileged to see – if they are lucky enough to get themselves tickets, that is.

Bijayini Satpathy, Director of Odissi Gurukul and the other principal dancer of the Ensemble has learned Odissi dance from the age of seven. She has been a student at Nrityagram since 1993, where she blossomed under the guidance of Protima Gauri and through her collaboration with Surupa Sen. Bijayini has also performed with the Ensemble as well as by herself, all over the world, and has received both national and international recognition including the prestigious 2003 Mahari Award (for best Odissi dancer of the year) and The Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar 2007, awarded by the Sangeet Natak Academy “..to the best in performing arts in India”. Those of you who watched Bijayini’s stunning performance last night will know what this means – and if you enjoyed last night’s performances, be aware that tonight’s production will be competely different, so try to catch this one too.

The other dancers of the Ensemble are Pavithra Reddy, (whose solo Abhinaya, last night was a delight), Rasmi Raj and Manasi Tripathy, all of who excelled in their supportive roles. I can go on about last night’s performances and production, but I’m running to post this in time – just so that some of you who are interested in Dance Theatre may have the chance to get some of those fast dwindling tickets. Check out the show tonight and see for yourself why the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble has been dancing their way into the hearts and minds of the audiences they have performed for around the world.

See you there tonight?

A long, long time ago…
I can still remember
How this country used to make me smile
And even though I left when things got tough
I knew I never had enough
And surely would get back here in a while

But things got worse and many shivered
With every paper that was delivered
Bad news on the doorstep
Insidiously it crept

I do remember I nearly cried
When I heard about his widowed bride
And something touched me deep inside
The day Press Freedom died

So goodbye to national pride
Drove my pickup to the bar
It was Poya so the bar was dry
But them good ‘ol boys were smokin’ shit and getting high
Singing this will be the day Press Freedom died

Have you read the book of love
And do you have faith in God above
If the Dhamma tells you so?
Do you believe in Karmic force
Can lying save the Holy Goat
And can you tell me how to dance real slow?

Well we know that they’re in love with him
Ever since he went to war to win
Even though they are both the same
Each of them playing that power game
The herd’s deaf and blind to what’s goin’ down
They fail to see the tinsel crown
That’s perched perilously on his head
Getting bigger with the increasing dead

So I joined them singing
Bye bye to national pride
Drove my pickup to the bar
It was Poya so the bar was dry
But them good ‘ol boys were smokin’ shit and getting high
Singing this will be the day Press Freedom died

The past few years have been pretty dire
And there’s no one here to put out the fire
But that’s not how it used to be
When we were young and we were free
And could speak of anything we wanted to
In voices that came from me and you

But while we all were looking down
A jester helped steal that phony crown
The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict yet returned
And after the South had lit the spark
The Tigers practiced in the dark
And freedom started to die

We were singing
Bye bye to national pride
Drove my pickup to the bar
It was Poya so the bar was dry
But them good ‘ol boys were smokin’ shit and getting high
Singing this will be the day Press Freedom died

And there he was upon the stage
Our hands were clenched in fists of rage
No creature born in hell
Could break this deadly spell
And as his voice rose in the night
And minions did the sacrificial rite
We saw Satan dance in wild delight
The day Press Freedom died

We were singing
Bye bye to national pride
Drove my pickup to the bar
It was Poya so the bar was dry
But them good ‘ol boys were smokin’ shit and getting high
Singing this will be the day Press Freedom died

I met a girl who heard the news
And all she did was sing the blues
I asked her why but she turned her back
So I went down to the paper store
Where I had read the news before
The man there said he couldn’t help
As the papers were all black

And in the war zone children scream
The poets write of broken dreams
And many words are spoken
Of freedom trampled and broken
But the men they fear the most
The King, the Beast and Holy Goat
Will someday pay the cost
For killing national pride

We go on singing
Bye bye to national pride
Drove my pickup to the bar
It was Poya so the bar was dry
But them good ‘ol boys were smokin’ shit and getting high
Singing this will be the day Press Freedom died

Got this in the mail some days back – attributed to “Ronnie Barker – Genius!!” It cracked Java and me up, so we thought to share it those who would appreciate that kind of humour. Hope you enjoy it!

Rindercella and her sugly isters lived in a marge lansion. Rindercella worked very hard frubbing sloors, emptying poss pits, and shivelling shot.

At the end of the day, she was knucking fackered.  The sugly isters were right bugly astards.

One was called Mary Hinge, and the other was called Betty Swallocks; they were really forrible huckers; they had fetty sweet and fatty swannies.

The sugly isters had tickets to go to the ball, but the cotton runts would not let Rindercella go.

Suddenly there was a bucking fang, and her gairy fodmother appeared.  Her name was Shairy Hithole and she was a light rucking fesbian.

She turned a pumpkin and six mite wice into a hucking cuge farriage with six dandy ronkeys who had buge hollocks and dig bicks.

The gairy fodmother told Rindercella to be back by dimnlight otherwise, there would be a cucking falamity.

At the ball, Rindercella was dancing with the prandsome hince when suddenly the clock struck twelve. ‘Mist all chucking frighty!!!’ said Rindercella, and she ran out tripping barse over ollocks, so dropping her slass glipper.

The very next day the prandsome hince knocked on Rindercella’s door and the sugly isters let him in… Suddenly, Betty Swallocks lifted her leg and let off a fig bart.

‘Who’s fust jarted??’  asked the prandsome hince.  ‘Blame that fugly ucker over there!!’ said Mary Hinge.

When the stinking brown cloud had lifted, he tried the slass glipper on both the sugly isters without success and their feet stucking funk.

Betty Swallocks was ducking fisgusted and gave the prandsome hince a knack in the kickers. This was not difficult as he had bucking fuge halls and a hig bard on.

He tried the slass glipper on Rindercella and it fitted pucking ferfectly. Rindercella and the prandsome hince were married.

The pransome hince lived his life in lucking fuxury, and Rindercella lived hers with a follen swanny!

Now that’s what we call a bucking frilliant tittle lale!

What a start to the New Year! Death and Destruction – the former claiming the life of one of the most intrepid journalists in the history of this nation, and the latter being visited on one of the premier television stations around. Of course the war in the North has been unremitting in its contribution to the twin demons and the wasteland that once was the home of many thousands will never ever be what it used to be.

The tragedy that has befallen the country, turning it from the serendipitous, easy-going, Eden that metamorphosed into a paranoid, intolerant, divisive state could be placed squarely on the shoulders of those lusting after power at any cost. The language issue succeeded in driving away a majority of those that saw the writing on the wall, and the results of its implementation lead to a series of bloody massacres over the subsequent years that ended in a full-scale war that has lasted for the past quarter century. A whole generation knowing nothing but a state of war has resulted and the effects of their experiences will continue to affect the succeeding generations until the unlikely event of the emergence of an enlightened leadership.

But what of the present? Who is it that stands to gain from the crimes of the past few days? And is it surprising that not a single arrest has been made with regard to the many abductions, assaults and murder concerning media institutions and personnel over the past many months? Is it that the keepers of the law are inept? Or could it be that their hands are tied? Whatever the reason, the culture of violence with impunity has created an atmosphere of fear and apprehension among those who hold that basic democratic and human rights and freedom are being violated without a care in the world, as the perpetrators of the crimes are free to do what they will.

So what is the solution? The options are few and far between. If you don’t like what’s going down you are free to get the hell out and find a new home in a country that suits you better (if you are able to, that is), or you could start a clandestine organization – revolutionary style, to right the wrongs you perceive to be ‘rightable’, or you could grin and bear it and remain (as many of us do) wallowing in your apathy. Or will a show of discontent by a ‘not likely to be discounted’ section of the populace in many parts of the country be able to make a difference? It appears that the ‘international community’ is disturbed at the rapidly downward spiralling democratic environment, but are they able to do much about it?

So here we are in our beloved motherland with our hands virtually tied, and with fear and loathing at the forefront of our consciousness hoping for the best until that collective tolerance snaps under the weight of unbearable hardship.

And what then?