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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Ignorance is more fearful than Terrorism

I am getting back on this platform after a very long time. I felt I had to let it all out. Since last morning, I have been very restless being at the receiving end of horrendous racist commenting. For some reason hate speech really triggers the inner demon in me to rise and spit out venom at all the hate mongers after which my spirits are dampened to the core.  

I just got back after a road trip to the North of Sri Lanka with my cousin who is on vacation. I took time off from work coupled with some intervening local holidays. We had a fabulous time being tourists, clicking pictures like crazy, selfies galore, savouring the local cuisine, and finding reasons to giggle our heads off.

Getting back to work after a vacation is as good as hell I tell you and as I sat down to begin my usual day of work, several of my mates came over and greeted me which was nice and felt kind of back- in the- pack. Then comes the beginning of the viciousness….A young woman walks over to my desk and says “Hi so how was your trip – did you have a good time?” to which I acknowledged I did and then as usual continues in the typical statement given by vacationers returning to work “ahhh I wish I had stayed back” in a light hearted way reminiscing all the great times.  Then she goes on to probe and ask me if I went with family or boyfriend or found any. On hearing my desire to stay back she goes “yeah you could have married an LTTE and stayed on” (for those of who do not know what the LTTE is ..they are a separatist guerrilla force that fought a war against the leadership in my country for over 30 years. As the Northern Tamilians of Sri Lanka represent this force, during the war all Tamilians would always be stereotyped as LTTE by extremists and ridiculed in general. This was the first bullet that triggered me off. The inner demon in me shook himself viciously and rose. Without batting an eyelid I spat out to her saying “You should never say such demeaning things as it is offensive for a Tamil to be referred in such a way. Do you think you guys are great ? if you were you  would not be stealing the property and burning the houses of Tamilians. That’s all that you guys are good at and nothing else”. Quite shaken she stops to ponder and then says “yeah but you are not Tamil ? how can you be a Tamil are catholic?”  My demon became more ferocious and spat out again telling her ”A Tamilian just like any other can follow any faith they want to, Who are you to decide that ?, I excuse you because you sound so ignorant, illiterate and all that you just now said and the manner in which you said talks volumes about your upbringing and values” but please go back to school, get an education and take lessons in History, also now that you have learnt something, never ever utter such foolish comments in this office or in another office or elsewhere.  Having heard that, she quietly slipped away without even an apology. Once more proving herself to be nothing but an ignorant twit.

After that fiasco, the devil in me slipped back but my day was wrecked. I sipped many cups of tea to console myself and the day went by in the usual manner. Then came Episode No. 2 in the afternoon which seemed like a continuation of what took place in the morning. During the day I had distributed some local goodies which I had got from the trip. One of my colleagues told me that there was a worm in one of the packs I had bought. Quite disturbed I walked over to check it out. I asked a woman who seemed to have eaten most of it, if there was a worm in any of the packs and if I could see. She goes it’s really not a worm it’s a kind of a small bug, I guess because its home made such things are likely to happen.  Not stopping at that, she asks me if I had picked the not right stuff on purpose and continues to say that “we should get a dhemala” to get the real stuff”  (Dhemala is the local equivalent to Nigger) I felt the demon in me jolting from his slumber and shaking himself up. Fuming I told her “why do you need a dhemala a dhemalichcha (female term) got the stuff, by the way Don’t use that word as it’s very offensive”. Grinning without any concern to what I said last, she goes “Oh is it so, if you think that word is not good enough you can use a better word”.  The demon in me let out several forked tongues simultaneously and began by saying “Do you think you guys are good? You guys are exceptionally good at plundering the Dhemala’s land, burning their houses and looting their property, there is no word in the language that qualifies to use on such inferior people like you and that’s the reason there is no word to use on you guys, Just watch what happens to your precious country and how it’s gonna be screwed in style in many different ways by many others”. The demon in me hissed and sweared at her continuously until she could not talk any more.

After I walked away, I learnt later the only words that came out of her mouth were “I was only joking and why did she blow up just like that?” to which one of my colleagues had told her “you should never joke around sensitive stuff like that, that is definitely not joking”.

The demon in me has gone back, I settled down with several cups of tea in silence. I took a pledge to end this racist commenting in the workplace even if it means I have to do it on my own, I will do it. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

frugal living and sailing through instability

Job hunting in Sri Lanka is worse than losing your virginity - why do I say this is because even after losing your virginity there are plenty of takers excited at the thought of experience, but in the case of a job hunt for mature people the restrictions narrow down to such a slim extend that what is left is worse than bread crumbs ! :(

I have been hunting for full time work since the last three months. I will be very candid in writing in here that the three months I pulled through without a steady income gave me enough time to attend countless job interviews. The drama that unfolded during those very formal moments were something that I have been reflecting on the why's, what if's and how come's ..hmmph quite tiring I must say...

The truth is there is no place in the job market in Sri Lanka for an old goose like me. I guess in the minds of employers we tend to look like nothing but trouble - and the real trouble is insecurity for mature employees usually being more smarter than the very youthful looking top dons now running most of Colombo's upcoming enterprises. Sadly I have reached that stage in the human phase where rejections are more than acceptance and the reason is just being older :( ..It doesn't bother me the least, actually what stresses me is the stinking attitudes of many Sri Lankan top dons. I recently saw a stunning photo of an ex teenage prostitute now turned a super model in one of our Sunday newspapers. For a split second I thought I was staring at a new model of the Barbie doll but on reading the comment I realized she was alive and going great guns !. Maybe I need to learn the art of sounding dumb or developing curves close enough to match Barbie..Out of the two options, learning to look dumb would be easier and faster than trying to give it a go at the second (I am sure gonna break my other knee - one collapsed after extreme exercise and was fixed)

The Sri Lankan dons want more of looks and less of brains and I do see that there are an increasing number of job adverts asking for photos of the candidate. I don't get it do you need more of brains, boobs or butts to run the enterprise ? I have all of them but it's not shaped in the way the live barbie doll has hers. So what is my problem ? Nothing major !!! except I don't understand how brains can be just shoved aside for curves and shapes eh ? I ain't surprised to now see why many Sri Lankan enterprises choke under the pressure of employees intellectually challenged and are not competent to do a job. That's why we have Anarkali's, Paba's, Geetha's, Malini's Sanath's sitting at the top and talking their curves out ! Well all of them aside in the regular workplace I find there are plenty of the Sri Lankan equivalent of the pretty dumb blonde whose brains tick at the speed of a galapagos tortoise and keeps this old goose wondering as to whether it will ever tick at all. :(

I only wish I was financially stable enough to just lounge at home, spend most of my hours on long road trips, read, and just do anything to stay off from this new trend in the workplace insanity. BUT this goose is as poor as a church mouse and needs a steady pay cheque to come her way. I got no choice but just deal with this baloney in the name of money. and so I put up with different new insanities that generously rolls into my life and end up very worn out and more tensed than I have been. Its because I see no direction nor vision.having to work with these nitwits. It's the same bullsh** everywhere and it really is nerve wrecking.

There is so much hype about the country being on a threshold towards the golden runway of development, opening towards achieving more and being new trendsetter not forgetting the rosy statement that its poised to be the miracle of Asia blah blah blah. I don't understand how can we soar like an eagle when we have a farm full of turkeys and chickens eh ? anyone got the answer ?

old fashioned ethics need to be resurrected !

Kindle, Tabs, Pads and Pods are in, gradually occupying the seat of importance in wealthy local families. It is now the in thing to be seen with either a pad, pod or a tab. Thanks to the Chinese, those who secretly crave to look hip and flow with the crowd, can settle for any of the lower cost smart phones that sometimes can be mistaken for a pad, pod or tab :) I am being catty but I have a Samsung that gives me a good deal on everything I need to stay in touch - frills, ribbons and laces in all, (a used phone by a Japanese who decided to get rid of it after 3 months) and arrived into my life through a trade in deal.

My spring chicken days are gone and I find I am settled with increasingly young colleagues who I deal with at work. Interacting with them, I am deliberately slow to comment to whatever they say because I am pretty curious to understand their pulse and then respond. My answers are often limited to ugh, uuhhm..hmmm and they are happy cause they think they know it all. Well I was in that stage once and that feels like the age of Moses now.!!!

I cannot sometimes connect the dots that reason out to their strange way...the flow of language either does not exist or is stagnant with many that I come across. I wonder if it's because I happen to often move around or bump into youth of the same social strata. Somehow the levels of confidence to express themselves or even speak clearly, concisely or comprehensively does not exist in their system. I wonder if the modern lingo of hi c u later @ 4 has killed the neurons in the brain to be able to construct sentences using a steady flow of sensible words ?

Once seen reading a newspaper I was given odd looks by many with some even snickering what's there to read so much in the paper? I responded with what is not there to read in the paper ? So I gathered that its not cool to be reading off a printed paper, magazine anymore !..I couldn't care less..The only reading that I ever do now, is the different columns in the newspapers.

As a crawling baby my dad read stories to me while I sat like a fat pie, so said my mom. In a way he injected me with an addiction that would stay with me for ever I guess. What began with Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks expanded into Amelia Jane, Famous Five, Secret Seven and Danielle Steele, Jack Higgins, Laurence Sanders, Mary Higgins Clark, Jackie Collins, Sidney Sheldon and finally just plain daily newspapers and a periodical Readers Digest, Time and other magazines.My mom got second hand books for just Rs.2 from an old store. Those stores don't exist anymore and so does the deal for borrowing books for Rs. 2 !!! When she got home with the books she yelled that I should be done with my homework to begin reading the book :)

I never realized it until I began working with younger colleagues increasingly, but trying to reflect on the reasons, maybe that's how I got the hang of the language.When I began school, I also read Sinhala newspapers to build on my vocabulary and language skills. I never went for extra coaching classes to brush up on either of the languages cause without any effort I managed quite well getting good grades :). Extra coaching classes would have been luxury because we couldn't afford it anyway.

Newspapers are the most affordable reading material that is available and being in a country with so much action (puts Hollywood and all the wood thrillers to shame) reading a dose of the insanity that takes place daily around the country provides great entertainment along with some insight into the flow of language maybe new jargon as well.

Kids like me who grew up in the 80's-90's (antique eh?) didn't have tabs, pods or pads but just good old fashioned books which we devoured better than the best pudding :). I am glad I came from an old fashioned herd where knowledge and understanding of the language had taken place unknowingly. I am glad I am not one of the many youngsters today who struggle to express themselves, think they are on a bed of nails when asked to respond to a customer's email, do not know that it is common ethics to respond to a mail, cannot comprehend written messages or even do not know what to do when a customer writes inquiring about this and that. Simply put the levels of competency even to express their own role in the workplace, listening does not exist. Sometimes I feel so worn out just waiting for a response to come in to whatever I have asked for eeeeeeeeee it's a never ending wait and eventually I end up calling and asking if the mail was received ? hellooooo why do I need to do this if we are all on this blessed thing called email that has occupied the most important agenda of our daily lives eh ?

BUT, that said they can type the modern lingo (c u @ 4 cal me g8) at lightening speed and think that is good enough. Technology may have taken over the modes of communication but old fashioned ethics still rule the world of commerce and that will stay putt despite even more advanced pods, pads and tabs replacing the existing brood. 

I see youngsters interacting and observe them quietly, most times their conversations revolve around achieving stardom at work within the shortest possible time. hmmmm interesting I think how can you do this when you don't make an effort to learn the art of finer points, that will always stay putt in the commercial world but get fascinated with an image of a top guy in suit, carrying a and talking over the most expensive phone. Knowing to peck the modern lingo on a pc and talk in the name of chat is never going to get you anywhere in life ? eh there is so much to learn and the strange thing is these keyboard pecking hip hop wired music lovers cannot connect to reality OR is it that in a world where everything just blossoms instantly the take is that we can strike it big in anyway we fashion ? "

My typical working day after dealing with these young nuts puts me through a lot of questions, to which I cannot find the answers to.. I just take extra long walk to toxicate all the residue that builds up after dealing with them.Somehow this old goose ends up being very confused to relate to this trend of development which in no way will help plug this country into being the miracle of Asia as projected by the dons who rule !

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Is there a need to nose around after ‘THE END’?

Among the many odd things that usually take place in a local workplace there is still a certain kind of behavior that really makes me wonder why people waste all their energy and time nosing around closed books. Is it because they cannot accept that a certain chapter of their working life is over eh?

What I am talking about is how ex employees adore, I mean just love to nose into the affairs of their old workplace and enjoy hearing how bad news-could be that the organisation is not doing well in terms of business, less profits, loss of customers and these nosy employees will not bat an eyelid to connect this downfall into their absence. Nobody is indispensable, Why people think that they are, is because they are glued to the work and love all the dependency created by the output of the job. If some other employee does the same job in a more efficient manner that is enough to drive them to the extreme end of jealousy all because they find it so hard to accept change. It’s also because these ex employees will not accept that if there was an era where they were in demand that era no longer exists.

There is a simple logic to the demise of your stay in a workplace and that is the stinking feeling of not being appreciated, rewarded or recognized for your efforts. But you hang on hoping for a ray of light to flicker through a long dark tunnel. It never seems to get better with more destructive incidents only to prove that time’s up for you to move on. When this feeling sets in it's best to get out of the door as fast as you can. Lingering on will only bring more misery.

I can vouch for this insanity because I have been a victim of different kinds of discriminative behavior leading from being left out for the company group picture because I didn’t qualify in the ‘looks’ department ( I actually overheard this very cattily being remarked- can you imagine how I felt ?) Being check mated over a virgin dumb woman who had no clue about anything except enticing all the men in the workplace with her low neckline and super tight dresses and molly cuddled for being the pretty dumb gander, (ugh disgusting I can tell you) Passed over for promotion because the boss’s inner club members could not except an employee from a minority ethnicity going up the ladder (So it was my fault for not being born in the majority ethnicity), rewards given but taken back on the grounds that rewarding my work was a mistake (hang in there, till I compile a book of all the madness that I went through)..Somehow at some point you draw the line to all the insanity that eats into you and then your decision to walk out either surprises them or delights them. I bet they secretly wonder if you could find another job (because you just hung on no matter what..and you also didn't have good looks to keep them happy)

Whatever it is whenever I decide to close books with a nut house and move on, I totally abstain from nosing around the affairs of the business. In my mind if there was a chapter in my life that dealt with the nut house I have shut the door and decided to move on.  If I am to bump into any of my ex colleagues I would deliberately limit the conversation to general well being, family and so-so kind of topics in order to avoid talking about what went wrong, what could have been better, that numerous what if’s..Maybe share the silly memories of the good times if there were any.

Just this morning I was greeted by an ex colleague over the phone who I sensed had a different intention of calling me up. The conversation went something like :

He: hi, so, so how are you doing?

Me: OK
He: So what are you doing?
Me: nothing

some silence

He: Rattles on with the new developments in the ex workplace and asks me if any of the big wigs have been calling me
Me: Is there a purpose for them to call me? I also do not expect them to call me
He: You know X is doing very well and she is now in charge of everything
Me: Good for her, every dog must have its day, she’s having hers. (Why do I need to know this?)
He:You know I am writing this letter to the authorities to let them know about the discrepancies and all the other concerns. If I write and send the letter to you can you check? (oh here we this is why you actually called you downcast dog?)
Me: Trying to remain calm, inspite of rising irritation at this totally jobless jerk, I tell him I am out of Colombo and I have sold the computer, Without a job I need money to survive. I do not like to depend from others to help me out, I try and find my own solutions. (will I ever sell my computer? maybe someday if and when I get really tight on money, but not right now)

surprise..silence and some verbal nodding

He: OK then I will keep..keep in touch
Me: OK Bye (It’s better if you do not)

Some days ago I was greeted by two of my ex colleagues and the two phone conversations which were in Sinhala went something like:

Conversation No. 2

He:Hello how are you miss?
Me: OK
He:What are you doing now? (talking to you)
He:Are you working?


He: Blabs on and on about how things could have been better and I decide to cut him short..

Me:What happened to the van that you used to hire from A to B locations? You must have made quite a killing while you were there? Are you grieving because you are not able to continue doing this?

stunned silence..I guess he never expected me to know his secret spare business revenues

He: quickly changing the topic, Have you had any news from Y,Z, W, ?
Me: No, you assisted in kicking them out of their jobs, obviously they left not with a good mindset and how can you now have the nerve to ask how they are doing?
He: Strong denial, to which I cut him off..and switches to a different topic now You know I am writing a proposal, Can you check on the accuracy of English?

Me: There is no free lunch in this world, I now charge for any work I do.

He: Trying to entice me into doing it free on the grounds of old colleague friendship.(I never considered this moron a friend to begin with)

Me: Putting both my feet down, and firmly .. I do not work for free. I think you have enough money to pay with all the money you made from hiring your van

He: somewhat taken back, then I will keep, Let’s talk sometime, please give me your email id

Me: OK Bye (I never gave my email id to the pariah, nor did the dog call me after that)

Conversation No. 3

He:How are you miss?
Me:OK (standard answer for morons)
He:Blabs on about all the mishaps in the ex workplace, I cut him short
Me: What has happened is done and over, you cannot reverse that can you ? I am sure you have gained a lot of experience in terms of work and otherwise, I think you need to see how those can be used to generate an income for yourself and move on.
He: Continues with the same tape, I cut him once more
Me: You had worked there all your life, You got a big fat compensation package when you were laid off is there anything else for you to be grieving about?


He: Changes the topic, So how are you miss? what are you upto these days?
Me: Nothing just living
He: Are you working?
Me: No
He: It must be difficult to meet the usual costs?
Me: There is nothing unusual in that isn’t it?
He:Yes and then rattles on with the rising costs..
Me:I am sure your compensation package can patch upto whatever that is an extra cost eh ?
He: silly giggle, eheh eheh ...yes but..and more rattling
Me: Your giggle explains it all so why do you crib?
He:Yes but we need a job as well no miss
Me: You have to accept the fact your job died a tragic death a long time ago
He: Yes that's the is so difficult..
Me: Weren't you the people who preached to the community to live with the available resources? Why are you not practising it now? Do you now understand the kind of rubbish you have been preaching to those poor people when nothing of its realistically practiceable?
He:silence...I will keep, and be in contact later
Me: OK bye

To me it was so disgusting to realize that some can actually be so jobless to be wasting all his time and energy towards stuff that didn't seem worthwhile to be running after, or still be blabbing about a by-gone era.

I have to admit each time when I experienced a certain incident at the workplace that really brought me down to the last depressive level I felt so lost, irritated and frustrated that nothing could be done to change the situation except just live with the madness. But when I make the decision to walk out of all the insanity everything in that place becomes history to me except the true friendships I built and the relationships I established with different kinds of folk. Carrying the dirty linen accumulated during the time spent, will only hamper the mapping out of my next stop over and why must I waste my energy to do just that? I could be better off putting in all of that energy into figuring out where and what I should be doing next.

Can there be a continuance after ‘The End’ ? eh ???  They never get it.

Friday, May 04, 2012

dried up wells, job insecurity and looking for new cheese

Indeed this is the age of Kali or Kali Yuga an era where everything that just doesn’t seem right reigns. I am not saying this because I am paddling hard under water to be able to float in the sea of life. My measly freelance income is enough to sort out the basics but when I am dealing with house hunting and countless other things that is refusing to get off my shoulder, I am aggressively looking out for a more stable source of income despite the fact that stability, security in employment is a thing of the past.
During my hunt I have met so many interesting personalities, some who ended up landing on my social networking sites the others mere contacts. To me personally this time has also been a time to reflect on the future of my work, what I should be doing and what I should not be doing. In my long walks of house hunting I have learnt a lesson or two trying to understand how people really struggle to make ends meet renting out whatever built up space, rooms and why it was so important to own a house in this nutty island of ours. In the process how potential landlords plan to grow money trees by asking for an years deposit of rental. Just imagine if the rentals are going at Rs. 15,000 and one years of that would be               Rs. 180,000. Dump it in a Term Deposit where interest rates are higher there is something extra to look forward to. Not bad I tell you at the expense of a tenant’s hard earned money eh? This means I need to earn enough to be able put aside some money towards a housing deposit, rental apart from trying to meet my basics.
Some of these houses or rented up areas are really not fit for humans or even mice to live. The bathrooms are a nightmare, the kitchen is a suffocated area of purgatory while the rooms are just enough to walk in and walk out. If there was any house that seemed like decent it was beyond my affordability.
As for the job hunt, I do not know whether to chuckle or weep at the job advertisements that appear in the local dailies. There is a stringent age limit for applicants which clearly state over 30’s are not wanted. I may have to be born again to be able to qualify for that age limit. The second bracket of eligibility lifts the age limit to 35. The larger quantum of the adverts call for school leavers with some specifying the age limit from 20-25 BUT asking for ‘the’ best of skills and qualifications. Some even want a picture of the candidate (why?)
Seriously how does one come to the conclusion that someone in their 20’s with limited work experience can have the best of skills and qualifications? Then comes the most important thing to talk about – the cheque or the envelope stuffed with a couple of notes at the end of the month that we all safely tuck in to our wallets. I have sat across several men and women at the peak of their career first eloquently spilling out their ideal candidate and then sheepishly undervaluing the position, skills and the qualifications that go in to the kind of work expected.
As I am reflecting on the absurdities of this ‘squeezing’ experienced in the profit and non-profit sectors (I will come to that later on) both, my phone beeps. The price of a 12.5 gas cylinder will be increased by Rs. 350 at midnight today and a 400g pack of milk powder by Rs. 63 while a 1Kilo pack by Rs. 160.  I can now picture all the clucking that will take place when this is aired on news tonight.
Having been a pious worker in the corporate sector cost cutting was always on the cards. It was nothing new but it seems now the ‘squeezing’ is more severe. My existence in the non-profit sector was deemed on the continuity of funding. Scaling down, retrenching, lay off’s, resizing, restructuring became a common trend among these charities from which the funds poured in were drying up.  It is only then the good times were often reflected, good times where frighteningly alarming levels of wastage in these non-profits were so obvious.  Personally I’ve never been to any of the fancy hotels that so many of the meetings were held all in the name of development and social change. The money spent on breakfast, tiffin, lunch and tea if all put together could have been put towards real social change. Before I became an older pupil at these charities it was quite something to fathom, something that I can never agree even to this day. Days would be spent simply greeting, meeting, talking and eating followed by several power point presentations and plain fibbing talk. A lot of talk but no doing and all the while I would be muttering inside my mind (cut the bullshitting and get down to some real work).  
Before the deadly tsunami wave struck it was a case of managing with whatever that was available. A charity was something that an average layman saw as just plain and ordinary. But the tsunami changed the mindset of the average 9-5 worker when millions of donor funding poured into these charities’ bank accounts. People from all layers of supervision got terribly greedy and wanted to cash in the sudden bundles of money.  Whatever that was done in the name of disaster relief needs to be closely assessed as how much of quality and value has the actual victim received is still a mystery.  The mushrooming of non profits in the country was inevitable and everyone who could cash in on the sudden outpouring of funds did make a killing. Christmas continued…without a single effort or initiative being taken to sustain the extra funding for rainy days !
Good times don’t last and so it was with these lavishly spending charities. The global recession crept, Many countries in Europe who were considered unshakable collapsed and found it hard to continue the generous funding. Suddenly the ‘squeezing’ culture crept into these charities. Single trips were transformed to car pool kind of transportation or KISS movements. Per-diems were reduced amidst a lot of howling. Office spaces were made to fit in maximum to save on electricity. Smaller office areas were being considered. Cost cutting became an important agenda at different forums. Clearly there was no planning or preparation in times of crisis or in the words of these charities there was no contingency planning.  With less funds, sustaining jobs, positions became a game of chess. Each was trying to outdo the other and prove that there was no necessity to have the position. Social change and Development was flung into the trash can The challenge with each was how best do I retain my job while deriving the maximum benefit with whatever that was available. .. It turned out to be a dog-eat-dog style of office management.
As I reflect on the what if’s and could have moments, these are one of the wake me up moments where bricks fall on one’s head. It is a time to take a closer look at where they have gone wrong. It is insanity to go looking for cheese in the same dungeons knowing the scarcity or non existence.
The bigger players in the non-profit sector as well as their local partner organisations are really wrestling having to deal with less funding and no promise of new funds coming their way, unable to attract skilled employees because of their inability to pay what is deemed as acceptable for the kind of skills the position calls for. Until now there has never been any effort or initiative to raise funds in one’s own country.  The locals are similar to apes good at stretching their hands to the Caucasians. Yes why of course when this country has become a dumping ground for everything from apples, reconditioned cars, cheap branded used electronics, tinned vegetables, fruit (do we really need them?) toothpaste, onions, lentils, and now even tea.
There are millions of locals scattered across the globe with many wanting to give back something to their own country. Why not take the step to make these ex Sri Lankans more conscious about creating change in their own land?  There are so many who are doing great for themselves and would be more than happy to be a part of making even a small change.
Within this nutty island of ours taking a count of 21 million people, if we put aside 1 million – children, 1 million – old age, 1 million – differently abled, 1 million-unemployed, 1 million-displaced, 1 million-beggars, and another 4 million for all the drug addicts, prisoners, conmen etc., etc.,  leaves 11 million. If we aim for just one Rupee per person even if we eventually end up with 1 million only contributing, Think about the difference One Million Rupees can bring ?  Maybe the bigger charities will scoff at me but I’d like to call that a ‘Rupee Revolution’

Friday, February 17, 2012

lost in the maize of freedom

We live in a society torn between wanting to live a decent life, ethically engaging in an income and a never ending race in keeping the home fires burning; but the external and internal influences have drastically split the entire social cocoon that was once very nuclear. Traditions, rituals and customs no more are respected as they were, but many new trends has come to nestle in the lives of many people, once content in merely growing their own food engaging in household chores and socializing with family, neighbours during traditional festivals.

With the population increasing the existing resources and services were not adequate to cater to the growing demands and changing trends that kept creeping into placid village lives. Came the Industrial age, the want to produce more at speed, the need to make life easier became the norm. Traditional livelihoods such as farming, fishing did not seem promising any more to the youth who grew up during this time. Migration to West Asia, Europe and other developed nations opened doors to look at the world through a different lens. Those who left Sri Lankan shores, definitely wanted to be a part of that fast paced life where in the name of development everything in life gradually turned either instant or automated. Caught up in all the fancy gimmicks in broadcast and visual media streams, with the want to be more socially acceptable, knowingly or unknowingly the cultural upbringing within the humble walls of the mud hut back home faded away.

On returning home, flaunting their new found success induced the others in wanting a share of that glory and in turn, increased numbers did follow suit. Youth from socially and economically hampered families migrated to cash in on a faster route to success looking for bigger dreams. Within the country as well, more youth were migrating to the big cities looking out for a better way out to uplift their socio economy status. The increase in needs, demands and the income from farming, fishing was now barely sufficient to supplement the rising costs of living. The transformation in the villages although was not rapidly become a clutter unlike in the villages was gradually changing.

This switch-over also bred a different cultural norm where a sudden burst of freedom was experienced among youth who had migrated from the sleepy hamlets to the big cities. Socializing with city youth cultivating more exciting ways to spending leisure and experimenting with the fancy pomp shown over films and soap operas, dramas, commercial advertisements on TV routed their mindset in a different direction. This is not to disregard the fact that being naturally human the chances are always high to be drawn towards many of the social vices lying around, waiting to prey on potential customers.

Village youth who were not accustomed to handling money now were recipients of a monthly pay cheque through the jobs they were able to secure at factories of commercial companies. The outcome was the simple village youth who may had only smoked a beedi or secretly indulged in locally brewed liquor once in a while now had more chances of doing this often while getting sadistic lessons from phonographic films freely available at the countless dvd stores in the city. The giggling village lass who relied on informal messages or the postman to bring in a hand written letter from her secret admirer now was more daring to spend hours locked away in intimate pleasure with whoever she fancied. The new found money coupled with freedom and no adults watching over them the world was theirs!

The men and women in the conflict affected districts of the country had a different twist to this concoction. Having to flee from their homes and being displaced multiple times in open welfare camps brought in a lot of unwanted add on’s to their lives – especially for women who were used to living a sheltered life, accompanied by their parents, brothers, husbands had their privacy curtailed. They were housed in tents or open areas with other countless unknown men and women. For the men and women now freely moving about in open spaces inside the camp, it was temptation freely hovering applying the brakes to their matrimonial vows. For the single men and women the options to find either short term pleasure or long term commitment was infinite. On top of this the young girls and boys blooming into adolescence were free to experiment and explore new worlds sometimes with consent and other times without. All a tangled mess in which everyone chose their own style only to repent on choices made later on.

Within a changing atmosphere amidst a conflict, the new found freedom and easy access to indulging in whatever took their fancy was a unique experience taking them to a different world. Some got lost, some trapped and others in the name of pleasure got abused. Repercussions felt, regrets made, dreams crashed…lives changed…BUT by this time the damage done, if any was not reversible!

Once more this is not to point fingers and cover up for the horrendous acts of abuse and violence committed but to elaborate how the social outlook can change lives to an extent, driving social activists to governments in formulating policies, acts, regulations and setting up mechanisms to combat the alarming levels of abuse/violence within the community. Of course the aforesaid changes elaborated, may not be the sole reasons for these in human acts but need to analyze in depth as to what the attributing reasons remain unresolved.

there are international days for every blessed thing on this planet but isn't it time the spades dig deeper to discover what has actually lead to all the reasons to have these special days - only limited to charity bands and big talk ?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Liberation-at what price?

A walk down memory lane three years ago awakens every one, living in Sri Lanka with the historical full stop to the bloody war that lavishly gulped down more than 100,000 human lives on both warring sides. Completely knotting up the socio economic and politically woven fabric of the country’s twenty million inhabitants in different directions, the war viciously stamped down its destructive organs on thousands of homes, property, flourishing fields swaying with bountiful crops and deprived thousands of youth from living their dreams. What began as raising one’s voice to gain an equal footing on a land mass of 65,610 sq km blew into a full scale ethnic war voraciously gulping down thousands of civilian lives, in the name of liberation.

A battle fiercely fought with either side stubbornly refusing to come to a consensus continued with increased military might, until a Norwegian brokered peace agreement in 2002 silenced the deafening artillery. Alas the sigh of relief breathed by the civilians did not live to see the light at the end of a dark tunnel. Months later the peace that was tabled in Oslo and Geneva flew into pieces and evolved into a fully fledged ‘eye for an eye’ marathon. A marathon where once more thousands of civilian lives were ruthlessly grabbed, this time in the name of a renewed pledge, in the fight for ‘own territory’ – territory proclaiming to uphold the rights of the Tamilians in the North and Eastern provinces of the country, culture preserved and governed by the countless academics, who by this time were tired of being what they claimed to be discriminated. Until 2008 September the battle for a separate homeland continued with hatred brimming well enough to continuously squander on each other’s villages and massacre farming families who were sleeping after a hard day’s work in border villages dotting the conflict ridden districts, destroying houses and the few possessions - all in the name of liberation.

From October 2008 until May 2009 the fighting was severe and continuous, dragging many more lives into graveyards, driving thousands out of their homes without any of their possessions and eventually filtered in to welfare camps, placing a pause to human dignity in having to spend life in a tent for months with unknown people with the least privacy. Then came the red letter day – 19th of May 2009 where all Sri Lankans who simply wanted to live a normal life will cherish dearly. The mango shaped island that captured the attention of the world, for all the wrong reasons was suddenly done and dusted with a brutal war and there was an outburst of celebration over the triumph of a menace once considered unprecedented.

While, for some of the hands that took up arms, the rotund figured, protruding macho chests decorated in bullets and guns, the boots that trudged the battle grounds planting land mines in villages, rice fields and main highways did not live to see their dream of a liberated land, for the others it was a case of jubilation proclaiming a nation free of terrorism with military might.

After the big full stop, rays of hope began to flicker, in want of pushing a scarred past behind and moving on. The plight of around 300,000 Tamils filtered to Manik Farm camp having escaped the bombing, shelling, gun firing during the final phase of the war undoubtedly ranked No.1 in the agendas of all humanitarian agencies, government, civil society networks and every other Sri Lankan whose conscience ticked hard. Never in the historical annals of the country has there been such a human orchestrated catastrophe where every responsible mantle was shouldered with the herculean task of restoring normalcy for these war beaten people, this time positioning the country on a higher seat in the donor map. Once more, in true Sri Lankan style many reached out to help the betrayed and battered Tamilians housed in the camps. Affluent school children teamed up to take educational material for the children in the camps with parents and teachers supporting their effort. Very ordinary men and women travelled 250 km to the camps taking the clothing, medication, sanitary and hygiene products for the Tamilians who were christened as refugees. This was in addition to the usual outpouring of international aid agencies doing their usual rounds of relief distribution and support service.

The craving to usher in a kind of reconciliation that would free the knots which had tightly engulfed the daily grind in life was felt very strongly among all civilians who will live to tell the tale of horror experienced over 30 long years. A tale that will recollect shivers down the spine when narrating the countless times bus bombs went off gulping down children returning from school, men and women either going to or returning from work, curfews, military checks, suspicion, doubt over each other, scrambling to get off busses and trains over parcel bomb alerts, some being the unlucky victim of a cross fire during a blast and how three wheeler drivers and every private vehicle driving by stepped in to help wheel the injured victims to the nearest hospital.

On the other side of the fighting squads, young men and women as young as 18 from peasant farming families from all parts of the country, stepped in to deck the country’s military uniform and vowed never to part with a divided country. Their pledge was so strong and steeped in die hard patriotism so much so that some of their siblings followed in their foot steps in the battle to save the country. Over the years some of these young men and women returned to the mud huts they grew up, in a coffin leaving behind wailing girlfriends, parents and siblings. During peak periods of fighting, almost every by lane had a white flag hoisted to signify the death of a young man or woman who chose to give up farming, carpentry, fishing and stand up for a unified nation.

For the Tamilians their militant don was their only saviour- the one who would get the their own homeland where their precious Dravidian culture could be preserved. Alas but what took place at the final stages of the battle was something they never imagined… around 300,000 of them were used as shields by their own saviours, who by this time were choking and gasping in their final struggle to cling on to their dream by escaping military confrontation. The glorified Tamilian Don was not a saviour but a Judas and betrayal it was in the first degree!

Tamilians from the North and East claiming to be the 'only true Tamilians' were always renowned to be embedded in Tamilian culture entwined with rituals and customs passed on by generations. They were proud of their ancestry stemming from South India which some ridiculously refuse to accept but claim they are the one and only original Tamilians !!! Here was a community where caste and social status mattered to a great deal even to the extent of socializing where one could be looked down upon if associating a person of a lower caste. Once during a visit to the North, I was sitting on the doorstep of a village woman and helping myself to the vadai she had made only to find there were many other villagers standing near the fence and staring at me. What had I done wrong ? Ooops I had committed a sinful act of eating from a woman of a lower case - bah baloney...I helped myself to many more vadai's and to everyone's horror held the woman's hand and thanked her for giving me such delicious treats. What I can't fathom is how is it when amazingly with all due respect to their sacred book the Bhagavad Gita, claims that a caste of a person is determined by his or actions can such a distorted perception be passed down from generation to generation - and that too from the so called educated ?  What a whirlwind ...suddenly the people who were so conscious of their caste and social status were left to adjust with a scattered life having to share a tent with 13 or more people whose caste, social status was unknown. During many of my visits to the North, I pondered if this was a wake up call for them to let go of the utterly foolish perception. Maybe it was one of those moments where a brick lands on your head and makes one to reflect on one's own stupidiy??? Somehow in the name of humanity I feel very strongly on the extent of bruising and bashing they had to undergo caught up in this liberation madness !!!

The thousands of young men and women deprived of a decent education lingered in camps with shattered dreams, the older men and women who worked tirelessly tending to rice, vegetables and other crops suddenly became dependent on packed ration, the saree clad hardworking women who took pride in caring for their families were suddenly idle having to rely on free relief packs given by the aid agencies. This was a community who regarded education as the seat next to God and hard work the only way to real success, now had to deal with a life confined to a tent, living with people whose caste and social status was unknown.

How could this degree of destruction struck in every sphere of a human being’s life be brought to normalcy?

How do you explain to all the young children that some adults decided to fight for 30 long years to claim a separate homeland and that is why they were not able to go to school, play, make new friends or spend time with their families?

How will the once brainwashed militant minded young men and women who were only groomed to kill in the name of a free land, learn to live very normal lives?

How do you tell these young men and women that watching movies, listening to music, having different hair styles, dressing up and falling in love are not something bad but are very normal things when a human being hits the teenage milepost in life?

Why were the thousands of young men and women of peasant families picked to fight in the name of freedom while children of the top brass guerilla war mongers got the finest education in the West?

Where is the jerk who deprived all the young men and women of a formal education?

What do you do, when you have lost everything and have absolutely nothing to begin life?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cannot undo…….. please proceed

I was on my usual round of debit and credit errands today when I realized I had to make it in time to sort out a written assignment I had undertaken. A sparkling new metered taxi was parked near a turning point to a busy highway. Taking a quick peek I saw a young guy sitting straightening up when I asked him if he was ready to take me :) Nodding he obliged and I hopped in to go on a ride on a metered taxi feeling relieved that being on time was after all a possibility.

But… the tale that opened up along the ride made me ponder on a sea of questions such as ‘why poor people often have to take the worst beating in life?’ ‘why social inequality continues to broaden at alarming levels despite the several thousand mushrooming activists and charity songbirds quaking their hearts out?’’ is there a way to address underlying needs and bring in real change?’

The young man started off first by saying “miss I do not know the roads nor areas” Taken aback I asked him in Sinhala “How can you get on with this job if you do not know your alphabet?” Somewhat writhing under the pressure of my blunt landing he replied “I began working for this taxi company only today”. Taking a quick glance at the youngster I asked him if he was originating from outside Colombo. He shook his head and said Mt Lavinia – located about 23 Km away from Central Colombo and renowned for its great beaches and the chain of tourist hotels dotted along the coast line. My curiosity was to figure out how in a busy suburb like Mt. Lavinia could a young man of 22 years, proclaim he didn’t know to get about in Colombo. My mind quickly raced back to when I stood at my 22nd milepost in life. Being a gypsy by nature, I knew my way inside out within Colombo and the suburbs and had the roads, routes safely stored much better than all the mathematical formulas that were force fed in school !!! Obviously something was not quite right in here

Getting more curious and not wanting to probe I casually said “Oh well now knowing the roads is not so much of an issue because there are road signs and gigantic bill boards with pointers towards different locations that help you to find your way” Some silence and I glanced to see why there was no answer to that, what I saw was a dejected look spread across a ebony coloured face. Still puzzled I prodded reiterating my earlier comment and said “Is it not?” Sounding very ashamed he simply said “I don’t know to read and write that much, I studied only up to Grade 6” in a very small voice. An instant cloud of confusion crept over my head not knowing how to continue the conversation. I then assumed the guy obviously has financial issues in his family”. After all I am a Sri Lankan having travelled to all corners of this island, heard many enchanting tales of survival.

Wanting very much to hear the other half of the story from the young man himself I once more casually remarked “ well you know, not knowing the roads or how to get about it’s not the end of the world because being Sri Lankan it is common to ask other locals for directions and how to get about from one place to another. Now I had to come down to the same level as a 6th standard educated human being and then said unlike in some other countries we do not follow maps for directions most times the easiest way is to talk to other locals and figure out how to get to a place”.

I also asked him why he should consider that as, something to be cautious when he could communicate easily with the other locals in Sinhala which is the commonly spoken dialect within Colombo and the surburbs. Not stopping at that I admired the courage of the several young men and women migrating from all corners of the country to the big city in search of big dreams, landing here, some not knowing Sinhala, not knowing how to get around and not fully understanding the canny nature of the city but still making it through after a struggle and a push.

I was curious to know the real underlying reasons of his reply. A smile broke in having heard that comment from me, but was soon halted with tears welling up in the otherwise sparkling eyes. “I feel sad when I think of my older brother, years ago he worked for a company that produced photo albums but an accident made his hand go numb and he cannot work anymore. It was my brother’s pay cheque that took care of my mother and the rest of us”. Tears in full form streaming down his cheeks, this time it was tears of regret “ I feel there is a big rut in my life because I never got to finish formal education and I am not able to do a job that will take care of my family” Between sniffles he continued “After my brother met with an accident all of us went through really tough time trying to survive. I quit going to school at 11 and used to go out looking for work. The one or two hundred Rupee notes that I bought in, kept us going”. I worry about my mother who is ill and lie in bed most times of the day because her feet ache from the sores. Interrupting the rambling I ask him if his mom has diabetes and he nods and how many other siblings he has to which he replies one sister and one brother. “So altogether your mom has four kids?” I ask him and he nods again.

“I got this job from one of the big houses I go to work for the youngster continued. There was a miss who was very kind, went to the extent of buying me clothes, shoes to wear to work, when I told her that I didn’t have any to wear when she offered me this job. I never had long pants nor good looking shirts like this to wear. I never owned a pair of proper shoes after I quit school. I confessed to her that I didn’t know to read and write that well but she simply nodded and took me on, maybe she felt sorry for me?”.

I asked the guy how he managed to get his driving license to which he said he had planned to get a job as a driver thus he had applied for one and got it. “For a short time I drove a three wheeler for a big sir but after that he sold the three wheeler and I didn’t have work. Trying to understand the neighbourhood and the vicinity of where he lived, my next question was, where in Mt. Lavinia he lived and he responded “My house is close to the Mt. Lavinia High Courts”. That gave me a somewhat rough sketch of the area he claimed to live. I faintly recall seeing some urban squatter dwellings in the back alleys of the High Courts.

I was testing him right along to all that he said, just to confirm that the long sob story he landed had no holes. Pointing to a Route No. 154 bus I asked him do you know where that bus is heading? He kept quiet and said no. I asked him if he has ever seen that bus running on Galle Road (the main highway from Colombo to Galle). He shook his head and said “I used to go look for work in big houses that were closer to where I lived. I never go by bus because all the money I earned from working I used to bring it home. Casually I glanced at his callous filled hands that were gripping the steering wheel to spot if the pair of hands resembled the kind of hard work that he spoke about. It did and there was no doubt about that!!! I glanced at the young man to figure out if this character resembles the type who could possibly be doing kuli vada (day’s paid casual labour) and observed that he was the kind of guy

I noticed an entry level Chinese model of a cell phone lying on the dashboard and asked him if the phone was his and he replied that a friend of his gave him the phone when he told him that he got chosen for this job.

Clearly the lack of confidence, fear, caution that sets in the mind of a school leaver, stepping into the world of work was seen in this young man, the only difference being, much of the doubts were his inability to clearly identify numbers, letters and string them to make meaningful sentences. “The many numbers in this meter are confusing” he said, to which I said, what is the confusion – on the top there is the running number of kilometers that you are driving, the right side there is the cost, accounted according to the mileage driven and the left side has the running number if the vehicle has to wait. At the end of each trip the customer pays the cost indicated in the meter.

“He replied by saying you know when I was a kid it took me a long time to remember whatever the teacher taught in class. I remember she would say it so many times and it is only after I remember, but that too for a short time. I know that I am not good at remembering whatever that’s taught”. I gauged this long before he spat out this statement by having to direct him left / right a couple of times and eventually gesture the direction with my hand.

He rattled on expressing more fear and caution “I thought this would be an easy job but now I realize that it isn’t easy as it seems”. The miss who got me this job is very kind and offered me a big pay cheque as much as LK.Rs. 18,000 (approx US$ 160) but the fact is that a lot of things make me lose confidence in continuing this job from not knowing the routes, roads, my inability to read and write properly and most of all I fear that the big important madam’s and sir’s will argue with me for the cost and I wouldn’t be able to explain properly. I am worried that I will be branded as someone who charged extra and got away.

This is one young man who is afraid of the big city and the world I think to myself. So I give the guy a little pep talk and tell him everyone’s first day of work is a nightmare and you are having yours, but every time you decide you cannot do this, think of how your family looks up to you as their savior on earth to care for them. Even if you quit this one you will still have a first day in another place and you will need to learn the work on the job and that is how it works in every place of work regardless of what ever work you do. He listens eagerly and nods. I tell him about the unshakable South African blade runner Oscar Pistorius and how he made it to world standards. (He’d never heard of Oscar and I was upset-I look upto Oscar as ‘the guy’) I also tell him about our very own biscuit king-Hinni Appuhamy, Timber merchant-Nawaloka Mudalali and Ayurvedic Doctor Hettigoda Vedha Mahattaya who are big names in the country today. I tell him the founders were also simple folk like you and me who never had the so called formal education but the only difference is they kept learning and always thought they can.

By this time my trip was over and it was time to settle his dues. The cost came to Rs. 393 (US$ 3.50) and I placed five 100 rupee notes in his palm. I could see that it took him a while to realize there was Rs. 107 (US cents 5 short to make up a Dollar) extra in there and spread the notes to figure it out, but by that time I assured him that it was perfectly OK for him to keep the change and that I wasn’t going to complain to his employer.

Amidst wishes of good luck and thank you’s for a safe ride! Turning back, I saw him carefully separating the cost and the extras in different pages of his log book.

Is it possible for a human being to go back in time
and undo what is not right in his life
without making him regret till he leaves this world?