Starting on a tangent, it is said that appendicitis was not at all a common disease until Edward VII came down with it a fortnight before his coronation, thus making it fashionable. Within the next decade, a record number of surgeries were performed; new techniques were developed and a great deal of literature created around this subject. By the Second World War – thirty-five years later – appendicitis was established in surgery as one of the commonest diagnoses for acute abdominal pain.

How many of the social constructs and social disparities around us exist for the mere reason that we believe them to exist? The same Englishmen who popularized the concept of appendicitis have an old parable which runs ‘give a dog a bad name and hang him’ which may be loosely taken to mean that we live up, if anything, to the expectations and reputation that society allows us. Read the rest of this entry »


Its been two years since a friend called one morning, as we were studying for exams, to ask why lamp-posts were shaking. Two years since another friend called from Galle Hospital; tired, depressed, fiercely determined to see things through, utterly helpless. Two years since we heard that Tharini was missing; that the place we stayed at the last time we visited Unawatuna had disappeared along with the occupants. Read the rest of this entry »

(This began as a comment to a post by Electra, which featured Arundhati Roy’s Acceptance Speech for the Sydney Peace Prize)

Arundhati Roy writes stirringly, and she writes truth. The sad thing is, when we build temples to truth and beauty, we exclaim and despair too often over the realities of the world in which we live.

War was never fair. Fairness to human values is a tautology in the context of any war; it never stands upto close scrutiny. But this does not mean that war is never necessary. It was needed when one mad Corsican tried to destroy European culture in the name of a new French Republic, and it was necessary when another mad Aryan tried to wipe out an entire race of people, and his own diseased brethren, in the name of racial purity. Closer to home, it was needed when princes from South India invaded our own country a thousand years ago.

But it was never fair. And not being fair, it has no place in the temples of truth and beauty where all artists pray. And therefore, no writer, I think, will ever find it in themselves to say that any war was a good thing. Perhaps they will say that the men and women who fought in wars were brave and good and true. But never war as a whole. Read the rest of this entry »

Fruits and Nuts

December 8, 2006

To start with a bad pun, the color orange stems from the fruit. This is because Englishmen have orange oranges. Be this as it may, in the Old Days, all we Sri Lankans knew about our oranges was the fact that they were, most definitey, green. Hence, when the first Englishman, in the throes of the first British small-talk attempted on the Island, ventured to say “…that thing with the color of an orange, what?”, we intitially believed them to mean green.

Most unfortunately, the Sinhalese word for the color orange also stems from a fruit, because although our oranges were green, we had coconuts that were orange. All, however that Englishmen knew about coconuts was the fact that theirs were decidedly green. And thus when the first Ceylonese that the above Englishman made small talk to, casually mentioned that something or the other was the color of ‘thambili’, the visitor naturally assumed that the host meant something green.

And so came about a period of blissful ignorance where both parties actually meant to say orange but were understood to mean green.

Things went swimmingly until the first Temperate Orange (fruit) arrived.

Then the Ceylonese clustered around this wonder, and with one accord, chorused “Thambili!” (colour), much to the consternation of the Englishmen, who worried whether the sun was finally getting the better of them.

“You silly chaps! This is not a coconut (thambili)! This is here is an Orange (fruit)!”

This, being said to a race recently persuaded to believe that orange meant green, elicited instant dissent:

“Nae, Nae! Thambili (colour)!”

To shorten a painful story, the worried natives brought their guests (whose judgment they had already begun to deeply mistrust) to the nearest king-coconut grove, and directed their attention to the first orange (colour) coconut that a White Man had seen. And the Englishmen, in their haste to make amends, said exactly the wrong thing to a race of people whom they had previously led to believe that orange, the colour, means green.

“Mehe thambili orange paatai neda!”

Thus were sown the first seeds of discord. After a man has tried to tell you that green is actually orange, apologizes, and then says what he really meant to say was that orange is actually green, you  realize that you will never be able to trust him. You begin question his judgment and motives. You openly call him a liar.

We all know where this ended. The mistrust that took root that day eventually bore fruit in 1948, when we finally saw the back of the biggest breakdown in communication since the naming of the Kangaroo.

Thus ended this sad tale of human blunder. However, lest the future forget the lessons of its past, lest past mistakes be repeated in future folly, an Emblem was created by the Fathers of The Nation bearing the seal of a Brave and Unified Land, Standing Guard Forever over the Distinction that Green and Orange are Separate Things.

– – –

n.b. A friend has suggested on reading this that the whole issue with Britain and Oranges has been a universal picking-bone, and not merely confined to Lanka, citing the Orange Men of Ireland and their struggle to obtain Home Rule as an example… inferences are not compulsory.

To Helen

December 7, 2006


Lady, if I were Paris, you’d never have seen

Whether I even came or went.

And the Odyssey would never have been

Since Supernovas are silent.

Since thoughts make hay in the hardest rain.

Since battles begin in belief,

To me you would have remained

The face that launched a single ‘if’.

Oil for Food for Thought

December 4, 2006

Up to a few days back, I was awed by the degree of activism shown by my people about the US’s involvement in Iraq. Whenever the thing came up – at a party, after a show, someone’s reading, or online (which goes to show just how drab my proclivities are getting) – I was very impressed by the degree to which people seemed to theorize on the issue at hand. And most of it wasn’t mere armchair talk. These weren’t your run-of-the-mill Fahrenheit 911 buffs. These were people who had read and quoted Vonnegut and Chomsky; watched the Presidential Debates, balanced Kerry’s diatribes against Bush’s, and skillfully concluded that this was a very bad thing to be happening. And so I sat and listened, and my admiration grew to the point where I began to perceive faint haloes (in dim light) about the more initiated speakers’ heads, when there was this terribly loud explosion in Colpetty. Read the rest of this entry »

“Starlight never seems brighter than when

The spaces between are utterly dark”,

You say, and almost begin to cry again…

Smile. This is supposed to be an Amusement Park.

And nothing i have brought you; the candyfloss, the coke,

The conversations; can make you put away those claws.

Christ, what else do you expect from a bloke?

You arent drowning, you know. Stop clutching at straws.

We’ll simply have to weather out this universe.

Stick side by side. Stuck side by side with cotton-candy lies.

Every last one of us. For better or for worse.

You. Me. Even this Dynamic Bloody Ribbon Device.

There are only three kinds of magic; they only exist between people; and anything else that they tell you is a lie.

The Three Magics are the foundation of our attachments, the force behind our yearnings, everything that we cannot explain about the people whom we love.

The first of the three is hot and strong and confident. It gives you absolute conviction in the rightness and the success of whatever that you lay hands to; it tries to move mountains, and sometimes it does. It makes you believe in perfections; it makes you trust in absolutes; it tells you that you will live forever. It makes a heart go boom, makes you punch walls, hug pillows and skip in the streets. It makes you utter the corniest lines with the greatest fervour: ‘even if you dont want me, you’ll come around, and i’ll wait for you to… because i’ve got enough patience for the both of us…’

It is the fate that befell Icarus, the ‘touch of sun’, the Indian Summer. This magic, the earliest magic to dawn, is Sun Magic, and it can tear down the laboured work of generations in a single stroke of frenzy. Sun Magic hurts people with its escapades because it is the most selfish of all the magics. But one day, this magic meets a thug called reality in some dark alley of ambition and has the living crap beaten out of it, crawls away into a corner and dies. Because, for Sun Magic to work, you must really believe in things, and you can never really believe in the things that once let you down, second time around. Then the rushes of blood stop going to your head as often as they used to… but somewhere in everyone’s past, there’s always a time that they “used to think that way”.

As Sun Magic leaves you to grow and learn and hurt, another takes its place. The second magic is a magic of charm.

It is the magic of the look, the dress, the hair, the smile, the move, the combination of it all. The particular arrangement of entities that make you look thrice at someone who walks into the room. Sometimes it is just the way a name sounds. The way a voice touches you somewhere inside. Puppies have charm. Rumpled hair has charm. It is the gentlest of all attractions, but it holds you with gossamer that is impossible to break away. It has all the silent insistence of the tide at night; it is Byron’s lady who walks in beauty. If you’ve heard a song called Moonshadow, that is charm. It will never be as bright as the sun, never as forceful in its ways, and yet it captures your imagination and moves you to madness in ways that the sun never could. Charm is Moon-Magic, it rises into the darkness of your sunset, wins your heart, fools your senses, and waxes and wanes. Moon Magic is Maupassant’s Mathilde; the sensation of the soiree, drunk with joy, dancing the night away in, jewels borrowed from a friend.

When Moon Magic finally fades, with the closing movement of your mad sonata, the last of the magics grows strong. This is the magic of secrets and laughter.

Laughter is illogical; its origin or purpose cannot be explained, and yet it exists. The best of friends have this magic in them; the twinkle of merriment you catch in a person’s eyes; the glitter of mischief you look out for and love. Something inside makes you chortle hysterically over little conspiracies, and create words that only the two of you know the meanings of. Something makes you remember people for nothing more than the huge laughs you’ve had together; makes you thankful for the many times that laughter kept the tears away.

Twinkles and glitters, secrets and laughter; all this is Star Magic; the last, the least, the best. It is the best because it never leaves you; yet is last and least because while the moon and sun hold court in your sky, you never know that it is there. But it is… and when your suns and your moons finally forsake you, it prevents your skies from emptying, and keeps the tears away.

These three magics, then, are the taproot of all our impulses. Every silly, stupid, illogical thing we do is them. Magic separates us from the automatons, gives us something more to live for than survival. And magic also builds what they call The Gap. Adults are rational people. And rational people are naturally afraid of perfectly illogical things that work perfectly well. And this is why the people who hold strongly by each other also hold  strongly by the Three Magics of this world. That is why the strongest promises are not sworn on bibles or blood, but on the Moon, and the Stars, and the Sun…

… and so, there are only three kinds of Magic; they only exist between people; and anything else that they tell you is a lie.


(apologies to anne ranasinghe) 


We pass a student yoked to a subject

Straining to concentrate. He shivers

With effort, his bones

Protrude and the taut brow quivers

At each word of the endless page

There is no expression on his face

Only his eyes plead mercy Read the rest of this entry »

Last week, in moju, Nicolas Chauvin touched on another of those issues which have troubled me for some time, by saying: “the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka seems to be political and not philosophical. Sri Lankan popular Buddhism -the kind that has monks participating in rallies or forming political parties, or linking up with ethnicity, for that matter- seems unconcerned with simple moral values like tolerance or compassion, much less any of the deeper teaching.”

as a race, the sinhalese wish to stand true to their history. that history is full of many fine achievements, people and traditions. however, it is also full of 2500 years of very deep rooted mistrust of most fellow races! the fact that we are a majority in a country, and yet a minority in a region has a part to play. but there are lots of other reasons, and none of them are relevant here.

the weird thing is that buddhism, a religion that advocates more pacifism that most, has also dominated in this country!

Read the rest of this entry »