Of Bestie’s Air Massage and Christmas Shopping in Arabia...

It felt like time travel. I was walking through the alleyways of an Arabian souq (market), and for a moment, I thought I was wandering across the movie-set of The English Patient. There were vendors selling spices, silver trinkets and various nuts and seeds in their little kiosks or just by the wayside. Arab women clad in their burkas and abayas sat behind their arrays of gadgets and knick-knacks. Their eyes pierced through the inch of opening in their burkas like the full moon on a dark night: mesmerising and inviting, and capable of alluring the vulnerable young men to buy utterly and completely useless things for a riyal or two. Some fell in the trap while the others just stopped for a good bargain. Muffled in the hustle and bustle and the chattering, I could hear the women giggle behind their black masks. Men sat in long, wodden benches in little coffee-shops, smoking; enjoying the mild wintery breeze. There were small stalls and trolleys piled up with layers of gum that looked like honey-bee combs, and there were wheel-barrows that were portable corn stands. The far side of the wheel-barrow had a little coal-fire burning, and the vendors sold freshly cooked corn to the young, old and the hungry – trotting around the souq. Occasionally, my eye would spot the beautiful prayer beads in array, and I fought to resist the temptation to be the world’s largest bead collector.

Walking under the canopies, weaving through the narrow alleyways, I ended up in an open area that somehow reminded me of the Pitt Street and Market Street in Sydney. Only a hundred years earlier, and in a basic, primitive manner. Or was it a flashback of the Fort World Market, I wondered for a moment. But this was grandeur in scale and much more intriguing and interesting in sight. A little boy ran behind a football, and disappeared in to a narrow passageway as I tried to find my bearings.

As I made may way through the open square to reach the other end, I discovered another fascination: the silver shops that sold beautiful Yemeni jewellery. Rough and uneven, with coloured glass-work, they told stories about the nimble hands that crafted the designs. I imagined those beautiful Arab women sitting in their corners in their humble abodes, tinkering with metal to crate these fabulous ornaments. No wonder they wear them with so much pride on occasion, I thought to myself.

Beyond the silver jewellery were the fabric shops. Like the good old story about the black abaya in Prophet Mohammed’s days (peace be upon him), the fabric sellers were the highlight of the market. Yards and yards of beautiful designs in psychedelic colours, drawn like canopies from the roof to the ground covered my sight. From black-on-black designs to everything imaginable under the sun were on offer, and the shop assistants were serenading us to just walk inside and take a look. They knew that if we stepped in, we wouldn’t be able to resist their charm and the attraction of the selection. An occasional tailor shop displayed with much pride some wedding gowns that adorned amazing needle-work. I knew that under the abaya, the Arab women were very fashionable. But this, was far beyond what I have ever imagined. This was Paris, this was haute couture for the average Arab woman.

Just two days before the Christmas, I was discovering the downtown Jeddah. The old market, where sailors from around the world met the Arab merchants long before the dollar was born. Thousands of years later, only the buildings have changed, but not the habits of their inhabitants. They souq is still old-fashioned, they still like to drive a good bargain, and offer you a cup of seylani chaai if you were a good customer.

Wondering through the maze, we were looking for a shop that sold something that was supposedly banned in Saudi Arabia.

And finally, we were directed to a little shop that sat by the waterfront. It looked like mini China and the shop was (cleverly camouflaged?) with cosmetics, cheap electronics and all kinds of fancy items at the entrance. We look around and approach a shop assistant who gestures us to follow him up a wooden staircase. Up the staircase, zig zag through the aisles, we are taken to a back corner and the shop assistant points his hand to a rack, with much delight.

As we see what’s on display, my friend’s face lights up. Underneath a pile of “elegant” lamps that had a not-so-elegant penguin on the box and “Bestie’s air-massagers,” we’ve finally found what’s impossible to find in Saudi Arabia: Christmas Cards.

And they were musical too.

The elegant lamp, the forbidden cards and the Bestie’s Air Massager: New Concept ot (sic) Health


Very Merry Christmas!

So it is Christmas. The first, since the guns have gone silent in the North.

Part of our country still lives in limboland, not knowing how or where they would be, tomorrow. Homeless, refugees, IDP’s, war-victims – call them whatever you may. It is sad to see some people still live in tents, five years after the tsunami. Like they say, here in Paradise, change comes very slowly. Sometimes, painfully slowly. How long would it be before we hear the Christmas carols from homes beyond IDP Shelters, is still anyone’s guess.

Reality around us quite sad and sombre.

The world beyond our little island is infested with floods, natural disasters and other calamities. There is a volcano waiting to exhale in the Philippines.

There were floods in the middle of the desert in Saudi Arabia and Oman, the penguins are bracing for a smaller Arctic, and the Chinese have bought Volvo and Saab. What is going on in our little planet, I wonder.

Then, under the blue skies of Paradise, I discover that a bad week or a lousy couple of decades cannot take away the legendary Sri Lankan smile. This Christmas, I notice an aura of happiness, contentment and relief around us.

Amidst disaster and general misfortune, we find a reason to smile. We are known for our smile, and the optimism behind. We are known to forget the yesterday easily. We are known for our ability to look beyond petty issues like global warming and worry about more important matters such as who should be the next President. Or who would win the game of cricket tonight. Or would there be enough parking at Odel.

Be it politics, cricket, shopping or life-at-large, we live in eternal hope. When hope fails, we move on with a big smile and a bigger level of optimism. All in all, there is hope in Paradise. Abundant.

We, the islanders of Paradise, are a happy bunch. Or a funny bunch, rather. And I like being one.

Let’s hope for a better tomorrow for all of us.

Merry Christmas everyone!


Computers for Baboons

So there I was. Counting the minutes at the Gate 7 at the Colombo International Airport since 5 O’clock in the morning. I had arrived early, the Emirates flight carrying my kiddos were due at 8.30 am. Nope, I’m not bonkers to drive to the airport that early, it just so happened that I arrived in the island the same morning.

After what felt like an eternity – and a few random conversations with some strangers on transit – the kids arrive sound and safe as I flipped the pages of Who moved my Cheese for the umpteenth time.

Hugs, kisses and pleasantries exchanged, documents signed and kids are “formally” handed over to me by the ground staff. And off we go – rushing to meet my wife who has been eagerly waiting at the arrivals lounge. We proceed to the immigration counter and I produce all three passports. The immigration officer punches a few keys on his computer and informs me that the kiddos aren’t eligible for visa on arrival. Me being the Paradisian, has no issues, but my own kids aren’t allowed entry to the country.

He tells me that there are only 80-odd eligible countries in the list and the passports that my kids carry aren’t in the list. I know they are, this isn’t the first time they are visiting the island.

I request the officer to check by the passport numbers – since they’d previously held Sri Lankan Residence Visa the reference should be in their system. Bloody hell, this is my country and my kids should be granted visa on arrival, even if they came from Mars.

As I peep across the counter to see what’s going on, I discover the officer punching-in the passport number without selecting the matching country from the drop-down menu. The guy hammers the “enter” key even without glancing at the screen.

The result: Afghanistan. The country at the top of the list. And no visa for Afghans on arrival.

I grit my teeth, take a deep breath, count to 10 and ask him to select the country carefully. The blithering idiot repeats the same performance and insists that I should have applied for kids visa before arriving in the island..!

I was too tired to argue with idiots, or to spare him a lesson from Computer for Dummies. I demand to see his immediate boss.

The supervisor checks the kids’ passports, puts a note on the disembarkation cards, walks over to the same counter and orders the man to stamp the passports. The circus monkey stamps the passports and enters the details – yet again under “Afghanistan” in the computer. Suddenly, I had kids who are related to Mulla Omar and those long-bearded extremists that sleep with their goats.

I have no idea how many tourists were awarded the Afghan nationality that morning at the Colombo International Airport. Hope none had any issues on their departure.

At least my two didn’t, thankfully.


Holy Sh*t!

Just arrived in Jeddah last evening. As the plane descended, there were rain-clouds a few hundred meters above the ground level and the evening light reflected on the puddles and pools of water down below in the city. I never imagined Jeddah to be this wet. This was unusual.

Jeddah and rain doesn’t happen that often. When it does, they don’t blend well either.

While I was away enjoying the good life in Paradise, the city of Jeddah had been greeted by millions of Hajj pilgrims. Along with them came the heaviest rainfall in the recent decades.

On the 25th of November, a few hours of heavy rain unleashed “flash floods” that killed a little over a hundred people and rendered thousands homeless. Closer to a thousand people are still unaccounted for and an estimated six and a half thousand homes have been destroyed. Closer to 5,000 cars have been written off or washed away, not to mention the hundreds of brand new cars that went under the water in their storage facilities. The damage runs into billions of dollars. All this, in just four hours of heavy rain.

But this, is nothing compared to the biggest problem.

Imagine a typical “Lanka” petrol tanker (bowser). Fill it up with sewage. (Yes, sewage). Multiply it by 3,000. Empty them in a lake. Continue this practice for over 10 years, every single day.

Now imagine this sewage-lake at a higher level of a mountain and a city built in the valley below.

That city is Jeddah. What separates the city from the invasion of sewage is a tiny dam built with reinforced sand, not concrete. This dam has shown signs of weakness with the unexpected rainfall that filled the reservoir to the brim. The city of Jeddah was about to get flooded in sewage if the rain continued non-stop. Thankfully, the rain ceased and mellowed down giving room for the emergency crew to ‘pump’ the sewage out of the reservoir and bring the situation under control. But the situation still poses a threat with the continued sporadic rain.

Imagine a city flooded in sh*t..! Now that, is a real problem.

And we think the uncollected garbage bag in front of our gate is a cause for concern. ;)


The Magic of Christmas Commercials

It was the early 80’s and we used to gather around and watch ITN every evening. Television was new and it was a fascination. There were no commercials, we saw Baccara perform “Yes sir, I can boogie” a few times a day in between programs. And there were fish swimming across the screen endlessly, if the break was too long. Television was ad-less, and Noeline Honter read the news.

Then came a few commercials. I remember the “Khairaz? Kotahena, Kotahena...” ad and the Anchor ad with Rosy Senanayake. She was Mrs World, but my eyes were set on Brooke Shileds. I watched Blue Lagoon at Rio quite a few times in uniform –like any good school boy from Colombo.

But most of all, amongst the handful of ads that ran, I remember the classic Coca-Cola ‘Hilltop’ Commercial.

Many years later, I found a career in advertising and my life was surrounded by commercials. But every time I think of a Christmas ad, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke...” echoes in my head. The tune is so catchy, often I find myself swinging my head like an Indian waiter in a London restaurant.

I guess I’m a sucker for “feel-good” commercials.

In my career as an ad-man, I had the good fortune of working with some world-class directors. Amongst them, is Eric Will, who directed this Christmas commercial for Orange.

The first time I saw it, I wanted to see it again. I knew there was little ‘something’ about the ad, but I couldn’t see it at once.

Then, I found the little magic of this commercial. Did you see it?


Time is Now. To look at your Breasts.

There were boobs everywhere in Lebanon. Staring at you from all over the place. In supermarkets, in busy streets, looking at you from behind news stands. There were huge ones and tiny ones. And every size in between.

And they were pink.

Aah the wonder of typography. With a simple twist, the Arabic letter “n” in the headline is crafted to fit where it fits best – delivering a memorable message. Pity that we don’t see much attention paid to typography in Paradise.

The headline translates to “it is time” (time is now) and this is the key visual of a breast cancer awareness campaign currently running in Lebanon. From huge billboards to tiny handouts at supermarkets, this is everywhere these days.

For an Arabic country, this is a daring approach. But then again, if they wanted attention, they certainly got mine.


Background: For decades, the subject of breast cancer has been considered unmentionable amongst families in the Arab World. According to National Cancer Registry, Breast Cancer accounts for 38.2% of all cancer cases in Lebanon..! To know more, please visit the campaign website here.


Memories of Lebanon...

I sat in the butt-freezing cold, staring at the distance. There’s at least an hour before the sunrise. The cold breeze sweeping across the lake went piercing through my skin and chilled my bones. It must have been around five degrees, but the breeze made it feel like sub-zero.

The misty haze was slowly clearing away from the vast plateau that stood beyond the waterfront. The lake was slowly turning from a dull gray to a beautiful transparent blue shade that reminded me of Farah’s eyes. She was gorgeous. Her gray-blue eyes were mesmerising.

There is something magical about the Middle-Eastern women.

They are blessed with the ivory skin and the black hair – a beautiful combination that appeals to most men from the Paradise isle.

Black hair on ivory skin. Exotic. To say the least.

Farah was one of the receptionists at the hotel we were staying. She must have been in her early twenties, if not barely out of her teens. We knew that she existed only at the time of our departure; our all-day adventures in Beirut kept us away from the daytime staff. Next thing we see is Farah signing off from work and a black Mercedes SLK arriving at her footstep. When you are gorgeous, you are never going to walk in your life. Ever.

Salah gets me a nice and hot Arabic coffee, and breaks my train of thoughts. He tells me in Arabic that there are cheese manaeesh and zatar for breakfast, if I’m feeling peckish. I’m in no mood for any food but the warmth of the tiny coffee cup helps. I wish I had a pack of Davidoff Lights in my pocket like the good old days.

I love these unusual adventures. I love the randomness in life. I like being in the middle of nowhere, being close to nature. The vast emptiness around me reminds me how insignificant I am, in the grand scheme of things.

Lebanon is a tiny country that is abundant in natural beauty. Just like our little paradise home. Within a couple of hours from the warm and sunny Beirut, one could end up in the misty mountains where the snow-covered peaks make ideal skii slopes in Winter.

I try to remember the last time I was in this region. I remember driving through this valley with Fadi in his red Chevy listening to Celine Dion duet with Barbara Streisand for the first time. Not that I’m a huge fan of the Canadian diva, but the memory of that drive through this beautiful land is still stuck in my mind. That Christmas, I bought myself Angela Dimitriou’s “Margarites” from Beirut, and left the rest of the world to buy Celine Dion.

I also remember Nabil’s stories of their Defender getting stuck in the mud in this very same region and how they had to leave it for a couple of days till the rain ceased, before it was pulled out with the help of a big yellow Cat.

Its funny how a stranger in a strange land feels somewhat homely when there are memories that connect the two.

I’ve been to Lebanon quite a few times since 1996 and I kind of like this place. The only thing that I hate though is, whenever I introduce myself, most of the Lebanese ask me “kohomada?” with a smile. Either they, or their kids, have been brought up by a maid from Paradise.

I hate when the world classifies Sri Lanka as the country where the maids come from.


BOA. All Pets. Fish and Reptiles.

I’m in Beirut. It’s way past lunchtime. I’m sitting in a little-old restaurant – a well kept secret in time. The tiny place is dim and quiet, except for the occasional shout that gets the kitchen staff busy with the order. There are no florescent lights that bathe the place in white light. Instead, there’s natural sunlight slowly creeping through the ally.

I see a middle-aged Lebanese woman sitting by the window, patiently waiting. For food, or company, I wonder for a moment. There is a white VW Golf Mk1 parked outside, just in front of a shiny new BMW M3.

“BOA. All Pets. Fish + Reptiles” reads a signboard on the shop across the window. “10,000 LL for Picture with Snake” says another sign. I see green lattice-like windows above the pet shop. The building looks old and the windows remind me of the old Dutch buildings in Galle.

“Tick, tock, tick, tock...” a fashionably dressed young Lebanese girl trots past the window. For a moment, I wish I were sitting by the window. 90% of the Lebanese women are very pretty, according to my expat-friend, the expert of feminine beauty. The remaining 10% it seems, are simply drop-dead-gorgeous. All I can think of, at this very moment, is food – and nothing else. Feminine beauty could wait, but I laugh out loud and nod in agreement.

Sitting here, Beirut feels very real. It feels very different from the newly-built pebbled streets, high-end cafés, designer shops and downtown in general.

The shop owner comes along, greets us and distributes the hand-written Arabic menu. I look at the decorative handout and wonder why the menu is not printed. Apparently, nothing much has changed in this place since the humble beginning. Two generations later, the menu is still hand-written by the owner cum cashier cum head-waiter, every single morning.

A few minutes later, I overhear the man himself translating the menu to the Japanese family sitting at the table behind us. This is a legendary place that is often mentioned in travel guides. The pictures that adorn the walls tell me that the tourists pick this tiny place over fancy restaurants downtown, perhaps for the bragging rights.

While we get ready to experience the true spirit of Lebanese cuisine, the usual appetisers arrive on the table. The Olives, the mint leaves, spring onions, radish, pickles, hommus, moutabbel, tabouleh and the Arabic bread.

I decide to skip the Arak and settle for water. Brewed from Aniseed, Arak is an alcoholic beverage that usually takes a prominent place in a typical Lebanese lunch table. The clear brew turns milky and cloudy as it gets diluted in water – just like pouring Dettol in water.

We decide to settle for Molokhia – a rice and meat dish that is garnished with nuts and topped with Corchorus (like spinach) soup – as the main dish. Molokhia is a stew, but this restaurant serves the rice, meat and the stew separately for us to mix them ourselves to match our taste. Apparently, that is the “proper” way to serve the dish. An Arabic desert follows and we top up the meal with a Moroccan-mint tea.

As we wander back in to the narrow lane, leaving yet another Lebanese experience behind, I think of home. Good food, great ambience, and Boa reminds me of home. Masthana, the old canteen that used to be besides Raheema’s, in particular.


So, What takes you to the toilet?

I know quite a few folks who find inspiration in the bathroom.

I also know creatives who find ideas while they are in the bath, having a shower or sitting in the throne. (No wonder some ads are shisse, right?)

Jokes apart, taking a piss could be quite an inspirational moment too. So much so, a colleague of mine who is a Chicago-based senior creative, used to call every loo-break an “opportunity to find an idea.” Do we find inspiration, do we find ideas, or do we “come-up” with an idea is another point of discussion, but what genuinely baffles me is the connection people have with their bathroom to their brains. Be it a quick dump or an hour-long soak in a bubble bath with a glass of bubbly and someone to share. Both bath, and the bubbly.

I know someone who would take a good book, a pack of cigarettes and shut the door behind – only to spend the whole night on the throne and emerge in the morning with a big smile on her face. A night on the throne without any disturbance and a book covered from cover to cover. (I often used to wonder if she read naked. I wasn’t married then, and I was allowed to have such wonderful thoughts.)

Going back to the topic. I also know people who take the Daily Mirror to the toilet. Then there are some of us who read trash and gossip columns while attending to the matters. Then there are the ones who go in with a book of Sudoku, or a crossword. Oh, the intellectual type.

I’m not even going to talk about the ones who take Playboy to the bathroom.

The new generation (jeez, I feel so old) has their inseparable gadgets and their digital life continues non-stop without a loo-break. Soon there might be a day when there’s a little stamp at the end of a mail that reads “sent from the loo, via my Blackberry.” Be it the Blackberry, the iPhone or a simple phone with a tiny monochrome monitor, 140-character input is all you need to stay in touch with the world. Besides, one’s private life ain’t so private anymore thanks to social networking, and there is no harm in letting the world know that you are taking a good dump. Besides, that’s a sign of good health too. Right?

So what do you take to the toilet? A book? The newspaper? Your mobile? Or just a quick cigarette? I’m not talking about the days you are constipated, I was just wondering about our habitual rituals and morning regimes...


In the Meantime...

Finally, the storm has subsided and there is calmness in my life. Last three months have been extremely hectic and chaotic. Four new business pitches: two short-listed and one won. Eighteen-hour days for three straight months is potentially dangerous to one’s health – I would’ve strangled someone if not for the two quick trips to my paradise isle in-between. Sri Lanka, the small miracle, is an amazing stress reliever. A quick trip is a quick fix, and it works like magic, always. A drink by the sea, a bite of seafood, some quality time with the family and friends and a long drive around the country is just what the doctor ordered.

Then there was Ramadan: the season of fasting and feasting. It is also the season to contemplate and reflect upon life. Since it is the time to forgive and forget, I made some sincere efforts to iron out some hostilities of the past, and succeeded. I’m not the one to hold any grudges, life is too short and too precious to be upset with (and continue to be upset with) people.

Ramadan came and went, sending me off to Sri Lanka just before the Eid-break. Would’ve chosen Beirut or Istanbul if the circumstances were different, but home is home always. Missed out on the usual feasts of biriyani and watalappam – especially the yummy one that comes our way from Spikey’s grandma every year. Instead, we were cooling off in our Kataragama retreat, enjoying the wonderful food and company of “Pans” and the clan. The river seems to have a consistent water-flow since the dam was built, making it the ideal natural spa all year round. A sip of Cranberry+Vodka when immersed neck-deep in river-water tastes a million times better than any Cape Cod I’ve tasted anywhere in the world.

Anyhow, I’m glad that the mad rush is over. I’m rejuvenated and ready for the next lap, back in the holy city of Jeddah.

In the meantime, amongst other worldly happenings:

  • Got tagged. Will define what love means to me, in due course. Promise.
  • Hijinx and Delilah contemplated quitting. They even wrote the last chapters. Glad they didn’t.
  • Got the Saudi driving licence in a day. Was pleasantly surprised to discover that their “computer exam” is offered in Sinhala too – even though I chose English to be on the safer side.
  • Received a Dentsu global nomination for some work I’ve done last year.
  • Was a member of the jury judging a public awareness campaign in Saudi Arabia.
  • Bought the brand new Golf. Being a car that runs less than 10km a day, it is going to take a long time for me to break-in the engine before I could take it for a spin...
  • Dee does the much-awaited video collage. Nice.
  • My birthday passed by without a sip of alcohol. A record in 15 years, if not more.
  • Realised that I am much happier than 10 years ago – even though I have less assets and less people to boss-around.
  • Got in touch with the kids, thanks to the ex-wife who decided that the communication channels should now be open. So there’s a lot of Skype and time online. Much to catch up; much less time for blogging. Sorry, priorities are priorities.


Sri Lanka: Small Miracle ii

I posted the new Sri Lanka Tourism clip and received the following comment from an anonymous reader:
“yes there is a lot to be proud of:
sri-lanka, the most dangerous place for journalists and freedom of speech.

sri-lanka, just 1 month ago, 20 000 civilians perished while the country and rest of the world watched on.

sri-lanka, happy to steal the savings of a lifetime of a 75 year old man, keep him in an IDP camp, and not allow him to return to his home and his family - b/c you see, he is obviously a threat to national security.

so much to be proud of in sri-lanka.

this ad should be overlayed in red- you can not hide the blood stains of all the lives lost.

don't stick your head in the ground like an ostrich.”

Dear Anonymous, first and foremost, thank you for your comment. I do not encourage anonymous comments, but however, since your comment deserves a reply that illustrates my point of view, I decided to publish it here.

To begin with, I too feel your pain and frustration. Trust me, my head is not buried in the ground, and nor is my vision burred with a layer of red film.

As for the freedom of speech and Reporters without Borders, please see my point of view in here and here. Compare the media freedom we exercise to other countries like Russia, North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Syria or Cuba. United Arab Emirates, which ranks almost 100 positions above Sri Lanka can impose fines up to about $136,000 for carrying misleading news that harms the national economy and for deliberately publishing false news. There are also fines of about $272,000 for insulting members of the ruling elite, and journalists could also end up in jail in addition. Compare that, to the Media Freedom in Sri Lanka.

In Sri Lanka, anyone of us has the freedom to express our view in any which way we want – let alone our opinion, we are even free to publish whole damn newspaper if we’d wish so. The Tamil Tigers did that, JVP does it, NGO’s do it... Same freedom is expressed over radio, television and other mediums – just look at the number of totally useless and crappy news stations that pollute our airwaves.

Sri Lankan media needs to learn about responsibility and accountability that comes with their media freedom. Unfortunately, some learn it the hard way. They pay a high price. Blame them for the sh*t they get into, don’t blame the country.

The truth is, there were news channels like Al Jazeera and BBC reporting from the front-line saying “that no independent media is allowed in the warzone” whilst they were there with the advancing forces. How did they get there if the reporters were not allowed in to the conflict zone? Should we fine them a few million rupees like the UAE, should we land them in prison or should we kick them out of the country? I’d go with kicking them out of the country, we have more than enough hungry mouths to feed in our prisons anyway.


As for the 20,000 people who perished (I do not know where you got the numbers, but GA’s office has maintained the true figures since they were feeding them all these years); please do not look at our country in isolation. Look at Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Iraq where 1.3 million people perished without any positive outcome and you will get a better picture of the true cost of war. That 1.3 million people died from the bullets and bombs fired by the so called “Western Powers” who took us to the UN Human Rights Council – to teach us how to conduct a civil war..!

Please wipe the red film off your eyes and look around. Sri Lankan Military was exceptionally brilliant in saving lives, the cost of war is minimal on our land. Our military casualties are higher than that of the civilians, and it only tells one simple story: we won the war while protecting the civilians.

I know you are eager to send home the civilians in welfare villages. Trust me, the whole nation, including the government, wants them to return home as soon as possible. But, don’t forget that we need to de-mine the entire region – find every piece of improvised explosive device that the tigers buried in everyone’s back yard, before anyone could return home to a safer place. No one can keep a child away from running around, no one can keep them away from danger. Also, someone has to return the roofing sheets from the old tiger-bunkers and repair their shelter too, right? And what about the basic infrastructure? Roads, drinking water, health-care, schools? If you think that we, the Sri Lankans, are keeping a 75 year old man against his wish in an IDP camp, please think again. Remember that these people are returning to a former war-zone, a battle-filed that needs a lot of work before they begin to go back.

While the pro-LTTE Tamil mobs kept attacking Sri Lankan establishments in Canada, UK, Australia, Europe and elsewhere, while they protested, while they supported the LTTE oppressors, it is us who kept feeding your 75 year-old relative in an IDP camp. It wasn’t you! For us, every Sri Lankan is a Sri Lankan – doesn’t matter if you are black or white.

And yes, we suffered, and yes, we are suffering, but I am bloody proud to be Sri Lankan. I am damn proud of my country; and no one can take it away from me.


Treadmill vs Chicken Kurma and Sex

Been extremely busy. Missed out on a few important things – like Mak’s art exhibition. Amazed at her imagination and talent, but it raised just one question in my mind: aren’t we all a skinny bunch? I mean slim n trim, in a sort of ‘healthy’ way? Except for the fat, dead guy that is.

I’m glad even the old dudes like yours truly and RD are still good-looking. I mean no pot bellies or anything. If only you know how hard it is to burn 400 calories on a treadmill... keeping fit becomes a major headache when one crosses the big three zero, especially when one is confined to an office job. Four hundred calories is like a plate of Chicken Kurma you get at the Elite Restaurant. To put things in perspective, it’s takes five hours of intense sex to burn that much of fat. Come to think of it, I like chicken kurma, and I love sex – only foreseeable problem is the “five hour” factor...


Stayed away from the Lankan blogsphere for just a while, and see what they have done. Jerry ditches Blogspot, migrates to Wordpress. Traitor.

Chavie sports a new look. Now that he has the driving license, I guess he could consider stop running. Black isn’t black, it’s psychedelic. At least the title. And the new-found three-wheel fella is quite entertaining. Thanks Dee for the discovery.

DD is third world? Totally new look or is it some kind of a trick I wonder.

But, I’m most puzzled by my inability to create a link to Gadget Girl’s blog. Just noticed that it has switched from GG to VVG – and no more purple socks on my blogroll. I guess GG and VVG are one and the same person – there had been far too many cases of mistaken identity in the recent past in the blogsphere, I don’t want to jump to conclusions just yet.

The weeds, turds and trolls seem to have died and gone to hell. And there is relative calm for the time being.

Now that I have caught up with most of the posts that I’ve missed, it’s time to get ready to watch the T20. Sri Lanka and Pakistan deserve to be in the final – they need to wrap up the game that ended up in a military helicopter ride.


Well Done, Sanga!

“Wham... Bam... See You Ma’am...” said the BBC Sports Presenter. Sri Lanka’s newly appointed Cricket Captain Kumar Sangakkara assumes duties in style – with a handsome win over the reigning World Champions, Australia, which saw the kangaroos pack their bags long before they were due. Sri Lanka beats Australia by 6 wickets at World Twenty20 Championship at Trent Bridge.

Sweet revenge – and I am delighted. Beating Australia is as good as winning the cup; the Aussies haven’t been very nice to us in the game and on the pitch for a long time.

“It was a great performance, the key when you play Australia is to believe you can win. We’ve got a great squad of players that believed in winning against Australia and we did it. The plan to was to stifle them with the spinners. Our next target is winning against the West Indies. Dilshan is inventive, attacking and got a lot of runs for Delhi in the IPL. He has realised how good he can be over the last one year. We can’t be complacent – and look to continue winning.” says Sanga at the end of the game.

Ponting comments on the disappointing kangaroo display: “Disappointing to go out of the tournament in straight sets. Can’t explain a reason for it. You make too many mistakes in this game and better players will make you pay. We knew we had to play their spinners well but they got the better of us today.They deserved to win the game, we have got to move on from this and start preparing for the Ashes, but bitterly disappointed in going out.”


Thambi’s Only Daughter...

Chilling out after work, watching VIVA Polska, and this song catches my attention:

Baila music, from the other side of the planet – from Brazil. But the lyrics could easily be substituted with the famous big match/paparé song “Thé pan saadayi thambi kadey...” and this becomes one of our own.

An extremely popular song in the clubs, Rap Das Armas (Rap of Weapons) is banned in Brazil – it is not being played on Radio; but hit the No 1 Spot in Music Charts in Netherlands, says Wikipedia.


So, what is freedom?

Once upon a time in my life, every Thursday evening I used to leave the office before sunset, head off to the “Agency” and start the evening with a nice bottle of Montes Red with my booze-buddy, ES. Most of the time, it was the two of us bitching about the week gone by, and occasionally the rest of the clan would join us by the time we reach the bottom of the second bottle.

Between the end of the second bottle and Jack Daniels at Cyclone – where we ended up at wee hours in the morning – we would usually embark on conversations that took us from Romania and Turkey, to conquering the world. On the days that Ramsey was around, two of us would contemplate our retirement. Retiring to the beautiful island paradise that is Sri Lanka, and retiring to a lovely little beach resort somewhere on the beautiful coast along Unawatuna. An aspiring chef, pursuing his lifelong ambition and yours truly living on the beach for the love of the sea. Where did the wives and the kids fit in this grand scheme was not a concern – once you are well marinated in full-bodied grape juice from South America, life was a lot less complicated.

Time at the Agency was our moment of freedom. Our imagination took flights of fancy, we were free as birds, humming and brimming with ideas.

We were free. There were no balls-and-chains to tie us down. We’ve found our freedom and we were plotting and planning the impending, very long “island vacation.” We were dreaming of the beach-side joint where we sat and boasted about our globe-trotting days and how we managed to retire before grey-hair, to the most unsuspecting Turkish brunettes on holiday. Yes, we were planning to tap the Turkish market for local tourism.

Then, one day, just before we got the ball rolling, there was a huge Christmas wave that swept across the Indian Ocean, right from the island of Java to Madagascar. It was much bigger than our dream, and it washed away our plan, along with a few thousands of people who stood between.

The Asian Tsunami shattered our dream, and it added more pain to my already ruined married life. I moved back home to Sri Lanka, my paradise isle, soon afterwards.

I felt free, at last. I felt free, physically and mentally. The divorce contributed to the latter, and the former came with the territory.

I found freedom. I found independence. I was free from the stress and the hassles of life.

But then, what is freedom?

Is it liberty? Is it independence? Is it being “free-of” troubles and burdens? Is it just a wonderful philosophy that fails to manifest to our own satisfaction?

Whichever it is, freedom is relative, and it’s a topic that can go on forever.

In Saudi Arabia, the outsiders like us think the women are deprived of their freedom. In an already “closed” society, the women have no right even to step out of the door without the consent of the “one in charge” of the household. Even then, she would be in a ninja-suit, with a chaperone by her side who monitors every move she makes. Most Saudi men and the handful of Saudi women I know tend to find no fault with this system – even though some of them are educated in the West and are “exposed” to the other cultures and their ways of life.

Ignorance is bliss, they say.

While discovering this unique land, we were often welcomed and entertained by quite a few very hospitable Saudi nationals. Squatting in their meeting halls (majlis) we chatted at length on various topics and we discovered that their perception of freedom is very different from ours. Not surprisingly.

Once, we met a certain gentleman who likes to believe that he is a modern Saudi. He is someone who spends his summer holidays in Sharm Al Sheikh in Egypt or in Beirut, Lebanon.

We asked him if his wife also gets to take a summer break too.

Insha allah, for sure...” he says with a big grin on his face.
“Great. You two must be enjoying your trips to Egypt and Lebanon..?”
“No way..!” he says.
We look at each other’s puzzled faces for a brief moment.
“So she doesn’t travel with you then?”
“That’s haram.” (= taboo) says our host with a definitive voice. Exposing their women to the evils of society such as night-clubs, music, women in bikinis is naturally “unsuitable” for their culture.
“Ok, so where does she go for her summer holiday?”
“Oh, I send her to her uncle in Riyadh”

The man spends his summer-break in Beirut (where the population boasts of eight females per every single male) and the woman is sent to her uncle, few miles down the road.

We promptly change the topic.

“I mean, unlike other traditional Saudi gentlemen, you seem to be a quite liberal” my friend says.
“Yep...” nods our host.
(We can talk to the guy about his wife – which is surprising. And we are impressed.)

“So your wife is more independent than the other women then?”
“Oh yes, she has all the freedom in the world...” he says.
“All the freedom in the world?” Vivid images of “free” Saudi women without their chaperones flash before my eyes for a nano second.
“She has all the freedom in the world... to do whatever I ask her to do..!”
comes the answer, and I hear triumphant drum-rolls in my head.

Like I said, freedom is very, very relative.

Image: “Liberty Leading the People” – Delacroix, Eugène Ferdinand Victor (1798–1863)


Reading a Blog: Tarantino Style

Monday evening, chilling at home. While catching up with the Lankan blogshepere, I find a rather strangely-titled post in Kalusudda’s blog. “Cruel Story of Youth (Seishun Zankoku Monogatari)” it reads.

Click, click and I’m reading the comments. You know there are moments when one’s choice to read a blog or not depends on the length of the post? I was living one such moment. So I start with the comments and begin reading the post, down-up.

The last paragraph, first.

Then the one before. And the one before that.

Soon, I was reading the entire post ‘down-up’ and found myself enjoying the ‘suspense’ in the chaotic order. Like a Tarantino movie.

And... it worked. The post made perfect sense.


Five that Came in a Tag

I shouted out loud, “Adoh, Suddo...” and I get answered by the black variety. Kalusudda tags me in Five that Came in a Tag.

The rules are quite simple really.

As stipulated by the inventor of the game – the drummer in a high place:

  • You write five words to describe how you feel about recent events in Sri Lanka.
  • You tag five bloggers.
  • You sit back and relax (and hope they’d keep it going)
Recent events in five words:

  1. Success
  2. Relief
  3. Pain
  4. Camaraderie
  5. Hope
And I hereby tag:
  1. Jerry Berry – the favourite, but not so edible fruit
  2. Makuluwo – the Spiderwoman in the making
  3. Chavie – the one that’s on the run
  4. Lady D – oh, the divine one
  5. Santhoshi – the temporarily superstitious one
Good luck people!

Adoh Suddo...

I wish the bloody idiots understood Sinhala, so that I could give them a bit of my mind. But then again, that would be a tad too much to ask for.

Finally, the Human Rights pundits lost it at the big seat.

The world accepts that the government acted in the best interest of its civilians, whom it has promised to take care of. We knew it all along, and, now they know.

Miliband and his band of bandits failed to bully the tiny island that is Sri Lanka. Once again.

My tiny island scores a huge diplomatic victory at the United Nations.

And... comes the famous American Question: Now what?

Human Rights Watchdogs have one less issue to talk about, one less means of income. No more island holiday for the Brits, Italians, Canadians, Germans et al who were planning on riding their brand new Nissan Safari’s or Toyota Land Cruisers, pretending to be “saving the humanity” while being sloshed in night clubs and beach-side joints in Colombo.

Less cappuccinos and green tea to be served at watering holes in the city.

Pro-terrorist Tamil Diaspora would be looking for new angles to incriminate the Sri Lankan government, working along with their kith-and-kin in high places. Kumaraswamy’s, Pillay’s and Lata’s and the rest. Looking for a road to Hauge, perhaps?

A few thousand “refugee visas” not getting extended in Europe, Canada and Australia. No wonder they are on the street – who wants to leave the luxuries and go back to Vanni?

Opportunities missed – for the NGO’s. Amnesty International cannot open an office in Colombo. Sheesh. Norwegians cannot arm the LTTE, MSF cannot wire reports that feed the pro-terrorist propaganda. Brits cannot spy on the Indians, HRW cannot come-up with numbers that are made-up by some university students sitting under a tree in Sydney.

We have seen what the NGO’s have (not) done in the ex-LTTE held territory. Billions of Euros spent on sign-boards. Signboards alone, announcing the project – but not a brick in place. They should never be allowed in to the country again; they should be held accountable for what they did (not) in the North and East during the reign of the LTTE terrorism. If anyone deserves to be brought to justice, those NGO officials would be a good start.

We already have the UN, ICRC and a few other “respectable” organisations, already with sufficient access to the internally displaced persons, operating inside the refugee welfare centres. If anybody is genuinely interested in Human Rights in Sri Lanka, they should first resolve the nearly 50,000 cases of missing persons from the ’88-’90 era.

The West sells weapons – they get richer, we get poorer. The NGO’s thrive on conflict – they get funds to keep their jobs, work in exotic places and live life holiday-style.

The Tamil “fighters” get to live abroad, capitalising on their “refugee” status. Escape the law, make better money, live in better conditions, doing what the rest of the Sri Lankans can only dream of. Ex-terrorist killers run mobs, they could get in trouble if they ever return to the island.

Now that the war is over, the LTTE mob in France alone is at the risk of losing 20 million Euros every year. They run their funding activities including narcotics and drugs in 44 countries and the West that supported the bill are safe havens for these thugs and assassins. The money collected is sure to keep their fight alive, since these governments are encouraging terror activities in their own soil.

The media has new subject matter everyday to keep their ratings high and journalists find new angles to speed-up their way up the corporate ladder. They can run a circus out of our misery.

The funding agencies could keep tightening their nooze on our neck, we are the lab-rats for every single new resolution. Ban smoking globally? Let’s start with Sri Lanka!

Now what? We have more bad news to be expected. NGO’s and the Tamil Diaspora have to find a way to keep their “cause” alive; that’s the only way to keep the funds pouring in. They will be supported and funded by the Indian Tamils, who failed to establish a Tamil homeland in the place where it should be: Tamil Nadu.

All, at our expense.

The end of the war is just bad news for all of the above.

But, it’s just bloody good news for us.

As a Sri Lankan – even if we have to grow bathala (sweet-potato) in our back yard for the next ten years to come – I’d would vote for Mahinda again – he has restored our dignity, most of all, above all.

The Lebanese and the Sri Lankans

Bleow are 20 quick reasons why I posted the three ads from the Lebanese General Elections. The Lebanese are just like us!
  1. We still look up to our former colonists. They have the French, and we have the Brits.
  2. Speaking the colonial lingo is a status symbol. French over there, English over here.
  3. We faced a civil war instigated by the big-bully neighbours. They watched as we killed each other, and then they sent their military to “keep the Peace.” Syria poking the finger in their business and India, in ours.
  4. We had a political leader in the recent past who built the country, and built a stadium in his name; only to be killed by a bomb while on the road not very far from the stadium. Hariri vs Premadasa.
  5. The tallest statue in the country is a religious symbol.
  6. They were the centre of the Middle East. We were the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.
  7. We both love to party, and we love to drink.
  8. Our national drink is Arak. And Arrack.
  9. We embraced modernism long before our neighbours.
  10. Our infrastructure was so bad, we had to introduce mobile phones in order to catch-up with the rest of the world. Today, a mobile phone is must, and it’s a menace.
  11. We have an amazing capability to forget the bullets, blood and the bodies in less than 24-hours; we are used to asking “how many?” after hearing a bomb go off in the vicinity. And get-on with watching the silly soap-opera or the match unfolding on the silver screen.
  12. We are better educated than our neighbours in the region.
  13. We think a European car is better than a Japanese.
  14. Everyone we know has someone of their family living overseas.
  15. Our politicians are corrupted and the government sector runs on bribery. And there is always a way to get things done.
  16. We boast about our ancient civilisation, while we fail to be civil to each other.
  17. We brag about the beautiful beaches, cold mountains and ancient cities.
  18. We drive like crazy; and think of road rules only if there’s a cop around the corner.
  19. Our women are gorgeous.
  20. Last but not least, we are just nice people. It must be the sea..!


Soon, in every home. The Third Republic.

Lebanese General Election is near. Their election videos from the campaign are very different from ours – from concept to execution. Here are some that are currently running.

In Lebanon, you are either with the Hizbullah, or against them!

The House-guest

The Bonfire

The Fireworks

Title 1: Soon, in every home.
Title 2: The Third Republic.


Finally, a sigh of Relief...

Many a thousand miles away from home, my mobile is ringing non-stop. SMS’s keep pouring in. The good news is here: The Sri Lankan Military has defeated terrorism, and every inch of Sri Lankan soil is under its sovereign rule, after a little more than a quarter century.

My eyes are filled with tears. My heart is filled with gratitude and joy. This is one moment that I wish I were home – to witness the history in the making. I wish I could get out – on to the streets, eat kiribath and light fire-crackers; and celebrate this memorable moment with fellow islanders who have seen more than their fair share of blood, death and the suffering. No human deserves to undergo what we have been through, and no living being deserves the agony and pain this nation has been subjected to.

I’m overcome with emotion. It would be a few days before the euphoria subsides.

Finally, I see a purpose in all the lives sacrificed, and lost, in a meaningless power-struggle. None of those who laid their lives in defending this nation died in vain – their sacrifices have a new-found meaning now. Every note I begin to write gets nowhere, I cannot forget the faces of friends in uniform, and I cannot forget the lighter moments we have shared on-board battleships and inside various military compounds across the country. We have been dreaming of this day, but there wasn’t even a glimmer of hope, then.

I still remember the fear that was written on the faces of people up-North. LTTE is just the last to terrorise these people. When I first crossed beyond Vavuniya, it was TELO that ruled the “no-man’s” land. The hand that holds the gun changed many a times, from one extermist group to another, but there was always a gun pointed at the civilian.

For over 25 years, the victim in the power-struggle has always been the civilian population. They are the ones who endured agony of terror inflicted upon them by various Tamil groups, until the gun-culture came to an end just a few days ago.

Finally, there is no fear anymore. The suffering will end too, hopefully soon.

Sri TV – the only Sri Lankan international television – keeps playing music and video footage that makes me feel so proud to be Sri Lankan. We have proven to the world that terrorism can be defeated.

A tiny nation in the middle of the Indian Ocean has proven it’s might to the World.

The war was outside the country as much as it was inside. The so-called “protectors of democracy” who are waging a war against global terrorism wanted to halt the military progress. They sent their foreign ministers preaching us to protect the civilians in the jungle, while they failed to protect our embassies in their well-policed metropolitan capitals of England, Canada, Norway, Holland, Germany and France; some repeatedly!

The threat from the outside is much greater the threat from the inside.

The West started blackmailing the country, threatened that there would be economic repercussions. And “dire consequences” to face if the rescue-operations continued. They even said that our leadership would be taken to Hague for war crimes.

Right now, Miliband tops my list of clowns that also include Kouchner, Yolanda Foster, Charu Lata Hogg and the like. We do know is that pro-terrorist media is fabricating fairy tales; and I’m quite shocked that people of professional capacity and this calibre, falling prey to terrorist propaganda, echoing similar sentiments. In their capacity, these people represent nations and organisations – their personal opinions should not cloud good judgement.

We have rescued over 145,000 people in just four weeks alone, with very little harm to the civilians. Pro-terrorist propaganda, as well as certain international television networks such as BBC and Al Jazeera, predicted that there would be a “bloodbath” – a comment also shared by Gordon Weiss, a UN spokesman.

In the end, there was no bloodbath. Instead, there was a bullet in Prabhakaran’s skull, and no cyanide capsule in his mouth. The mighty military has rescued each and every one of the civilians, at the risk of their own life.

Hypothetically speaking, if there were 5,000 civilians deaths occurred in the rescue mission, that would be a mere 0.03 deaths per 100 rescued. Even if we double the figure to 10,000 deaths, it would still be a mere 0.06 per 100 civilians rescued. The actual civilian death-toll is far less than these numbers, and the bullet or the shrapnel that killed the innocent civilian had the LTTE initials.

No army in the world has managed such a success rate fighting any enemy. The US, with all the sophisticated military hardware and satellite views of every backyard, have caused more civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) – part of the the world’s 4th largest army – performed miserably against the LTTE in the early 90’s, when the LTTE was a much smaller ragtag outfit, with almost no battle experience, fighting barefoot and in their blue-chequered sarongs.

Given the fact that LTTE was the most brutal, and best-equipped terrorist group in the world until a few days ago, this is a remarkable achievement for a our military. Minimum civilian casualty and a mission accomplished. None of the “greater” (?) nations in Iraq, Afganistan, Pakistan or anywhere else managed such a feat.

Like they say, it’s not the machine, but the man behind the machine that matters. “The King of the Village” led the men of steel to accomplish something that the world believed impossible. And he succeeded. Like the Sri Lankans expats advertised on Sri TV, “Now we too have a King.”

It just feels great.

Obama gave the Americans, hope. President Mahinda Rajapakse has given every Sri Lankan much more than hope.

“At this victorious moment, it is necessary for us to state with great responsibility, that we do not accept a military solution as the final solution. Similarly, when we see the sad faces of the people who have been fleeing from the Puthumathalan area, we can realize that a document offered on a tray as a political solution could also not be the final solution. Therefore, the responsibility that we accept after freeing the Tamil people from the LTTE is a responsibility that no government in the history of Sri Lanka has accepted.
– President Mahinda Rajapaksa, on 19th May, 2009.
Yes, no government so far had the balls to accept the responsibility to look after its civilians.

While the pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora continues to support terrorism in Washington, London, Sydney and Paris, there is us – the true Sri Lankans – to take care of our own. Like the President of Sri Lanka says in his speech at the ceremonial opening of the Parliament, no longer are the Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays and any other ethnic groups minorities in the country; they are part of the majority. A majority that loves this land they are born to.

The rest, is the minority. They are the ones who question, as to whose victory this is...



“... All men have wandering impulses,
fits and starts of generosity. But when you have
resolved to be great, abide by yourself, and do not
try to reconcile yourself with the world.

The heroic cannot be common,
nor the common heroic.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson


Of Mixing and Matching... People.

So there we were. An Armenian, a Lebanese, a Palestinian-Canadian and yours truly, having lunch at a Chinese Restaurant, in a Middle Eastern country. Add the Bengali steward, Philipino cashier and the Chinese chef, it was kinda U.N. assembly, but in a much smaller scale.

The Armenian hates the Turks, naturally because of the Armenian genocide. Born to a refugee family that migrated to Lebanon, he is married to a Philipino girl and they have a little daughter who’s just about 18 months.

The mini-U.N. conversation leads from genocide to refugees and how the communities get mingled and the mixed-race marriages take place all over the world. Kids born to mixed-race families are supposedly genetically stronger, smarter and prettier than the pure-breds, and there is an increasing number of these wonderful creatures overtaking the world.

I mean, creatures like Adriana Lima overtaking the world. How wonderful it would be!

Few generations down the line, there would be Mr Meatloaf Contests instead of Miss Universe, me thinks, thinking along the lines of conversation.

My Lebanese friend wants to know if the kid looks like a Philipino and if she’s got chinky eyes. “Nope, she’s a pretty little Armenian girl” comes the answer, with some proprietary air. Perhaps the genetic-cocktail didn’t mix well in this instance.

“Everyone is going to look like either Chinese or Indian, sooner or later...” quips my Canadian friend, with a cheeky grin on his face. POP goes my Brazilian, Victoria’s Secret thought bubble.


The Stupidest Thomian Ever!

The were two students in my O’ Level class who didn’t know how to write their names – even after completing 10 years in school. These two were fortunate enough to attend the best school in the country, even though they were born in the poor shanty town behind St Michael’s Road, Colpetty. The college had to accept the kids residing within the two-mile-radius by default. Since there was no “failing” system in the school, it was auto-pilot until grade 10 for the bright and the dim alike.

Whether they were studious or not, even the stupidest Royalist I know has some common sense. The only exception alive is RW, who continues to make a mockery of himself and the green party he represents.

And finally, our arch rival St Thomas’ College has produced a finest example of stupidity personified, and this one beats RW by a good mile. I was sympathetic to this idiot from STC and little did I know that he was a delusional low-life. The guy is so stupid, that he went and posted “ChiliChocolate” blog under his own name “Branding Blog by NB” and was waging a war with himself.

And the cheap, spineless bastard that he is, picks on two innocent, helpless female bloggers – Mayanthi and Indiyana and black-mails them, forcing them to quit blogging.


My sincere apologies people, for (once upon a time) I too believed that his voice also should be heard in the blogsphere.


Nor Miliband or Megaband could stop the IMF Loan

There’s wide spread speculation that IMF could withhold the US$1.9 billion loan to Sri Lanka, after the British Foreign Minister David Miliband hinted at such to punish the Sri Lankan government. Along with his chaperone Bernard Kouchner, the twosome called for a ceasefire which would have enabled the foreign forces to “airlift” the LTTE leadership out of the last remaining couple of miles of their dreamland. Miliband also met with Hillary Clinton, but there would not be any substantial support from the US on this private agenda.

The reason is simple: IMF has no option but to proceed with the loan to Sri Lanka.

Why? For two good reasons, amongst many other.

The UN Security Council has very clearly demonstrated its position against Sri Lanka. All 15 members unanimously agree that they are not in a job of penalising Sri Lankan government and that they want to help the government of Sri Lanka address the problem. Russia and China have very clearly stated that the problems in Sri Lanka are not a global threat and that there is no need for the UN to interfere since there is no mass genocide or bloodbath. US cannot afford to utter a word – with ghosts of Abu Ghraib and such coming out of their closet these days. Recent occurrences in the Swat Valley where 500,000 civilians are rendered homeless doesn’t work in their favour either.

Secondly, but most importantly, the West is afraid of the “friends” Mahinda Rajapakse has made in the hour of our need. Cuba, China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan... all the top-rankers of the “friendly” nations in the eyes of the West. If the IMF refuses the loan, China would be glad to extend their helping hand, with a big smile on its face. Iran and Russia also would pitch in, they are in need of “friends” around the world. China has vested interests in exploring oil in Sri Lankan offshore, they are already in Hambantota. Surely but slowly, China is expanding its global presence: Sub-Saharan Africa is a good example of the Chinese dominance in areas where the West thought was “too insignificant” for them to bother. Besides, Mahinda Rajapakse did not clear the Western Coast for nothing – what lies beneath the “humanitarian mission” are also means to our economic advantage.

If Miliband thinks he can withhold the loan, he must be day-dreaming. In case, by any fluke chance if his dream comes true, he is going to wake up to a worse nightmare – in seeing the world’s first democracy to appoint a female head of the country, partying with the communists and rebels.

Would the West risk it? I don’t think so. So, collect some greenbacks - they are going to hit Rs 150 a piece, I was told.


Of Gazelles and What Swims the Arabian Sea

After a little over 7,000 kilometres and twenty days on the road, we find ourselves at the end of the journey in Dammam – the gateway to Bahrain on the East Coast of Saudi Arabia. The gora’s (the white skinned) look pink, they have peeled-off quite a few times. Yours truly, the tropical islander – “supposedly” well-seasoned in the sun, is also peeling. Sunburn has been quite harsh on anyone and everyone. Tito’s über cool shades covered most the face except the tip of the nose and the tanning process has worked wonderfully well, leaving him with a black nose. He looks hilarious.

We look horrendous. Ridiculously happy, nevertheless. Happy to have completed the mission and we decide to spend the last few hours around a good dinner table and go our separate ways at sunrise. Pity there are no night clubs or bars in town to raise a glass of toast, so it is going to be soup instead of champagne tonight. Crossing the bridge to Bahrain was a thought, but then, some of the crew had issues with re-entry visas.

Bahrain has to wait for another time, unfortunately.

A wonderful seafood dinner is on the cards, at a restaurant that “you will not forget” says ZeeZoo, the man-in-charge of sustenance. After his previous promises and delivery, we are quite sceptic about the promise, but then again, if you are not ready for adventure, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. He has been feeding us with road-side junk food, and the hospitable locals have been offering traditional Arabic rice and meat: Kharouf and Kabsa everywhere we went. With a slow – but definite – growth of a noticeable belly-pot, it is time to stay away from the local cuisine, however hospitable and generous they are.

Seafood sounds a welcome change, so seafood it shall be.

A shower and a quick peek at the inbox, and we are ready to discover what swims in the Arabian Gulf, and how they would taste on my dinner plate. A brief drive (yes, 35 km IS brief for those who just drove across the country) and we are at a restaurant that is pretty much occupied by men in crispy white thorbes and chequered head-gear. It’s not easy to find a table for a dozen, in a busy restaurant. Looks like we made a fatal error in not reserving a table beforehand.

However, the restaurant host doesn’t want to disappoint us. He is keen on entertaining us, and we are taken up the stairs, around a few nooks and corners, and shown in to a private dining room.

Suddenly, we find ourselves tele-ported in time. From a regular restaurant, we were ushered in to the Barouqe era, and there is a huge gap between the two sides of the door that separates them. Inside the door is a room that reminds me of Anastasia and the Russian Empire. Or it could be a page from the Arabian Nights with a touch of Morocco. I was too tired, and too hungry, to decide which it would be. Could be both, or neither – it looks like an interior experiment horribly gone wrong. The décor is far from my minimalist taste.

The room has two regal tables that sits possibly a dozen and a two. There are some lazy sofas on one side, furnished in velvet, and supplemented with cushions that are decorated with intricate handwork: lace, frills, fancies, mirror-work and the whole nine yards. In the middle is a hand-painted star-shaped coffee table that’s detachable, in case if you want to keep your coffee next to you.

The floor is carpeted, wall to wall. The ceiling has detailed patterns carved and coloured with soft yellows, blues and the pinks. Walls adorn various paintings, trophies, and memorabilia.

And, for a moment, I didn’t know whether to call it a dining room or a museum.

The wall right in front of us held the prize winner: a torso of a huge stuffed gazelle (or an Arabian Oryx, I have no idea). Big beady eyes and majestic look – he surely must have been a gorgeous creature roaming the earth before he came to the seafood restaurant.

On the left wall, there was a stuffed lamb on a pedestal. Tiny thing, that would’ve found itself useful in Sri Lanka around Christmas. Then there was this angry looking dog-like thing – possibly some kind of a hyaena – frozen in time in another corner. Obviously his angry look or the ferocious bite that could’ve been, didn’t work in his favour either. Poor thing: all guts, no glory; I thought to myself. There were some stuffed birds as well, but you get the picture. Right?

I resorted to a culinary expedition I’m comfortable with: spicy seafood soup, baked lobster with cheese, followed by a platter of grilled seafood. They also had the best bread fresh from the oven, the food was just amazing.

All in all, it was a fitting finalé to the road trip.

And Zeezoo was finally right – I won’t forget the place. For two reasons: the great food and shocking décor.


Academy for Begging in Foreign Languages

Yes, you read it right. This ingenious idea comes from across the Palk Straight. New Delhi’s Rohini’s Lal Quarter, an area where over 1,200 beggar families reside, is gearing up for the Commonwealth Games scheduled to be held in 2010. Looking at the possible tourist influx, they have set up an informal academy that coaches shanty town kids begging in foreign languages.

“More than 100,000 foreigners will be in the city during the period,” Vijay Babli, reported by Hindustan Times as the leader of the community, told the paper. “Even if one beggar earns Rs150-200 per day, you can understand the turnover for us,” he added.

“Bright children are taught how to say phrases like, I am an orphan, I have not eaten for days, I am ill, have no money for medicine, please help me in the name of God,” Raju Sansi, reported as a head tutor at the school, told Hindustan Times.

Patni, an eight year-old girl who had never been to school, could speak English, French and Spanish, thanks to the makeshift school, the paper said.

Real foreign currency notes were shown to the children so they can recognise them, Patlu, who trains some of the children in Katputli Colony in west Delhi’s Patel Nagar, told the paper.

Source: Khaleej Times


Sri Lankans vs Tamil Diaspora: the Difference

This is the Tamil Diaspora, in Sydney, protesting on the 1st of May, 2009; “LTTE is our Only Hope.”

These are students of the country’s biggest Sinhala, Buddhist school. Collecting essential items for the displaced Tamils in the island.

This is what LTTE does to Tamils: aftermath of a suicide attack on the very Tamils they are “supposedly” protecting.

Images from: ©tamilmelbournedotcom/flickr and www.defence.lk

BBC: The British Comedy Central

Remember I switched my loyalty from BBC to CNN last year? Oh, they are going to change the name to BCC, the British Comedy Central. The is is just one snapshot from their website that explains why:

The BBC’s Colombo Correspondent Anbarasan Ethirajan sings the usual tune “Independent journalists are not allowed to enter the war zone” while, on the same page, at the top, it reads “Close-up View: The BBC’s Charles Haviland on the frontline of the Sri Lankan War.

So, being on the frontline is not enough? Do they want to pick up a gun too?

This appeared on the 1st of May, and I checked the calendar to see of the BBC has moved the April Fool’s Day by a month. Nope, they haven’t.

Then I realised, BBC aren’t independent, and they seem to publicly agree!


SL Military Bombs NFZ: The Truth & Satellite Pics

“Sri Lanka admits Bombing Safe Zone,” says Al Jazeera this morning. “Government admission shows need for UN inquiry” says Human Rights Watch.

There is chaos, Sri Lankans are worried – apparently, there is a UN report that shows some satellite pictures that could possibly incriminate the Sri Lankan Military.

“Fresh satellite images of the war zone in northeast Sri Lanka are available, but the UN agency charged with analysing them is not making them public. The images contain evidence of severe damage from heavy artillery and possibly air strikes, suggesting indiscriminate attacks in areas of high civilian concentration, which could be classed as war crimes carried out by the government of Sri Lanka.”...says Reuters, reporting the same incident.

So I looked at the so called “UN Report” and the satellite imagery that could “implicate” the Sri Lankan military, and here’s what I found:

First, there is no UN Report. The UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) operates satellites, and maps conflict areas of the world in order to provide support for humanitarian and relief efforts. The document in question is their latest release on Sri Lankan conflict zone. Please take a good look at the summarised map from the document below. Notice that there are only eight sites noted within the No Fire Zone (I’ve numbered them from 1 to 8 in black circles). All the other activity is outside the No Fire Zone, in designated battle-fronts.

Here’s the detailed view: (No 1, which is ID: 230 does not appear in the report. My guess is there is nothing to write about). No 2, which is ID: 229 shows “3 permanent buildings destroyed between 29th March & 19th April. 3 additional buildings destroyed between 15-29 March.” At the bottom of the same image it says “Trench filled with water (W: 7m, L: 850m) constructed along road between 15-29 March.

“The images appear to show clear signs of air raids in the ‘no-fire zone’ near Mullaitivu [Unosat]” is the photo-caption given by Al Jazeera, in their website.

Now, take a good look at the buildings that are supposedly “destroyed” by air-strikes, as Al Jazeera, Reuters and Human Rights Watch claim. Any holes on the ground? Nope. Notice the walls of the buildings still intact? Notice the fact that LTTE is actively fortifying their defences by digging trenches, during the same period? Could it be LTTE removing the roofing of these buildings to shelter their bunkers - just like the thousands of buildings we have seen all over liberated areas? Now, that’s not rocket-science, is it Einstein?

On to No 3 – ID:257. There is no bombing activity here.

On to No 4 – ID: 250. “Permanent building destroyed between 29 March & 19 April” it says. Any arial bombing or heavy artillery fire? Nope. See above No 2 for explanation.

And below is what happens when heavy artillery or arial bombing takes place. Notice the craters, clearly visible from the sky? There were NONE of those above!

Al Jazeera, repeatedly telecast the above image and another from the OUTSIDE No Fire Zone; they also misquoted saying that the “government admits to shelling” in the NFZ. Read the caption of the above image, which clearly states “CREATERS OUTSIDE CSZ” and watch the Al Jazeera news clip here – you will see who is fabricating stories.

And as for the other “noted” sites within the No Fire Zone, this is the summary:

No 5 (ID:245) “Bridge/Road Obstacle

No 6 (ID:249) “Site of multiple likely shelling craters within CSZ.” This is the only site with any evidence of shelling. According to eye-witnesses and former LTTE seniors such as Daya Master and George, it was the LTTE terrorists using heavy artillery against the civilians inside the safe zone. See image below.

No 7 (PC12) “Linear formation of people along beach

No 8 (ID: 246) “Permanent building destroyed in close proximity to earlier suspected air strike damages.”

However, they also talked this morning to Robert Karniol, a military expert who presented his view on these images, which clearly shed some light and enlightened the viewers on the “credibility” and “interpretation” of the same. Shall add the link to his view once it appears online.

According to the detailed report backed by visual evidence, following is the summary of the total damage:

Damages Inside CSZ (Civilian Safe Zone):

1. Putumattalan: Three permanent buildings have been destroyed between 29 March and 19 April, bringing the total for the northern section of the CSZ to six destroyed since 15 March. There are potentially large amounts of moderate to severe damages to the remaining permanent buildings in this area.

2. Valayanmadam: 1 additional permanent building has been destroyed, and further south there is a cluster of likely impact craters within an area previously densely populated with IDP shelters.

Damages Outside CSZ:

3. Puthukkudiyiruppu (PTK): The major concentration of newly detected building destruction and hundreds of impact craters is located in the eastern sections of PTK especially centered on the main route leading east into the CSZ. This route is now nonfunctional because of a series of road blocks, impact craters and trenches erected along the main road.

4. Vadduvakallu: Building destruction continues in Vadduvakallu: 40 buildings destroyed between 29 March ‐19 April 2009 and a total of 148 building destroyed since 5 February 2009. A significant number of buildings were destroyed before 5 February 2009. A complete damage assessment is in progress by UNITAR/UNOSAT.

5. Mulattivu: Building destruction also continues in Mulattivu with a small number of new destruction between 29 March & 19 April. A complete damage assessment is in progress by UNITAR/UNOSAT.

6. West of Putumattalan: Bridge closed by multiple roadblocks and road damages (29 March ‐19 April) (TZ2) transport into CSZ impossible.

Bottom-line: Newsmakers sell stories, Some are just fairytales.

Image courtersy: UNOSAT. This report, even though password protected, is available to public online. Please visit http://unosat.web.cern.ch/unosat/asp/prod_free.asp?id=32 for details.