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Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha > Bob Dylan Stares at Sri Lankans

Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha

Bob Dylan Stares at Sri Lankans

24 January 2001

I have a message to the posterity in Sri Lanka. If 100 years from now, someone wants to know, how was the situation in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the 21st century, I would say that Bob Dylan had said it all, in his song, "Everything is Broken".

The American bard of peace protest, Bob Dylan (born 1941) is a man of unusual talents. He has been called the 'Voice of a Generation'. Here are his lyrics, which has an eerie appeal to the current Sri Lankan scene.

"Broken lines, broken strings,
Broken threads, broken springs,
Broken idols, broken heads,
People sleeping in broken beds.

Ain't no use jiving
Ain't no use joking,
Everything is broken.

Broken bottles, broken plates,
Broken switches, broken gates,
Broken dishes, broken parts,

Streets are filled with broken hearts.
Broken words never meant to be spoken,
Everything is broken.

Seem like everytime you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground.
Broken cutters, broken saws,
Broken buckles, broken laws,
Broken bodies, broken bones,
Broken voices on broken phones,

Take a deep breath, feel like you're chokin'
Everything is broken.

Everytime you leave and go off someplace
Things fall to pieces in my face.

Broken hands on broken ploughs,
Broken treaties, broken vows,
Broken pipes, broken tools,
People bending broken rules,

Hound dog howling, bull frog croaking,
Everything is broken."

I wondered how the Sri Lanka has come to this pathetic plight? One possible clue is that Sri Lanka has become a crucible where the Peter Principle works perfectly. What is Peter Principle? This principle was popularized in 1969 by the University of California Los Angeles academic Laurence Johnston Peter (1919-1960). It states,

"In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence."

It appears that, Sri Lankans made a deal with the devil in 1960 to become the test subjects of Peter Principle. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, a competent housewife of 20 year standing, was plucked from the kitchen to sit in the prime ministerial chair, and it has been a down hill since then.

Now a generation later, Sirimavo's daughter at helm, Peter Principle is being consistently proved, not only in her performance, but also in that of her hand-appointed foreign minister Mr.Lakshman Kadirgamar. Here is a guy who was a competent lawyer. But, after being promoted as a token Tamil in the Cabinet, he is performing like a snake oil salesman in the diplomatic world, attracting ridicule from Tamils and Sinhalese equally (see my previous commentary, 'Sin-eaters and snollygosters', 4 October, 2000).

In a recent interview to Meenakshi Ganguly [Time Asia edition, web-only exclusive, Jan.4, 2001], Kadirgamar had turned his bleating towards the "Tamil expatriates who live in the affluent countries". He has stated, "if they came back to Sri Lanka and lived in the North and East they would surely be in the vanguard of the movement for peace, the movement to end the war."

I wished to check the past of this snake oil salesman, who pretends to show that he is serving the interests of Tamils in Sri Lanka. According to a biographical profile I obtained through the internet, Mr.Kadirgamar had lived in UK from 1955 to 1960 and again from 1971 to 1974. He became a consultant to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva in 1974. Then, he joined the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and served as the Director for Asia and the Pacific (1983-1988). During his adult professional career, he stayed in Ceylon from 1960 to 1971. Then, he resumed his legal practice in Sri Lanka only in 1989, before being appointed as the Minister of Foreign Affairs in August 1994 by Chandrika Kumaratunga. If I'm not mistaken, he was not in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) during S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike's period of prime ministership as well as during Sirimavo Bandaranaike's second term of prime ministership.

To rebut the propaganda of Mr.Kadirgamar, I introduce one of my respected kins, belonging to the same age range of him, but who had lived all his life in Sri Lanka. My kin (kinship term in Tamil is aththan), whom I do not wish to identify for obvious reasons since he lives in Colombo, had a distinguished administrative career in a high-profile position. He has never lived in any other country. Other than pilgrimage trips to India, he has never stepped in any other country, even for leisure or health checks. Nurtured in the bureaucratic traditions of the old school, he has kept his distance from politics, and is no admirer of Tamil nationalist politics too. This is what he wrote to me, in a letter dated January 6, 2001.

"My dear Sri,

I thank you for your New Year Greetings....I am enclosing a few cuttings of the news papers - [Ceylon] Daily News - of only three days. You can then see for yourself the state of things in this country. The father, mother and now the daughter [referring to none other than the Bandaranaikes] have ruined the country. Not that the others were patriotic. No one in this miserable land ever cared for the people. The poor are suffering.

Today if a road has to be widened or repaired, or a new bridge constructed, this Government has to beg other countries to do that for us - not only spend but also provide professional expertise. What a damn shame on Sri Lankans! The worst thing, even from this aid, politicians line their pockets with the top bureaucrats!! This miserable land - once a pearl of the Indian Ocean, now a tear, a drop of tear.

It is good that you left this country. No one pays taxes here. No one! From exports and imports, little revenue is collected - but very meager. So we beg, beg and beg - and the rich nations give, but with strings attached. What a life? The Buddhist priests are not at all concerned. The Defence Minister and top [Armed] Services people are the richest men here; also, the ministers and MPs. Useless worrying. I am 67. Not many years to go...."

Yes, Bob Dylan had said it aptly on what average Sri Lankans think about Chandrika and her 40-odd cabinet cronies. "Every time you leave and go off someplace - Things fall to pieces in my face."


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