Wednesday, October 29, 2008


What is large, almost weightless, highly inflammable and can be used to assassinate characters and dry soggy dogs?

When my friends go abroad (and so many seem to be doing so, quite often, which leaves me wondering…) and ask me what Id like them to bring back for me, can you possibly guess what I request? Not clothes since Im picky about what I wear and not toys because they inevitably break apart down here, but yes, a strange request by some standards, I tell them to bring back any English newspapers they can get their hands on.
My parents tell me that I have been reading newspapers from the age of three, which probably means that I spent my childhood more indoors than I should have.
Newspapers fascinate me, although quite often I don’t get the time to read them, and I end up without the political and sensational bits, since I carry them home from office roughly after the media monitoring team goes through them and before the cleaning woman ties them up to sell to the kiosk up the road, weighed by the kilo.
They tell me about a country, about the people of that country. They are a quick frozen intellectual snapshot of society at any particular time complete with the quirks, the hopes and the silly superstitious fears inherent, generously censored in some cases, and wildly exaggerated in others, newspapers will hold the (albeit biased) meaning of any peoples’ human day in one little tube of cheap newsprint and ink.
They cost much more than the nominal amount charged to buy one, and so have to be subsidized by the income from advertising. And yes, they advertise hoards of things. They also educate, inform, surprise, confirm and twist stories. They make you love, hate, laugh, cry or just shrug. They make you think. They also provide lunch wrapping, a meditation mat, sound proofing, a clean spot for a sudden home delivery and excellent drying material. You can wipe down damp pets, clean vomit and poop, wipe windows down with a dab of vinegar, wrap inconvenient corpses before disposing of them * apart from fill out crosswords and Sudoku and check your horoscope too. and if you need an apartment, a new job, a business partner or a suitable spouse, check the Sunday papers…

For me the strangest thing about Sri Lankan newspapers, are the matrimonials. So many excellent and upstanding young people all on one page, all teetotalers, non smokers with dazzlingly unblemished characters that one wonders where in the woodwork they are hiding. You just don’t see them around in real life. Divorcees are ALWAYS the innocent party and older wanna be spouses invariably look MUCH younger. They are rich, attractive and intelligent and would not dream of beating their wives. So where do all the realistic half human people disappear to? How about some honesty, how about being closer to the truth, at least in some respects and advertising like so:

" balding, downright mean looking but very conceited well connected 49 year old business man in fairly good health apart from mild episodes of piles, diabetes and liver trouble, with lots of lucre and a house in the hills, seeks ....
or "anorexic 38 year old acne prone virgin spinster with absolutely no sense of humour but good collection of jewellary who likes watching Hindi teledramas and sewing and strongly disapproves of sexual intercourse, seeks...."

Some time back the parents of a nubile and ostensibly very fortunate young lady of 25 , had advertised in the matrimonial column and (I seriously have no idea how this happened )given out my gmail address** for return correspondence. This resulted in my inbox being practically stuffed with hopeful enquiries from the most eligible available financially well endowed, handsome and downright eligible bachelors in the country,(sadly about ten years too young for me) such an unbelievable collection of decent and holier than thou teetotalers, non conners and do gooders, and such a concentration of sheer overpowering virginity (arrrk!) , that I was quite staggered. This was obviously where all the “good” men had gone; they certainly were not walking about in Colombo…honking, swearing and trying to run over innocent pedestrians and hoodwink their landladies, or sell their sisters, nah…that was different people….so for people who like reading fantasy, again, I do recommend Sri Lankan newspapers.

Still on the subject of how many things you can do with a newspaper, last but not least, how about making efficient gags, starting arson attacks and cutting out letters to paste in ransom notes. I mean, seriously since Im catering to all my readers here not just the decent ones. And im not finished yet, there are more ideas coming but since I have a deadline to meet in this paper, I shall stop for now…

* and now Im wondering, has a corpse ever actually been convenient ?
** all you nice people out there who sent in your sons’ horoscopes and really personal details to, now you know what happened to that information. It’s safe with me.

next article: 24 things to do to a cat on a boring sunday afternoon.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


What did they look like, I wonder, in the olden ages, these entities they called vampires? Vampires and blood sucking demons exist in folklore from around the world from Europe to the Far East and the Australian aboriginal legend, and with good reason I suspect. They are among us.
They look like you and I and sometimes they are beautiful, charming, and they captivate us always don’t they.
And then they take our life blood and walk away leaving us to either die slowly or survive for another day. Is it true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? But is it worth it ? Why do bad things happen to good people and vampires simply walk away? I have always wondered.

Consider my friend, Jenny.
Jenny is perhaps the closest I have to a sister- since I don’t have one of my own. She saved my life ten years ago, at considerable risk to herself. She stands not even 5 foot high and has the weight and expression of a pretty little pixie and yet she took on the wrath of my heavyweight six foot owner-husband at the time, because I was being abused and she felt something was wrong and that at risk to her life she would interfere in my domestic misery and solve this problem for me. I doubt that I would go out of my way to put myself in danger for someone unknown as she had done and I was her bosses wife. That’s a long story involving police entries and the threat of acid disfigurement but she withstood it all and stood by my side because she has faith in the power of good and right.

Jenny was one of the unfortunate investors in the recent scam carried out by a small set of individuals who set up a sham financial institution, wrote out promissory documents in exchange for cash deposits and escaped the country with all the money.

She is one of the few people I know who I can trust with my children, my money, my life, and if I had a man, my man- and it breaks my heart to see this happen to her. Can you being to imagine what this means to her?

The money her family saved for the last 15 years, and they have a very modest income from government jobs and clerical wages; the family wealth and hope for a house gone; her dignity, her security, her future, and perhaps her marriage, gone because of one mistake she made.

This is all about a young couple who did not have much apart from each other, love, family and faith. And now in one moment of oversight they have lost everything material they ever had.

Jenny keeps smiling, she always has but I know that she is crying inside.
How did it happen I ask her?

“There was a very smart, charismatic girl who came up to me when I was travelling by bus” she sighs, “ she was so fluent with her story and persuasive in her manner. She said she had seen me in the area (!) and asked if I banked at her institution. Since I had been thinking about getting a loan to lease a vehicle for a business, I kept remembering her and the file she gave. We went there one day and they had this impressive office, smart furniture , framed photographs of the president on the walls, shiny certificates….”

At the risk of sounding patronizing, which I am not, my sense of empathy means that I suffer too, when I have to watch evil befalling people I just know are good; and it leaves me wondering , asking, groping for an answer , why them? In particular? Why?

“ of course they deserve it “says another friend of mine rather callously “these sri lankans , just greedy for anything that seems good, its that new lamps for old mentality ; Sri Lankans are just stingy , greedy and stupid”

Well, that’s extreme I would say, because I know Jenny is a very generous soul in her own way, she gives what she can to people she feels sorry for, and if she has no money, she gives of her time, on social causes, maybe its true she was greedy but then think of middle class existence in this country, day after day trying to scrape together some saving to make your future stable, and it never happens. Thousands of people living in difficult dreary drudgery unable to meet basic needs like a house of your own; sometimes you want to dream that there will be a way out of this… and so there are con artists who prey on your hope, who break you and leave you with nothing not even your self esteem.

Give me a mugger any day, give me a full scale armed robber, a carnivore who forcibly and violently relieves you of your possessions, this is much better; I would say, a natural predator who does not play mind games but takes what he wants and leaves you with clean unidirectional hatred. This can be therapeutic.
But conning is subtle, it is cunning, this way half of the hate will be directed at your self and eat you away in regret before you can even begin to think of the perpetrator.

Jenny is planning to leave the country if she can; she is a gentle soul, not very pushy in the co orporate area, but talented in home-sciences, high on EQ and very nurturing , so perhaps she can get a job as a caregiver or a nanny- I will try my best to recommend her to my contacts who can help. I want desperately for this to be an opening to a new horizon as tragedies have often been when they forge the human spirit in steel.
I know in my heart of hearts that she will survive this and today I pledge to do what I can to make her overcome this too.
Because I owe her.