Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 28 February 2016





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Descending to the pits

E. M. Forster wrote about what’s rude and reprehensible in society thus: “…distinction between coarseness and vulgarity is that coarseness is revealing something; vulgarity, concealing something.” That needed much mulling over which this cat did. And she came to agree with the author of Passage to India, who indicated the racist superiority of administrators and more so their memsahibs during the time of the British Raj as coarse, if not vulgar.

Descent to vulgarity

Coarseness, vulgarity, boorishness and of course crass stupidity of our people was much in this feline’s mind after she read that one of our internationally recognised persons was booed. Menika could not believe it happened: that wonderfully talented, beautiful Kishani Jayasinghe, world-renowned opera singer, was jeered after she sang Danno Budunge, accompanied by drummers and Soundari David Rodrigo at the piano. This was at the open air concert on February 4 this year on Galle Face Green. Menika refrained from comment as she had not heard the performance. Then, a computer expert who sets right what she makes wrong in her computer, had her watch his cell phone and listen to Kishani sing. Menika was stunned that the audience had shown their stupidity and ignorance to such an extent. Here was Kishani in sari singing the words of the song with not a trace of an accent, with heartfelt emotion as a true Sri Lankan, appreciating the words and feeling proud of her country.

She has the ability to forge a bond between her audience and her performing self. Not at the Independence Day concert solely because of the collective nature of those who constituted the audience. She had her own style of rendition of the song which did not distort the original melody one bit. If the audience did not like the way she sang the song, they had only to keep silent and await the next item.

So Menika thought about the incident long and hard as to why the audience which surely was mixed but heavier with the hoi polloi meaning philistines who gather at anything free, acted so rudely. She realised that the vulgarity exhibited by the audience at Galle Face Green was a new phenomenon; it covered the manner in which people have been warped by what has been done publicly in Sri Lanka within the decade previous to the new government taking over.

We are a nation that boasts forever and aye our cultural heritage of more than 2,500 years; our assumed Buddhist tolerance; our innate decency. They were all rubbished at the concert when boors gave vent to their vulgarity. They erased a reputation we had earned: of civility, of tolerance, of smiling gentility. Here were people representative of us all acting like vulgar idiots. Kishani’s singing was definitely a case of pristine diamonds thrown before vulgar swine.

Underlying causes

So Menika asked herself the question, why the audience behaved the way they did. How had our national nature and behaviour been so horribly warped? How could people en masse be so rude? Several reasons surfaced. People have lost decency and with it decorum. They have rent the cultural restraint we have had and plugged the resultant spaces with base instincts.

How and why? Imbibing false values, admiring what is not admirable, giving vent to feelings without any thought, taking pride in being rude and loud mouthed. The main reason for the reaction of the audience was that we breathe air that was polluted. Of course by gases and all that, but more by crassness, vulgarity, violence and vanity. And that was within the last decade or fifteen years. Consider how the ordinary man cheered Mervyn Silva as he tied a worker to a tree; barged into a media office and attempted slapping a high-up because his, Merve’s speech was not highlighted in the news telecast.

Politicians and followers among the public lauded and laughed at the terrible insult Merve publicly gave the previous Head of the UNHRC – Navi Pillai - by declaring he was prepared to marry her. (Just writing that clothes Menika with gooseflesh of embarrassment). Mervyn Silva was patronised, egged on and pampered by Prez Mahinda Rajapakse and his brother Gotabhaya, not only as a court jester but useful political handyman. (Menika can boldly write thus since no white vans ply the roads to abduct truth tellers).

Therefore, that sort of ambience and behaviour insidiously impregnated the very air we breathed and people imbibed vulgarity and lack of restraint. Insolence, strong arm tactics and admiring what was crass and sycophantic resulted. Leaders of the previous regime wore hubris as a mantle for all to see. Once in a while one of them strutted like the king in invisible clothes and the masses, whether willingly or made to do so, applauded. The minority of those who retained their basic standards of behaviour and were true to what we as a nation were admired for, shivered and shook and hid their faces in shame.

Bhikkhus, or men in yellow robes, demonstrated violently and even rampaged. They were sponsored by high-ups. Doctors in white coats, having been educated free from kindergarten to medical college, struck work at the slightest provocation. The GMOA called out its members in Badulla in protest of something MP Harin Fernando said. Is that justifiable? Crass vulgar is how this feline labels such action.

Thus the vulgarity exhibited of late conceals the insidious corruption of values by previous VVIPs. It will take a long time to correct the warping of behaviour that was lauded by the Big Bosses of the last regime. But this feline feels a start has been made. The air is being cleared.

Thank goodness for that. And this column, minute though it be, apologises to Kishani Jayasinghe. That was a miniscule of Sri Lankans who could not appreciate you. We realise what a wonderful gesture of magnanimity it was for you, having performed in prestigious opera houses around the world, to consent to sing at a public concert here in Colombo.

Chris Patton, former Governor of Hong Kong and now Chancellor of Oxford University said: “I think what most surprises anybody who goes into politics from even a modestly cerebral background is the vulgarity of much of the art and thrust of politics.” This vulgarity is demonstrated in Parliament even now and could get worse if the scum who were on top then are not curbed now.

- Menika


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