Eating Balayas and uttering ‘Begals’

4 March 2013 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Minister Wimal Weerawansa, who is absolutely sure of everything he says,  that the Japanese are so smart because they feed on tuna (Balaya). He’s conveniently forgetting that the same tuna-smart Japanese started a war they could not win almost 70 years ago, resulting in millions of them being fed to tuna and other fish in the world’s tropical oceans as Japanese warships and the merchant marine were sent to the bottom. By the war’s end, Japan had almost no cargo ships left due to the ferocity of US submarine attacks (Japanese ships carried no sonar).

Actually, the Minister has been misinformed. The Japanese are fond of yellow fin tuna, which isn’t Balaya. What’s most interesting about this theory (that’s what it is, Mr. Minister, and not a fact as you state) is not the specific type of fish; it’s the blatant racism it carries. To make fun of the food of other cultures is racist. To say that certain types of food make certain cultures smarter is equally so. There are a number of racist theories in this world regarding food. This is simply one of them. Another one is that meat eaters, especially beef eaters, are more virile than vegetarians. This theory was very popular in the neighbouring sub continent (Muslims vs. Hindus). It was held that Pakistan was superior to India in both war and cricket due to beef, until the Pakistani army got its nose bloodied in 1971. The Sikhs, who are vegetarians, form a highly martial element in India, and Indian wrestlers are vegetarians.  As for cricket, it’s up to you to subscribe or unsubscribe.

Another theory is that wheat makes people stupid while home-grown rice is both healthier and smarter. Hence, American wheat is part of an international conspiracy to make idiots out of Asians. This begs the question: Since both Americans and Russians thrive on wheat-based food, who’s stupider of the two? As for us, we have been promoting rice since the days of D. S. Senanayake, but we are governed unquestionably at all levels by (ahem) not very bright people. So let’s go ahead and blame the wheat. Continuing in this vein, what does spaghetti do to Italians, noodles to the Chinese and ringed seal plus edible seaweed to the Inuits?

Getting back to balaya, however, the price alone is enough to blow a hole the size of the Krakatoa crater in Wimal Weerawansa’s plan to make the next generation smarter. You can make your own calculations, but the result will depend much on your ability to a reality check. No amount of balaya (or any other fish) will help anyone who can’t do a reality check. The government has geniuses like Minister Bandula Gunawardane to make optimistic calculations about the cost of living. Unfortunately, neither he, nor Wimal, nor anyone else in our Parliament, can carry out a proper reality check on themselves.

To begin with, the concept doesn’t exist in Sinhala. To get into the dictionary, any phrase has to be in use. Reality Check’ is relatively a new word in English dictionaries. You won’t find it in very old ones. This is how the Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary defines reality check: “An occasion when you are reminded how things are in the real world, rather than how you would like things to be.”

The latest version of the Malalasekara English-Sinhala dictionary (with 20,000 new words) doesn’t have it. Asking several writers and translators if they knew of an equivalent Sinhala word for ‘reality check,’ I drew a blank. No wonder so many people live up there in never-never land.
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