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Many Sri Lankans have become ‘Positive Thinkers’


5 May 2013 06:30 pm - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


- By Kumbhakarna

Many Sri Lankans have become positive thinkers in the Rajapaksa era. Before people start congratulating themselves on this development, however, there is need to give the matter a little thought.

Let me give you an example. I recently met a young man near the Town Hall junction who used to be a pavement hawker. He sold trinkets, pen torch batteries and CDs on the pavement near Kollupitiya junction. He and fellow hawkers had been driven off by the police several years ago as part of the city beautification campaign. Poor to begin with, he was saddled with an expensive medical problem (his wife’s heart condition) and didn’t have the education or means to find a job (other than being a three wheeler driver, or perhaps a private bus conductor). I imagined his life to be very difficult right now, and inquired about it.

To my surprise, he was quite cheerful. He had sold his home in a ‘tenement’ area in Colombo, and paid for his wife’s medical treatment with the money. She is now cured. He has his own three wheeler and is self-employed. He has a new home, though out of Colombo. This adds up to another successful ‘survival’ story.
What about the loss of his former trade? I asked him the question, expecting to see some anger, or resentment at the very minimum, at being driven out summarily from his trade.

“It’s for our own good,” the man said, astonishing me. “I managed to survive, didn’t I? I’m still here.  I don’t know of anyone who starved because they were driven off pavements. Don’t you think they (the pavements) look better now?”

Feeling speechless, I moved on. The pavements certainly look better in the more posh city areas. I can also see that many people are living better. The car line-up in a city traffic jam would warm the heart of any car enthusiast.  There are swanky new restaurants, high couture outlets selling international brands. Even cakes and pastries, judging by their price tags, could have been made abroad. There are glittering shops specialising in shoes and handbags. A pair of running shoes could cost as much as an artificial leg.

Their customers certainly don’t look like people who have had to sell their properties to move up in life. Of course, I could be mistaken there. I don’t know anyone’s life histories. That makes me think, though, of those who haven’t got any property in Colombo, even in a tenement area, to sell. Getting back to that ex-pavement hawker turned three wheeler driver, I hate to state the obvious. He  hasn’t moved up in life. He’s still here (in his own words), but that – along with the fact that his wife is now cured -- will be his life’s achievement.

In actual fact, he’s lost. He’s been lucky, of course. He hasn’t been evicted of his Colombo tenement home, like thousands of others. He had the choice of selling it and spending the money on a worthy cause such as his wife’s medical bills. Otherwise, he’d have been reduced to beggary, running after the Presidential Fund, or selling tickets from the pavement to raise money. But he now lives in the suburbs, which isn’t an improvement, and I’m willing to argue with anyone who claims that being a three-wheeler driver is an improvement on being a pavement hawker.

" The government is omnipotent as well as omniscient, and you could be happy as long as you have something of value to sell. Those who have nothing to sell can sell themselves, provided somebody out there has any interest in buying. "

The tragedy of this situation is that the man can’t see he’s going downhill. If you eat only occasionally, the price of food will shock you. If you eat daily (like most people) the constant price rises, like digestion, become a natural fact of life. The best that most people can do is to survive. Amazingly, that gives them a sense of progress, something to brag about. Petrol is now 150% more expensive than it was seven years ago, but people still drive 1000 km or 2000 km a month. Food prices have doubled and trebled, but people still eat two or three meals a day. Food is getting fancier. ‘Cheese koththu’ for example, is a recent phenomenon. Along with inflation, people have achieved fancy ideals and tastes in food and everything else.

Let me take another three wheeler to round up my argument. I use these only very occasionally. Recently, being in a great hurry and having to drop someone on my way, I got into a ‘meter taxi,’ estimating the fare to be around Rs. 300. When the meter reached Rs. 380 with my destination still more than a km away, I told the driver to stop and asked him if anything was wrong with the meter.The man became furious, and asked me if I thought he was a crook. The thought had entered my head, but I wisely declined to comment, and got out. The point is that the driver blamed me for asking a simple question about the fare. Assuming that the meter was correct, he could have pointed out to the petrol prices, maintenance costs etc. But his anger was directed at me, not at the government.

These are the positive thinkers who keep this government propped up. They are, to a man, deliriously happy that the proposed electricity price hike has been halved. They conveniently forget that the next bill would have gone up by 25%.

This is positive thinking. The grumblers are obviously people who can’t afford the new good life. No one (including the occasional grumblers, barring a very few exceptions) are blaming the government for their burdens. It’s an amazing thing, because the government used to the prime target when things started going wrong.
But I’m beginning to get it at last. Obviously, nothing is wrong. The government is omnipotent as well as omniscient, and you could be happy as long as you have something of value to sell. Those who have nothing to sell can sell themselves, provided somebody out there has any interest in buying.

  Comments - 2

  • Naman Monday, 06 May 2013 09:30 AM

    Life at the bottom is becoming deeper and deeper.
    The Corrupt ones are enjoying life having fast cars etc etc
    Their children getting spoilt!

    Naman Monday, 06 May 2013 10:04 AM

    Why not the Sri Lankans continue to sleep like the Kumbhakarnan in Ramayana

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