"I was with Chandrika" - London's latest vogue

" All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players, they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts." This quotation by Shakespeare probably needs to be re-phrased within the Sri Lankan community in London to say : "London's a stage for Sri Lankans, and many Lankan women play only one part - 'I was with Chandrika at St.Bridget's."

Why are we, the majority of Sri Lankans in London, charmingly becoming unkind to each other ? Is it the additives in the processed food we eat here? No ! it can' t be, because we now have the opportunity to enjoy a host of Lankan home-grown fresh vegetables as well as other varieties, air freighted by Lankan entrepreneurs on a weekly basis.

There is, of course, an unwritten moral law which dictates that one must not focus on one's mistakes, one's inexperience or another's problems and criticise, which tends to accumulate more and more negative ' karma' ( cause & effect). But is there any thing wrong in looking at the funny side of things ? NO. Not by any means to laugh at them, but to laugh with them ! In that context, some Lankans in London definitely qualify as a comical group who are capable of generating hilarity to most of us, in this present cold and wintry times.

A Sinhalese corner shop in North London has today become a rendezvous for the Sri Lankans. This shop is being nick-named as 'Kopi Kade' because it has become a cynosure of attraction & an abode to ramble gossip. The topics of discussion by Lankans who congregate here can vary from Sri Lankan politics, lubricated domestic gossip, the fabricated, twisted or flavoured snip of information on any subject. Unlike back at Home, the opposite political views do not get carried away up to flash points and end up in heated arguments, in a police cell or even in a hospital ward. On a much humorous and an intellectual level, with a lot of caustic effect & verbosity, the whole scenario could take the form of another 'Vinoda Samaya' in London, without the video cameras and the famous Trio - Annesley Dias, Samuel Rodrigo & Bertie Gunatilleke.

To illustrate a typical scene would be to recap an actual incident which took place after the PA victory in General & Presidential Elections in Sri Lanka. In the midst of a heated discourse & tossing of opinions, suddenly the proprietor, with excitement, pulls out an air mail envelope received from a new Minister in Sri Lanka and waves in the air. He is naturally proud and over the moon that his old ' mite' who rubbed shoulders in their Colombo soccer grounds has replied to a congratulatory letter he had written on his ascending to ministerial heights. Surprisingly, the new Minister had gone out of his way , from the normal stereotype ' thank you' format, to reminisce a little with his friend about their soccer playing days. Naturally, the proprietor had every right to be jubilant about it, but the cutting edge soon emerges from an onlooker having glanced at the letter. Without placing any credit to the Minister's effort, he exclaims, " My gosh ! are they still using those 'Siyadoris Budun Kaale' Underwood typewriters, men ! in this day and age of Personal Computers, Pentiums and Microsoft Windows ! Good God ! look at the quality of that ' straw' paper they use for official letters ! Is Sri Lankan stationery so ancient in this technological age ?" Soon another joins in for the defence of the proprietor.

" I say ! this is a personal note men! Can't you at least appreciate the minister's gesture ? At this crucial moment of discussion they witness the grand entry of Citizen Soyza & his buxom wife , with a low cleavage - her third button undone - to collect their copies of the Sunday newspapers , and to browse through other week-end newspapers and Sinhala tabloids.

Being a Sunday evening, 'Kopi Kade' has turned into a bee hive with all the Sri Lankan Sunday newspapers arriving around 19 hrs. In the hustle and the bustle, there is a tussle for 'Rawaya' and " Hiru" tabloids. Suddenly the pompous Soyza with a broad smile, taps on the shoulder of another Lankan and remarks : " How's our new Government doing eh" ! The proprietor, like a cock on a brick wall , suddenly pulls out a beautiful colour poster of the President, from a drawer, and holds it above his head. Looking at the poster citizen Soyza makes a cocker hoop remark: "Do you know that my wife was with Chandirka at St, Bridget's. The wife makes a wry smile as if to confirm her husband's expression - a dead silence falls and all eye brows raise.

This is only one unique occasion of the latest vogue in London amongst some extrovert Sri Lankans. Amazingly enough though, every other Colombo educated Sri Lankan woman these days ( after the PA victory ) seems to claim ' kinship' with Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge for either being in the Convent at the same time, being a class mate with the President when she was at St. Bridget's, played tennis together with the President, taught Mrs. Kumaratunge when she was a student or had tea with her at Kumaratunga Mawatha or being closely associated with her when she was in London after the demise of her husband Vijaya, during JVP era. All in all, if one were to count the number of claimed Bridgeteens in London the Convent certainly would not have accommodated , but burst in its seams !

Some sections of the Sri Lankan community in London seem to be still going through a continuous phase of social metamorphosis. Only a few years ago it was Lankan men's hey day when they fought hard ' to keep up with the Jones' and tried to compete with each other's alma mater. Even during a period where terror reigned in Sri Lanka and massacres occurred & many became helpless, separated and emotionally shattered & orphaned, some Lankans in London completely were insensitive to what was happening back at home.

There were also a handful of Lankans who had severed all ties with Sri Lanka by getting married to women of different cultures and backgrounds, but still projected themselves as patriotic champions & donning the attire of typical 'Lambs in Lion's skins', shouting nationalistic pathos . They often talked of malpractice in Sri Lanka while relaxing in comfortable leather chairs, stroking their Alsatian dogs and wasting their money on telephone calls and disturbing others and making a nuisance of themselves at all odd hours. When they came on the telephone, automatically they suffered from a kind of mental diarrhoea, possibly with a touch of the Ancient Mariner's disease . They talked in millions of Pound Sterling which they were going to give as charity , talked about setting up schools & new kind of Buddhist temples to be controlled by them from the UK. In short they had been taken over by illusions of grandeur.

In their attempts to out-smart their rival old school associations ( actually they do not even like to use that term any more, instead go for the full whack of a Latin substitute - Alma` Mater) they organised their Grand Balls seemingly in five star hotels - Hilton & Dorchester . They paid enormous amounts of money for their evening entertainment & to " cater for their own clan" . After a few hours of pelvic thrust on cramped-up dance floors they loosened their bow ties and with Manila Cigars dangling between their fingers, drifted into smaller drunken groups to solve the economic, political and social issues of Mother Lanka. This appeared to be their heightened enjoyment, the peak of their social life and the experience of their own new world!

Now that the wheel has turned in favour of the female species and women have pushed the men to the proverbial back yard, it is a different story altogether. Although much of the Alma Mater dances have diminished these days and elegant looking ladies flaunting their fake Azzdine dresses, fake Stephanie Klien shoes, fake Channel hand bags and pseudo Jasmine Le Bon faces are not a frequent sight in many five star hotels, yet some do still try to make their presence felt at various other prominent rendezvous.

For many bourgeoisie Lankan women in London the latest vogue appears to be to wear the tag, "I was with Chandrika". Their egotistical attempts to project St. Bridget's as the only alma mater which has groomed two Prime Ministers and a President is understandably causing annoyance to others such as the Shephardians, Visakians, and old girls of Holy Family & the rest; needless to say about the mumbling echoing from Royalists and the Thomian who had produced Prime Ministers long before.

As the debates continue and ideas flash back and forth, there are strong arguments and counter arguments to stress that Mrs. Kumaratunge was at St. Bridget's only upto her GCE O.L. and her most important political grooming had been done at Sorborne University with much of her political background coming from her own family and, specially from the 'Old Guard' SWRD.

There is also a general view among some expatriates that leaders of States are not made over night, but only by being political students in seats of learning called Universities and after being moulded to become good Statesmen & women with profound academic grilling on international affairs and delving thoroughly into political science.

What actually happening today in London is that some of the Sri Lankan ladies, unfortunately, are exposing themselves as a laughing stock by trying to 'rub shoulders' with the President of Sri Lanka & bringing St. Bridget's into the fore front, much to the annoyance of many others. As this drama in London develops into a light hearted comedy , many suggest that Shakespeare's famous quotation, " All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players, they have their exits and their entrances and one man in his time plays many parts" needs to be re-phrased today to read as: " London is a stage for Sri Lankan operas and, many Sri Lankan women play only one part - I was with Chandrika in school."

Of course, there are the gentlemen folk too, in the back ground, who claim to have studied with Chandrika in the Kindergarten at St. Bridget's, now proudly adjust their tie knots, sip up a neat Brandy and add a little more spice to the topic & ask : " How about if Chandrika Bandaranike Kumaratunge were to have come from Kekirawa Central, Ananda Saasthralaya or even Debarawewe Madyama Maha Vidyalaya eh" !

The wittiest remark, which immediately became a catch pharase , had to come from a partly intoxicated Sri Lankan who quipped : " Isn't it a shame that Chandrika didn't come from The Kotahena Convent, and if she did, it would have been most appropriate to say that by the Grace of God Sri Lanka is being led today by a "GOOD SHEPHARDian"!