GOOD-BYE NINETY SEVEN - FROM LONDON

By Thilak S. Fernando

New Year's Eve comes but once a year. Nothing gets people in the New Year's Eve groove than a visit to a dance, a disco, a night club or at least to a house party to blast away the passing year and to look forward to new resolutions and better times in the year ahead.

The crucial issue, which comes up, year on year, re-appeared yet again at the end of the 1997 too, between two factions in London who intermingle in the same Religious Centre. Their argument is always two fold. One section draws a distinctive critical dividing line between the expensive New Year's Eve dances organised by the other group, which happens to be the old girls of a famous Buddhist school in Sri Lanaka, also happen to be major daikavees of the same Vihara. The old girls are being accused of, for ' organising annual New Year's Eve dances at five star hotels at exorbitant prices just for the sake of tripping the light fantastic to the strains of funky pop rhythms & Baila music', ignoring the spiritual call of the men folk to participate in a 31st-night -pirith Ceremony.

Old girls pay no heed to direct criticism level against them by their male chauvinist rival dayakayas nor to the subtle hints dropped by the incumbent priest. Instead they seem to believe that as long as they perform their religious duties and obligations to the full towards the Buddhist Vihara, continuously over 364 days, there is nothing wrong in painting the town red on a new year's eve, at their own cost, no matter how much they pay for a ticket or where they decide to hold such dances.

The group who prefers Pirith, to a ' slow-slow-rub-rub-slow', lambasted the old girls this year too by pointing an accusing finger at them for enjoying themselves a few hours of vigorous pelvic thrust & serious bogeying at a five star hotel in London after paying 50 (Rs.5000) per head at the entrance and being intoxicated beyond a state of oblivion & struggling to emulate the British aristocracy which they had seen in George Bernard Shaw's play, ' My fair lady - by requesting their partners to escort them away in ' carriages' at 2 a.m. !

Was it because of the high level of 'spirit' within their systems on the early hours of 1 January 1998 that they choked while trying to sing their national anthem ' namo namo maatha' or was it Champagne and that light pale coloured smooth liquid called Scotch whiskey which gave fire everywhere within their systems, or even due to their lack of fluency in their rusted mother tongue? Critics ask.

The religious group amplifies their thinking by maintaining that, 'it is not a done thing' to have razzmatazz, Tamashas or ' jolly-fying' while thousands of Sri Lanka's brave sons are engaged in a fierce battle, under arduous conditions, to protect and safeguard the sovereignty of their motherland. One of the old girls was heard defending viz.: " Why pick on us when the Colombo cousins are spending much more than Rs 5000 at various tourist hotels all over Sri Lanka to have ' Waltzing Matilda' scenarios until dawn. Whatever their differences and arguments have been, one conspicuous thing which took place this year was how a prominent dayakaya, who assumes himself to be the towering pillar of the vihara, developing cold feet, either to spend 100 on the dance tickets or being knuckled under pressure to be at the pirith ceremony, for the first time this year, especially when his wife being a strong arm of the Old Girls' Association, who never used to miss the dance.

Watching this cat and mouse game, the bystanders are having a hearty laugh & say this type of conflicting ideas are bound to come up in London these days as the present day Sri Lankan expatriate community is a vast conglomeration of people of Lanka coming from various religious, family, social, educational and geographical backgrounds and, what they have been conditioned and brought up in their individual environments will never leave them no matter where they chose to live, especially when they are entrapped in an imaginary outwardly presumptuous pseudo society in Britain which gives the impression that 'all are equal'.

1998 manifests as an important year for Sri Lankan expatriate community in the UK as the great event, Sri Lanka's fifty years of Independence, is due to be celebrated in the month of February.

Replacing old cob webs at the information section of the High Commission a new professional face has taken over the media to disseminate news as one of the top priorities in 1998, Already the format of the High Commission Newsletter has taken a professional outlook of a miniature news bulletin while the 'Lanka Outlook', a magazine which emerged during 1997 from London as an ' SOS' for Sri Lanka, appears to have lost its lustre and is seen today distributed free of charge through the High Commission and Buddhist temples in London, which was originally sold at a cost of 3 per copy.

What is lacking in London is an adequate news contribution from the High Commission to the Internet. Now that a window is already open from Sri Lanka ( http://www.lk) High Commission could project their image on the net through an own page, with the help of new professional journalistic blood available in the 'media bank', at the Mission in London.

In addition to the three English tabloids published for the Sri Lankan expatriate community in the UK, a new Sinhala monthly paper was born towards mid 1997. As for the readership, who are eager to read news and views of Sri Lanka and about their own community in England, it is highly debatable whether the newspapers have been able to fulfil the ambitions of their community to the brim when government advertising, or the lack of it, has become a mere fight for their very own survival - with who knows whom and influential empires being constructed and successfully maintained from London to Colombo. At least one newspaper is seen to concentrate mainly on the Tamil traders for its survival. This kind of situation leaves the genuinely committed newspaper publisher, who wants to serve his community with a touch of professionalism, left in the lurch due to the preferential Government advertisement quota system.

If there are four newspapers published in London, who are dependent on Government advertising and if all of their aim is to propagate their mother country, then why aren't they all served equally with the same spoon of government advertising instead of giving some a step-motherly treatment remains to be the most mysterious unsolved question today especially when the Government cries out information sources and media of every kind to combat adverse propaganda and to get their message across to the public at large! What good does it do, people in London ask today, when some publishers use their own newspaper columns to glorify their own personal images wily nilly and stoop to unprofessional lengths by ganging up among themselves with the motto 'you scratch my back and I scratch yours' which brings only one thing to my mind - the good old Sinhala saying, "my car, my petrol and who cares"! In such circumstances, has the ethics of journalism gone through the window, many ask. Therefore, It is hoped, at least in the new year, such responsible people acting as editors of their own newspapers in London, would make firm New Year Resolutions to observe the established Codes of Ethics in Journalism, especially when they boast about themselves, through their own columns as the 'maesthros' in the business!

Many hope that the year 1998 is going to be full of promise. Those who believe in astrology say after a major 'Grahacharaya' (movement of planets) on the 8 January, there will be peace, prosperity and harmony to Sri Lanka. By the same token the expatriates community in the UK hopes and prays that some sanity will prevail on those who pretend to be caring and serving their compatriots in a foreign land.