It Only Happens To Lankans!

By Thilak S. Fernando

Why are we all so increasingly nasty to each otherŠ.? Is it additives in the food we eat in England? No. It can't be, because back at home we eat a lot of fresh grown food, yet the majority of us become charmingly unkind to one another. May be, though the majority of us claim to be Buddhists, we no longer believe in retribution or the law of cause and effect ( Karma) !

One's mistake one's inexperience or one's problem should not be focussed and criticised. I suppose this is where we tend to accumulate more and more negative Karma, but how about looking at the funny side of things? Take an old age pensioner type Senior Manager from a Government Institution coming on a tour of duty to London so that he could beef up his pension payments with London salary scale when he retires in a year or so. After coming over to London he becomes a pest to his boss in Colombo, on the telephone, demanding an increase in his housing allowances on top of his other perks - mind you, five times over the normal existing rates! It is a laughable matter all right, but to make it more hilarious he uses the government telephone to talk about his personal problem with a view to convince his boss at the other end and goes on yapping for over forty five minutes on international line! And what does the irate Chief in Colombo do. Frothing mad, the boss reminds him sternly that the London manager was misusing government phone lines and excessively too. Can this officer escape without becoming a laughing stock among the staff in the institution, both in London and Colombo?

I guess sometimes it helps to laugh with our 'clever' Sri Lankans, and not any means laugh at them, who have come out of tricky situations quite cleverly and at times quite bravely. After all life is too short to take everything on a serious note and even the doctors say laugher is the best medicine.

At this very moment my memory goes back a few years when I met a Sri Lankan junior diplomat, wolly, who took up his first overseas appointment in London. I really could not believe whether he had been driving a motor vehicle at home but by hook or by crook he had managed to obtain a Sri Lankan driving licence - in his case a diplomatic one too.

With great pride and joy he made his first investment on a ten-year-old mini motor car for Ł75. It has been customary for the average diplomatic officer to first start life in London on a low profile and graduate seemingly to a Mercedes Benz (the ultimate aim and dream of a tour of duty in London!) After all, one has to get used to the orderly driving patterns in London, discipline oneself to drive within road lanes, avoid bus lanes, get adjusted to stretches of traffic light signals at every few hundred yards, to drive without hooting the horn and with all that being able to keep the vehicle on the road without causing an obstruction or a nuisance to other road users.

Wolly obviously did not want to take a chance. He thought it would be much safer to have a pair of learner (L) plates stuck on to his vehicle. However, it was rather unfortunate that while trying to concentrate on so many things while driving Wolly began to zig zag on Holland Park road in West London.

Any driver with a 'L' plate on his own inside a moving vehicle is traffic police officers' sure prey. Undoubtedly poor Wolly fell into the police trap and he was stopped by a patrol police car and challenged to show his driving licence.

Diplomatic officers did not care a monkey those days. They could park anywhere they wanted to, even on a double yellow line, pedestrian crossing, zig zag line or even on a bus lane because the government (in our case, the Sri Lankan tax payer) used to pay their parking fines. During this period Sri Lanka High Commission was the second worse abuser of parking and Nigeria headed the list of the worst parking abusers in London.

Diplomatic officers are a privileged lot and they can do any villainy under the sun and still get away from it all. Why should then Wolly worry or get excited when an ordinary traffic police officer stops him on the road and asks for his driver's licence?

Wolly pulled out his diplomatic driver's licence and held it with some pride only a few centimetres away from the police officer's eyes, perhaps thinking that the officer was long sighted! The most amazed police officer commented, " Sir, If I may ask you, why do you want to have ' L' plates on your vehicle when you do have a valid driving licence"? Wolly's humour at times had no limits and he simply snapped at the police officer: " Officer, actually it is not for my own protection that I display these 'L' plates but purely in the interest of other drivers who might want to get too close to me". The non-plussed officer put his eyes brows up and vanished from the scene.

As Wolly became an authority on every subject within a few months he naturally had to move with the times - or so to speak keep up with other Jones' at the High Commission. It was crystal clear that Wolly's graduation in London society was on the horizon. One day his eyes focussed on a diplomatic list where all embassies advertise their cars for sale. He could not take his eyes off from one advert where his own High Commissioner's Mercedes 200 was being advertised for sale. After all, it was a Benz and surely he could not let it go to a foreign mission colleague. Duty free, second-hand, fully hacked but it was worth, he thought. The dream car had come within his reach so quickly; he could not believe his luck!

Soon, Wolly was seen behind the wheel of an Alpine White Mercedes Benz 200, gliding along the Bayswater road, with pride written all over his face.

Wolly was a fast learner. His next ambition was to do a trip to Europe over-land, preferably with a secretary as a companion. After all, he was the most eligible bachelor in the Mission at the time, although he did not have the passing resemblance of the Super Man!

A few days prior to his over-land trip to the Continent, on a week-end, Wolly was seen driving inside the Hyde Park, behind the Sri Lanka High Commission, when police Panda cars rushed from all sides, screaming with sirens and flashing blue and red lights. Within seconds Wolly's car was blocked from both sides by police cars and a few officers jumped out, ran towards the Benz, grabbed hold of the ignition key and Wolly was commanded to get down, thinking he was drunk .

As cool as a cucumber, Wolly got off from his Benz and quite politely asked, " What seems to be the problem officer "? The police demanded to see his driver's licence and when Wolly claimed his diplomatic immunity, frustrated police sergeant maintaining his British stiff upper lip was heard saying to Wolly: " Do you realise sir, that in this part of the world, motorists drive vehicles on the left hand side of the road"?

With tongue in cheek Wolly was quick to respond: " I am aware of that fact officerŠ you seeŠ I am driving overland to Germany tomorrow and thought I would just have a brief practice session inside the park to get the feel how it is like to drive on the right hand side, before I enter the autobahn in Germany." God Bless the Diplomatic Corps, I am sure, the British police would have been muttering!

Sam is not a diplomat in London but equally well known to many expatriates in London. He is an ardent fanatic of the royal family, Prince Phillip being his hero. He, therefore, tries to imitate the Duke and always walks behind his wife.

" If I am in front she always picks on me saying get your hair cut or straighten your back", Sam complains. He runs to the Sri Lankan corner shop almost every evening after dinner to smoke a cigarette because his wife hates the smell of cigarette smoke and has banned him smoking at home. He says he is very considerate and does not want to upset his wife.

Sam is very religious and spiritually inclined too. He maintains an impressive prayer room in his house and has pasted a prominent notice outside the prayer room . Written with a blue thick marker the notice reads: " This room is prayer-conditioned!"

Only the other day, thinking Sam was behind her, his wife called, " How are your feet?" "Fine, thank you", a complete stranger replied, " nice of you to ask". Her face was a picture.

Indu, who came to Leeds University accompanying her husband for his PhD, can of course be excused when she took out an instant tea bag, cut through the perforations and poured into an empty saucepan and boiled it with water and milk to make a cup of typical Gujarati spiced tea.

Manikhamy suffered from a severe constipation. He thought it was perhaps due to lack of home grown green roughage or mainly due to the unnatural seating position of the toilet commode in his London flat. Following his friends' advice he consulted a General Practitioner who examined him and diagnosed his problem as having a lazy colon. The doctor prescribed Manikhamy some Glycerine suppositories. God blesses Manik ! He thought they were some kind of modern capsules such as Phillips Milk of Magnesia or a similar laxative or a kind of Jayapala Guliya and swallowed the whole lot. It was too late when a friend read out the directions on the packet: " Moisten the tip of the suppository before insertion - should not be swallowed".

A young respectable lady from Colombo 7 residing at posh Holland Park of London sprained her ankle. As she could afford, she employed a private physiotherapist to visit her luxury flat to treat her. The English physiotherapist was so gentle whenever he had to massage the sprained area of the ankle but the pain to the young miss became unbearable. In an attempt I suppose to divert her thoughts away from the pain, she focussed her eyes on her flat mate who was watching the treatment and let her painful thoughts out in the cream of Sinhalese. When the physiotherapist looked she quite charmingly, as if to translate her 'Sinhala-French', said, ' thank you ever so much, I am feeling a little better". The treatment went on for a few days and during treatment her swearing in Sinhala became worse and worse. At the end of the treatment when she gave a payment cheque to the physiotherapist stating, ' me muusala yaka mage kakulath keva salli tikath keva' and translated into English saying, 'thanks a lot, you were very kind and gentle' , the Englishman whispered: " Excuse me MissŠŠ by the way I have been living in Ceylon for quite a while and I speak perfect Sinhala." She almost fainted and dropped 'dead' on the ground !

According to medical authorities human beings need humour to help us relax and cultivate happiness. On that context we Sri Lankans will become more efficient and creative when we apply our ' newly' learnt sense of humour in our daily lives.

NB: All names used in the story are fictitious.