Aerial Photos: Sri Lanka Floods

The Sri Lanka Airforce website has powerful photos of the current flooding. All taken from SLAF relief flights.

The photos make words useless. Even the mundane ones hace a strangeness about them. The expressways standing neat and clean against the brown water. Rivers and the roads merged in the same flat colour. Each roof sticking out of that water a sign of disrupted displaced lives.

If there’s a consolation, its the sight of Air Force personal doing their job. You catch sight of focused stares. A calm determined focus. Everyone properly clipped in safety harnesses, floro vests and helmets. They have the body language of people who know what they are doing. As well as the confidence of people who know they are good at what they do.

Here’s the current list so far

The SLAF appears to be carrying out other flood related work as well. site gets updated quite regularly.

At a practical level, has post listing the relief orgs. It has links to donations sites and other info.

Writing this I realise all this flood stuff has the bitter ring of familiarity. Sri Lanka is an island of rivers. When it pours they flood. Yet I the fear that the imprint of human activity has a part to play. Ignoring that factor is a the bigger disaster.

I’ll leave you with that for now.

Say cool in Sri Lanka’s heat – radical how to

Drawn after sampling one of those new Canadian mushrooms (didn't think much of it at the time)

I have a simple radical solution for staying cool in Sri Lanka’s “hot season”. You don’t have to flee to your summer palace. Or seek the false refuge of air conditioning. All it takes is a simple change of perspective. Conditioning if you want a one word answer. Up for it?

The solution has two simple steps that MUST occur together. You can’t do one without the other. They are:

  1. Minimise your exposure to air conditioning
  2. Drink water often

The point of all this is to condition the mind and thus the body to accept humidity.

Air conditioning disrupts the adaptation process with sensory delusion. The better option is the reverse. Spend a few minutes every 2–3 hours in a room that is a degree or two WARMER than the outside. Such as the kitchen (sauna/boiling room) at my parents’ place. When you come out the outside will seem cooler.

Drinking a lots of UNCOOLED water is a matter of life of death in this process. That’s WATER. NOT carbonated sugar poisons. “Sports” hydration fluids are good if they are the right kind and you can afford them. If you must drink it cool don’t make it freezing cold. It’s too much of a shock to the body. The best option is storing the water in a Gurulethuwa (clay urn used for storing water). The thing keeps water at a refreshing temperature that allows more drinking.

All this boils down to getting comfortable with sweating. It’s your body’s cooling system. Yet tradition AND products of the “deodorised” west want you to hate sweating. Or exile it to the gym. The combined pressure of the old and new cultural symbolism of sweat in Sri Lanka is intense. The mental leap need to defy such social-cultural tyranny is too much for many.

The global warming behind the recent heat doesn’t help.

I have to admit there were days when even my slavish appreciation of humidity was tested. Yet my convictions survived the test and came out stronger.

I doubt the seething masses share my convictions. They will go on whining about the heat. They will remain ignorant of how privileged they are to enjoy such warmth and humidity. They will worship the false idol of air conditioning with greater fervour. The lure to join Sri Lanka’s coolest people will be strong.

No matter. Dim as I am, I denounce air conditioning. I choose a different cool. After reading this, will you?

Death threat downgraded

Says" Don't dump on road" CCTV monitoring. Vehicle will be damage"
Says” Don’t dump on road” CCTV monitoring. Vehicle will be damage”

This warning against dumping rubbish is a downgraded death threat. Version 1 had far dire warnings in 3 languages. I blogged about it long time ago. The current version seems tame. Yet it harks of technology (CCTV monitoring). The threat this time is to vehicles. Which hints that the culprits are not pedestrians.

I don’t go past this sign often. It lies on a secret Colombo shortcut that is no longer on my regular commute.

Yet every time I pass this I’m awestruck. Who took the time and effort to paint this? What’s the back story? What does it say about urban life and society in the early 21st century Colombo? The personalities and the histories behind it. There’s a novel in there all right. Which should be left to far gifted hands like Romesh Gunesekera and/or Ashok Ferry than me.

Portrait of an Immortal : Sri Lanka’s eternal elite


His cologne takes your attention before you see him. Forcing your instincts to turn and notice. That his Versace, Patek Phillipe and the rest are real. That you are in the presence of a higher power.

A power that does business with men who toy with the fate of nations. Over food, wine and single malts money can’t buy. At places too exclusive to exist in public. In Geneva, London, New York, Shanghai, Moscow. Wherever billions are quietly made. Without fussing over human rights, ethics, the environment and other trivialities. Meetings reached on a hassle free first world passport. Without sitting among the common cattle in business class.

He knows that in his world, he’s another minor darkie shark. Yet in the small pond of Sri Lanka he tops the power and money food chain. He knows that too. When he shakes your hand you feel it in your bones.

The power is bought with the money. Yet only time you will see it is in a Cartier money clip. The cologne gives a hint about his cars. Though he’s only seen climbing out of some fancy SUV. Always with mute tough chaps in baggy shirts.

You will hear about his toys from other people. The ones who try to show they are his pal. The cars of course. What he has docked on a exclusive Rivera pier. The fab party he had aboard while anchored in Dubrovnik. Or the views from his posh pads around the planet.

Like the Nile, the sources of the money flow behind a fog of respectable vagueness and unverifiable rumour. The respectable part says its family money. New money aged out of its vulgarity. No hint that it ever needed washing.

He’s done wonders investing profits from Thathi’s business they always say. Yes there are companies with places where overseas investors visit. The poor guy has to cart them around. Endure endless receptions and dinners introducing them to politicians. His uncles are on boards of this and that. Lots of dull import export run by cousins in Dubai and Singapore. Or is it Bangkok? One is never sure.

For the rumour part you hear of fingers in every white elephant pie the politicians cook up. Assuming you think our rulers have the brains for fancy schemes of moving money. Perhaps he gives them advice. Introduces them to helpful overseas chums.

Then there are tales of the usual money men in Labuan. Shell companies in the Dutch Antilles. Owned by foundations in Liechtenstein. Links to “investments in the Middle East” are bandied about. He is not the sloppy type. You won’t see his name attached to anything. From Panama or elsewhere.

It’s harder to wonder about such things in his presence. His physique is too distracting. After the ex special forces personal trainers, the supplements, and regular mid mornings in a home gym, it better be. Custom tailoring emphasises his assets to the ladies. Makes boys out of the men. Gossips speak of surgical enhancements. That he never cuts his hair outside Europe. Shocking how uncharitable people are these days.

He isn’t tall. Yet you feel he looms over everyone. It’s his polish. The way he handles and reads people. Becoming whatever the situation expects. The urbane executive of something too important for you to ask about. The perfect putha to the aunties. With astrologers paid to keep them off his back.

His looks are frozen somewhere around thirty. A picture of youth matured by experience. Oozing with confident strength from surviving the ordeal. Yet immortality comes not his looks but from what he does. From the ancient role he plays in the ecosystem of human society. From the eternal class of the connected he joined through daddy’s connections. The connected who leach their powers by hanging around the throne. By being nice to cronies of whoever wears the crown.

Am I being too abstract? This is not a rant about the Illuminati. Just an acknowledgment of the physics of politics, money and the power it buys.

Human societies are hierarchical. Run by small groups of people. Who come and go with the gusts of politics. The immortals avoid politics. Turn access to the top into a strategic advantage. The money such access brings is just a means to an end. Which is the power to rise above the laws, norms and other inconveniences in the mud of “normal life”. The glow of knowing you have God like power to decide how lesser mortals live, starve or define happiness.

In the first world they are the now famous “one percent”. Under anything socialist they are The Party, the Nomenklatura, the Apparatchiks. Celine’s laws, Robert Michels’s Iron Law of Oligarchies, and the field of Elite theory outline this uncomfortable terrain better than I can.

Yet you know that already. If you ever had the privilege of free education in a Sri Lankan boys’ school you know. Even as you deny your knowing. Most seem to accept this as a price of living in a social system. Others aspire to such immortality. A few are already immortal. There are those who rail against the workings of the immortals. A fraction of them take action with meaningful results. Not that I have heard of them or their victories.

Which group do you fall into? Think about it as you sweat in the power cut dark. While the immortals make money to last three generations off the power plant that should be working. Stashed billions all over the world. While your piddling earnings are taxed to pay for generations of “policy” fuck ups. To prop up the organised crime called politics.

Or perhaps it is better not to think about such things. There are no easy “answers” and quick “solutions” to such “problems”. Find refuge in what ever comforts you. Perhaps it a cheaper single malt. Your family. The job that keeps it fed, clothed, housed, educated and cocooned from misfortune. Hobbies. Art. Sex. Wait for the end. Which, as far as this blog post is concerned, is now.

Sri Lankan organisations – Tragic tales

Capsized ship, Kankesanturai Harbour, Sri Lanka

You must have heard the story countless times. A Sri Lankan builds an institution from nothing. It could be a company, government department, an organisation or a movement. Success makes it significant in its field. Then the vultures descend. Ending in a tragic collapse/demise before its time. What survives is the rubble of forgotten achievements. Choked by the weeds of bitter recriminations from those who care to remember.

Before the fall there is the golden age. A flowering of growth, hope, idealism and toil. The founders are diligent. They delegate. They organise. Even create sane standard operating procedures. Thought impossible in the face of the mad variables of Sri Lankan life. Which makes the high standards of their routine work look like miracles. Making it all happen is a loyal smart often idealistic core of true believers. They give it their all for a higher cause.

On the outside the organisation is held in awe – the acceptable expression of envy. Everyone wants a slice of the glory. To stand in its glow. To say: “I work there”. With its growth come more people. Operations expand with growing complexity.

Then things start to go wrong. Sometimes the rot is slow. Other times it’s a sudden train wreck. The core narrative is always described as a clash of personalities. Grim trails of anecdotes of escalating animosity over petty things. Subordinates are forced to pick sides. Personal loyalties become the sole gauge of any decision.

At this stage the facts become hard to find. Interpretations are clouded by who tells the tale. These are littered with familiar characters. The villain who loots the organisation for personal enrichment. The demon whose ego hijacks the whole enterprise. The zero sum clash of geniuses at the top. A failure to admit changes in there organisations’ eco system. The good clueless idealist who did not or could not or would not see the looming iceberg. Of course this person will go down with the ship (note the Titanic reference). The heard of elephants in the room just build and builds. There is always the climatic event when the back breaks. The tradition of these tails demand that one one can agree what that moment is.

Of the cast of minor characters there are a few. The faithful ones who gave it their all only to get burned. They end up as bitter cynics or wounded veterans. The heroes who kept things going to the very end. The stronger/cleaver ones who rode the waves. After the fall they reinvent themselves. They have the resumes and the contacts to fly higher.

Each tale has its own variations. I have kept to the most general descriptions. Which I have overheard too many times from friends of my parents. The uncles in the palace have stories that are a class of their own. The more common stuff get chatted about at weddings, funerals, dinners, post alms giving lunches and late night veranda chats on outstation strips. Nothing brings out stories like armchairs in the shadows of a moonlit night. Perfumed by Lion Lagers and the crash of waves in the breeze.

I doubt that the tragedies of organisations is a purely Sri Lankan thing. No wonder the history of republican Rome seems so familiar. It’s almost Sri Lankan. Have you heard your share of these stories? I hope you are so far lucky like me to avoid experiencing them first hand. The comment box awaits.