9th blog aniversary

Kottu sign, Baseline road Colombo

I started blogging 9 years ago today. I write that in a state of mild disbelief. It’s not a big deal. Two posts a month is all I can manage. Stretching the definition of whether I’m a blogger or someone with a blog. An irrelevant academic question. What matters is the result of writing something on a regular basis for nine years. Logic says I should have improved. My bias claims the opposite. So I’ll let you decide in the comment box below.

The compulsion to write what the voices dictate make my opinion irrelevant. Among those compulsions are these anniversary posts. With the traditional link to my 1st blog post. Why? Tradition dear boy. Tradition.

Instead of the usual tedious thank yous’ and the navel gazing I thought I’ll offer a personal narrative of kottu.org. A site that’s always been part of my blogging life. I began writing is at Yudhanjaya Wijeratne’s prodding a long while back.

kottu.org a Personal History

In the beginning, the Sri Lankan blogosphere was a smatter of blogs. Then there was kottu.org (more on that later) and The War. Thankfully The War ended. Many blogs suddenly had little to say and died. Or moved to Twitter.

Thus the Sri Lankan blogging completed a cycle as a medium. Returning shrivelled, quiet and scattered to its original form. A fringe medium. Ignored by the majority of the Sri Lankans for its irrelevance in their lives.

I rode that turn of the chakra when I started blogging in early 2007. The golden age of Sri Lankan blogging had just started to flare. I got a front row seat to its goings on. It was an interesting ride.

Central to that ride was blog aggregator kottu.org. It was becoming the central square of the Sri Lankan blogosphere when I arrived. I wrote a post about kottu.orgthat covers the details. Founded (and still maintained) by the grand old man of Sri Lankan blogging, Kottu.org was not the first Sri Lankan blog aggregator. Just the one that hung on long enough to gather a following.

It offered the convenience of seeing what the other bloggers were writing about at a glance. To join all it took was an email to its creator. At its peak, kottu.org had the vibe of an old time online forum. Incendiary posts from one blogger triggering responses from others. A cornerstone of the Sri Lankan blogosphere were its prominent bloggers. They had a talent for setting comment feeds on fire. I won’t bore you with a list.

The War more than just cheap fuel for flammable writing. It became the Sri Lankan blogosphere’s central theme. At a time when being part of anything online was the privy of the few. The few with Internet access for personal stuff and the confidence to strut their English (Sinhala fonts and blogging platforms had barely met).

The ant called the Sri Lankan blogosphere then as now, had little to do with the elephant of mainstream (print) media. Accept for an occasional clash. When blogs became free content streams for newspapers to plagiarise to fill Sunday feature pages. The “articles” would be “credited” with the blogger’s handle without even the curtsy of a request for permission. The supposed justification was that because it’s on the Internet, copyright didn’t apply. It’s just copy-paste. What are you complaining about.

As internet access seeped through the tiny digital part of Sri Lankan society, the blogosphere became, for a moment, a social media platform. Facebook hadn’t reached critical mass. People were still head scratching about Twitter. Instagram was just another blog post with a photo.

Then the bomb of peace blew it all away. After the final blog fights over what was going on on the beaches of Mulativu, faded, things went quiet. Facebook and Twitter came to the fore. Short blurts on both platforms were easier than labouring over long form writing. Which few people read (according to the stats). Thus the Sri Lankan blogosphere slid deeper into the irrelevance from which it came.

Despite writing this post I’m not nostalgic. What I miss most of that time is having a good pile of interest in things to read. Local, topical and readably written. Stuff like that is still around. I just have less time to sniff around for it.

Change is the only constant. Which is how things stay more or less the same. While giving us the wrong idea of what the change is. For a more analytical take on kottu.org read Yudhanjaya’s post on the subject.

Manual typewriter in the blogging workflow


This is my second typewritten blog post in six years. I think I did a better job than the first time I used a typewriter to blog.

This time I got the old Lettera 22 “calibrated”. That means understanding it’s personality (quirks). I was extra nice to it. Dusted. Cleaned. Gave it a fresh ribbon. Practiced. The only way to know its rhythms. Thus learnt to manage its primary quirk. Its insistence on inserting a space among the letters of a word if your try to rush. The reason for the exercise is simple. Writing with a manual typer is such fun.

In the 21st century, most writings (typings) on using a manual typewriter is about the experience of using it. Once the newness of the experience wears off: we go digital again. The typer gathers dust. To defy this trend, I will try to change the topic. But right now the wild joy of this thing is making me rush. I pay with a string of holes in my words. Never mind. Onward.

There is a physicality to using this thing. Its beyond the timid scratches of a pencil or pen. You have to slowdown to a pre digital pace. The pace of a time before double ruled book trained hand writing was reduced to illegible scrawls by computer keyboards.

The punching motion of typing on a manual creates its own way of saying things. As you punch and pound words magic themselves from under little hammers. Your fingers may ache but the momentum carries you ahead of second thoughts. The first thoughts are out of your head and in the world before you know it.

Now I understand why those who wrote with manuals are brave. Your words were physical in an instant. Inhibitions could not backspace difficult things without confronting what came out. There were no passwords to protect you if the KGB burst in. Without doing laborious things with carbons your life’s work has no backup. Bravery was a basic requirement of using a typer. Few actually had it. Which is where the Vodka, the whisky or the opiate of the moment came in. An easy way to summon courage out of its burrow. Long enough to get the words out of the head.

My “writing” this on a typer is different. The original ideas got spat out on the Lettera 22. Then it got digitised via OCR. THEN the editorial machetes did their thing. Compare this text to the image below and you’ll see. Heresy yes. But an effective way to write. Fun too. The noise the thing makes. Its music. The best music I can make. Or ever will.

Type written blog post
Actual typewritten draft

Kataragama photos late 20th century

In the town - not in the sacred area

Pilgrimage to Kataragama is a long tradition in my family. Goes back to my grandparents’ time. Perhaps beyond that (one of them is said to have origins in the area). I was taken there countless times during my childhood. The photos in this post are from that era. A Kataragama weekend somewhere in the late twentieth century. Yet these photos are more than just a few frozen moments.

These photos are my first attempts at photographing total strangers. I don’t have the guts, confidence and enthusiasm for it now. Or arrogance and ignorance. The kid that took these photos had plenty of the last two qualities. Using a telephoto lens gives a sniper like sense of power. Which, with my enthusiasm, I mistook for confidence. Giving me my high hopes for the shots I took.

The results pummelled my confidence with disappointments. Ignorant composition. Poor focus. Mismatched aperture and shutter settings. Yet the level headed comments my father jotted on the back of the photos kept me going. The photos in this post are from among least worst.

Finding these photos stirred realisations about the belief systems that run through daily life in Sri Lanka. Beliefs so fundamental that even those who realise it dare not voice them. In most cases these beliefs have gelled into habits. Marinated into the next generation’s subconscious through stories and vocabulary. Details of which are saved for a future post.

Katharagama pilgrims late 20th century
Pilgrims? Beggers? “Holy” men?

Katharagama shop front late 20th century
In the town – not in the sacred area

Katharagama pilgrims late 20th century
Devotees waiting in line to make offerings outside the main shrine.

Katharagama pilgrim late 20th century

Have you spoken to your cousins lately?

Three kids meant a small family in my parents’ generation. That vast cast of aunts and uncles is unthinkable now. In my generation, that crowd of siblings is replaced by cousins. Looking back, not being siblings made friendships easier. Our relationships escaped the inevitable frictions between siblings. In its place a sense of kinship through shared “fun”. Spend-the-days, joint family outstation trips. Ritual gathering around our shared grand parents and ancestors. It was a closeness that’s closer than friendship. Yet with more space than what brothers or sisters could allow. Not that we knew any better.

Now we are “all grown up”. Our families are even smaller. Exile has pushed us onto different continents. After adulthood, I’ve spoken to many cousins only a handful of times. Time zones and the rhythms of our separate lives makes Skype futile. Social media in all its forms is too detached.

Its heartening that our kids get along so well on the rare occasions we meet. Yet seeing them run around had only emphasises a sense of drift and disintegration. Which I’ve [blogged about before in a bout of new year realisations]((https://cerno.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/sri-lankan-new-year-thoughts/). I used to blame that disintegration on the war. On the stupidity and the greed of the politicians who caused it. A lot of negative energy spent on futile rage. None of this is new. Our parents’ generation went through something similar with their Jaffna relatives.

In the same vein some of us are plotting to re connect. Despite the grim logistics that adulthood, parenthood, geography, visas and money allow. Its something to look forward to in 2016. Its also the one thing that I hope keeps this post from looking like another waddle down nostalgia lane. Even though it is the end of an year (however irrelevant that is to the sun and its planets).

Thank you for reading. I hope you and those you care about have a better 2016 – even if 2015 was a good one.

Asterix in Ceylon (Taprobane) – viii things to note

Don’t get hot under the collar by its disregard for the historical. It’s hilarious. Sri Lankan Asterix fans, will love this. Here are a 6 points to keep in mind about this impossible to find book:

Asterix e Obelix
Image credit:
Graphic by Marcos PiccinCC Licence

  1. Oblix looks quite dignified in a Kandiyan Nilame kit. It doesn’t make him look fat at all (even though this does start yet another red faced bout between the two friends).
  2. Annius Plocamus, an historical Roman who actually visited Sri Lanka in the first century A.D appears as a minor character. The pasta shop he founded is still run by his descendants in Negombo.
  3. Getafix is unrecognisable as a Buddhist monk
  4. Ekonomikrisis, the Phoenician merchant is there of course (not off course) to ferry our friends to the island.
  5. Yes yes we encounter the inevitable pirates on the way. The only predictable part of the whole book which gives a slight sinking feeling.
  6. Dogmatix’s delight at Sri Lankan tree worship is quite cute
  7. Wild boar hunting in scene has some interesting references to obscure elements of modern Sri Lankan “history”
  8. Tea is described as a key ingredient in a British variant of magic potion. Asterix fans will like this explicit reference to Asterix in Britain.

There’s just a preview. I’m sure you are dying to read this rare Asterix book. So am I. I’ve only seen it lying around in the room inside my head. The many voices that lounge around are always reading it. At this rate I’ll never get to read it my self. If you do, hope I cam borrow your copy for a day.

But seriously – think about what a great story idea it would be. What would you think the plot line would be. Give it a thought. The comment box awaits.