I won’t name names only describe Sri Lanka’s cooled elite as a demographic. Which I will name towards the end of the post. I’m sure you will find it terribly terribly shocking. To deflect blood curdling enraged comments by those left out, here is how the coolest people in the land qualified for the title. This group dominates Sri Lanka’s coolest people because they enjoy access to air-conditioning in three major areas of life: work, regular travel, and the home. For more background on this classification you’ll have to read my earlier post on how to find out if you are cool.
Air conditioned transport is an essential requirement to enter the upper sections of the cooled castes. Those without the privilege must sweat in public transport – even if they toil in an air conditioned workplace. Naturally the world of the cooled and the wheeled have their own hierarchy. Its grades measured by the degree of privacy and who pays for it.
Lets start at the bottom. Where you will find the “high end” office transport van. I say “high end” as most “office transport” vans I have seen on the commute are non air-conditioned sardine cans. The “high end” designation is acquired by the virtues of air-conditioning, larger capacity and carrying less than a full complement of passengers. The best example I have seen of this rare breed are the wagons hauling airline crews to and from the airport.
The most basic “personal” transport is the office supplied chariot. It must have 4 wheels to qualify. Trishaws don’t make the cut but the Ceygra three wheeled car will get you in the door IF it has air-conditioning. It is a safe bet that even the no frills work issue chariot has air-conditioning. Nominally the office chariot comes with a fuel allowance that permits one to actually use the air-conditioning. Saving gas by lowering the window has many inconveniences. Such as attracting beggars at traffic lights and involuntarily partaking the aromatic Colombo traffic. The additional benefits of the office supplied chariot is a cheaper run to the next Hikkaduwa beach party. At the cost of being enslaved 24/7. Considering the cost of gas and inflation such chains are eagerly sort and gratefully accepted.
From the eager junior executive to the lordly company director rises an incremental incline of entitlements, privileges, and all important minor details. Other higher end benefits includes the chauffeur – discussion of which is outside the scope of this post. Trailing them are the swarm of anonymous commuter cars. Often reconditioned or economy models. Paid for with sales of ancestral lands or life time serfdom to a finance company.
Dominance of cool transport is the preserve of the political class – the aristocracy. It is not restricted to the courtiers favoured with the fat ministry or department. Parliamentarians are quite adapt at being creative with their allowances. Specially when it comes to duty free chariots.
The most visible beast at the top of the transportation heap is the palanquin of a government minister who can commander a slice of the ministerial budget for the latest delights of Mercedes Benz or Bavarian Motor Works. Proofed against bomb, bullet, and rock to protect the honourable hide courtesy of taxes milked from your shrivelling purse. We must of course sacrifice for the safety of our elected rulers without wasting money on non essentials like education or health care.
More circumspect creatures at this level include an assortment of self made millionaires. But they unlike our Lordships, pay taxes for their palanquins (so we’d like to think) – even if some of them get their money through cosy relationship with the right courtier.
The ultimate symbol of power in this category is the courtier’s convoy. Jeep loads of special forces and armed goons cutting a swath trough clogged streets. To ride through the heat, humidity and frustration of daily life in such glorious comfort communicates power. It demonstrates your imperviousness to the environment. You are untouchable and comfortable and the shits in the gutter will let you stay that way.
Air conditioned transport is only a minor expression of power. The ultimate is the fully air conditioned home. In the polluted chaos of the urban third world, a fully air-conditioned home symbolise immense power extending far beyond the piddling costs of buying, installing, and maintaining the decadence of central air-conditioning. It means you are a person with the means and status to defy the cruelties of your environment.
I have yet to encounter this mythical creature. It is supposed to exist, containing elevators and upper floor swimming pools. At this level you have to be a personage embroiled or connected to politics – if you are not in the upper tiers of a major industry.
Lesser mortals can perhaps make do with a box in condominium tower. Or a sparingly used wall unit in a single room of their hovel. Diligently purchased at the duty free via an incoming relative or a rare off island trip. At this condo dwellers and single unit air con users are irrelevant.
I suppose it is obvious by now who the coolest people in Sri Lanka are – politicians.
Particularly those of the inner court, their provincial catchers and assorted hangers on. Abandoning integrity in politics has never been so rewarding or easier. It makes the very concept seem silly specially since not having any is an requirement of entry. I suppose there must be the odd acceptation. I hope there is.
I’ve drunk too much ginger beer while eavesdropping to bother with the details. The stories are too incredible for fiction. You’ll be lucky to get just a bludgeoning if you try following the paper trail. If the facts are published there’ll be the usual anger in the letters to the editor and a small demo somewhere. Perhaps a blog post of rage here and there. But in the end we’ll all just shrug and turn eagerly to the cricket scores.