The Sri Lankan New Year is a time of renewal. A good time to look your extended network and ensure its links are strong. In a feudal society like ours, formal laws and norms are merely barriers of entry. To survive, let alone thrive, we need the right network of relationships. Even lesser beings like you and me need such connections. Hopefully you would have inherited these “aunties” and “uncles” in the right places from your family network. Here are a few that I think are valuable.
1. Uncle in the defence establishment
This contact MUST be an officer, preferably somewhere in the area of Colonels, Brigadiers, Commodores, Air Commodores, etc. Basically Ranks between OF-6 and OF-5 in the NATO ranking codes. If one of your relatives was in a cadet platoon from the mid 1960s to 1990s you are fine. During the war days such connections would mean the ability to get curfew passes in a hurry and other life saving conveniences. If the contact has retired, hopefully he has strong ties to serving comrades and/or proteges who could help.
Yes, I know “The War” is over and that we won. However, you may have noticed that the Sri Lankan military has not gone back to the days of focusing only on the Independence Day parade.
2. Uncle in the Police
Unlike the defence contact, this link can even be a lowly Inspector – if he’s the OIC (Officer In Charge) of an important police station and/or he has a good patronage structure. Not the sort of contact to use to wiggle out if a traffic fine. But if you get robbed or have to deal with a law and order type situation this is the person to call. He could have the clout to smooth out uncomfortable situations on the ground with a gruff phone call. Naturally an ASP (Assistant Superintendent of Police) is nice but not for calling at 2am.
3. Uncle with the distant underworld contact
For safety and the sake of keeping one’s paws legally clean, you need to have at least 2 or 3 degrees of separation with the underworld. These days such a contact also means someone in the shade of demonically powerful political deities. A world where a lot of blood is unpredictably shed so this is a last ditch call.
You’ll need this connection for those unfortunate situations when the law cannot protect you. Classic example is a property dispute where the other party is immune to the courts and have their own muscle. Or when someone in the greater family network is informed of a contract on their head. The killer will need to be bought off. His clients will need firm yet gentle “convincing” that violence is a regrettable choice.
4. Uncle or Aunty in the medical profession
For medical emergencies requiring complex procedures that cannot be delayed. Ideally you’ll need a specialist with personal relationships connections to ensure other aspects of say a hospital stay is well taken care of. If you are a Child of a Sri Lankan Doctor (CoSLD) you know what I’m talking about. Hopefully you have gained access to your medical parent’s student network who are now doctors in their own right. Old colleagues who are still practicing are also a plus. Access to both types can include extended family, domestics and even the extended family of domestics.
5. Uncle or Aunty in the travel industry
When you need to go outside the country with the misfortune called a Sri Lankan passport. The essentialness of this contact is his/her knowledge of the arcane web of getting visas without the inevitable unexpected hassle (missing paper work, yet another form, medical checks, bank statements etc). Another big one is getting seats on supposedly “overbooked” flights. At the airport, someone to stamp a special exemption for a few more kilos on your baggage. Or give you an on the spot upgrade from cattle class. You might think this is trivial in the age of online air tickets. I urge you to think again before you have any rough journeys.
6. Uncle or Aunty of the occult
Essential when there are offspring to be married off. Someone has to get all those proposal horror scopes read accurately (what ever “accurately” means). Finding the “right” astrologer is always a murky business. These characters don’t have star ratings and their work isn’t vetted laws like doctors or lawyers. Thankfully every family has/knows some “aunty” with a nose for the local occult service providers.
Another case you’ll need them is when things are grim and not working out. The uncle/aunty of the occult will tap into a vast network of katadiyas, chanters, speakers to the undead, beseechers of minor deities, priests who run occult consultancies, and monks with powers to chant particularly potent pirith. They will take you to isolated temples or houses of mediums in the chill of the deep night and even have a flask of steaming sweet Nescafé ready. More crucially, they will negotiate the awkward subject of money with these spiritual people.
7. Uncle living abroad
Practically everyone seems to have a relative in the first world. Very handy if they are well established by the time you send your offspring over for their first world degree. Such contacts will help the offspring started on the migration process to a first world passport. As the declining west cranks up the draw bridge against migrants, these links are as good as gold. Such people also need you. Especially when they hope to get their (fair and slim or with sober habits) offspring married to a Kandiayn Govi Buddhist from a good family without low caste stains.
A mundane but still almost essential service of such contacts is to bring stuff from abroad. Computer accessories, auto parts, online purchases and booze from duty free. Basically the things that are small, impossible to find locally, and too important/expensive to trust to some commercial delivery service.
8. Uncle in the civil service
The “benefits” of this type of connection can be hard to detect. The most obvious advantage is adding the element of movement to any interaction with a government bureaucracy (not having to pay a bribe to people to do their jobs).
Less obvious advantages include clarifying some contradictory regulation. Meaning you won’t suffer a cycles of mystifying redirection. To other offices for forms that cannot be found which need to be approved by people who are never there. “Lost” files are nearly always found after a phone call to the right person. A similar call can make clerks unbelievably polite when the unfortunate need to go to a government office arises. At the broadest level you have a better chance to avoid becoming a character from a Kafka novel).
For more background on this type of contact, see my earlier blog post about my father’s friends in the civil service.
9. Uncle with a powerful political contact
Hopefully a contact you will never have to use. The price of paying such pipers are said to be very high. These days they are indistinguishable from organised crime figures yet far more deadly. Such danger calls for the highest degrees of separation. When this contact suddenly falls from favour with the higher powers (as they inevitably do) you won’t be part of the collateral damage. Thankfully, no one in the extended family has ever had to call for such favours. May it stay that way in the coming year.
I’m sure I have missed a few other essential contacts to keep alive. Please feel free to use the comment box below to fill me in.
I wish you and your network have happy and prosperous Sri Lankan/Sinhala/Tamil/Astrological) new year. May you live in boring times, avoid the glare of powerful people, and have the wisdom to realise what you are wishing for.